#Unplugging > Beyond Hyper-Connected Societies

By: Igor Calzada, Future of Cities/COMPAS and Cristobal Cobo, Oxford Internet Institute

Technology is never neutral, it has the potential and capacity to be used socially and politically for quite different purposes, argued Raymond Williams in 1983. Indeed, recently we both watched #HER[1], the newest movie by the filmmaker Spike Jonze, and we realised that this hyper-connected future is already not either as neutral or as far away from our current human interactions. Are we already living at present in such hyper-connected societies and cities as Jonze describes in his film? It sounds surprisingly contradictory how a film that makes you feel anxious about the self-deterministic way technology is dominating our lives can at the same time tele-transport us to the future of the technologies and their impact on our human emotions. Moreover, we could argue that is not that unrealistic a science-fiction storytelling. Could you imagine yourself falling in love just with a voice even if it belongs to an artificial operative system?

computer programmerThe real truth seems to be that the impact on our lives is occurring without us being aware of it. Shall Mr Jonze provoke a reflection on the consequences of the quick, risky (Beck, 2013) and liquid (Bauman, 2013) real-time cities (Kitchin, 2013)? This notion brings us to the so-called debate on the suitability of the Smart Cities (Greenfield, 2013) and their applicability. Are we altering our social relationship because of the new technologies? Moreover, one of us did even not know about the existence of Siri[2], the real device embodying what #HER represents in the fiction movie. Moreover, that could actually be perfectly believable! Another example of the trend on the techno-determinism consequences is the book The Circle by Dave Eggers[3] who reflects on questions about privacy, democracy, and human fragility in the technological broad realm. What happens to us if we “must” be online all the time? To live entirely in the public realm can be a form of solitary confinement. Is there any added value in the possibility of remaining voluntarily #unplugging?

Thus, being conscious about this novel trend and subtle notion for the 21st century societal challenges and their research in societies and cities, we have organized a workshop on 20 June in Oxford supported by The Oxford Research Centre of the Humanities[4] (TORCH). This event aims to gather scholars from different disciplines to debate open and critically about #Unplugging[5]. The idea is to better understand the social and cultural implications of hyper-connected societies and the possible research agendas associated.

Even though we note some dark side effects of the technology (Ippolita, 2008). Our purpose is to draw on a critical social innovation pathway as a transition towards alternative digital humanities practices for our daily life. Nevertheless, there are plenty of pending questions about this subtle notion, that we have clustered as #Unplugging.

For instance: Will unplugging be a right or a privilege of a few? Will being constantly plugged improve our wellbeing and happiness as a society? In addition to the digital divide’s effect on the information society structure, is hyper-connectivity stressing another extra social divides between a few privileged unplugged people and a large plugged crowd (online almost 24/7)? Are we heading towards an individualistic society? Or simply, does it seem that this is the natural way the world will be ruled in micro-communities (in bubbles) in the future? Who designs the technology that we consume? Will devices serve citizens more than the citizens serve the devices? Therefore, are there real alternatives to the technocratic business-led dominant top-down governance model in the Smart Cities? Or, in contrast, is this still wishful progressive thinking?

Is the idea of big data, an empty buzzword? Is it possible to combine an open access civilian deliberative system within a confidential and espionage-obsessed paradigm? Will we see changes in which context-collapsed information will be contestualized to enhance social interactions? Will technological devices be designed based on peoples needs more than on corporate or infrastructure interests? Will the socio-political establishment suffer any shift towards free and community-driven processes? Or by contrast, is the myth of digital democracy (Hindman, 2009) the one debunking popular notions about political discourses in the digital age? Has the Internet neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens? Finally, can we anticipate any relevant change in the Smart City practices as a consequence of changes among stakeholder interactions in the definition of a new political economic balance?

To sum up, what are the societal challenges in the current hyper-connected societies? How to explore new policy strategies as well as new research agenda by focusing on the implications of the hyper-connectivity? How do these strategies affect citizenship and diverse range of ethnic groups? Could we start making policies to avoid inequalities due to the digital and social divide among immigrants? Could we use technology in an alternative way for a better social inclusiveness of migrant flows wherever? Could be deliberately design the usage of technology to gain more democratic, diverse, global and equal societies instead of simply hyper-connected? Could technology be in favour of the creation of global multicultural urban communities with the same opportunities? Will our cities design hybrid spaces driven by urban commons where migration issues will be assisted by open and participative policy-making?

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The Would-Be Migrant

By: Xiang Biao, University Lecturer in Social Anthropology

Photo by Nicola Kiltley,Entry COMPAS Photo Competition 2012

Photo by Nicola Kiltley,Entry COMPAS Photo Competition 2012

Outmigration was a common topic in daily conversations in northeast China, where I did my fieldwork from 2004 to 2008. In discussion, though, there was no generic concept equivalent to ‘migrant’ or ‘out-migrant’. People talked about specific individuals only (“Zhang in Singapore working as a shop assistant”). The closest expression to ‘(out-)migrant’ was ‘those who have gone abroad’. However, the phrase was seldom used and did not mean much more than such purely descriptive terms as ‘those who are lucky’ or ‘those who are tall’. In contrast, the expression ‘those who wait to go abroad’ was often heard. It referred to a category of people who share certain characteristics. For instance, people would say “those who want to go abroad are ambitious” or “I don’t want to do business with those who wait to go abroad”. ‘Those who wait to go abroad’ are ‘would-be migrants’ who were exploring possibilities of outmigration actively to the extent that their daily lives were significantly changed.

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Anthology of writing about migration available free online

By: Michael Keith, Director, and Bridget Anderson, COMPAS Deputy Director

This blog was first posted by Migrants’ Rights Network, 15 April 2014.

This week the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford publishes online a free resource for all interested in migration today and its consequences.  Migration: The COMPAS Anthology brings together short prose pieces and collections of poetry and photography and can be found at http://compasanthology.co.uk.

book-cover2aThe collection is intended to inform and provoke. By inform we mean that we want to provide a source of materials for publics interested in work that takes migration as its focus, easily accessible for both academic and non-academic audiences; individual readers, civil society organisations, community groups and NGOs with an interest in migration. It includes a range of scholarship addressing topics in the UK and across the globe. We hope it will be useful for school and university teachers as a readily available resource giving access to some of the more recent writing in migration studies from a range of international scholars. We have used a creative commons license for the collection that has both a practical and an ethical dimension. Either the whole anthology or individual pieces can be downloaded as a PDF or in an ebook readable format. We hope that everybody will feel free to distribute the pieces as far and widely as possible.

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Posted in Citizenship and Belonging, emigration, Flows and Dynamics, human rights, immigration, integration, journey, labour markets, media, migration, research, The Migration Observatory, Urban Change and Settlement, Welfare | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Claiming the flag

By: Ole Jensen, Research Officer

Mid-April, and approaching another St. George’s Day. Last year, at approximately this time, we were getting ready for the first leg of the EUMIA fieldwork, focussing on the St. George’s Day celebration in Bermondsey, South London. In this blog, I will discuss the significance of this celebration as both a successful, locally led community event and an inclusive coming together around something that is, essentially, very English (though St George is actually, as many local residents and stakeholders told us, the patron saint of not just England, but a wide range of countries and cities around the world).

Capturing the flag
Winner photocomp 2011
In comparison to, for example, Scandinavian countries where use of the national flag is associated with any kind happy event, the English flag is used with much more restraint. Apart from sports events – typically football tournaments where myriads of St George’s flag emerge, only to disappear again after another lost penalty shoot-out – the English flag has been out of favour in the public sphere, ‘successfully’ captured by far-right political parties and therefore often widely frowned upon by ‘polite society’.

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Nikkei Cuisine: understanding immigration through food

By: Ayumi Takenaka, Research Officer

Peruvian food marketFood can tell us a lot about immigrant integration.  Immigration transforms local food; immigrants, in turn, assimilate local food into their diets. Through the transformation of food, one can see how immigrants adapt and identify in the host society, as well as how they are identified and accepted by it.

Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Peru, collectively called Nikkei, are a case in point. Long ambivalent about their identity, Nikkei Peruvians are comfortably at home in Peru today, as manifested by the emergence and proliferation of Nikkei food, or Cocina Nikkei, in Peru and elsewhere.

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