A paper I wrote with Steve Jones will be published soon in a special section of the International Journal of Communication on “Cars and Contemporary Communication: Machine, Medium, Mobility”.
Automobility, Autonomy, and Communication
Nathanael Bassett and Steve Jones
This article explores the tension between the freedom a self-driving car offers and privacy considerations. Studies of the automobile’s impact on the environment, public health, noise, planning, and development, as well as its appearance in, and inspiration of, popular culture are easy to find. In the field of communication, research on cars as a medium or as a site of communication often falls into the domain of mobilities, as defined by John Urry (2007). Mobilities consider not just the travel of people and objects through space, but also the imaginative, virtual, and communicative travel of messages between people and things. Julia Hildebrand (2017) notes the relationship of mobilities to media ecology and argues that we can understand the exploration of converging media and mobility entities as transportation–information–communication technologies. Furthermore, imaginaries of the autonomous car promote greater freedom for drivers while raising concerns with the necessity of increased connectivity. The automobile is a case for concern in communication studies, particularly around issues of control, freedom, and privacy.
Keywords: mobilities, privacy, autonomous vehicles, affordances
In a nice turn of events, another panel on resistance to technology will be at 4S, “Luddism: Epistemological and Political.” A paper I am working on was accepted to this panel.
Contemporary Luddism: Lifestyle Politic vs Collective Movement
This paper discusses trends in technology resistance, and the prevalence of commercial and atomized expressions of Luddism. I map historical examples of technology refusal to contemporary efforts to resist participation in technological society. Historical expressions of Luddism can be understood as “collective bargaining via riot,” as Hobsbawm describes. Luddism as collective action predates its namesake to include examples of resistance to public security and control, including the True Levelers, fence-breakers during the English enclosure movement, the destruction of railways during the Boxer rebellion, or other instances of resistance to technological colonialism. Historical Luddism also involves moving “off-the-grid” and the establishment of alternative societies, such as planned communities and off-the-grid collectives.
But resistance to technology incurs a high cost. “The grid” is increasingly difficult to escape. The cost of refusal can only be incurred by those with economic and social capital to make lifestyle decisions that satisfy a sense of personal security. Contemporary expressions of Luddism now include digital detox workshops, mindfulness seminars, families limiting screen-time restrictions, and patronizing spaces that discourage technology use (such as coffee shops and bars that proclaim they are “WiFi free”).
Delineating between historical and contemporary Luddism has the potential to help us understand Luddism as part of a commercialized identity formed from consumer choices, adaptation to infrastructure as it suits (or impinges) on our needs, and a negotiation with the increasing impossibility of refusal all together. These carry strong implications for the sense of (in)security associated with technology.
Non-use scholars: Consider submitting to my open panel at 4S for next year’s conference:
Beyond Non-Use: Infrastructuralism and Interruption
Nathanael Bassett, University of Illinois at Chicago
This panel calls for scholarship on non-use and media refusal to examine how ubiquitous technology becomes infastrucutral, and the increasing difficulty of avoiding adoption. While existing works on non-use examine Sally Wyatt’s refuser, resister, and the expelled as well as the excluded, looking at technologies and media as infrastructural leads us to consider non-use as a precarious near-impossibility. Yet interruptions in patterns of use and changes in user behaviors emerge, as we negotiate our relationships with media and technology in context-specific studies. How do we consider what it is to be a non-user when innovation is rapidly the conditions of possibility for living in a technified society? This panel hopes to address that question.
Scholarship on non-use is welcome to examine the issues surrounding innovation, interruptions, (dis)engagement and (dis)empowerment. When we are compelled to participate in media and technology via innovation, how do we measure the exchange of agency, as ways of being in society become technified, commercialized and standardized on new platforms? What is the interuption to older ways of being and historic social infastructure? What is the relationship between (dis)engagements and (dis)empowerment? Case studies, theoretical works, and new perspectives are especially welcome as we try and continue the necessary conversation around non-use.
I am proud to say I will be presenting a paper on “Playing Dead: Disconnection and the Technological Uncanny” in November at National Communication Association’s 2018 meeting in November, in the Philosophy of Communication Division. I will also be chairing a panel regarding “Perspectives on Non-use” (described below). Continue reading
Good and bad news: I have been accepted as part of a panel for AOIR2018 in Montreal, but my own paper was rejected. I’ve decided to share information on both here, and go into my thoughts on the rejection below. Continue reading
Also forgot to post this: https://tcjournal.org/vol7/bassett
Review by Nathanael Bassett, University of Illinois at Chicago
Privacy: A Short History
Malden, MA: Polity, 2016. 189. Book.
Communication is rarely secure and relationships are fraught with intrusions. Technology and privacy researchers are keen to the first point but overlook the second because of how we contextualize and define privacy in the present. Following the enduring claim of Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis that one has a “right to privacy,” namely, “to be let alone,” we conceive of surveillance with metaphors like Foucault’s panopticon and the security state, with its various devices for tracking and monitoring people. Because of this, we fail to recognize broader and more nuanced forms of privacy. We are observing the tail end of a phenomena for which David Vincent’s Privacy: A Short History provides a brief outline, the life and death of a mode of privacy. The significance of this book is not only a social history of privacy or the history of the idea itself, but the significance of artifacts and technology in creating a sense of privacy. Environments afforded certain types of sociality lending to or detracting from this sense. This book provides both researchers and curious readers with an insight into the relationship of technology and privacy in a much broader context than what is typically discussed.
I forgot to post this one:
Journal of Communication Media Studies (2018)
Book Review: John Durham Peters. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 410 pages.
Reviewed by Nathanael Bassett
University of Illinois at Chicago
John Durham Peters has already cemented his legacy in the field of communication with Speaking into the Air (1999). Written towards scholars focusing on effects and connectivity, the book discusses communication’s untapped potential for understanding affectivity and human relationships. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (2015) has a similar promise to be a foundational and inspirational book for students and scholars of communication, media studies, and other disciplines, as well as an enjoyable (yet difficult) journey for general readers.