Conference aims to explore 'Apps and Affects'
By Adela Talbot
September 12, 2013
If apps are the new horizon of high-tech capitalism, then now, more than ever, it’s important to look over that horizon.
That’s the essential message behind Apps and Affect, an upcoming conference at Western co-hosted by the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) and the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (CSTC). Scheduled for Oct. 18-20 at Museum London, and open to the public, the conference will take a multidisciplinary look at both the now universal use of apps in every day life and technology.
“The subject of the conference itself is a wide thing. Everybody is using apps now; everybody has moved to ‘the cloud.’ That’s why we think it would be of interest to everybody,” said Svitlana Matviyenko, a PhD candidate in CSTC, who is responsible for getting the conference off the ground.
“The (transition) to the cloud was so smooth; users didn’t really realize what happened. Technology works in such a way that you’re not supposed to feel the difference. But (with apps and the move to the cloud) there was a very significant change in terms of how information flows, who controls the flow, who has access to it, how visible and how encrypted it is. Many things are very black-boxed and covered behind this smoothness,” she added.
“The conference will raise questions about what does this change mean?”
Faculty and graduate student registration is open with an ‘early bird’ deadline of Friday, Sept. 13. An online registration link will be posted to the conference website, appsandaffect.blogspot.ca, soon.
Scheduled speakers include Jodi Dean, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Mark Andrejevic, University of Queensland; Ed Keller, Parsons The New School for Design; Patricia Ticineto Clough, Queens College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York; Alexander Galloway, New York University; Melissa Gregg, University of California; and Paul D. Miller, DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid.
Matviyenko hopes the conference raises awareness about the smooth and invisible change in technology, the way our lives have adapted and the changes that have come about as a result of rapid app appropriation.
“(The change is) sold to us in an amazing, fascinating way. Sure, apps are cute, funny, cheap or free; you can do almost everything with them. But we’re trying to be suspicious about this app economy, the political economy of the apps and how they’re being sold,” she explained.
One consequence of not having this kind of discussion and not actively thinking about what goes on behind the everyday use of seemingly trivial apps – be they games or utility apps that read your text messages aloud or give you driving directions – is the unwilling sharing of information.
“People have to understand to what extent they’re being exposed. We need to know what is invisible and we have to know just how it works. We don’t want to be too panicky about the danger; we just want to be aware. It’s not something we can and should stop using,” continued Matviyenko, who recently edited an upcoming book on apps.
“What does it mean the app is free? What is the cost of this ‘free’ app? An app can look nice, but you look at certain things you grant access, and you give private information.”
On the flipside, she added, there are apps that can protect against this kind of unintentional sharing of information, blocking access to private information. In essence, apps can be the cause and solution to privacy issues. With an inevitable transition to apps as potential interfaces for any object in the real world, these types of discussions are becoming increasingly important.
“We’re hoping to raise questions (at the conference). It’s very much about questions. There’s a mass media fascination about apps, and a prevailing myth about this magical technology. We’re hoping to develop another side to this discussion.”
Nick Dyer-Witheford, FIMS dean, added it is important to host the conference at Museum London. The venue makes the discussions more open and accessible in a city that houses not only a university, but also many aspiring entrepreneurs in hi-tech business. For him, the app economy is worth exploring as well.
“It’s a conference about the culture of high technology, apps being the latest manifestation, and the psychological, the emotional and the imaginative, institutional aspects of hi-tech,” he said.
“For the last several years, there’s been incredible excitement in media and high-tech circles about the app economy and the possibilities of programing and app production, to provide a new wave of high-tech employment,” he said, adding it’s striking how much profit from apps is reaped by large digital companies, such as Google and Apple.
“On some level, we’re aware of how intimate high-tech has become with our lives and apps typify this degree of reliance on technological innovation – from dating, playing a game, stargazing, we have become saturated and entwined with the digital. It’s very important to be able to stand back and actually bring a reflective consciousness to this activity and assess it in its complexity,” Dyer-Witheford said.
“The conference is to invite us to slow down, to become active and reflective users and consumers of this technology. In holding this conference, I think we are putting ourselves at the very front edge of what I’d call techno-cultural issues today.”
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ON THE WEB: Visit appsandaffect.blogspot.ca, like Apps and Affect on Facebook or follow @appsandaffect on Twitter for up-to-the-minute details on the conference.
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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