HUMlab work discussed

At a Play Date at Cornell today we discussed and demonstrated a range of issues to do with virtual worlds, computer games and educational technology. A creative and relaxed atmosphere and a really interesting group of people. Margaret Corbit and her team here are doing very interesting work in Active Worlds among other things.

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Soon time for the seminar.

Update: There are many connections between what goes on at Cornell and HUMlab, and there was also considerable interest in HUMlab. One key issue seems to be facilitating interdisciplinary work and arenas. An example of exciting work going on here is the gamedesigninitative run by David Schwartz and others.

evening activity in the lab

Therese is working on a case study with students using Traveler for language education. When I walked passed the lab this evening she was busy doing field study work.


She was employing two “cameras” (avatars) in the world at the same time as doing work on her laptop – thus using three computers and two headsets at the same time. A modern linguist at work :). I am sure this this kind of material will be very valuable and we really need more of it.

Photoshop course

Today HUMlab artist in residence Linda Bergkvist taught a three-hour course on Photoshop.

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Not only is Linda a great teacher, illustrator and artist (check her lip tutorial out) but she is also really into computer games and today, after my lecture on digital narratives, she told us about her Sims life. As a result we have decided to stage a seminar where Linda will talk about her Sims play experiences (design, online forums, fan fiction, challenging the system, breeding beautiful sims people etc.) and where we will have a discussion on analyzing The Sims etc. Preliminary date: May 17.

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It was interesting to see how people interacted in today’s course. As usual Linda’s courses attract many participants and people often have to share computers – thus facilitating meetings. For instance, I saw a third term student of English working together with someone who is employed at The Research Archives.

symposium on language learning and technology

Later this semester we will host a symposium on language learning and technology. It will mainly be national but we will also have several international participants (Nordic, European and American). We are working on the program right now and it looks really promising. Time: 11-12 May 2005. One of the speakers will be Ravi Purushotma from MIT (author of this great article on language learning and technology). In the true sprit of HUMlab there will be a great deal of synergy and other events and people intersecting with the symposium event.

The internet and the death of everything

AUTHOR: Bryan Alexander

A blog post entitled ” The death of everything: How emerging technologies change ways of knowing and being” draws our attention to the fairly murderous rhetoric sometimes attached to new media.

“Corporate media giants are “killing” photojournalism;
Digital audio signals the “death” of analog audio.
Citizen shutterbugs with digital happy snap cameras signal the “death” of news photography;
Digital video signals the “death” of film…”

This signals a connection to the internet as horrible, threatening place meme. It also suggests a link to social Darwinism, with its fetish of competitive violence.
Moreover, the blogger goes on to link this discourse with an uncritical obsession with speed.

It’s a good, short piece, identifying a discourse worth thinking about.

Information ecology note: I found it through, via one feed I subscribe to.

guest bloggers

We are very happy to have Bryan Alexander guest blog, and we are looking forward to another couple of blog entries until his guest blogging period is over (officially on Feb 20).

Two things related to this:

1. Just like we do not have people visit HUMlab just for the sake of doing a talk or a workshop (but rather with the hope to build a long-term relationship) I hope that our guest bloggers will also continue to blog here after their guest blog period – at least occasionally/as often as they would like to.

2. Our next guest blogger will be Jill Walker. Time period: March 14-27, 2005. Jill is a high-profile researcher and blogger (and department head), and we are proud to have her as a HUMlab guest blogger.

Blame it on the Internet

Today there’s an article in one of the big Swedish newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, entitled “World Wide Suicide” (for a linguist like me, the reason why the title of this Swedish article is in English would be an interesting issue to pursue in itself, but that’s another matter…). The author, Thomas Anderberg, reports on how people via the internet increasingly encourage each other to commit suicide and sometimes also met up IRL to take the final step together. This problem has lately received much attention because of a recent incident in the States where the police took action to prevent collective suicide planned online.


Anderberg sees the anonymity that the internet allows for as the main reason for these trends. He claims that the meetings that happen online are unreal, since people can take on roles that can be switched off with the computer. I would have liked to see a more nuanced picture here – not all people take on different personas or masks when entering cyberspace, nor does anonymity and connectivity always have to be bad. People who have problems and depressions can find support and help on the net if they know where to search for it, and here anonymity can have positive effects. Nevertheless, these problems do exist and no matter how utopian our view of the internet is, we cannot ignore them.


This relates to one of the things Elza Dunkels mentioned in her seminar this last Tuesday, which we also continued to discuss over coffee afterwards, and which Bryan touches upon in this previous post. In an article in the Scotsman she had read about the dangers that moblogging supposedly imposes on young kids. By supplying information about their interests and daily whereabouts it is argued that they become easy targets for pedophiles. According to Elza, the dilemma here is that as new technological developments make their way into our lives “new” dangers are identified. Most of the time, however, the core problems are not new, and this obsession with the technology distracts us from what’s really important. In her view, the greatest danger is that we don’t focus on the people, the children that don’t have a good enough contact with adults to get the support they need. Consequently, making regulations that forbid children to use cell phones in schools etc. doesn’t solve the main problem but only touches on the surface. In her blog, Elza states that “the internet hasn’t really added anything new. Apart from a troublesome openness. For the first time we are now able to see the really scary sides of life. This is our chance! Now we can finally do something about it!” (my translation).

the ebbs and flows of a lab

It is hard to predict the dynamics of an open and flexible lab such as HUMlab at any given point in time. Nevertheless there are a number of important factors such as booked activities, weather, the academic annual cycle etc. Having worked with HUMlab for quite some time now I have never managed to quite figure out when the lab is going to be full of people, “buzz”, unplanned meetings and exciting project work – and when it is more likely to be calm, reflective and empty. The ebbs and flows of a lab. But I have learnt to also appreciate moments when we are not obviously changing the world and seminars when we do not have 80 particpants.

At yesterday’s seminar we had a decent but not really large crowd of people. There was a good discussion and many issues that got me thinking and reflecting. I am looking forward to my next discussion with Elza. Also, I think that post-seminar time is important; i.e. what happens after the seminar is officially over. Here are some photos from yesterday:

Daniel (informatics) and Stefan (ethnology)

Elza (speaker), Therese (English), Emma (HUMlab) and engineering students

One of things that Elza touched on was the fact the mobile technology and information technology in general often support local networks and communities rather than global ones (based on her research on children/young people). This is probably not very surprising but frequently we do assume global repercussions. When we did the Jokkmokk project we found out that a large proportion of the blog readers, commentators and meetingplace particpants were from Jokkmokk. They even visitied our team in their space in central Jokkmokk. This is something that we did not really expect I think. This does not mean that the global (or non-local) aspects are not important but that we need to think local as well.

Elza Dunkels in action

Elza Dunkels is presently talking about her research on what children and young people do online. Presently she is describing the structure of her study and the various design (chat interviews, selection) and ethical issues (starting out from the children etc).


Studies of this kind with careful design and real, empirical data are very important. Not least in relation to the kind of presentation we often find in the media (see Bryan’s earlier post).

In the pilot study, Elza asked the children about what might be dangerous or problematic. None of the media answers came up. One concrete answer was “viruses”.

Seminar on net cultures today

This afternoon (at 1:00 pm CET) there will be a seminar on net cultures and what kids and young people do online. Seminar speaker: Elza Dunkels. Elza’s research is school-oriented and she is based at the Teacher Education Faculty here at Umeå University. Here is one of her papers on Net cultures (in English, pdf). The seminar will be live streamed and archived (language: Swedish, link will be posted shortly from the HUMlab website).