Monday, September 24, 2018

What the world owes you - lessons from a meme

There is this meme making the rounds, and it popped up in my feed. I saw it enough that I want to just rant a little about it:

In the comments at imgflip, where I found this picture of it, somebody had edited it to say: Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. This is from the US declaration of independence, and was not at the time considered self-evident, but a goal for a new nation to strive towards. Much of the rest of the western world agreed, and when United Nations drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was drawn up along the ideal that humans had certain rights to seek a good life through legal means.

What we tend to forget these days is that this is an ideal. As this meme points out, the world as such owes you absolutely nothing. Some institutions are working very hard in order to make sure that you and everybody else have some rights: mainly the right to live as happily as you can within the law. But nobody owes you this. Quite the opposite: you (and I) owe a debt to those who went before us, and those who work now, to uphold these ideals. That debt is owed to everybody from the officials and politicians working to ensure these ideals, to your neighbour paying her taxes, doing her job, sorting her trash and raising her kids to support a world where human rights can be a reality and not just an ideal. If you don't participate in that it doesn't matter how rich or privileged you are, nobody owes you anything.

While this is harsh, it is a reminder that if we want to be taken care of, we need to care for the society we live in. There has to be some kind of exchange, even if it is at a few degrees remote. Only through a universal dedication to caring for others can we be certain to be cared for. Which, for those who are inclined that way, is what it means to be a Christian.

give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38.

And while I am quite agnostic, a lot of the new testament just makes sense as to how to treat others to live in peace, freedom and happiness. And that isn't something the world owes us - it's what we owe to others. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hövding bike "helmet" warning

I bought a Hövding bike "helmet" - they call it air bags for your head - because I am vain. I also bought one for my husband, because he hates to wear a helmet. These are the main reasons why people buy this very expensive protective gear. My husband tried it on, and went straight back to the store. For him, it was much worse than wearing a helmet. At least he came back with a new helmet which he now occasionally uses.

I kept using mine. I particularly liked it when my hair was up, because I have long hair and a regular helmet doesn't fit over a bun. Today I put my hair up, put on the jacket and "helmet", reached for my keys (not suddenly. I am a sedate, middle-aged woman), and heard a loud bang. The airbag blew up while I was still standing!

They do warn that you should not walk with this, but the movement I made was something I could easily do on a bike, a soft turn, like leaning over while turning right. And if this had happened while on a bike, I would have had a real accident.

That, sadly, was not enough. My head was pushed forwards, and for a moment I was trapped in this high collar. It turned out that the airbag impacted with my bun, and pushed my head away and forwards, rather than enveloping it protectively.

I was devastated. I loved the idea of this technology, and was planning to buy it as presents for others in the family. Now I am very happy I didn't. This flaw is serious, it could cause an accident, and get me badly injured in the accident it caused.

Luckily I also have a very good looking bright red helmet, and was able to get to work almost on time.

I have lodged a complaint about this. It is not a prank, or something I post in order to ruin anything for the designers. I really wanted this to work, and have used it, expecting to be protected, for more than a year. It has also protected others I know, personally. But mine exploded for no particular reason.

#Hovding #Hövding

Monday, September 10, 2018

Education across cultures

Last year in Bologna, I had the privilege of easy access to the world's oldest University. Since then I have had several people go: "there must have been something in.... (insert ancient culture here)", but it's easy to counter by pointing out that the University in Bologna is still up and running.

What that does not tell us though, is that no, the University as we know it was not established in 1088. Rather, what we saw at that time, was that some people who were already exploring grammar, rhetoric and logic were broadening their field, actively meeting for discourse, and teaching others. From this, and from other, only sightly newer institutions in England, what we understand as the western university grew.

But it wasn't that simple. Norway, for instance, didn't get a university until 1811, when what was at the time Det Kongelige Frederik's Universitet was established in Oslo, then Christiania (Frederik and Christian were the two most popular names of Danish kings.)

The establishment of this university, along with the liberation of Norway from Denmark and the subsequent creation of a Norwegian constitution, led to a movement of Norwegianness which meant the development of a Norwegian language. The life of students was carefully recorded, by Knut Hamsun in his novel "Sult" or "Hunger", and by Arne Garborg in "Bondestudentar" or "Peasant students". Very different in language, tone, plot and aim, they still both describe a transition - a movement from a society where it was not common to be educated into a society where studying was not only a possibility, but also a goal.

Today we are seeing another group of students who have to leave their culture, their past, their familiar structures and their families behind in order to gain a coveted education. Like the student in Hamsun's Hunger, they struggle against their own abilities, intellect, imagination and desires, and like the peasants turned students in Garborg, they struggle against their own betrayal of their past, and their inability to smoothly integrate into the culture at the university. What we are seeing is whole nations - gigantic nations - attempting to make the class journey that the peasant students did when moving from the countryside to the city. And they try to do it by going abroad.

Where Garborg's students needed to learn Danish and let go of their Norwegian, two languages still related and fairly close, today's class-traveling students change language, culture, national institutional structures, what almost become entire worlds. They leave everything familiar behind, and fight to survive in a tight, stream-lined and carefully bureaucratic educational system. The question isn't why they fail. The real question is how do they manage at all?

The peasant students in Norway eventually changed the educational system. They created a new language, so they would not have to study in a language which was not their own. They established more universities, and eventually district colleges, so their sons and daughters didn't have to travel that far to get education. They made it all free for all who wanted education, and they made lower level education mandatory. This educational system had very little in common with what was created in Bologna in 1088. The only thing, actually, would be the desire to learn and to teach. All the rest was built upon a mixture of learning structures and cultures, on the hopes and dreams of local scholars, and on politics and nation building.

This is what has to happen (and hopefully is happening in several places) in Asia, the Middle East, Africa. The desire to learn and to teach needs to find local, sustainable outlets. Teaching thousands and thousands of foreign students in Australia, USA and Europa is not a bad thing at an individual level. For one strong, resourceful student, a period of learning abroad can be a wonderful, formative experience. But as a system for the development of a nation it will - should - fail. Nations need their intellectuals at home, working, solving problems and educating new intellectuals to meet the specific problems of the future. Buying that education from expensive, western Universities only helps so far.

As for the students who come so very far only to fail... Arne Garborg gets it.

Han lagde dusken bak; lagde dusken fram; lagde dusken midt på aksli; nei. Det vart ikkje den rette svingen. Og frakken, - frakken sat, som alle frakkane hans hadde siti. Han såg ikkje ut som student. Han var ikkje student. Han var ein forklædd bonde.

"He flipped the tassel to the back; to the front; left it right on his shoulder; no. It did not get the right turn. And the coat, - the coat fit, like all his coats had fit. He didn't look like a student. He wasn't a student. He was a peasant in disguise."

Monday, August 13, 2018

Kjerringa mot strømmen

This is here to link a folk tale of the most contrary of women, who is also a Norwegian folk hero, the wife above the waterfall, or the woman against the stream. Please do read both the collected version from fairytales, and the poem by André Bjerke at the end.

Not a conspiracy, just a consequence

There are  several different theories of education at the moment, from the more reasonable: "learn to search for information and cooperate, don't focus on rote learning," (the problem with this is that without a certain level of simple facts learned the hard way, we don't know what to look for), to "learn mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, these are the core skills for everything else, all the rest is useless," at the other end of the scale (no need to interpret, contextualise and critically question if you can test everything in  laboratory). Just to get my point of view out there, the only theory of education I vehemently oppose is one where science is equalled with religion, and can be compared and exchanged on a curriculum. The rest should learn from each other and reach a point of mutual best practice where kids learn philosophy and physics, music and maths, art and biology, facts and cooperation. How to reach that ideal, I leave to educators.


Here's the thing: All children need and deserve the best education any nation can afford to give them, education that teaches them to take informed choices about everything in their lives, from feeding themselves by way of choosing a profession to electing the leaders of their countries. If we keep skewing education only in one or the other direction, we take these options away from our future decision makers. We really don't want to do that, but we are doing it.

By emphasising the natural sciences to the cost of social science or the humanities, we are reducing the chances of children to become critical thinkers who can question social systems and the ethical and symbolic meaning of progress. We are taking away from the future the ones who would have a chance to question and oppose the oppressors, abusers and manipulators that will rise.

I am not saying that there are people who try to achieve this effect by attacking educational institutions and diverse information. I am just saying that if the funding keeps being shifted away from education to - just about anything else - this will be the result.

And that was my warning of the day. I do try to find other ways to oppose this trend, for instance by educating critical thinker, but here is why I stay in academia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Game addiction controversy

Game designers used to be very proud of how addictive their games were. During the nineties, designing an "addictive" game meant having a great success. And so behavioural psychology was raided for knowledge of what extrinsically motivates people, this was rebranded as gamification, and used as an argument about how it is possible to use game design strategies in order to make any apparently boring or insignificant chore... well, if not fun, then at least more engaging and, yes, addictive.

But was this really addiction?

Addiction is a tricky word. It is currently used in several news articles in order to warn about the dangers of video games, but the WHO classification of diseases doesn't talk about addiction, but disorder, underlining it as a warning sign. There is however no specific list of what a gaming disorder might be a sign of. There is however already a decent body of research that points out that by treating gaming as an addiction and a disorder in its own right, the real problems go ignored. And if you disagree with all of these researchers since they are critical of the term, here is an article co-authored by Mark Griffiths, one of the strong voices arguing in favour of obsessive behaviours being classified as addiction.  Here's the list of other problems this article finds that "gaming addiction" is associated with:
In terms of the results, the following personality traits were found to be significantly related to Internet gaming addiction: avoidant and schizoid interpersonal tendencies (Allison et al. 2006), loneliness and introversion (Caplan et al. 2009), social inhibition (Porter et al. 2010), aggression and hostility (Caplan et al. 2009; Chiu et al. 2004; Kim et al. 2008; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), boredom inclination (Chiu et al. 2004), sensation-seeking (Chiu et al. 2004; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), diminished self-control and narcissistic personality traits (Kim et al. 2008), low self-esteem (Ko et al. 2005), neuroticism (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010; Peters and Malesky 2008), state and trait anxiety (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), low emotional intelligence (Parker et al. 2008), low self-efficacy in real life as opposed to high self-efficacy in the virtual world (Jeong and Kim 2010), and diminished agreeableness (Peters and Malesky 2008)
It's like treating the fever, without asking if the patient has meningitis or the flu.

It is important to note that no game researcher today will claim that gaming has no problematic aspects. Just the one-sided use of time that for many very dedicated gamers could be better spent maintaining face to face communication, a healthy exercise habit and some variety in their general life experiences is worth considering when we talk about how games should be used. From there we see problems all the way from the development of cultures of exclusion based on game performance, by way of a language of aggression developing from the very direct communication ingame, to the huge economic losses caused by microtransactions. No, games are not always a fun and healthy habit. Neither is gardening, if you take it to an extreme that ruins your health, isolates you from friends and drains all your money. The only thing that makes excessive gardening better is that if you avoid pesticides and invasive species, at least you add to the production of oxygen and help counteract the heating of the planet, rather than adding to it through the support of the massive server-farms running to keep the games up. That is a huge benefit. Please go with problematic gardening, if you can choose.

The main danger of the decision to treat gaming disorder as a disease is that it shuts down too many other venues of exploration in order to understand why people play. It's becomes simple: It's because there is an addictive component to games, and like with drugs, alcohol and gambling, the only way to avoid the very wide range of problems ascribed to gaming is to shut down the games. But we don't know that. All we know is that there are a large group of people who wish it was that easy. If school shootings were caused by games, they would end if there were no games. If games cause teen-age pregnancies, they will disappear when there are no games. If games cause young men to become shut-ins and isolate themselves from the world and their families, they will emerge from their basements when there are no games. Students will finish college, grades will rise, drugs will disappear from the streets, crime-rates will drop. So many of society's ills can be cured, if we just remove games!

OK, the above was a touch of hyperbole lifted from the many, many articles describing what may happen unless we restrain games, and what games cause in society. The WHO classification underline that it's a very small part of the population that gets problems with games. But already the knowledge that this is a registered disorder has caused the business of treating it to bloom. And if that is allowed to happen without more research and more understanding of what is really going on, that means another boom of bad treatment clinics.

I rarely recommend comedy shows as references, but John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, May 20th 2018, had a long section discussing the rehab industry. Look at that, and then consider the potential for a gaming addiction rehab industry. There is after all a long history of strategies and research on drug rehabilitation. The so-called need for gaming addiction treatment comes with none of this, only concern and rumour.

When we, as games scholars, are worried and concerned, protesting the classification of gaming disorder, that is the real nightmare scenario.

Elsewhere on this:

The Verge on Gaming Disorder

Friday, June 15, 2018

The normativity of a fun Facebook challenge

Last night I let myself be convinced of a fun challenge on Facebook. It looked pretty innocent, and I just wanted to play along. It was as follows:
NO cheating 😉 Please brighten my day with the 11th [put in the number you are given] picture on your camera roll, no matter what it is! 😂 Have fun & play along. Then, copy and paste using the number I give you.
This looks innocent, right? I did however sense something was off, because when I reposted it, I pointed out that people should definitely cheat. And I soon learned why.

Not everybody's camera roll is comfortable sharing material. We use the cellphone cameras for a lot of stuff. I use it for remembering shopping lists, addresses, names and numbers, as well as for just regular images. I take pictures of books and handwritten notes. It's not all stuff that needs to come out on FB. And that is before I have started thinking about baby pictures and kids, faces I really don't have the right to commit to the face recognition machines harvesting our data. And since I am not really convinced that my body is all that attractive anymore, I do not have physically revealing pictures, and so that whole universe of either straight or queer images of enticing revelation was not on my mind at all.

But that is, of course, an important part of how we use our phones. It may not even be for tittilation, but just registration, even for health. It may be revealing pictures of ourselves or our friends or family, from naked children jumping into a kiddie pool to heavy fetish wear or situations. And both may easily exist side by side on the same personal image roll, without problems or perversions - until somebody tells you that you have to show them one particular image.

And that is when you learn why cat pictures are so popular on the internet. Because you will hastily scroll past all the pictures that will give away too much information, reveal a face that should be kept away from the public eye, or show somebody in a compromising situation, and end up - with a cat. Or, like me, in the lack of a cat, with a landscape or a building.

Of course, nobody checks. But at the same time this challenge forces us all to revise the reality, and you and I know. That revision is cheating. Still, in this day and age of surveillance: the game is already rigged, so please, do cheat.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Media-Ludic approaches

Two years of planning, pitching, reviewing, editing and writing sees its reward in the June 2018 issue of MedieKultur. It is an open source journal, so for all of you who really want to do some serious reading about research methods, here you go! My personal favourite here? My co-editor Emma Witkowski's interesting and innovative work on Sensous proximity in research methods with expert teams, media sports, and esports practices.

MedieKultur is a wonderful, well-established media journal that is also daring enough to give up space to a special issue on research methods still about the be established. I am immensely grateful to the editors and volunteers in the journal for putting in the work to maintaining this journal, which I have loved pretty much my entire academic life, and for taking a chance on Emma and me as guest editors.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cookie Policy

So, this blog now also has a mention about cookies and how information is collected displayed across the top, and I have checked that it works. It is a standard notification, the way Google does it elsewhere. I used to think those were seriously annoying. Yes, I know you follow all my clicks, Internet. Every page eats my info, selling my presence. As with any other media, my eyes and my view of the content is what sells. The difference from a paper news source is that here, I also produce the content others makes money off. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, any other company that lets us produce and find content online, are making money off us both coming and going. I have known that all along.

But I have made thinking about this my life. I study, teach and research use of the Internet. It is not a trivial thing to me, quite the opposite, it is a fascinating theatre of human behaviour, a stage of love and hate, victories and pain, anger and reconciliation: all on top of a complex network of economical, military and political interests, driving increasingly sophisticated technology.

I do still get surprised by what people do online. But I no longer get surprised by my surprise. It has become a rule of thumb for me that if something can be exploited online, it will be. That includes you and me. That includes you reading something on this blog.

So yeah, there should be a cookie policy. There should be a warning that your advertising may change even if I choose not to have any on my blog. I am not making money off you. But I am convinced that your visit to my little blog here is part of Googles data collection. I am not sure what they plan to sell you afterwards. Books? Computers? Games? Gadgets to preserve your privacy online?

To help the little Internet spiders along, I will give you two suggestions.

Charles Stross has a series of alternative world Sci-Fi that I love, and which definitely follows my somewhat paranoid mood today. The Empire Games is a follow up of the Merchant Princes, and while I loved the first, the second (except where there are endless plotting scenes that I constantly fall asleep in the middle of) series feeds my surveillance paranoia.

Edited by Dale, Goggin, Leyda, McIntyre and Negra, The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness offers exactly the kind of relief from the fear, suspicion and general paranoia the Internet induces once you start asking questions. Not that it will really help in the long run, because as you will learn from this anthology, cuteness is a plot, and not only one to make you open the fridge or offer belly rubs.

Enjoy. And you are warned. Here be cookies.

Monday, January 29, 2018

American collapse?

I am old enough to be a little concerned when my new haircut makes me look like an aging Ulrike Meinhof, to remember the fear of a global war when Russia entered Afghanistan, and to have drawn a sigh of relief with the relaxation of the cold fronts between the nuclear powers. But in all of this time the US was a place of continuous progress. It might not always have been a progress I was comfortable with or agreed on - I have always avoided American style fast-food joints when possible - but I thought of it as a nation at least trying to make life better for others.

Then came the election of Bush in 2000. I was in the States at the time, a visiting scholar at the NYU, and heard the professors speak about the voter failures, particularly in the black neighbourhoods, where whole sacks of registration forms were lost. Later came professor Johan Galtung's assessment of the American society. Now, umair haque's article on the American Collapse.

I thought my belief in the US had fallen with the Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe's book "We who loved America" (in Norwegian), a collection of essays on American war crimes and the prosecution of intellectuals in the Soviet Union, but it hasn't been until the last few years that I realised I still thought of the US as a nation where the society tried to make life better for all who lived there. A progress at least vaguely aimed at the good of human kind.

I still love my US friends - now perhaps more than ever, as so many of them think, breathe, speak and act on a resistance to the collapse - but my optimism on behalf of the system has been lost. I am now reaching for Galtung to understand what is going on. And listening to a younger generation, who have walked into the world we made for them with their eyes open.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Hello World 2018

It's been a while. I know I was going to blog more in 2017, but somewhere in Bangkok that disappeared from my agenda, and I started being very, very present in the here and now. That is good, you know, all that mindfulness and paying attention kind of thing, but also bad, because my here and now is rarely as interesting as my over there and then.

Case in point. My current here and now finds me fighting dust. I am having the kitchen and hallway redone, and it's going to be fabulous. But right now it means I am walking on temporary boards, through clouds of dust, to get to the bathroom. I have no kitchen - it is a dark hole from a post-apocalyptic fantasy. It doesn't help that I am currently reading the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant. I am expecting the zombies of the world to lurk under the lacking floor boards, and there I am with nothing but a plastic dust-door between me and a new life as carnivore.

But it is Mira Grant who inspired me to write my blog again. Her zombie apocalypse comes with government conspiracies, transgender make-up artists, and, above all else, bloggers. The way she thinks about blogging is how I thought about it ten years ago: with an upbeat optimism, some naiveté and a deep love of a functioning, quick and open internet. This is a world where the government may be experimenting with viruses that leaves your undead even more dead than expected, but it is also a world where Net Neutrality is going strong, and the hackers are our heros. They do get bitten first though, once they leave their safe space in front of the monitor, so they aren't the main heroes.


2017 was a year of movement and change. I visited four countries besides Norway and Denmark, which isn't all that much for me, but I spent half a year abroad, in different locations. This brought with it new routines, new experiences, new fun and new frustrations.

 I learned to love Bologna more than ever. Italy is one of my favourite countries in the world, and after three months of winter/spring in Bologna, I am now homesick for it. I want to walk its street, eat the food, listen to the voices, read in the libraries and people-watch for ever.

The next shock to my system was Bangkok. I did not stay for long enough for Thailand to become familiar, as this was just a quick visit, but it left a deep impression. This was such a different way to live, and still so wonderfully vibrant and interesting, that it will always be there as a temptation to explore with (a lot) more time and preferably somewhat lower temperatures.

Melbourne however was perhaps the most difficult experience. I thought I was familiar with Australia, but I have just touched lightly on the surfaces and not been experiencing it. And this version of Australia was winter, cold, influenza and a grey, windy city. So, kind of like Copenhagen, but without the bikes. I left just as it was about to enter into spring, and I have to admit, at this point the only aspects that I miss from Melbourne are the people. My wonderful RMIT host Emma Witkowski is a colleague I love to work with, hang out with and spar with, and I miss her. My hosts and the designers of the game that was the subject of my doctorate thesis, Dragon Realms, and their children, are friends I miss on a regular basis. And I made new friends there, wonderful and warm friendships with people I would love to have in my life every day. They made it worth while to deal with being cold all the time, every day. I don't even dress that warmly now, in January in Denmark, as I did to keep warm there. Australia does have more than Melbourne going for it though. I just went north to the sun and the beaches, and suddenly I remembered why I love the continent in the first place. Editing at the side of a pool, with occasional breaks to swim, is not the worst thing. I could do without the giant cockroaches though.

All of this has lead to two articles and a book. The articles are one done, one in review (and in need of being expanded). The book is 2/3rds ready and will be done before spring. (I hope.) It has also lead to new and renewed contacts, to new ideas and new ambitions, and a rethinking and affirmation of my scholarship. But most of all: I am no longer a zombie.

In 2016 I had a very small piece of surgery with huge consequences. If you are curious, google hyperparathyroidism, and read about the symptoms. I was a living walking braindead, with enough awareness to be terrified of what was happening to me. Now I am awake, alert, alive, and looking forwards to more exploration and new adventures! As long as the zombies don't rise from my ripped-open kitchen floor.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Anecdotes vs eyewitness report

Once in a while we argue on the Internet, and then afterwards we realise why that other person was so annoying. I am not going to give you the exact link here, but just offer a general example, because this is a common come-back that claims your argument is flawed - while the come-back is even more so.

The "It's anecdotal evidence" argument, #1

In a discussion concerning the borderland of identity politics and nationalism - so not a happy place to discuss to begin with, I used eyewitness reports of bad behaviour to support my argument. This was immediately rejected, as it was anecdotal evidence, and the person rejecting it had seen with his own eyes that it did not happen. Sometimes, these discussions are best to walk away from, so I did, but the lack of logic in the response bothered me, so here we are. What was wrong with this situation?

1: I had eyewitness reports of something happening.
2: When reported to others, these were now hearsay, which meant they lost impact.
3: My claim was that these things occasionally happened.
4: The other person had seen more than one situation where these things did not happen.
5: The other person used this to claim that these things never happened.

If I had been acting as a researcher, I would have had proof of the eyewitness reports to offer an ethics committee, but I didn't, so it was still hearsay. I also didn't want to link to the blogs of friends who had experienced this behaviour, so there went that possibility. Why not? Well, this was the internet, and we all know how incredibly horrible people can be online. I'll rather swallow my pride than bring the hater hordes down on friends. This means that I can't really play the fact-card here. The question is, can the person I am arguing against do so?

If we look at the claims, the other party has a much heavier burden of proof to carry than I did. Where I claimed that they occasionally happened, where one or two observations or experiences would be enough, the other person claimed this never happened. They used a hasty generalisation:
Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:
Even though it's only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.
In this example, the author is basing his evaluation of the entire course on only the first day, which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend not one but several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.

 The original topic was something which is impossible to prove from your own experience. Even if you did a thorough research project on it, had observers in every nook and cranny of the country, and asked the entire Norwegian population, report errors, method weaknesses and sheer time and space would work against you. Proving that something has never happened is impossible. The other person could say "This never happens where I am", and that I'd be happy to believe. It still won't disprove the possibility that it could have happened somewhere else.

So what are we left with? This is the Internet, so some methodological wobbling is to be expected.  But the kind of keyboard warriors that aim at winning arguments through superior logic don't always have the firmest of grasps. And next time somebody rejects my hearsay, I'll hopefully be able to politely point out that they can doubt my claim, but they can't disprove it.

And yes, this made me feel better, which is what hindsight is all about. Arguing on the Internet is  after all good practice in the study of fallacies. And if somebody for some reason recognises the discussion, I am going to admit that my original post was aiming for a slippery slope fallacy - if they mean A, let's just hope they are as aggressive in this thinking when they see B happen.
Slippery Slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,..., X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:
If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.
In this example, the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.
I stopped at B though, but yeah, it could have ended with banning all cars if I hadn't gotten siderailed by being annoyed at discussion logic. But then, as is the nature of the 'net, the original discussion was a slippery slope as well. If they take this freedom from us, any moment now we will all be brainwashed...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Can he give you a hug?

The #metoo campaign took off, and now certain men worry about whether or not they can approach women without having their intentions misunderstood. They fear just being a man will victimize them, and worry about the skewed balance of society, now that women have retaliated against some of the more powerful abusers.

I feel for them. I really do. It is never fun to know that your gender will make others take advantage of you. Women know that feeling very well, and I sympathize with all who are now afraid that their good intentions will be misunderstood. If you invite a friend in for coffee, for instance, and suddenly this friend thinks you were inviting them in for sex, and you say no, but they say yes, and there you go, non-consensual sex happens. Also known, frequently, as date-rape, and something the perpetrator statistically gets away with, because if you invite somebody in for coffee, everybody knows that means sex. Or rather, if you need it spelled out: The person knew that society would trust them if they said they misunderstood your intentions, but not trust you. The person then used this knowledge of how society would interpret the situation to their advantage if you accused them of rape later on, and accused you, the victim, of sending mixed signals, or being a tease, or not being clear enough. It is awful. Nobody likes it.

Or, perhaps you are walking home in the evening, after a fun night with your friends, and you wanted to make an impression on a special someone, so you dressed a bit more enticing than you normally do. But if you dress for one person, it means you invite everybody, so when you are approached and dragged off into the back of a car and raped, the fact that you're a woman wearing a short skirt and high heels is misunderstood for a woman who wants to be sexually abused by random people passing by, and so it's ok to ask about what you were wearing that night and if the clothes could have caused a random stranger to believe you wanted to have sex with them.

Or you give a guy a hug after the company dinner, and he thinks you want to sleep with him, so he starts groping and kissing, and you just wanted to hug because you liked him, and now you really don't like him any more! Yes, Jan Guillou, it's tough to just want to give another person a hug, and be misunderstood. And now some guys start to understand that gender makes a difference for how you are perceived. It's what those pesky, bitchy, whiny, angry, aggressive (hey, misunderstood and bedeviled because of gender much) feminists have been trying to say for a very long time. Gender matters.

And no, being an older man is not the worst thing you can be. But being a powerful, established man who uses his power to take advantage of men and women who need his approval and then abuse them sexually? That is a pretty disgusting thing to be, and you really shouldn't try to defend them just to be allowed to hug one or two pretty young girls after the Christmas party. Keep your hands lightly on their shoulders, don't push your tongue down their throats and don't grind your hips into theirs, and you should be perfectly fine. It's all we ask, really. Shouldn't be that hard. It helps if you hug the older, ugly female colleagues, and your male colleagues, and the transgender ones, too. It demonstrates that you are just happy and friendly and want to let the world know it.

Personally, like I have done since I was old enough to get the rules, I will dress modestly, not drink too much, avoid flirting with men I am not sure can understand a no, and go home while thinking about how to stay safe. I do that regularly in order to not have to accuse some older man of sexual misconduct in social settings. I have tried to avoid that for years. You're welcome.

PS: The Mary Sue has an article concerning male anxiety about sexualised behaviour, with some solid advice.
Being paranoid about past sexual actions or habits should only be used as a way to ensure you do not make the same mistakes in the future. Do not use it as a way to turn yourselves into victims because you have a notion of women as manipulative people who just decided if something was or wasn’t assault on a whim. Flirt with people who are into you, and take no for an answer. Life is not a movie and kissing someone out of nowhere for dramatic tension is not something that happens. Don’t masturbate in front of women. Don’t ask out people who work for you. If you can’t hold your liquor, don’t go drinking with co-workers. If a woman isn’t responding to you in any way just move on.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pink lego and baby hijabs

Mina Ghabel Lunde, a knowledgeable and angry woman, is writing about the trend (in Norwegian) to permit very young girls to wear a hijab in schools in Norway, and the acceptance of this practice. I am really happy she does, even if I am one of the women she is attacking. I am one of those who don't think there should be a separate girls' lego, but that the traditional designs should have more colours - including pink - and more designs, not to mention more girl options in the existing designs.

This is, compared to the issue of tiny girls being considered sexualised individuals, who men can not look at without being tempted to sin, a pretty innocent problem. It might look like a problem for those who have no real problems. That doesn't mean I have never thought about the fact that young girls wear hijabs.

The hijab is a hypersexualising piece of clothing. This may sound weird, as it is not revealing, like a bikini or a cropped shorts leaving half a tiny butt hanging out, but its purpose is to point out that the person wearing it is a woman, a sexual being, a temptress who can unmake men's resolve if they get but a glimpse of her body. It holds immense promise, even more than the revealed body, because it states a power so strong that it needs to be controlled severely, or it will unmake the men who face its raw nakedness. If you can see the least lock of hair, men can lose their minds, the hijab claims.

So why have I not written about it before? It's not like I haven't thought it. Lovely, modern-dressed mothers with their tiny daughters, in matching hijabs and sparkling nails. Large, covered and veiled women with young girls I can only guess the age of through their size. And to address the fact that the need to cover their bodies keeps these girls from learning to swim: families on the beaches around Copenhagen, the women veiled in the shadow, preparing picnics and looking after the little ones, while the men lounge in shorts or jump in the water. Oh yes, I can see them.

But faced with this, I also have to face my lack of knowledge about the better options. What can I offer a girl in a veil? If I complain about her being on the beach without swimming, I may not help her remove the veil, I may take away from her the right to be on the beach. If I question the wisdom of putting a hijab on a 10-year old, I may not help her to feel the wind in her hair, but take away her opportunity to walk freely with her mother on the street. When I complain about the extreme pinkness of girl clothing, I know there are other and better options available, which will not restrict the girls further. I know the consequences of having a wider colour range available for girls and boys, and it is not isolation, restriction and alienation. I don't know the consequence for the girl in the hijab.

That is why it is so important that women who do know the consequences, who know the communities, the families, the cultures and the rules, speak up for their sisters, and help us, who would like to speak but who fear to do it wrong, to learn how we can speak of this correctly and not restrictively. So thank you, Mina Ghabel Lunde, for speaking up and pointing out the problem. I will still speak up when I think Lego behaves stupidly. I will not start speaking against little girls in hijabs, because I still fear I will say something stupid, and make things worse. But I am very happy to help signal boost your arguments, and look for ways to help, because yes, I do think it is a problem to sexualise little girls and little boys, no matter how it happens. Let them just be children, with all the options open, for a while yet.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Beaches of research

This isn't a metaphor for how knowledge accumulates like sand to create the volume of knowledge which we can traverse - although that might actually have worked. Instead it is about real beaches and the process of writing.

First time I heard about the idea of writing on a beach was way back in the late eighties, as my fellow student told me she had written her master's thesis on the beach. I was green with envy, but also quite incredulous. It was a great thesis, but I didn't believe in the kind of work that could be done without a huge stack of books, a hard chair and the musty air of a library or reading-room.

Then I started to have to get academic work done, no matter what. I spent a too-hot week in New York not in the city, but in lovely Greenport, because there was a cheap hotel by a pebbly little beach on the North Shore, just the place to be while the city was melting.

That worked, so when I had a chance to go to Italy for some weeks, I brought the computer to Urbino and ultimately to Pesaro, which has a spectacular beach. I won't recommend trying to work there in the season though, it's crowded and hot and noisy - but in September October it's quiet and lovely. 

Then follows a list of beautiful Italian experiences. Alghero, with or without beach, is definitely a place where it is possible to work, but Bosa became a special place. The lovely town with its spectacular beach was where I went with two colleagues for the first serious academic bootcamp - a concentrated period of lovely surroundings, great food and intense work. 

In between this I moved to Denmark, and for a while had an office which was unbearably hot during the hours with direct summer sunlight. Since that's not all that common (perhaps 5-6 days a year), it was acceptable to work elsewhere during those hours, and I started taking my work to the nearby beach. I read, reviewed and commented on endless papers, articles, exams, books, during those beach hours. There is a certain amount of guilt to it, I guess. If I am to have such a lovely time, I had rather work, to prove that I am not just there on vacation. Daughter of a deeply protestant work-ethic as I am, having a too good time is not good at all, but if I can be productive, it makes up for it. 

This has brought me to where I am today. I am currently on sabbatical in Australia, visiting at the RMIT. However, they have winter here at the moment. (Insert Scandinavian rant about insulation, architecture, windows and temperatures indoors.) While I love my friends in Melbourne, the city has some of the best food to be found anywhere (gluten free dumplings, and spectacular ones!) and RMIT is a very interesting University, winter in Melbourne is a definite meh. After 10 days were lost to the flu, and I spent most of my working days wrapped up for below zero when it was around +10, and still freezing, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, and go north to find some warmth. And here I am:

I even took a picture of the work I am doing, just to prove that I do work, but it was showing too much of the text of a fellow researcher for random publication. in the three days I have been here I have finished reading and graded two 100+ page final dissertations, finished up editing an article after review, send off another article for peer review, and reviewed the work of said colleague. All this while listening to the surf, and applying sunscreen. And in between writing this blog post, I have been working to administrate the reviewing of a journal issue. Guilt. It's a powerful thing, and right now I feel guilty for not sticking with the winter. But I guess I will get enough of that when I return to Denmark in October. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

In favour of better jokes.

Some days ago we learned that the Norwegian minister of knowledge (education, I guess) delivered what he thought was a funny joke about white power. He immediately after had to do what it took Pewdiepie months to do - renounce stupid nazi jokes. Which proves that if nothing else, he is quicker in the uptake than at least one well-paid streaming star. The apology is however not going over well with - why am I not surprised - white men with some education. They claim it is another example of the supression of free speech. (And I am not directly quoting here because no way am I pointing the shamers and trolls of the world at individuals who are not elected officials or Youtube millioneers.) (If you don't think you said anything like that, I am not talking about you.)

Anyway - I suspect the problem with not acknowledging the danger of these casual jokes and what they symbolise isn't that Norwegian educated men any moment now will be donning the SS-shirts hanging in their closets. (Note: I do not believe all white educated men are secret nazi's. Was this a bad joke? Perhaps, if so I apologize. Irony is hard. It's based on stating what we all know is impossible or unreasonable. It stops working if the other party doesn't know what you said is impossible.) Our lack of acceptance that "race" is important is rather the opposite of the problem with America: where they reject the existence of class, we reject the possibility of ethnicity and race as dividers of the population.

Scandinavian social democracy, whether we have a red, green, blue or darkblue government, has a set of basic ideals, and one of those is the value of honest work. There is no shame in what your work is, as long as you work. Of course, like with all ideals, this isn't perfect. There is still a shadow of class arrogance between neighbourhoods. There is a center/periphery divide with a definite class flavour to it. Classic markers like language, taste in music, reading habits, artistic ability, education, etc etc - they still influence us. They make it easier to get jobs, gain influence, find the right kind of friends. We are however aware of them, know how to navigate the class issue and how to either counter or take advantage of it in different situations. Through the acknowledgement of the existence of a class-based society, we can work on making the effects of it less obvious and painful.

Gender is also getting there, although it takes a bit longer. This is among other things because the fight for class equality for a long time overshadowed the issue of gender equality. I apologize for not translating the following quote, but it is mainly here to demonstrate that I am not taking the socialist movement resistance to gender equality from my own imagination:
Fagorganisering av kvinnelige arbeidere foregikk i siste halvdel av 1800-tallet, men gikk tregt. Kvinnene var oftest ufaglærte, og de fleste var unge og så på lønnsarbeidet som midlertidig. Noen var gift og hadde både arbeid ute og mann og barn hjemme. Dette kunne gjøre organisering av kvinner vanskelig. Det hjalp ikke at menn i arbeiderklassen ofte var svært negative til å få kvinner inn i sine organisasjoner. 
Mange var mot at kvinner i det hele tatt arbeidet i industri og håndverk, blant annet fordi de hadde lavere lønn, og dermed kunne konkurrere med menn om arbeidsplasser. Samtidig mente mange menn, og som regel også kvinner, at det var langt bedre om kvinnene var hjemme og tok seg av familien.
So, yeah, minimising class difference is better explored and the tools better developed than for minimising  gender difference. On this background, it makes sense that we still have difficulties dealing with a more ethnically diverse society. After all, while the first labour movements started to bloom, and the first socialists started to talk about votes for all, we still had a paragraph in our constitution that denied jews access to the country. It was removed in 1851, and one of the most active builders of the image of Norway, the poet Henrik Wergeland, was a vital agent in opposing it, so we got on with it reasonably quickly, but it wasn't at the top of our agenda.

The tragedies that followed in the second world war, and the time it took for Norwegians to understand what was really happening, not even the heroics of the border guides and shetland boats could totally wipe away. Norway's past, when it comes to ethnic diversity, is blotted with attempts to eradicate the culture and language of the Sami and the Norwegian travellers, "taterne". But it is coming together, slowly, as the basic value of equality means that there is a positive trend in Norwegian society. Lately, however, the societal changes have just been too rapid for this slow assimilation. And so it is hard to understand why a bunch of white men can't, in a private party, joke about "white power", if black men can use racial epithets about themselves.

The difference is: the white power groups were very busy eradicating all the others, and not enough time has passed to let the ideology pass into history. While armed protesters still march to insist on white supremacy, racist jokes are bad. Perhaps wait a few generations after the last nazi is gone before you start, like with the white knights. If it is hard to understand, think about Isis. I suspect it would be time for some apologies if a muslim politician joked about fighting for Isis in a private party, that is, if the terror police didn't get him first. And that is not even a joke. A muslim politician being overheard as speaking in favour of Isis could end really badly, no matter how funny he thought his ironic comment was.

That is my point though: we haven't learned how to be a multicultural society yet. We want to be, and we want to not feel guilty when we do the wrong things, and we want to be funny when we crack jokes, and we want everybody to understand that we are working hard on being a society with strong values on the side of democracy and equality. But we have to give ourselves time to learn. Learning is painful, not only for the teacher, but also for the student, and right now, we Scandinavians are students of how to live in a heterogenous society. We will do stupid things. We should apologize. We should rethink. And then do smarter and more universally funny things. Because a joke only you like isn't really a joke worth retelling. Let's all aim for better jokes all around.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Free speech, right?

One of the arguments that keep popping up in Twitter and Facebook feeds is a discussion around free speech, and how the feminist agenda is limiting it. Of course, occasionally other agendas are killing free speech, such as those who fight for ethnic equality, economic equality or just plain human rights. With the claim that the feminist (or other equality based) agenda is accused of limiting free speech, there tends to be one think they all have in common. The threatened speech can be seen as supporting discrimination.

The most recent discussion is concerned with the engineer who circulated a memo at Google. In this document he argued for why male characteristics are better for engineers than female, and why that discussion should be permitted. Going through and arguing with the entire document is a time-consuming and painful thing to do, but luckily it has already been done pretty well. Suzanne Sadedin over at Quora has a pretty well articulated walk-through of the arguments concernine biological differences between men and women, for instance. Cynthia Lee ladysplains the computer science side of the argument over at Vox. I am not even going to go into the discussion as to whether Google had the right to fire an engineer who went against their diversity policy, because of course they do. That is actually how a free market, which libertarians love, works.

So what am I going to talk about?

I want to talk about the idea that all free speech should be without consequence. Because that is what is argued in the case of the Google engineer. He has, after all, not been refused his right to speak, quite the opposite, he has been asked to speak quite a lot since he was fired. What he wants is to speak without any negative consequences to himself. When he then claims it is a free speech matter, he commits a logical fallacy. Dissent of a woman made a pretty good list of logical fallacies concerning free speech back in 2012, long before this, and at least one is directly relevant:

4) An edict that states that an employer, school or club cannot form or enforce policies on speech that happens within its own environment and boundaries. 
Citizen G: You’re a stupid bitch! 
The boss: You’re fired. 
Citizen G (to the lawyer he or she hopes to hire): That stupid bitch violated my right to free speech. 
Clarifying the fallacy: The lawyer will not be taking Citizen G’s case because employee discipline is not legal censorship. Citizen G’s right to curse about his or her boss is protected, but will not receive safeguards from anything except arrest or government assassination. Firing Citizen G did not nullify his or her ability to call his or her boss a stupid bitch.

Google is huge, and if Google really does practice censorship of free speech, we'd be in trouble. I would probably be in trouble personally, since Google owns this blog platform. Now there are ways in which Google regulates speech, and while I don't think it's with malicious intent, it's really annoying to borderline problematic. For instance: if you're a scholar and use Google scholar, you really should make sure to do your searches while you are abroad on conferences as well as from home. The algorithm that makes sure that your search for "same day car repairs", or "pizza takeaway" gives you the local hits high up on your list, apparently messes with Google scholar hits. After a year of travels and writing from different countries, it has become pretty obvious - articles which are not frequently used in local searches and libraries come far down the list. This kind of censorship causes a bias in academic writing and publishing which makes it almost impossible for dissenting voices from remote locations to be heard, as it strengthens the centrally positioned scholars' tendency to only cite each other, making it less and less likely that others will be heard.

But even this isn't a violation of free speech. That would be if Google stopped displaying hits outside of our geographic area, suppressing them in specific searches, and is exactly the kind of censorship that comes into play in the Google vs China discussion:

Google vs. China 
Google has had a rocky relationship with the Chinese authorities since January 2010, when the company said it might shut down Chinese operations due to a "sophisticated and targeted" cyber attack. Google said at the time that it was no longer willing to censor its Chinese search engine. The forced blockage of Google's service and Google's subsequent threat to pull out highlight concerns of cyberspace security within China. While Jiang Yu, a spokesperson of the China's Foreign Ministry, promoted the Chinese government's "development of the internet", Wang Chen of China's State Council Information Office defended online censorship: "Maintaining the safe operation of the Internet and the secure flow of information is a fundamental requirement for guaranteeing state security and people's fundamental interests, promoting economic development and cultural prosperity and maintaining a harmonious and stable society."[56] In 2014, in response to a series of terrorist attacks, China made all Google services almost unusable by tightening its Internet censorship, often called the "Great Firewall of China". In 2009, one-third of all searches in China were on Google. As of 2013 the US company has only 1.7% market share.
Now, this is actual censorship in action, and this is a threat to free speech. What we are looking at here is how Google controls what I guess we can all agree is an asset to freedom of speech, and they refuse to adjust it to facilitate the kind of censorship practiced in mainland China.

But why fight for the right of women, coloured or low-income individuals to speak, and not the right of all, specifically educated, well situated white men? Aren't they allowed to start discussions about their working conditions?

Of course they are. But here's the thing with freedom of speech - for it to work, we all need to agree that all are equal first. Otherwise it won't be free speech, it will be a mutual silencing attempt. And this is where supremacy-groups come in. Whether it's gender supremacy (all directions), ethnic, colour, educational, or based on weight or muscle strength, supremacy groups that try to silence others because they for some reason "do not fit" have already waived their right to free speech. If you claim that being somehow "better" gives you the right to shut others up, you have to accept that others, who might be "better" than you, have the right to shut you up. And since in cases like this right = might, we are not looking at a society with free speech any more, and you can't use the argument. This is also where I have a problem with some of the more extreme aspects of identity politics - silencing the opposition is never OK. However, most advocates of identity politics don't try to silence the opposition. They just want them to be polite.

So, what does this have to do with the poor engineer, who just wanted the right to not having to be so sensitive all the time? Well, he has the right to be insensitive. However, he can't force others to like him for it. Or to return to the list of things free speech is not at Dissent of a woman:

1) A guarantee that in any particular interaction between individuals, people will like you, respect your opinion or even listen to you. 
Illustrative dramatization:
Citizen A: We shouldn’t be arguing about gender equality and pay when women don’t belong in the workforce in the first place. Working women are ruining families everywhere.
Citizen B: Citizen A, you are an idiot and I do not deem your supposition as worthy of a response.
Citizen C: I agree with Citizen B.
Citizen D: What the fuck, Citizen A? I want no piece of this protosexist fundamentalist nightmare. Take that shit elsewhere.
Citizen A: I have the right to express my opinion without all you fascists ganging up on me and trying to shut me up. Freedom of speech, bitches. 
Clarifying the fallacy: Actually, Citizens B-D have the right to call Citizen A names, as well as contradict and devalue Citizen A’s stupid opinion for the exact same reason that Citizen A is free to express a stupid opinion. Both the stupid opinion and the entirely appropriate return volley of criticism are protected by the first amendment.
I sympathize with the people who are angry that they can't speak their minds and still be popular for it, I really do. But getting feedback to what we say is how we learn.

And that engineer? He is now planning to sue Google, although it's not really yet clear on which grounds. (Also, he doesn't have a Ph. D., Businessinsider, even if his linkedin page said so for a while.) If he wins, it will probably be seen as a victory for people everywhere to speak up against company regulations. And in some cases, such as with particularly stupid dress codes, perhaps that's a good thing.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Living in the future

We live in the future. Not only the actual future if seen from yesterday, but in the future of dreams. We can travel around the world in a matter of hours, rather than months, we can speak across vast distances, wirelessly on our personal phones, we have huge amounts of knowledge available at our fingertips on small easily carried devices, and we can carry all our books in a purse. (And that last link is to the Spanish Wikipedia, which I hope gives justice to the then 54 year old inventor of the first electronic book, a Spanish schoolteacher named Ángela Ruiz Robles.)

Image found here.
But has this change actually been that huge? When I was a kid, I used to think about the changes my parents and grandparents saw. My grandfather on my father's side was a sami farmer in a world that went from horses and sail to cars and motor boats. My grandfather on my mother's side was an itinerant worker, a mason, who built railroads and bridges, cutting and working stone by hand and careful use of dynamite. Both my parents experienced farming with a horse and farming with a tractor, they would grow their own food, forage, hunt and fish as easily - or more - as they read the newspaper. The technology they adopted seems simple to us, but to them it was lifechanging - they got washing machines, chainsaws, television. In their lifetimes travel became a mundane thing, to the point that when their daughters grew up jumping on a train to go through Europe was not only doable, but popular.

And then the digital age hit us.

Was this when the future arrived?

Personally, I don't think so. We are just skimming the cream of all those firsts that are so much older than us. Before this blog comes the printing press, the type-writer, the moving image, the screen, the radio, the telephone, wired and wireless transmission, the Colossus computer, all inventions from the lifetime of both my grandparents and parents. What I use is all of this, put together, and used in different manners. Our inventions are bricolages, mixtures of what was already there.

The one, drastically new thing, that permits this culture of remixing the past, is the micro chip. Those who were at a "folk college" at Skjeberg in 1980-81, may remember a more than usually confused radio segment about the micro chip and how it would revolutionize the future. We knew it would happen, but at the time we had no idea how, and we particularly had no idea that what we tried to talk about was actually called an integrated circuit, had been developed since the fifties, and would thoroughly revolutionize the way we communicated.

Something as simple as remix culture isn't new, but remixing wouldn't want to be. Because what would Duchamp's L. H. O. O. Q be without art history? Remixing is possible and has meaning because of the past, not in spite of it. And in the spirit, and hopefully with the sense of humour of Duchamp, I find it fascinating and delightful that the most revolutionary invention of this age quite possibly is a better way to utilize what is already there.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Social Media Diet

Wonderful fellow researcher Lone writes about how she does bring her phone with her on vacation, and she argues well for why, as she describes the phone as a vital part of how she experiences and shares her life. At the same time current media are packed with warnings and "social media diets". The article that triggered this blog post is from yesterday's Daily Mail, but if you google the term, you'll see that this pops up every year, in different media. It is clearly one of those topics, that like bikini bodies and barbeque accidents return regularly to our attention. So let's look at it a bit.

First, the issue of "social media diets" tend to pop up when parents have to spend time with their kids, and discover what they are actually doing. In this case, it's summer, they go on vacation, the phones may not be as easily charged or the roaming costs go through the roof, and not only do the kids rebel, but the parents can't use their own phones as a distraction, and so it's clear that there has been a change of behaviour. Social media have become extremely important in our lives, from an early age on.

Lone Koefoed Hansen connects to the tradition of the cyborg body, envisioned among other places in Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, where she describes humanity as a hybrid between flesh and machine. The machine, in this understanding, is not a monstrous alienating force, but an extension of our bodies. As long as this extension is relatively simple and recognisable, perhaps even traditional, an axe, for instance, or a needle, we don't really question whether it ruins society as we know it. It is when this extension becomes unfamiliar that we, as a society, question its value. Do we really need to be able to fly, or will it end horribly if we try? Are souls captured by photography? Is a sun-centric model of the universe heretic? Can women play games? Change is always scary, and change in how our children act, think, speak, and in the choices they make, is perhaps the scariest of all. Hence, the reassuring, calming, idea of the healthy and controlled media diet.

Most media diets offer time restrictions. I am rather in favour of those. Kids need to do a variety of things - run, climb, be cold and warm, fall down and get back up, be stung by a wasp and get wet in a puddle - they need all of the experiences, and they need to do quite a few of them on their own, outside. This takes time. Same does reading, drawing, playing an instrument, helping with cooking, having a conversation with a friend or an adult, doing chores and playing a board-game with the family. If kids are glued to the screens, they won't get any of this very important stuff done. However. And this is where I disagree with the strict restrictions. However, by making the social media time something which is not part of all the rest, they don't need to control it, use it and take advantage of it. 

Social media today isn't something you do in isolation, it is part of everything. It's sending a snap to a friend when you're hanging upside down from a tree. It's asking when you can meet while you're stuck in your parents' car and really want to make sure you can see your friend that night. It's demonstrating your instrument skills to a proud grandma on Skype. It's the picture of the one successful cupcake, the joke shared among friends that makes you laugh while you should be doing homework, it's the reminder from your sister that you need to plan a present, it's the argument you got into that escalated when you used the wrong emoticon because you were walking to the bus while typing. 

This can't be quantified. It has to be learned in order for our kids to understand the restrictions and the possibilities. And we are the ones who need to support that learning, just like we need to support our kids as they learn how to get to school, how to choose a boyfriend, how to drink responsibly, how to have safe sex, how to go for a hike, how to drive a car, how to travel the world. And, since we are talking of diets, yes, we also need to teach our kids how to eat healthy and well. And we know very well that this isn't only about quantity. Food is both good and bad for you. So are social media. Teach your kids to be sceptical, critical and a little cautious, just like they should be about modern, processed food. Because good use of social media is as hard as smart food choices. And it's can't all be cupcakes, even if they sometimes are just what you need.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


My dreams are exceptionally mundane. They are silly funny things, like walking out the door of the apartment in Denmark and finding myself here in Bologna, or annoying, like fear of oversleeping making me wake up once an hour, if I have set the time early to make sure I manage to get up. But once upon a time I used to have nightmares.

They lasted well into my adult age, horrible terrors, where I was chased through a maze that was my childhood home, new doors opening in strange places, while the things chasing me - animals of some kind - came ever closer, until I woke up terrified, sometimes screaming.

The last time I had this dream, our little, orange kitten came into the dream. While I was trying to hide, she grew to the size of a lion, then she got between me and the thing chasing me, and ROARED.

This happened years ago, and the kitten became a cat, aged, and died, and we missed her and grieved for her. But in my dreams she still walks in her golden lion shape, and the dreams remain silly, funny, annoying or just weird. I never tried to interpret this at any particular level, I just accepted it, but it was a gift from a kitten that would have been put to sleep if we had not adopted her, a gift I treasure every time I don't bolt out of my dreams in terror.
Watermarked pic nicked from the 'net.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The practicalities of life

When we moved to Denmark, my husband and I reduced our amount of property dramatically. Just the number of books we got rid of was overwhelming, and I still miss the almost new couch we left in Volda. One of these days I may go shopping for a new, equally comfortable one, because I am learning what comforts I really appreciate, and which are fleeting.

Another thing we wanted to leave behind was the need to constantly maintain our property. We had a large house and a difficult garden - although we let half of it return to nature - and we spent a lot more of our free time looking after all of this than we really wanted. So here I am, in a nice little city flat in Copenhagen. Two days of yard work a year, and everything else solved in the co-op, which is a common ownership structure here.

Everything, that is, except when something breaks inside the apartment. This year I have had to repair the electricity to the fridge and stove, the diswasher is broken, and lastly, the toilet is done for. I am learning about other comforts which are really important to me. My comfortable couch has suddenly moved far down on the must-have list, as I want, in falling order of importance: a toilet I can flush, a floor I am not worried about falling through, a finished book,  a modern kitchen with enough power to actually use it, and a new couch. Note how the book I am devoting most of my time to has dropped on the list of priorities? Sorry, dear co-author, but being able to flush and walk across the floor takes precedence. The book will still get more action though, as that's the only thing I can actually do something about myself, without waiting for others.

At least the toilet in the sabbatical apartment in Bologna still works. Getting back there may be even nicer than I expected.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The slow things - 2 months, 1 day.

I am two months and one day into the sabbatical, and I have produced one article and almost two chapters. It's not a bad feat. The challenge is to keep going. I have to produce one more chapter draft, and then start massaging a large text into unity. The first part should be doable, I have almost 2 months to go for that. The second part will take months still.

There is however some kind of progress, even if it does not flow smoothly and confidently. And to celebrate that I want to share my most faithful companion with you. This little creature lives in the garden I see from my windows, comes out in the sun, and is one of life's great delights to spot it or one of its companions - because there are more than one. Here you go, the heraldic animal of the academic bootcamp.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The wonder of libraries

They are the mainstay of research, the boring resource our students tend to forget about. Students keep asking me to help them find books and articles, I send them to the libraries, and they are always shocked. One student I worked particularly much with I met up in a library in order to show her how just sitting within their magical wireless aura boosts you access - at least if you are in a University Library in most of Europe with a Eduroam access, the way our students are.

In Copenhagen, I regularly use the large libraries in the city for my reading periods. Sitting in a common reading room focuses me wonderfully, my student discipline takes over and I write or read while I am there. The space is too public and too uncomfortable, but still just sufficiently safe and familiar that I stay alert, on track, but relaxed at the same time. The soft thread of careful feet trying not to disturb is endearing in it's civilised and polite concern for the work of others, and the scent of stacks of books carries the memory of more than 30 years of study and work. This is, as much as any place in the world, home.

And so it is with a familiar delight that I settle into the library at the University of Bologna. This is one of the oldest universities in the world, and it has the libraries to prove it. My main library is at the media and music department, where the tables for reading and working are scattered among the stacks. Saturday I was introduced to another library I am definitely going to be using - although I have to book a time to get the full use of it - the Renzo Renzi library and their wonderful videogame archive. Others have pointed to fantastic libraries - some so stunning that they have closed them to tourists, and I will have to prove my need in order to access them, such as the Archiginnasio library. As a visiting scholar I can probably get in there, but as a digital media scholar it may be a somewhat better use of my energy and connections to book time at the videogame archive.

What all these libraries have in common is a wonderful opportunity for access. They are, to me, the ultimate symbol of freedom and equality. They offer to all who are willing to respect the work and curiosity of others, the opportunity to learn, be entertained, discover, study, and enjoy, a vast body of literature, art, creativity and research, that covers centuries, and in some cases, millennia.

And this is the message of today. I am one month and 17 days, one article and one book chapter into my sabattical. It's spring in the world outside of these dusty rooms, and I walk to and from my beloved libraries under the beautiful porticos, sheltered by ancient, civilised laws protecting common rights and  public spaces. If anybody ever make me choose between the bicycle lanes of Copenhagen or the porticos of Bologna, I am going to have to struggle with which to vote for, but right now it is colonnades all the way - literally.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The exhaustion within.

When people talk about academics, it's as if they speak of something belonging to another, walled-off world. To many, that is probably kind of true. If you don't make academe your career, you visit it, live in a very particular type of bubble where you cram your head with knowledge and experiences that change you more or less fundamentally, and then you move on to a community where the changes wrought on you are more random, less planned, less visible and less controlled. In their lives, being at a college or university is a limited, enclosed experience. "When I was a student," they may say. "At the university, these were the experiences..."

This sense of living a life apart from every other experience makes being an academic something romantic and nostalgic, even if you walk away from it with scorn. Perhaps it is even why so many walk away with scorn. In order to be able to distance yourself from a way of living which is so different, you need to start hating it a little, to convince yourself turning away was the right things. To explain why you didn't study more, or learn something else, you sneer at academic knowledge, and call it irrelevant. It might be to cover the secret desire for a Ph D and a lifetime of learning, why you left, why you failed. The reason isn't really important, the thing that is still with you is the sense of those who become academics as people who remain in the dream, who live a life apart, who do not touch reality. They are still in the ivory tower.

Sadly, there's not a lot of ivory in that tower. Most of the resources invested in Universities you have already seen. The auditoriums, the classrooms, the libraries - they are there for the students, like you were and like your children will be. The offices are crowded and the book collections you perhaps admire during supervision are collected over decades of work, one book at the time, not through some magic privilege. Imagine the money you spend on your favourite hobby (drinking and shopping counts). Then every time you spend 25€ on your hobby, you buy a book as well. That's where the books come from. Also, the students admiring those book collections will steal your books. I lose some every year to students who "forget" to give them back, believing that there must be some secret source of books where I can just go get a new one.

And that professor you just "borrowed" a book from isn't paid particularly well. It's not bad, being a tenured professor is in most places of the world one of those pretty safe middle-class jobs. But the realities of life are as real to scholars as to anybody else. So where, in all this, are the ivory towers?

Hidden in between the intense competition for work, the throat-cutting ambition that makes you mistrust old friends and new, the non-disclosure statements, the extreme work-hours and the nights of grading - somewhere in that world, there really ought to be a silver lining. The thing is - you need to be able to see it. It's not in the relaxed work hours, because any teaching scholar who also tries to research and publish will laugh until they cry at that idea. It's not in the respect and status - at the moment education and research is apparently the place where all governments agree they can spend less and cut more (and how ironic is that - the well-educated in power pulling the ladder up behind them, and the public cheering the decision, because teaching the young to question the status quo is ridiculous. After all this is currently the best of all possible worlds... OK, I will stop there, let's just say that you don't need to be a conspiracy nut to suspect that there is an agenda to the attacks on public education.)

It is something very small, a bit of wonder, a bit of desire, a bit of mystery. If you want to do well, over a long time, working long hours in a complex, often overwhelming job, you need to be intrinsically motivated. If not, the lack of funding, the constant care you need to offer students, the consistent self-examination and push for creative questions and new knowledge will break you. It happens. Scholars burn out, or decide to follow alternative tracks on a regular basis. They become administrators, advisors, consultants, or just pull back and into themselves, getting by with as little effort as possible.

And then you sit there, like I do right now, asking yourself - how did we get here? I was planning to write about the wonders of being a travelling scholar visiting the oldest University in Europe. About going from the shiny glass building of ITU to the solemn rows of colonnades connecting the buildings of the University of Bologna, but instead what I wrote about - what my fingers needed to work through - was academic over-work, loss, and exhaustion. But then there is that little bit of mystery.

It is what I am here to be reminded of. I am going away from everything that has made me feel like I have been mentally scraped clean, to rediscover the why of being a scholar. And I have come here, to the oldest well of knowledge I could reach, to recover. One month and three days in. Tomorrow I start writing a book. Today I eat "melanzane", read a new language, and walk the endless colonnades.