Preserving the digital record of major natural disasters: the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive project

The 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the centre of Christchurch on 22 February 2011 claimed 185 lives, damaged 80% of the central city beyond repair, and forced the abandonment of 6000 homes. It was the third costliest insurance event in history. The CEISMIC archive developed at the University of Canterbury will soon have collected almost 100,000 digital objects documenting the experiences of the people and communities affected by the earthquake, all of it available for study.

The Internet can be hugely useful to coordinate disaster relief efforts, or to help rebuild affected communities. Paul Millar came to the OII on 21 May 2012 to discuss the CEISMIC archive project and the role of digital humanities after a major disaster (below). We talked to him afterwards.

Continue reading “Preserving the digital record of major natural disasters: the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive project”

Slicing digital data: methodological challenges in computational social science

One of the big social science questions is how our individual actions aggregate into collective patterns of behaviour (think crowds, riots, and revolutions). This question has so far been difficult to tackle due to a lack of appropriate data, and the complexity of the relationship between the individual and the collective. Digital trails are allowing Social Scientists to understand this relationship better.

Small changes in individual actions can have large effects at the aggregate level; this opens up the potential for drawing incorrect conclusions about generative mechanisms when only aggregated patterns are analysed, as Schelling aimed to show in his classic example of racial segregation.  Continue reading “Slicing digital data: methodological challenges in computational social science”

Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: Closing keynote by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

Our two-day conference is coming to a close with a keynote by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger who is soon to be joining the faculty of the Oxford Internet Institute as Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation.

Viktor talked about the theme of his recent book“Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”(a webcast of this keynote will be available soon on the OII website but you can also listen to a previous talk here). It touches on many of the recent debates about information that has been published on the web in some context and which might suddenly come back to us in a completely different context, e.g. when applying for a job and being confronted with some drunken picture of us obtained from Facebook.

Viktor puts that into a broad perspective, contrasting the two themes of “forgetting” and “remembering”. He convincingly argues how for most of human history, forgetting has been the default. This state of affairs has experienced quite a dramatic change with the advances of the computer technology, data storage and information retrieval technologies available on a global information infrastructure.  Now remembering is the default as most of the information stored digitally is available forever and in multiple places.

What he sees at stake is power because of the permanent threat of our activities are being watched by others – not necessarily now but possibly even in the future – can result in altering our behaviour today. What is more, he says that without forgetting it is hard for us to forgive as we deny us and others the possibility to change.

No matter to what degree you are prepared to follow the argument, the most intriguing question is how the current state of remembering could be changed to forgetting. Viktor discusses a number of ideas that pose no real solution:

  1. privacy rights – don’t go very far in changing actual behaviour
  2. information ecology – the idea to store only as much as necessary
  3. digital abstinence – just not using these digital tools but this is not very practical
  4. full contextualization – store as much information as possible in order to provide necessary context for evaluating the informations from the past
  5. cognitive adjustments – humans have to change in order to learn how to discard the information but this is very difficult
  6. privacy digital rights management – requires the need to create a global infrastructure that would create more threats than solutions

Instead Viktor wants to establish mechanisms that ease forgetting, primarily by making it a little bit more difficult to remember. Ideas include

  • expiration date for information, less in order to technically force deletion but to socially force thinking about forgetting
  • making older information a bit more difficult to retrieve

Whatever the actual tool, the default should be forgetting and to prompt its users to reflect and choose about just how long a certain piece of information should be valid.

Nice closing statement: “Let us remember to forget!

Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: What is our impact on the Internet? Keynote by Arthur Lupia

Arthur Lupia has just been delivering the opening keynote on our very own conference “Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment” here in Oxford. He started by turning on the audience:

  • What is our impact on the Internet?
  • Have we been as effective as we could have been in changing people’s beliefs and behaviours?

However, this wasn’t about benchmarking success of researchers into Internet and Politics but about the question why many well-intentioned projects – be it making people participate in politics, be getting across the relevance of your ground-breaking research or whatever – ultimately fail.

Arthur Lupia’s main argument that many of these well-meant enterprises do not take into account sufficiently how people are. How they are is – according to Lupia – mainly defined by three broad influences:

  1. biology
  2. social behaviour (e.g. how we learn etc)
  3. political contexts

So in order to successfully persuade others (in any benign meaning of course) he posits three necessary conditions (implying that they might not be sufficient):

  1. attention: as people have a limited capacity to pay attention, your message will only get through if they feel its urgency and relevance for them
  2. elaboration: relate your message to the audience. People will only listen if it is unique and highly relevant to them. Ways to achieve this is by making it local, concrete and immediate but also by making the desired change possible, making clear that the desired effect is within reach
  3. credibility:  Finally, credibility is key but this is not an absolute value but it is domain-specific. Credibility is bestowed on someone by the audience and depends on whether the audience believes (not matter if correctly) that you are knowledgeable and share their interests

See the summary by ICTlogy about the talk and the Q&A session. To follow the conference on Twitter on all over the Internet, look for the IPP2010 tag.