Sean Smith on Tue, 2 Apr 2002 03:54:14 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Coco's Cant (was: Plant's Cant)

i'm sorry coco, but when you write something as outrageous as yr most
recent post, you most definately _don't_ get the last word. so sadie took
money from a us multinational to fund her research - so what? on its own,
it proves absolutely nothing - except perhaps the moral bankruptcy of the
criticism of that funding. the question with any research, whether its
funded by the state, the private sector, individual philanthropy or shit,
the proceeds of street crime and burglary, is how independent is that
research, and how strong is the methodology? if the funder - whoever they
are - directs the research, then its bad research, if not, if its
independent, and well constructed, then where's the drama?

or are we going to claim, say, that its better to get funding from a
government to prove a particular piece of their agenda, than from the
private sector to conduct basic research? i've had to travel halfway
around the world to get funding to continue my research on mobile phones,
and guess what? the funding body is a us technology corporation. what am i
going to do? say, gee, thanks for the offer of a grant to conduct basic
research - ie, whatever the hell i want - for a predetermined period of
time, but no thanks, i'll wait in line until some government body deems it
worthwhile to do qualitative research into the social effects of mobile
phone use? and what then? both the funding bodies i am familiar with, in
australia and over here in the uk, have much stricter reporting
requirements for their researchers than i have from my funders - so shit,
i'm actually more independent from my peers getting government funding!

i don't pretend to know the circumstances of sadie's funding arrangements,
but i strongly suspect that if a junior researcher like myself can have
basic research funding, then someone with some actual cultural capital
shouldn't have too much trouble insisting on the independence of their
project. one of the ways the independence of research is ascertained is
via its publication in peer reviewed journal, and so i'd be interested to
know where sadie's research is getting published, cos the willingness of
any funding body to allow research they've paid for to be openly published
is usually a good indicator of the independence of the research being

>1. Giving a paid endorsement for cell phones the dignified title of
>"research" is like calling mock documentary styled commercials for
>anti-depressants paid for by pharmaceutical companies "information."

... i cant even get my head around this one. does this mean that any
research done that _doesn't_ show mobiles to be tools of evil (in spite of
their worldwide popularity) is necessarily 'paid endorsement'? (and before
anyone says, 'but it was funded by motorola', stop and think - does that
mean that any research into mobiles funded by the state would implicitly
be supporting the billions of [insert unit of local currency] they're all
making off them? no? i didn't think so). or does it mean that research
that's favourably disposed towards mobiles is necessarily bad, as distinct
from, say, research that shows the uses of the internet? in australia this
year, the number of mobiles phones has exceeded the number of landlines:
mobile phones are a mass commodity, far more so than the computers we use
to contribute to this mailing list. and, in case it needs pointing out,
mobiles are a commodity far more heavily used by poor people and
marginalised communities than computers - so why do we have visceral
reactions against them? is this vanguardism rearing its ugly head again?
or is this a hypocrisy we're happy with?

>2. Plant jumps to conclusions based on her observations that are both sci
>entifically unsound and illogical. What was described as increased manual
>dexterity of the thumb is not a genetic mutation but simply the result of
>long term practice and exercising of a body part - many musicians evidence
>similarly surprising dexterity. It could also be argued that the increased
>dexterity was not even the result of the machine but of the exercise -
>hence we could all make our thumbs do 500 push ups a day and end up with
>the same capacities as the cell phone users. Plant appears to have fallen
>prey to the kind of hype that "fab-ab" advertisers use, promising viewers
>that this or that new fangled machine will finally enable them to lose
>weight, look beautiful, or get a life.

i have to admit i haven't got around to properly reading sadie's motorola
report yet - it's in that big pile of reading to get thru on my desk. i
wasn't greatly impressed with the press releases that were issued
concerning it, typically breathless pieces of marketing that they were,
but if we're gonna judge the tone of the report by the tone of the press
releases (cos what i have read of the report is in fairly standard, but
mercifully clear academic language, and seems to be based on extensive
fieldwork) then we're kinda full of it, aren't we?

>Her "studies" support the interests of
>those who suppress the other information in order to maximize their
>profit. In that sense her arguments are pro-globalization in its most
>heinous form -- "progress" is to be measured by the questionable
>appearance of an emancipatory effect of technology on a few, not the
>outrageously unequal economic structure that makes a few trinkets
>available to an elite while starving millions, or the abusive labor
>conditions that destroy the lives of so many.

let me repeat myself - sometime in the next three years, mobile phone
ownership will exceed landline use in all parts of the world except that
part of north america that is home to the multinational funding sadie's
(and my) research. in some parts of africa, europe and australasia it
already does. thus, if we're gonna condemn mobile researchers for looking
at mobiles, we need to similarly - surely? - condemn all internet
researchers for concerning themselves with far more elitist and far more
enviromentally and economically destructive technologies. and all landline
researchers. and all television researchers. and, shit, anybody
researching anything more advanced than the bloody chisel, screw and
fulcrum. i know that mobiles are still owned by a minority of ppl in the
us, but please, can we get an analysis? the whole point of sadie's report
is to say that the us is an exception, that in the rest of the world the
mobile is as ordinary as a wristwatch. or are we still at the point of
telling ordinary (eg, non-university educated, non-internet using, just as
an example...)  ppl that they're oinks for using technologies, having
hobbies, engaging in practices we don't approve of? shit, maybe adorno
never died...


Sean Smith
Research Fellow, Mobile Technologies,
Department of Sociology,
University of Surrey.
ph: +44 (0)1483 686 966
m:  +44 (0)7786 511 042

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