My experience on the LTHEchat organising team

Back in December 2017 I began to get involved with the LTHE chat group. I’d heard about it from a lecturer at my University, Sue Beckingham. It had also started trending on my Twitter channels due to my followers and followees involvement.

So just before the Christmas break I took part in my first #LTHEchat, answering questions about learning and teaching spaces. I enjoyed seeing responses from academics and more, and joining in the conversation. At first I was worried that perhaps I was joining in where I shouldn’t have been, as I didn’t have the relevant experience and knowledge however, it became apparent that my views were valued by those taking part, as I could provide the student voice, but also incorporate my own interest in and understanding of higher education learning and teaching techniques.

After my first chat, Sue Beckingham, one of the LTHE steering team, contacted me to thank me for contributing and to  let me know that the team were looking for volunteers for the organising team for the Easter-Summer session. To be honest, I then promptly forgot all about this message until March time when the New Year-Easter session finished, I just kept answering questions where I could and plodding along! Apparently, when I did message Sue again in March, it was very timely as there was a space available with the team for this session.

From there, things moved quickly, we began to discuss the process of being in the organising team via email, along with my two fellow team members – Dr Hala Mansour and Suzanne Faulkner. From there, we were invited as admin to the WordPress blog ( so that we could post the blog for each chat. We then had a team meeting on Skype so that we could all meet each other (sort of) and chat about our availability and skills.

Most of the organisation for each chat takes place on Google Docs, where we assign tasks for each week – blog post, question posting, creating the Wakelet etc. However, we also have a Twitter chat group where we tend to communicate the most, it’s perfect for quick-fire questions and answers and pulling together each task and element of the LTHEchat for each week. It’s also been really nice because we’ve gotten to know each other in the chat and supported each other to ensure the smooth running of each chat (as near as possible anyway!) If somebody isn’t feeling well or has a really busy schedule for a day or a few days, the team has come together to support each other, which I think has been what I’ve enjoyed the most about it.

In terms of my own development, I’ve already had considerable experience of using Google Docs to facilitate a project, I’ve also used WordPress for my own blog sites and to curate/publish other blog sites and posts so didn’t develop any new skills here. However, it’s always good to get more experience and use tools for a slightly different purpose/audience.

I’d not used Wakelet before so, I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with it. As digital and social media tools go it’s pretty straightforward. I’ll certainly keep it in mind for future projects where it could be relevant as it’s a fantastic way of gathering social media content and keeping a record of it. It’s incredibly easy to use (I found) and ensures all the great questions and responses for each chat are recorded in one place, to be looked at any time.

For anybody who is thinking of or would like to get involved in LTHEchat in the future, whether it be responding to the questions, curating the topic and questions for one of the chats or being part of the organising team for a session, I would definitely recommend getting involved. It might be based on a simple idea of sharing and curating knowledge by asking questions and giving responses but, it’s so much more than that. There’s a real community, a real sense that despite all the experience and skills of the curators and contributors, everybody has something to share, and something to learn. The creators of the chat wanted to create something that would be a truly collaborative projects, where anybody can share, ask, learn and create. And that’s definitely what they’ve done.

My next aim: to curate the questions for one of the chats!

I haven’t spoken too much here about the creation and ideals behind the LTHEchat project so, for anybody who wants to know more, click here to head over to the LTHEchat blog. You can also find them on Twitter here. So, if you’re interested in teaching and learning techniques, higher education, social media, communication and more, just come and get involved!


12 Tips for Completing your Dissertation

I loved doing my dissertation. Okay so, at the time I wasn’t sat there thinking, “this is so much fun” but, the more I researched into my topic and the more I put down my key arguments in writing, the more I enjoyed what I was doing.

Doing your dissertation is one of the very few times you have complete control over what you do. It’s rare in academia, most of the time you’re choosing from a list of set essay questions on a module you don’t like because it’s an elective on your course. The dissertation is a chance to choose something in your field you’re really interested in and create an argument, a piece of research around it.

So, here are some of my tips for writing your dissertation, from planning, to doing, taking breaks to compiling research. Everyone is different, every project is different, and every course is different, these aren’t universal, but hopefully there’s something that’s useful!

And don’t forget to check out my Dissertation Tips Moment on my Twitter – @lburdenmedia

  1. Be patient – with yourself and with others

People are going to ask about your project. They’ll want to know what you’re doing, and you’ll feel that you’ll have to say something clever sounding to impress them, and then they probably won’t understand what you’re on about anyway. Think of something concise to tell people that summarises your project. Also, be patient with your supervisor. This isn’t there only project, they’ll have their own research to do, classes, other work to supervise. Plan your time so that, if it takes them a few days to email you back, it’s not a big deal.

  1. Planning

This one’s probably obvious but just in case. Try your best to plan out your time wisely. Remembering all the time that the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have. Setting preliminary deadline dates with your supervisor really helps, as does using a diary or your phone calendar to map out the free time you have and how long you have left until deadline day.

  1. Not just planning, but doing

Don’t spend all your time planning out when you’ll sit down and get some work done, you also need to sit down and get some work done. It’s all well and good looking in your diary and thinking, it’s okay I’ve got two whole days free next week, if you’ve got some free time this week, get some work done now, as well as later.

  1. Bitesize chunks

Break your project down into more manageable bitesize chunks. If you’re always thinking to yourself, oh my god, I’ve got to do a whole dissertation project, you’ll constantly be freaking out. Instead, open a blank document, and populate it with some preliminary subtitles – Introduction, Literature Review, Conclusion etc. Complete the project, section by section.

  1. Start early

Like I said above, the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to finish. This one really is obvious and you’re probably rolling your eyes and scrolling past this right now but, it really is true. Don’t start when your dissertation module starts. You’ve got the summer before your third year, your whole degree to be thinking about what you want your project to be on and starting some casual research.

  1. What have you enjoyed at University?

I don’t mean Wednesday nights in Corp. Think back to which modules you’ve found interesting on your course, which assignments have captured your attention, what have you read or discussed that’s piqued your interest?

  1. You won’t include all the interesting research you’ve done

When you’re really interested in and passionate about a project such as your dissertation, as soon as you read something relevant and interesting, you feel like you’ve struck gold. However, you always need to keep looking back at your dissertation title, abstract and methodology – is the information relevant, does it support or contradict your argument, does it say something new or support a point you’ve already made? You won’t include absolutely everything you read and find, this is how it should be. The trick is figuring out what’s important and what can be left as background reading. Always remember to include research you haven’t directly quoted or referred to, in your bibliography to show the full extent of your research.

  1. Edit, edit, edit

You will spend more time editing your project and trimming it down, than actually writing. The writing is the easy part. Making it more concise and to the point is the real challenge. My first full dissertation was about 12,000 words and I had a 6,000-word maximum word count! I had to change my project so that it was slightly more focused and really cut down on how I was making each point of my argument.

  1. Start with something juicy

You’ve done your literature review, abstract, methodology and introduction, now it’s time for the main event. Start your findings and discussion section with something interesting to hook the reader in. Make a bold statement, ask a question, get straight into the whole point of the dissertation, the focus for your research. It’s great to finish with a bang, but firstly, you need to start with one.

  1. What have YOU done, and why?

Your literature review focuses on what others have said about the topic you’re focused on. Your findings and discussion section will look at what you’ve done, and what you think, based on what you’re read and researched, so make sure this is clear from what you’re writing. Why is your research important? What have you added to the argument or topic?

  1. Back up EVERYTHING

Back up your project, and then backup your backup. Whether you use Dropbox, a dozen USB sticks, a fancy 2tb external hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Just always keep multiple copies of everything – all your research, project documents, everything. On different devices, different cloud services, different places.

  1. Read it through and read it again

When you think your project is finished, you’re within the word count, you’ve got all your references down, you’ve included all your research and main arguments, stop writing and start reading. Reading the whole project through, again and again. There will come a point where you won’t want to read through it again and you’re finally happy with it. But first, check your references, spelling, grammar, structure, layout and everything in between, you don’t want to lose out on marks for simple spelling mistakes or messing up your references.

That’s all from me here, I think that’s the main points covered, but do check out the Moment on my Twitter page for more tips with some videos, photos, GIF’s etc. thrown in. Take a deep breath, you’re gonna do it!


Champion – noun

  1. a person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition.

synonyms – Winner, Succeeder

* I’m not saying here that I’ve surpassed everybody else and won a competition but, I’ve definitely surpassed my own expectations!

2017-03-04 15.44.20

Here’s me a few weeks ago, taking a break and heading home for the weekend. But always wearing my Team Hallam hat!

It’s not often that I toot my own horn or, give myself a pat on the back so, forgive me if the nature of this post seems a little big-headed but, I felt the coincidence of submitting my dissertation today, and the Daily Prompt being ‘Champion’ was too funny to ignore. I wonder if they’ve chosen this topic because of the time of year…

So really, the reason for this post is because, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m nearing the end of the my undergraduate Media degree and this means, completing my dissertation or final project. Although at times, completing my dissertation has seemed a daunting and stressful task, it’s made me see how far I’ve come academically during my time at University. It’s also been interesting, and enjoyable to complete a project on my own research topic that I’ve chosen and analysed myself, it means you can choose something you’re really interested in and completely become immersed in it.

I’ve enjoyed the dissertation research I’ve done, gotten so much from it and wanted to discuss and share it with others so much that, I ended up doing way more research and words than was needed and had to hold myself back! As a result, I really want to weed out all the theory, citations etc. and upload the full project to my blog, discussing each section at length, adding new parts and focusing on my opinions and ideas, rather than making sure I’m in the word limit and that I’m referencing properly!

So, getting back to the title and reason for this post! I’ve submitted by level 6 undergraduate dissertation project today and, as much as I’ve enjoyed the project and gotten a lot out of it, I’m glad it’s finished! I certainly feel like a champion today!

I’m now on the home straight, as it were, with only three more assignments to submit. After that, I’ll be back to blogging a lot more regularly, rather than the sporadic posts I’ve been doing since completing my Media Technologies blog posts series. I’ll be making some sort of post to summarise my undergraduate degree so, keep an eye out for that in the near future and, I’ll see you all on the other side!

Media Technologies Module Summary!

Well that’s that! I’ve received my final grade for the Media Technologies module so, all the work is completed! On the whole I’ve really gotten a lot out of this module and I’m pleased with my results. It’s definitely opened my eyes to new possibilities, added some new skills to my repertoire and increased my awareness of what’s going on within the technologies industries.

I think the main thing I’ve taken from the classes, is one of the first things I was told, in the introductory lecture of the module. My lecturer described that in order to prevent ourselves and others from being ‘monkeys with weapons’, we need to fully understand the technology we use, not just the physical thing, but the whole infrastructure as well, the privacy and legal implications, the whole shebang!

Upon starting the module I decided to start blogging for it, I’ve completed one blog post for every class, that’s one blog per week for the lectures and seminars. This has definitely helped me take in everything I can from the classes and it helped tremendously for the assignments, as I could just scroll through my blog and see all the research and learning I’d done throughout the module. It increased the amount of time I spent doing extra research, the recommended readings for the week and meant I put a lot of thought into creating the blog posts each week using the readings, my own notes and further research.

I made sure to keep up with all news relating to technology and used that to add to my knowledge of the subjects we discussed in the classes. It helped massively to have a hashtag for Twitter and a group on Facebook specifically for the module as well, so that we could share anything and discuss things we thought were interesting/relevant. Although most students didn’t take advantage of this and didn’t really start any proper discussions using those pages, I found it useful to look at articles being shared on there by a small group of students, and share my own research as well. Social media has played a big part in this module, for me anyway – quite apt really!

I think I’ve waffled enough for now. I just wanted to create one more short blog post to round of this module – for myself and those who are reading it/will read it. As an exercise I’ve really enjoyed it and found it helped a great deal when completing my assignments. It’s definitely made me want to post more on my blog as well, I mean, if I can find the time to write a blog post for the two media technologies classes every week, surely I can find a couple of hours to write a bit more regularly!

It’s been a challenging module, and it’s been challenging blogging about it but, I like challenges and I’ve gotten more from this module, than I have for any other module whilst I’ve been at University. Creating the app with my friend was very difficult, time consuming and meant learning a lot in a short space of time but, I was very proud of what was achieved and that moment when everything is working and you get to share your ideas and products with others, is worse the creative angst! Writing the blog post for the second assignment made me think in my detail about a product that many own but few actually understand. The devices we surround ourselves with have consequences, and the governments and companies that maintain our privacy, security and personal information records, are constantly doing things we may not notice, if we do not pay attention.

There, all done! Many thanks if you’ve been reading my posts for this module series. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and gotten something from them. Onwards!

“Hey Alexa, are you listening?”

“Hey Alexa, what do you know? Hey Alexa, what can you do? Hey Alexa, are you listening?”

For the last 50 years, CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) has been an outstanding showcase of new technologies. If you’ve innovated a fancy piece of tech, CES is the place to introduce it to the world. The most recent conference took place between the 5th and 6th of January 2017, with corporations from around the world displaying and promoting technology such as virtual reality, AI assistants, drones, 3D printers and more. Although there we many interesting speakers, displays and announcements, one voice spoke louder than all others, and that’s the voice of Alexa, Amazon’s new virtual assistant. Intelligent software that can communicate with our hardware, integrate itself into our lives and make us that bit lazier, is the technology of innovation in today’s market.

At CES this year, it wasn’t about unveiling Alexa and her interface – the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, to the world, it was more about what she could be used for. Amazon has been following the lead of Google, by giving away their software for free to device manufacturers (which is what Google did with the Android technology, hence why it’s now in devices such as watches and TV’s, as well as a vast number of mobile phones), so now hundreds of innovative technology companies have access to the technology behind Alexa, and they’ve been creating some amazing software. Amazon have purposefully designed software that can be altered and adapted to suit the needs of various manufacturers, enabling them to create apps and add-ons. For example, Ford recently announced they want to put Alexa into their cars by 2020 to allow the user to remotely control them – to a certain extent, and that’s just the start.

In this report, I want to draw on knowledge I’ve learned from this entire Media Technologies module, using aspects of the readings, the seminars, the lectures AND articles/news stories I’ve been collecting, seeing and sharing on the module Facebook page. By doing so, I’ll be drawing on knowledge for a range of sources, theorists and thinkers from a range of backgrounds. For example, I’ll be using Mark Andrejevic to discuss the usefulness of metadatification, Thatcher et al to think about big data and how it can be used, why have Amazon decided to launch the Echo? I’ll also be discussing some interesting points made my McLuhan and Manovich relating to meta-mediums, technological ecology and databases. You can see from my blog posts about this module that it’s been a rollercoaster ride of thought provoking materials and ideas that have forced me to think about the privacy implications of the technology around me and ask questions about where these issues with go in the future. I want this discussion to focus on what choices we must make as consumers now and what knowledge we need to find for ourselves in order to fully understand the implications of using technology in 21st Century and beyond.

So after seeing the Echo and Echo Dot on the Amazon website for a few weeks, I decided to purchase one for my Dad, for his 50th birthday. I should explain that, my Dad isn’t particularly tech-savvy, he’s just about mastered making calls on his mobile and sending and receiving texts and emails but, that’s about it really. For everything else, he just asks the nearest friend, colleague or family member, since it’s pretty much a given that they’ll know more about technology than he does. This is making my Dad sound like a complete numpty so I’ll point out that he’s a genius. He can fix anything, build anything, knows all those things that stereotypical Dad men are supposed to know. I think if he had the time and the patience, he could get to grips with technology a bit better, understand more and do more but, to be fair, he doesn’t really need to do more than he does!

Recently, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the results of the challenge he set himself for 2016 – to create an AI interface that would control his house and schedule etc. for him, he wanted to create something based on the JARVIS character seen in Iron Man. Not only did he succeed in creating this amazing piece of technology that can keep track of his appointments, calendar, babysit for him, provide him with updates and control his home, he also got Morgan Freeman to voice the AI. This demonstration of AI technology came at just the right time for Amazon, who have been busy marketing their Echo system.

Although I couldn’t give my Dad anything near as impressive and complicated as a JARVIS system, I could get him an Echo Dot. I mentioned before that he’s not very tech-savvy, and usually relies on others to find things out online, setup technical devices and gadgets etc. for him. I’ve spent 20 years telling him to Google things and, if he’s at the computer he will but, if he’s at home, he’s got to find his phone, find his glasses, find the Google search icon on his phone, slowly type in his query and so on, it’s easier for him to just ask the nearest person, who is usually attached to a mobile phone or tablet anyway (that makes it sound a little like the Matrix and that wasn’t my intention!). I figured that with Alexa, he wouldn’t need to ask anyone anymore – he could just ask her.

So, here’s the technical part. The Amazon Echo and its little sister, the Amazon Echo Dot, are “intelligent virtual assistant AI’s”, that use voice recognition technology, they can be linked to range of hardware and software such as heating systems, apps as well as services like Spotify and Uber. Both devices are relatively small – the Echo being about the size of a 500ml bottle of Coca-Cola, and the Dot is around the size of a hockey puck. They comprise primarily of a speaker, with a light ring around the top of the device that activates when Alexa is listening or responding to the user. There’s also buttons on the top – the Echo has buttons to switch off the microphone and turn the device on/off, whilst the Dot also has volume controlling buttons.

These voice controlled devices can be placed all over the house and will re-act to instructions when the user says the awake word – “Alexa”. The Echo will listen to the user’s commands, stream the audio to cloud storage through Amazon, Alexa is then programmed to recognise and understand the request, and search the database and the internet for a correct response.

It could be argued that the Echo, and the Alexa software behind it, form a meta-medium. In much the same way that a computer is a meta-medium, as argued by Lev Manovich in his book Software Takes Command. Manovich stated that we are now able to create many more meta-mediums, rather than new devices that perform one or two tasks, but rather we as users, expect more from technology now. The device includes technology such as speakers for sound, microphones for voice recognition, Wi-Fi access to enable the device to search the internet to answer questions. Within the media, single connections are not important, it’s the ecology of the technology that’s important, as Marshall McLuhan argues, no medium works alone. Technology can be seen as a network of actors, with constant interplay between various technologies – both hardware and software, as well as people. Alexa couldn’t function alone, it’s the network she is part of that allows her to do what she does – by connecting to the internet she can search for things, connecting her to services such as Uber, Spotify, Amazon and Just Eat allows the user to perform other tasks, she can only work with the information she’s given from elsewhere and the user.

Within an ecology, there are elements of competition. Within the animal and plant kingdoms, there’s natural selection, the strongest member of the pack survives, the creatures and trees that can adapt to their surroundings and keep the competition at bay are safe. The world of technology works in the same way. In terms of voice recognition and AI intelligence, Alexa has some stiff competition. Alexa was the first voice assistant to be given a bespoke device – the Echo, rather than just living in a smart phone or tablet. As we’ve seen from CES, Amazon have allowed innovators access to the technology behind Alexa, ensuring that other manufacturers and inventive corporations are creating products that will work in connection with Alexa. This puts the Echo way ahead of the game in terms of its competition, not only is the technology first to market, it’s also giving those within the industry the chance to work with the technology, rather than against it, if they choose to, presenting us and Amazon with an infinite number of opportunities for the future.

What the Echo does is very simple, but it relies on vast amounts of information and data, to give the best user experience. This data is collected through the internet, from what information the user gives Alexa and from the apps and services connected to the device. It’s clear to see how big data works as a commodity, if you own the data, you own the means to operate and sell devices like the Echo, without access to that data, they cannot function. “The data stored in a database is organised for fast search and retrieval by a computer,” (Manovich, 2001: 219) in the case of Alexa, the data she needs is stored on the database of the internet, she accesses this information, then stores it on her own database, this information then reaches the user through a response from Alexa, as well as through a ‘card’ on the Alexa app.

“Media is being liberated from traditional physical storage media.” (Manovich, 2001: 73) Increasingly, we are seeing devices that have no physical storage space or information, but rather rely solely on information stored elsewhere, media no longer relies on storage space, hard drives and memory banks, but rather than receive this information through connections with other actors within the network. Thatcher et al, recently published an article in the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, discussing ‘big data’, how it’s used and the privacy implications that come with it. One interesting comparison the authors make is “big data as profit-laden, akin to how scientific data are theory-laden.” Here Thatcher et all are stating that there’s big profit to be had in big data, Alexa from Amazon prove this theory, there’s method behind their release of this product. Why would a distribution/commerce company, release a product that can communicate and interact with their customers? It’s stands to reason that the more data Amazon have about their customers and target customers, the better, they can use that to better target those groups for advertising and marketing.

McLuhan argues that the “medium is the message”, it’s the meta data and usage of Alexa that’s important, when we use it, how often etc. rather than what we ask. In his chapter of Unmanned Drones and Aerial Systems – Theorizing Drones and Droning Theory, Mark Andrejevic, a leading theorist within the realms of surveillance and privacy, argues that, “When Google scans and analyses, for example, it transforms the content into data about the content” he adds, “this process of ‘metadatification’ – whereby a message is reconfigured in data about itself – comes to stand as the post-ideological or post-textual moment taken to its logical conclusion.” (Andrejevic, 2015:35) In other words, if Alexa knows that I always ask about the weather in the morning, the Echo, and Amazon, can draw conclusions about why that might be, it’s the context of the message, rather than the contents, that Amazon requires, it’s noticing patterns of behaviour and registering repeated words or themes that’s important and can be analysed. And even if Alexa does permanently store a record of what we ask, surely that’s only the same as Google keeping our internet history?

It’s more the idea that Alexa can listen anytime that bothers people. Amazon has attempted to address any concerns users might have with regards to the microphones installed on the Echo, they state that the user can wipe the ‘cards’ on the Alexa app. In line with the Right to be Forgotten legislation (at least within the UK), this wipes any records that specific device has in terms of what questions have been asked and what answers have been given however, by erasing this information, the device will know less about the user, and therefore, according to Amazon, give a less accurate and thorough user experience. Interaction data is THE data advertisers want to get their hands on.

On one side, Alexa embodies what Mark Weiser described as an age of ubiquitous computing, where technology fades into the background of our lives and the Age of Things sees us begin to add billions of devices to the internet – this device marks the start of that revolution. However, what is the price we pay for technology that is everywhere, fun, easy to use and is there to make our lives easier? When there are devices in our lives that can listen, buy, speak, store our details and data, link to our friends and family and more, is any of our information private anymore?  We want to be impressed by technology but we’re not willing to compromise, we want technology to make our lives easier but aren’t willing to accept that there will be drawbacks.

Nobody wants to sacrifice their privacy any more than is necessary, especially when the governments we elect bring out legislation that allows them to gather information from tech giants and Internet Service Providers about our browsing habits – the Investigatory Powers Bill. So, do the pros of this technology, outweigh the cons? We may bleat about privacy and surveillance but, if we do our research, understand the implications of the technology around us and make conscious decisions about whether to use it, our privacy is in our own hands.

The reason I’m explaining some of the more technical aspects and the features of the Echo is because I don’t want those who have them and use them to be monkeys with weapons, uneducated users of potentially dangerous technologies, Alexa is barely a few months old, and yet we’re already seeing articles like THIS, because people do not understand the technology. With the right actors in her network and personalised programming – which Amazon allow corporations to do, the power of Alexa could be potentially unlimited – in cars, fully controlling our homes and schedules, in schools, in appliances and more. We need to understand the technology we use, understand what Alexa does and how she does it, to use technology in the right way and for the right reasons. If we know all the facts, we can make informed decisions… And decide whether we want to have Alexa in our lives.

Seminar 12 – Hacking

During the seminar time this week we continued to work on ideas and research for our assignment 2 projects. I came up with a short list of different questions that I pose to answer in my assignment with regards to always on technology and the privacy and security complications that come with that.

In essence, I want my whole essay to answer whether the data implications of always on technology, constitute a significant threat to the privacy of individuals. But, first, I will need to discuss some definitions – what is always on technology and what constitutes as always on technology?

  • How does always on technology work?
  • What laws and regulations governs always on technology and the data these devices collect?
  • How do these devices collect big data?
  • What could this data be used for, why and who by?
  • What are the security and privacy implications of always on technology and the data they collected?
  • Do these security and privacy implications actually constitute a threat to our rights as individuals with regards to privacy?

These are my initials ideas and thoughts for this essay and will work as a sort of plan when it comes to getting started! For now though, I’ll leave you with these questions and I’ll be writing one last blog post to summarise the module once the last assignment has been completed. For now though, that’s all the lectures and seminars done!

Lecture 12 – Hacking

Although I didn’t manage to attend this lecture due to stress of looming deadlines and meetings with tutors in order to ensure I actually had a clue what I was doing on the assignments, I have been through the reading and lecture slides for it and have drawn a few conclusions.

The first thing to note about hacking is the public view and reaction to it. A number of current and past representations and discourses around hacking, tell us that hacking is a negative thing, something that poses a risk to us all, our security and privacy. Any warnings and signs we are given, exaggerate any ‘danger’ that could be perceived to be as a result of hacking. However, in contrast to the misinformation we are fed, there is also an apparent lack of information, raising our suspicions and concerns in relation to hacking.

It is argued by groups such as Anonymous and more, that hacking is about attacking anyone or anything but rather about taking back rights of freedom and privacy, that are slowly being taken from us. This doesn’t mean a desire for no regulation or laws, but rather for an absence of constraints and a focus on freedom of speech.



Although many believe hacking is focused on hiding and secrecy, it is actually about transparency, as well as collective and individual privacy and security. It’s about community and non-profit groups/individuals rather than business and organisations who are out to make money or governments out to enforce rules and regulations. It’s about grouping like-minded people together to protect rights and privacy against capitalistic ideals.

These views might not be shared by everybody but, those who practice, enjoy or admire hacking and hackers, generally share the view that it’s to protect and take care of everyone, and since those in charge of our organisations, countries etc. don’t seem to share this view, it has set one very powerful group, against another group that is gaining in strength as time goes on, as more people realise that their privacy, is not in their hands.


Seminar 11 – Assignment 2 Initial Thought Process

During seminar time this week we were able to start/continue thinking about what to study and discuss for assignment 2 of the module. I’d only briefly considered what to write about before this point so, I sat for quite a while reading over my blog and lecture notes, then researching into a few initial ideas such as learning technology. However, the inspiration for my essay came from the birthday present I’d just bought for my Dad’s birthday – an Amazon Echo Dot. This device can be likened to a Siri or Cortana, allowing the user to speak commands aloud to their device, once connected to the internet, the device can give information on weather, news etc and connect with other household devices in order to play music etc.

Since I like to check reviews for items before buying them – especially on Amazon since it’s a very popular site and people tend to leave reviews on many of the items, I had a browse through some of the reviews on the Dot, and although many of the reviews were positive, some people were concerned about privacy and security when using the device. Although there is a switch to turn the microphone off on the device, the general idea is that it’s listening all the time, and will respond when the user speaks the command word – Alexa. However, this means that the device could potentially listen 24/7, record everything and store the data.

Amazon has stated that the device keeps a track of the information and tools you’ve used, in order to give a better user experience and that this information can be found and deleted on the users Amazon account, but this will mean the device will forget everything it knows about the user.

It’s all a matter of personal preference and knowledge, some users of always listening technology are not bothered about their devices collecting data about them, some users just simply aren’t away that there could be potential privacy issues with their devices and others will not use or are resistant to using always listening devices, due to concerns for their privacy.

I will be using privacy and surveillance discussions from theorists such as Manovich and Andrejevic in my report, as well as a number of journals and articles about always listening technology in order to argue that although always listening technology may cause concern for some people, it does not pose a threat to privacy and security, but rather is used for monetary gain by those who receive the data – which is not a threat to the user, it just means they are targeted for specific marketing strategies and advertisements.

There’s my train of thought so far, I’ll be continuing in next weeks seminar and then it’s just a case of writing out the assignment!

Lecture 11 – Big Data

For the lecture this week we focused on the use and limitations of big data. Collecting big amounts of data can be useful but it’s full of challenges in terms of physically collecting it, storing it, the purpose of collecting/having big data, distributing big amounts of data etc. There’s also privacy and security issues – the big data we’re talking about isn’t in reference to the football scores this year, it’s peoples’ geographical movements, election results, social media usage etc.

Big data has been classified using the ‘three V’s’ – high volume, high velocity and high variety. These are the three variables that need to be considered when talking about big amounts of data however, they only form half of the definition put forward by Laney. The other half focuses on the usage of the big data once it’s been collected. Not only are there technical problems when collecting big data, there are also operational meaning problems – information has to be useful and then implemented in the right way. Jacobs states that big data demands “cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and (big data-driven) decision making”. He also notes that the key pathologies of big data, are those of analysis. (Jacobs, 2009: 39).

Within the current technological age, big data is seen as a commodity – high amounts of data on certain things can influence decisions. This information can be used to make profit, effect politics and more. Although we may not realise it, most of us see the direct effects of big data everyday and how those who use it make it manageable and productive. For example, Facebook, Google etc. use computer algorithms to provide us with information we would find useful – showing us posts from people with interact with most over those we don’t talk to much, showing us results on Google based on our location to limit the amount of results our searches have. This is done so we have a better user experience but, these sites need to gather information about the user before it can hone big data down to a more manageable size for us, and how does it do that?

This is where issues around privacy and security come in. Legislation such as the Investigatory Powers Act and the Right to be Forgotten now form an important part of security measures being enforced all over the world. Internet service providers and mobile phone service providers are being forced to store customers browsing and usage history. This data can then be accessed by police and government department which could lead to profiling of specific people in society, there are also security issues with this big data as it will need to be stored in server facilities – making it vulnerable to thieves and hackers. It’s also concerning what governments and agencies can use this information for in the long-term as they don’t need to tell us when and why it’s being accessed. The Right to be Forgotten is also important to consider as it means we have the right to delete personal information from the records however, it’s not an easy thing to do and comes with complications – does it make it look as though we have something to hide?

The security and privacy issues are definitely something I want to consider for my approach to Assignment 2 on this module, where I will be writing a report based on a thesis of my design and answering a specific question of my choosing in relation to the subject matter discussed on the module and beyond.


Seminar 10 – Software

Software Takes Command

Lev Manovich is an author and university professor, his research and teaching focuses on subjects surrounding software studies and digital technologies.

“Software has become our interface to the world, to others, to our memory and our imagination – a universal language through which the world speaks, and a universal engine on which the world runs.”

His book, Software Takes Command, is his most recent – having been published in 2013. In it, he discussed a number of key issues relating to epistemology, how we interact with software, big data gathering and understand, the computer meta-medium and more. As he states in his conclusion, he isn’t trying to answer questions, as his book is aimed more at theoreticians and practitioners, rather than students, but rather he wants to make others ask more questions in return and aims to start a kind of dialogue between others who may have different understandings than him.

Software Politics

As well as discussing the reading for this week and the works and ideas of Manovich, we also discussed some of the political systems that come with software developments and companies. As a perfect example, we looked at the relationship between Bill Gates, China and Microsoft – which is quite a complicated relationship! Gates tried and failed to access the common market in China with his Microsoft products for 20 years, since the Chinese government used Linux and encouraged its citizens to invent and create software rather than buy it – since Microsoft products where very expensive at the time, nobody was buying them.

Eventually, the Chinese government demanded that Microsoft give them open access to their coding system in order to understand how their software worked and what they could do with it, as well as being able to edit it to suit their needs and meet their censorship requirements. Eventually a deal was struck between Bill Clinton – the US president at the time, Gates and the Chinese so that Microsoft could access the open market in China and sell their products.

As recently as last year, Microsoft continues to create specific software systems or edit existing systems – including Windows 10 to meet the demands of the Chinese. It’s understandable that Microsoft are wary of people accessing the code that makes their systems run – at the end of the day, if somebody can replicate what they do, they can cut out the middle man and do it themselves, but at the same time, why should we pay so much money for something, and not actually have full access to it and how it works? It’s a fine line that needs to be understood more clearly and challenged by new generations in order to ensure people can still invent and create 100 years from now – preferably without being sued or prosecuted.