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.

Lecture 10 – Software

So, we’ve discussed hardware, now for software. As I said in one of my previous posts, one is useless without the other – technology requires hardware and software working together. In this lecture we looked at the beginning of software as a concept, the ecology and epistemology of software and meta-mediums.

From Small Beginnings

Most people will never have heard of Margaret Hamilton and yet within the realms of software, she’s one of the most important people there is. Hamilton pioneered the concept of software engineering and helped NASA in their quest to get humanity to the moon in the 1960’s. Thanks to her, notions of what software was, what it could do and how we could use it, became something to focus on. She envisioned a world where hardware and software could work together and be used by all, for the benefit of all, rather than as something exclusive and expensive. In the early days, software engineering took years to implement and it’s taken Hamilton most of her life to see software spread out across the globe from its beginnings at NASA.


As I discussed in my blog posts related to the classes I had on ecology, no media can work alone, it takes a combination of hardware and software, multiple programmes and networks, working together to create and use technology. Without ecology, web services, the internet, mobile applications, online gaming and more would not be possible – you could still have a TV, mobile phone or laptop as that’s just the physical hardware that is built from components – they just wouldn’t be able to do much.

One of the leading voices on the ecology of software in media is Manovich. He’s written extensively about how our technological ecology is made up of countless parts – some of which are software based. I’ll be talking more about Manovich and his book – Software Takes Command in the seminar 10 blog post.


Keeping it simple, epistemology is basically knowledge and understanding. It’s not only the information we have but how we perceive and make sense of that information. So, you might know that the moon orbits the earth but, this knowledge means nothing if we don’t understand what that means, how this happens, what it happens etc. We have to justify and rationalise the knowledge the way in order to put it into perspective and make it useful.

Our brains can be directly related to the storage hard-drives in computers and other pieces of hardware. The information is processed by our senses – touch, taste, sight etc. and stored in the brain, computers will receive information from the user and store it in the hard-drive. Both the human brain and the hard-drive have a maximum amount of data they can store – a capacity, and both have to be able to process and understand the data stored within them – otherwise there’s no use in storing it. If you saved a Microsoft Word document onto your PC but didn’t have Microsoft Office installed and therefore couldn’t access the document, what would you do? You’d delete the file.

In a world so reliant on software and so full of data and information, we are now in an age where we cannot understand and make sense of all the information we have. We rely on computer algorithms to make sense of data and display it in a way we can understand – usually visually. If you collected the traffic data for an entire city for a week, there’s no way you’d be able to spot patterns and correlations within that huge amount of data, or be able to express them in a useful way. This is why we rely on visual techniques to view the data and software to store and analyse it – a computer can carry on millions of calculations and make decisions base on the information and settings it is programmed with – the human brain is a marvellous thing but it can’t compete with that.


The computer is not a medium on its own, as we understand them to be. But rather it’s one of the first meta-mediums. As Manovich describes, the computer is a “combination of existing, new and yet to be invented media” – when we use a computer we use pieces of code that were written decades ago with companies like IBM and Microsoft, they have since been given a new case and many tweaks but, some of the principals remain – using code to write programmes that can be accessed from a main screen – the desktop. Technologies such as web services, sound, cameras, disc drives and more are contained within the software and hardware of a computer – making this a distinct meta-medium – an individual ecology that links to the wider network of the media ecology.


I think that’s enough for today, I’ve covered the most thought provoking points raised in this weeks lecture. Check out my seminar 10 blog post to read a little more about Manovich and his thoughts on software!

Seminar 9 – Andrejevic

Mark Andrejevic is one of the worlds key thinkers within the field of surveillance and over recent years he has branched out to discuss issues surrounding automation and sensing in relation to drones. In this seminar, we looked at his chapter in Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems – Theorising Drones and Droning Theory.

One key point that Andrejevic discusses here, relates directly to McLuhan’s work on mediums and messages. He believed that the medium IS the message – it’s not the contents of an email or message that’s important, it’s the information that goes with it. Andrejevic remarks that data gathering and surveillance is much more about the who, what, when, where and why rather than the messages being conveyed.

This directly relates to drones and how they operate, the Compton Study being a prime example of how drones can be used. Here we see that a drone can be differentiate and can be used to collect data on a massive scale – drones do not choose individuals to target, but rather they see everything and everyone in order to observe the connections between things that the human eye would overlook.

The drone still has military connotations today and many remain wary of these devices due to the security and privacy implications that come with them. It’s not ever been officially released what spy satellites in earth orbit can see on earth and how high the quality has become but, it has been said that it’s possible observe any object the size of a loaf of bread and track its movements. It’s not wonder then that people are worried about their privacy when drones roam the skies – they’re much closer, and unhindered by pesky things like gravity and the atmosphere.

However, although there are military uses for drones, and they are important for homeland security, its their marketing potential that has some people excited. If you could gather data about a whole city – monitor a population zone for an extended period of time, you can understand what makes that city and its people tick. What they talk about, what they post on social media, how they travel, where they travel and so much more. We need to start thinking about drones and how they’re being used around us much more than we are already. We are told they’re there to keep us safe but what else?

In his chapter, Andrejevic has highlighted some of the key issues and concerns surrounding the use of drones by both military and non-military organisations. However, there are still questions that need answering. What will the role of drones be in the Internet of Things? Will we need them to monitor to billions upon billions of devices connected to the internet? Will they be able to survey connections and frequencies in order to keep things stable and moving at all times – in relation to the hopes of the developers of 5G technology? Andrejevic has gotten us started, but there’s a long way to go.

Lecture 9 – Hardware: Antennae and drones

As I mentioned in my last post, the next few classes in this module will be focused on hardware and software – the two entities that make up modern technology. When you buy a mobile phone, it’s not just the hardware you need – the screen, the case, the antennae, the camera etc. it’s the software inside that allows you to make calls, browse the web etc. Hardware and software working together – one without the other isn’t much use.

I’ve already covered the first class based on hardware in my most recent blog posts, in the class we discussed some of the social and political issues around hardware. What are the implications of using rare earth metals in the production of technologies? Where does our data go when we save to the cloud or send something through the internet? Who has access to this information? These are all questions we should know and understand the answers to, it’s in the interest of every human on the planet to understand what freedoms we have and what freedoms we only believe we have.

This weeks class focused more on the physical hardware itself. What are drones? What are they used for? The evolution of mobile phone technology. The ‘internet of things’ and ubiquitous computing – the development of the internet.


Although there’s lots of military connotations still surrounding drones, they’re becoming increasingly popular as something to be used for creative and entertainment purposes. They can be used for filming aerial footage, taking birds-eye photographs or just for flying in the local park on a Sunday afternoon for fun.

The term drone originates from the honeybee drone – the male bee who mates with the queen in order to continue the good work of its hive. To make a long story short, the make bees are there to mate with their queen, whilst the female bees – the workers, do all the work and collect the nectar for the hive. The drone is named after these male drone honeybees as they have stouter bodies than the workers, with larger eyes, although they’re larger than worker bees, they can match their speeds.

Drones are crucial in a world where information is key. They are part of a network of ‘smart’ objects that collect data and interact with other hardware. Although they can be used to simply fly over an area, take images and store them within a microchip, they’re primarily designed to relay information via a data-link – transmitting the data they gather to other pieces of hardware, either on land, in the air, in space or at sea. Although many have made a connection between drones and the age of ubiquitous computing – the third age of computers we are currently experiencing, this may not be the case. This form of interactivity relies heavily on an infrastructure of hardware and software, working together in order to collect and make sense of the data collected by drones.


We then moved on to discuss the development of mobile phone technology. Over the last 30 years huge leaps have been made, and the leaps can be measured in periods lasting around 10 years each. From 1981 to now, from 1G, through to 5G, a number of key discoveries and creations have allowed for new experiences and uses for mobile phones.

1G – Basic mobile phone technology, allowed for calls to be made using very large devices that required battery packs and large antennae connected to the device. Up until around 1981.

2G – 1981-1991. Introduced more efficient, digitally encrypted calling systems, as well as new services such as SMS (text messaging). There was also an advance in the data storage capacities of mobile phones, in order to allow text messages to be saved to devices (late 1980’s).

3G – Based on a set of Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service standards. Allows mobiles internet access. The US flagged behind the rest of the world here due to the military owning the necessary lower frequencies that allow for faster, more efficient mobile communications. Here’s where the iPhone comes in – making the most out of internet access and giving people applications (apps) so they can use their mobile device for a wide range of tasks. 1991-2001

4G – 2001-2020. In 2008 the International Telecommunications Union set out a specification for 4G connections. These requirements included setting peak speeds for high and low mobility communications. For high mobility communication (trains, cars etc.) the connection would need to be around 100Mbit/s and for low mobility communication (pedestrians or stationary users) the required speed is 1Gbit/s. High demand means more mobile phones, needing more data and therefore more low frequency networks and more antennae. 4G allows for data hungry apps and tasks such as Skype, mobile online gaming, and HD video streaming.

5G – Focus on aiming for higher capacity rather than faster speeds and ensure services require less data and battery power – lower running costs, lower battery consumption etc. Be 100% reliable, especially in times of crisis or natural disaster. Also needs to meet the needs of the third age in computing – the Internet of Things, with more and more devices connecting to the internet using data networks and the lower frequencies being filled up, there needs to be a focus on finding more ways to streamline data and make the most out of the connections we have.

Ubiquitous Computing 

We are currently at the start of the third age of computing – the ubiquitous computing age. First there were mainframes – where lots of people shared the same machine, computers were something to be purchased as a one-off by a research or education centre as they were very expensive and hard to maintain. Next came the age of personal computing, where individuals use their own devices for specific purposes. We are now emerging into the age of ubiquitous computing, where technology recedes into the background and becomes something less tangible, something we take for granted and rely upon so much, it’s no longer something to focus on.

Mark Weiser coined the term ubiquitous computing in the late 1980’s and has become the father of the Internet of Things. He foresaw that computing would become something human centred and that future generations would rely on technologies that were only in their youth at the time. He imagined a world where we wouldn’t depend on one device per 100 hundred people, he also saw past the current age where we rely on our personal devices for our interactions and personal information. “We will not need to carry our own devices around with us. Instead, configurable devices, either handheld of embedded in the environment, will bring computation to us.”

The 1990’s saw around 1 billion devices connect to the internet, the 2000’s added another 2 billion. The Internet of Things predicts that humanity will connect a further 28 billion devices to the internet by 2020 and we are constantly finding and creating new devices to connect. Not all of what Mark Weiser said about the ubiquitous computing is around us yet but, everyday we get closer.