To look into a refugee’s eyes

Social media give us access to other peoples’ realities. If we want to look.

(A slightly different version of this piece was published yesterday in Norwegian in Bergens Tidende, where I write a column every fifth Sunday.)

Over the last few weeks my Facebook feed has been full of the Syrian refugees. Along with more than 80,000 other Norwegians, I joined the group “Refugees Welcome to Norway,” and once I started liking posts from there my entire newsfeed overflowed with generous people finding ways to help the refugees. Most of all I am fascinated by the many shared posts written by the refugees themselves: sharing photos and stories of their travels, thoughts, fears and gratitude.

Then I discovered the Twitter hashtag #refugeesNOTwelcome. It shows an entirely different reality. Angry people post photos with slogans. A crowd of men, and the text: “No women no children. Apparently only men flee ‘war zones’?” Two images side by side: A naked, starving African child standing in the red dust of a refugee camp. Men on a boat, discussing something. The child is a real refugee, the text says. The men are not, according to the text: “They are soldiers of Islam. Don’t let the media fool you.” Don’t let this media fool you either: those men probably have nothing to do with the current refugee crisis, and there are many fake images.


Who gets to decide what the world should look like?  For a long time we had to trust the mass media if we wanted to learn about the world beyond that which we can see with our own eyes. Those who were directly affected by wars and catastrophes were not able to communicate directly with us to tell us about their experiences. Letters from soldiers were usually only read by the recipient and perhaps a few close friends. After wars, diaries like Anne Franks have had enormous influence, but we have not been able to read or see these first hand testimonies until after the war, after the famine, after the catastrophe. And by then, it has become distant.

Images can be more immediate than words, and images we have seen in newspapers and on television certainly affect our feelings of empathy for the suffering of others. Susan Sontag’s books On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others tell us about how images can both define and trivialize suffering. “To aestheticize war is to anesthetize war,” she wrote.

Maybe the reason that we can bear to look at the starving African child is that the photograph allows us to see the child from a distance. We don’t have to worry that the child will look back at us. The photograph cannot speak, it cannot respond, it cannot require anything of us. We can turn the page, scroll down, and never have to deal with it again.

Before digital cameras and smartphones there was something ritual about taking a photograph. We only took photos of special events: birthdays, weddings and holidays. In the 1960s, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu write about what was “photographable”, and about how we pose for the photographer in a way that was never meant to be natural.

Family photographs on the living room wall show the ideal, not simply in the sense that we try to appear better (happier, more beautiful) than we really are, but in the sense that we show something greater than ourselves in our family photos. Our wedding photos and baby photos aren’t only about individuals. They’re about Family, Love and Happiness.

The photograph of the starving African child that #refugeesNOTwelcome positions as the ideal image of the refugee also shows something beyond the individual: Hunger, Need, Despair. The naked child has its back to us. Its feet stand on red, dry sand. It stands alone. Other people, just as emaciated, huddle in blankets, curled up. To the far right there is a tent. This reality is unfamiliar to me. Neither does it in any way resemble the reality the people posting to #refugeesNOTwelcome know.

This child is not shown as an individual. It is a symbol. A symbol that is marked by difference and distance. Images like this affect us, but do not touch upon our lives at home.

The Syrian refugees we meet in social media are much closer to home. Geographically, culturally and communicatively: these people are close to Europeans.

I scroll through photos on Instagram and see a photo of a young man looking into my eyes, with other young men behind him. They could be Norwegian hikers, wandering through the mountains, but I know they are refugees making their way through Europe. I can see some of the man’s arm in the photo. He took this photo himself.

Katie Warfield has described the arm that is often visible in a selfie as an embrace. The man in the Instagram photo is pulling us into an embrace that pulls us into his world. A selfie, Warfield argues, is far more intimate than a portrait taken by somebody else. A selfie speaks directly to the viewer: Hello. I am. I am here. Do you see me?

The refugee-haters are on Facebook as well of course. I hardly ever see them though. They hardly ever see me, nor do they see the 80,000 strong Facebook group where we talk about how to give clothes, blankets, houses and support to the refugees who are arriving every day. Facebook’s algorithms keep us safely apart. We do not need to see each others realities.

A few days later I take another look at the Syrian’s Instagram account that I found. There are new images, with Arabic texts that are beautiful but incomprehensible to me, although Google’s machine translation suggests possible meanings. The images themselves need no translation, though. I see a new selfie of the same man, sitting at a table in a café. He looks calmly into the camera. Maybe he is relieved to have arrived at a safe place.

There are images of birds. Birds flying. A pigeon. The most recent image is a drawing of Syria as a black map opening up into a swarm of black birds flying away.


Social media let us see the others, see those who are fleeing or suffering, and to see the ways in which they are like us.

I see photos on Facebook of a suburban street that could have been anywhere in Europe, with a photo next to it of the same street in ruins after being bombed. The street could have been my own street. Just as the drowned boy in the red t-shirt could have been my child.

The refugees have smartphones and Instagram and Facebook accounts just like we do. Used smartphones are cheap nowadays. Over 2,6 billion people in the world have smartphones. Soon all refugees from all wars and catastrophes and famines will use the internet to share photos, find help and tell their families that they are still alive.

One day we will see photos taken by starving children as well. When we see those images, we’ll see photos that show how they see the world. We’ll see them as individuals and not simply as symbols of Hunger, Need and Despair.

Maybe it is the images in social media that will let us see each other and understand each other, despite the languages and cultures and algorithms that keep us apart.

If we want to see each other. Because in social media, you only see the realities that you want to see.

21. September 2015 by Jill
Categories: social media | 1 comment

How do Syrian refugees use social media and technology?

Does anyone know of research on or other writings about the use of social media and other technology by Syrian refugees?

The contents of a 34-year-old refugee's bag: Anonymous, 34, from Syria “I had to leave behind my parents and sister in Turkey. I thought, if I die on this boat, at least I will die with the photos of my family near me.” Money (wrapped to protect it from water), Old phone (wet and unusable) and new smart phone, Phone chargers and headphones (plus extra battery charger), 16GB flash drive (containing family photos).

The contents of a 34-year-old refugee’s bag, his sole possessions after fleeing. He carries a smart phone and a flash drive of family photos.

It’s clear many refugees are using their smartphones and social media to survive, communicate and plan their journey. This article from the NY Times on August 25 is interesting, and talks about how important smart phones, GPS maps, solar chargers and cash SIM cards bought in each new country have been to refugees. It also explains how traffickers advertise their services in Facebook groups. For instance, it cites the “Arabic-language Facebook group Trafficking to Europe” but also groups that I think are for individuals helping each other, like (again Arabic language) “Smuggling Into the E.U.,” with 23,953 members, “How to Emigrate to Europe,” and  “Smuggle Yourself to Europe Without a Trafficker”. If you’re still in Syria, there is, for example, “a popular Facebook page in Syria reporting real-time counts of mortar rounds falling on Damascus and maps of their locations.” The Syrian refugees are largely middle class and well-educated and have tech to a greater extent than many other refugees, as I understand it. If you or I had to flee from a war, we would no doubt bring our phones too.

I’ve also seen this story about a group of Syrian men posting photos to Instagram along their journey to Europe. In the images shown there, the absence of women and children is striking, although finding one of the mens’ Instagram account (which links to his Facebook) that might say more about the journalists’ selection than about the photos actually taken. I think the photo he posted to Facebook of Angela Merkel drinking beer means he arrived safely in Germany. Or maybe it just means he’s really glad to have a beer after all he’s been through. Google translate is only moderately helpful…


There are other significant uses of technology going on as well. The UN High Commission for Refugees wrote a news story in 2013 about how they use technology to help refugees in camps: Biometric scanning of refugees on arrival, and you get money based on an iris scan after that – which might be useful if they lose their other ID, but also obviously has far-reaching consequences in terms of surveillance and control not just while they are receiving aid but in the future. Also, the UN has handed out 120,000 SIM cards that I think, from reading the story, might only allow users to RECEIVE information messages and call the UNHCR information line. And there is satellite surveillance of the refugee camps.

Here in Norway there is a lot of activity on Facebook groups like Refugees Welcome to Norway, which now has almost 80,000 members (in a country of just 5 million that’s a lot)  and there are also lots of local groups which coordinate donations of food and warm clothing and more to newly arrived refugees. I’m sure other countries have similar groups.

I have tried to search Instagram to find more actual examples of how people are using images and status updates to document/share/reflect upon/whatever their time as refugees, but tags like “syria” or “refugees” don’t do a lot of good. Quite possibly hardly any refugees are using social media in this way. And of course, Syrian refugees actually using Instagram would write in Arabic so my searching in English is likely useless.

If you know more about this, and especially if you know of anyone doing research on it, I would love to learn more.

07. September 2015 by Jill
Categories: social media | 17 comments

Rereading Fahrenheit 451

Over the last year or so I’ve moved from reading mainstream news articles about media addiction to reading science fiction: I want to see how we imagine our relationship to technology. One of the biggest surprises, for me, was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), the classic about a society where books are illegal and television keeps people docile. Of course I had read it before, but a long time ago, well before I really knew about the internet. Rereading it today left me feeling very differently about the book than I had thought I would. Bradbury doesn’t want a world full of writers and creators and independent thinkers. He wants a world of readers.

Beware, there are spoilers in this post. But then, you probably read the book already, didn’t you? A long time ago?

The first line of Fahrenheit 451: "It was a pleasure to burn." The adaptation of the novel into a graphic novel is by Tim Hamilton (2009)

The first line of Fahrenheit 451. The adaptation of the novel into a graphic novel is by Tim Hamilton (2009)

The story, you’ll remember, is about Guy Montag, a fireman in a future where houses are fireproof and the only fires are lit by firemen in order to burn books. But what really interests me, as I reread the book, is the ways in which books and television are portrayed.

Television has evolved into a 3D immersive experience, where the viewer is given a role to play in the story. Mildred, Montag’s wife, has screens covering three of the four walls of their living room, and wants a fourth screen: “why, it’d be just like this room wasn’t ours at all, but all kinds of exotic people’s rooms.” The way Bradbury describes this immersive VR does not leave Mildred a lot of agency, as a player in the holodeck would have. It’s more like the Flicksync tests in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, where the player has to mimic a character’s lines perfectly in order to pass the test. Mildred’s lines are not very complex, though:

“What’s on this afternoon?” he asked tiredly.

She didn’t look up from her script again. “Well, this is a play comes on the wall-to-wall circuit in ten minutes. They mailed me my part this morning. I sent in some box-tops. They write the script with one part missing. It’s a new idea. The home-maker, that’s me, is the missing part. When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines. Here, for instance, the man says, ‘What do you think of this whole idea, Helen?’ and he looks at me sitting here, centre stage, see? And I say, I say–” She paused and ran her finger under a line in the script. “‘I think that’s fine!’ And then they go on with the play until he says, ‘Do you agree to that, Helen?’ and I say, ‘I sure do!’ Isn’t that fun, Guy?” (pages 27-28)

Mildred loves her shows, and listens to them even at night. This scene very strongly emphasises the way Montag sees her as a corpse when she is immersed in her media. In this scene, he comes home late at night and imagines how he will see his wife in bed, listening to her stories.

He opened the bedroom door.
It was like coming into the cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon had set. Complete darkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tomb-world where no sound from the great city could penetrate. The room was not empty.
Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like body displayed on the lid of a tomb, her eyes fixed to the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time.
The room was cold but nonetheless he felt he could not breathe. He did not wish to open the curtains and open the french windows, for he did not want the moon to come into the room. (pages 19-20)

He has still not turned the light on, thought. This is all his imagination. When he finally lights his lighter (not wanting outside light from the windows) he realises she is barely breathing and has taken a whole bottle of sleeping pills. The next morning she remembers nothing of the suicide attempt.

A propaganda poster encouraging the people to give up their books.

A propaganda poster from Fahrenheit 451 encouraging the people to give up their books.

In this world, people stopped reading books before they were banned. Bradbury, in the voice of the chief fireman Beatty, blames it on the invention of photography and then radio and television and a world that wanted everything faster: “Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.” (61) In a lengthy lecture to Montag, while Montag lies in bed, attempting to hide contraband books under his pillow, Beatty describes Buzzfeed and clickbait:

He follows up with condemning minorities:


The problem isn’t really the loss of books. It’s the trivialization of the world. Faber, the retired English professor Montag befriends, tells him:

“It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books. The same things could be in the “parlour families” today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget.” (page 90)

One of the reasons that books are good for us, Faber the English professor explains, is that they are not immersive. At least not in the same way as television or VR are:

You can shut them [books], say “Hold on a moment.” You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlour? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. (92)

And yet at the end of Fahrenheit 451, when Montag has escaped his relentless pursuers who chase him on live television, making every viewer his would-be-attacker, he finds a band of men who live outside the city, in nature, and who have made it their task to memorise every book. They are not shown discussing books. They are certainly not shown writing books, or creating stories. No, they simply memorise books. And once a book is memorised, these men burn it:

“We’re book-burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they’d be found. Micro-filming didn’t pay off; we were always traveling, we didn’t want to bury the film and come back later. Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it.” (159)

The books they memorized are old classics: Plato’s Republic, the Book of Ecclesiastes, Byron, Machiavelli, Aristophanes, Gulliver’s Travels, the Magna Carta. These readers have no more agency than Mildred reciting her script to the parlour walls:

The most important single thing we had to pound into ourselves was that we were not important, we mustn’t be pedants; we were not to feel superior to anyone else in the world. We’re nothing more than dust-jackets for books, of no significance otherwise. (160)

Mildred and her television-loving friends aren’t portrayed as feeling superior. On the contrary, they are social beings – although they do seem less interested in the specifics of the plots they watch than in the close relationship they have with the characters on their screens. When Mildred tells Montag she went to Helen’s last night, he answers uncomprehendingly:

“Couldn’t you get the shows in your own parlour?”
“Sure, but it’s nice visiting.” (57)

Mildred and Montag try reading together, but they struggle to understand the words. They were unlucky enough to get Gulliver’s Travels, and as Montag reads about the war over which end of the egg is the end one should break, Mildred complains, “What does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything!” She is very consistently given the role of the uneducated person.

Mildred kicked at a book. “Books aren’t people. You read and I look around, but there isn’t anybody.”


“Now,” said Mildred. “my ‘family’ is people. They tell me things; I laugh, they laugh! And the colours!” (80)

Although Mildred is portrayed as believing in her fake relationships with the characters on the screens of her parlour (her “family”), she is also the only person in the book who appears to have genuine friendships. Montag is not shown as having a single friend, although he meets educational characters and forms brief, intense relationships with them through the course of the book. Mildred and her girlfriends get together regularly, it seems, and usually to watch shows together. I don’t think Bradbury really liked women. The only women in Fahrenheit 451 are ridiculed and pitied.

He was eating a light supper at nine in the evening when the front door cried out in the hall and Mildred ran from the parlour like a native feeling an eruption of Vesuvius. Mrs Phelps and Mrs Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the volcano’s mouth with martinis in their hands. Montag stopped eating. They were like a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he saw their Cheshire Cat smiles burning through the walls of the house, and now they were screaming at each other above the din.

These women are both ridiculous and, in a negative manner, connected to nature. They are noisy, they run, they feel, they burn, they scream. Towards the end of the book nature is seen as positive and Mildred and the city are seen in opposition to it, but here, nature is emotional, trivial, uneducated.

Montag asks where the women’s husbands are. One is at war: “the Army called Pete yesterday. He’ll be back next week. The army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said, and everyone home.” (102) Montag proceeds to ask about their children. One is astounded that anyone would have children, the other says it’s easy enough with Caesarians and school:

“I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it’s not bad at all. You heave them into the ‘parlour’ and turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid.” Mrs Bowles tittered. “They’d just as soon kick as kiss me. Thank God, I can kick back!”

The women showed their tongues, laughing. (104)

It’s an ugly world, devoid of marital or parental love or care. Montag himself can’t even remember when he met his wife Mildred, not until the end, after the city is destroyed. But these women are friends. They seem to care for each other. I don’t think Bradbury really intended that, but the women’s friendship is pretty clear. No care for husbands or children, but they care for each other.

Montag flees the city after killing his own boss, and escapes to the forest outside, where he finds a group of men, sitting round a campfire, each man able to recite a book that he has memorized. Here again we see a single-sex group of friends strangely dissociated from any family. There are no parents, spouses or children here. (I suppose the aunts and uncles and the “family” on the screens are supposed to supplant real families – but how does that fit with these family-less men who despise screens? For them, books seem to have the same purpose.)

A bomb explodes, obliterating the entire city, but Montag is safe outside it. He imagines Mildred’s last seconds before her death. (So often she is seen through his thoughts rather than speaking herself.) He sees in his mind the moment when the screens around her go blank and she sees her own face in them, her own face that she has presumably been avoiding all these years:

Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie’s face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her (..) (167)

We don’t see ourselves, this book argues. We use our screens to avoid love and to avoid looking at our own faces to understand ourselves.

“Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them,” one of the men in the forest tells Montag (171). Bradbury did not foresee selfies.

Rereading Fahrenheit 451 makes me skeptical of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But the way that books are portrayed in Fahrenheit 451 is not alluring. They are massive works of incomprehensible nonsense that must be memorized and treated with great respect. They are not something to be argued with, to be written, to be dogeared and torn and scribbled in.

Old books memorized by old men in the woods won’t save the world described in Fahrenheit 451. What would save that world is people talking together, reading, watching, playing, but most importantly, creating. Sharing. Being.

31. August 2015 by Jill
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Academic social networks

When I saw that almost a third of researchers at my university were on ResearchGate and I’d barely heard of it I decided to create a profile. I’m not sure that was a good idea.

Here are the stats for our university’s use of social media specifically for researchers, gathered by Susanne Mikki in her analysis of publication in 2014:

andel-UiB-forskere-i-akademiske-nettverkSorry about the acronyms. The network sites are down along the left:, Google Scholar, ORCID, ResearchGate and Researcher ID. The faculties at UiB are along the top: HUM=humanities, JUR=law, MN=sciences, MO=medicine, PS=psychology, SV=social sciences.

As you can see, is popular in the humanities and somewhat popular in the social sciences but not so popular among other faculties. Social scientists are fairly likely to have a Google Scholar profile. And everyone except the lawyers is quite likely to have a Research Gate profile. Well, if you’re the sort of person who bothers with that kind of profile at all.

I quite like Last time I logged on, it told me that 46 of the people I followed had all bookmarked a paper and would I like to see that paper? Sure, I clicked through and found a handbook chapter on autoethnography that I spent a happy half-hour reading. See, that’s useful. The interface is relatively simple and you can add lots of different kinds of information about your publications. Today it suggests another paper that’s popular among people I follow:

Really that’s the most useful aspect of for me. Oh, and the fact that lots of people seem to not have worked out how to post copies of their papers to their own websites or to their institutional repository, but are perfectly happy to upload it to Strange, but certainly there are quite a few publications you can find there but not easily in other ways.

I’m on Google Scholar, of course. I love getting email alerts when somebody cites one of my publications. Quite often I find interesting research in that way. But mostly I use Google Scholar to find other peoples’ research by searching for it. You don’t need a scholar profile to do that.

I’ve not tried Researcher ID (do I really need an ID number?) or ORCID (another “persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher” – I’ve never actually felt the need for that) but I did sign up for ResearchGate this week. Why on earth did they choose that name, I wonder. I thought people only added -gate to a word to indicate a political scandal was going on.

On the face of it ResearchGate seems very similar to – you create a profile, follow others and it encourages you to upload full texts of your publications. It seems more focused on very traditional publications, though. It wants a PDF, not a URL, so for publications that are in open access web journals you have to upload a PDF of the webpage instead of simply providing a link, as I’ve done for my paper in ebr about visualising networks of electronic literature based on citations of creative works of electronic literature in dissertations in the field. Ridiculous. It automatically extracts citations and references but imperfectly, and with no way to correct the errors, for instance if you noticed that it thinks a review of Espen Aarseth’s book Cybertext actually is the book. It couldn’t figure out the references in my visualising paper. And it only counts citations from articles that are in its database. It asks you to upload datasets, and I did upload my gephi files for the visualising e-lit paper, but can’t see how you would get to the dataset from the paper. What annoys me most is the lack of URLs – ResearchGate really seems to want to be a closed garden, locking all the research in the world into its system and not providing links elsewhere.

The statistics it provides support this closed atmosphere. You get a ResearchGate score based not on your research in general, but on how other people on ResearchGate interact with your research. And this is “A new way to measure scientific reputation.” Sure, when I see there’s a score I kind of want to win the points, you know, but this is a very specific score. It really doesn’t tell you much about a researcher’s actual impact on their field, I think it mostly tells you whether they’re active on ResearchGate. I don’t actually have a score yet since I’m a newbie. ResearchGate-RG-ScoreAre you on any of these networks? Are they worth it? How are they useful to you?


28. August 2015 by Jill
Categories: Academia | 2 comments

Diversity at ELO2015: Global voices and gender balance

We’re hosting ELO2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature here at the University of Bergen this week, and we are so excited to see everyone beginning to arrive! We’ve got a fabulous academic program lined up, as well as a series of open arts events (five exhibitions, two performance nights!) that will be open to the general public as well as to the conference goers. The full program is online, of course, and if you’re not in Bergen, some sessions will be streamed and archived. There’s also lots of discussions already on Twitter and Facebook.

Too many academic conferences fail at including diverse voices. The recent Digital Humanities conference didn’t have a single woman on stage for the first day, which was of course a topic of debate.


Fortunately, the Electronic Literature Organization’s conferences have never been parades of patriarchs. I can say that with confidence, because one of our excellent students, Daniela Ørvik, chose to research gender balance in the ELO conferences in her project for our Digital Humanities in Practice course last year, using data from the ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base. I’ll share some of Daniela’s findings later on in this blog post, but first, let’s look at another kind of diversity: where do people attending ELO2015 come from?

This is just the second iteration of the annual ELO conference series to be held in Europe, and so I was interested to look at how this broadening of the ELO’s sphere  might have affected where the attendees come from.

What with all the conference preparations I’m afraid haven’t had time to go through the data from previous conferences (we do actually have speaker info for many of the conferences in the ELMCIP Knowledge Base so could do that later) so I can’t compare to previous years, but I took a look at where this year’s attendees come from.

Where the ELO2015 attendees come from

There are 110 Europeans (the big countries being Norway (33), the UK (11) and Denmark, France and Spain with 10 attendees each and Poland with 9), 80 North Americans (64 from the USA and 16 Canadians) and 12 Australians. That’s probably a pretty typical combination of English-speaking nations and Europeans as academic conferences go, although with a much broader spread of Europeans from a lot of different countries than the conferences have usually had (Portugal, Germany, Finland, Italy, Malta, Austria, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands are all represented). There are also attendees from Russia, Singapore, India, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru and Argentina, which is wonderful. 27 countries are represented in all.

One of our goals for the conferences has been to broaden our knowledge of global electronic literature. One of the five ELO2015 exhibitions, Decentering, specifically showcases works that come from outside the mainstream US/European electronic literature, and we also have several academic presentations focused on electronic literature from countries that have not been as visible to US/American scholars. For instance, Claudia Kozak is presenting on “Latin American Electronic Literature and its Own Ends” and Eman Younis will speak about “Interaction between art and literature in the Arab digital poetry and the issue of criticism” in a panel on Thursday August 6 at 9 am. That’s one of the panels we’ll be streaming, by the way. In another panel, Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang will talk about “Sankofa, or Looking Back while Moving Forward: An African Case for E-Lit” in a panel with Stuart Moulthrop and Rob Wittig about participatory culture and the literary. (I am sorry those panels are at the same time. Scheduling conferences is unbelievably difficult. We’ll see if we can stream the participatory culture panel too though I can’t promise it as we have limited resources…Maybe someone will Bambuser it on their phone?)

Of course we would have liked even more diversity. It’s hard to figure out how to get the word out to the people you don’t already know about. One thing we tried doing was applying for arts travel grants for some of the artists who submitted works, which did help somewhat, but we weren’t as successful as we would have hoped with this. I do think that having a specific call for an exhibition of global electronic literature helped diversify the conference.

So what about our gender distribution? Thanks to Daniela Ørvik, we have good data on gender at the ELO conferences form 2002 to 2014. In total, 758 unique people presented academic or artistic work at these conferences, and 296 (39%) of them were women. As you can see, the number of women presenting is pretty stable from year to year, but the  number of men presenting varies a lot. I have no idea why this would be the case – does anyone have any ideas?

Daniela Ørvik gathered and analyzed this data on gender distribution at the ELO conferences from 2002 to 2014 in her paper "Is there an equal balance of female and male presenters at the Electronic Literature Organization conferences over time?" that she wrote for the course DIKULT207: Digital Humanities in Practice in 2015.

Daniela Ørvik gathered and analyzed this data on gender distribution at the ELO conferences from 2002 to 2014 in her paper “Is there an equal balance of female and male
presenters at the Electronic Literature Organization
conferences over time?” that she wrote for the course DIKULT207: Digital Humanities in Practice in 2015.Daniela writes:



So every iteration of the ELO conference has had more men than women presenting, but compared to many conferences, 39% women isn’t too bad, really. We’re close to that this year too: 75 of 186 of our speakers and artists (just over 40%) are women.

Daniela takes her analysis one step further, by splitting it into the presenters of creative work and critical work. That’s a bit more worrying. As you can see, the gender imbalance is greater for creative work than for academic work. Obviously I should go through and count what that looks like this year but I simply don’t have time right now. If you’re in the mood for it you can skim through the presenters yourself – please let me know what the numbers are if you do and I’ll update this post!

From Daniela Ørvik's 2015 paper for DIKULT207: Digital Humanities in Practice..

From Daniela Ørvik’s 2015 paper for DIKULT207: Digital Humanities in Practice..



There are many other ways of measuring diversity, too of course, and like most academic conferences run by Western organizations and universities we’re not as diverse as we would like to be. We need to do better. But we’re working on it.

I’m really looking forwards to greeting all our visitors on Tuesday. I’m glad that we won’t be seeing “a parade of patriarchs,” and I look forwards to even more diverse conferences in the future, as we learn to become more open to the world and to differences.


02. August 2015 by Jill
Categories: Digital Humanities, Electronic literature, Gender balance in academia | Leave a comment

Video presentations of electronic literature

I’m contributing to an online course Jon Hoem is coordinating on media-rich ebooks, and I’m making video presentations and mini analyses of some examples of electronic literature. My first try was Blast Theory’s fictional life coaching app Karen (2013), mostly because I had just discovered how easy it is now to get a video screen capture from an iPhone. Here’s the result, with my narrative in Norwegian because the online course is in Norwegian.

I’m thinking making a video presentation of a work of electronic literature might be a good student assignment for the course I’m teaching this autumn, DIKULT203: Electronic Literature.

02. July 2015 by Jill
Categories: Electronic literature | Leave a comment

Tre typer oppringinger fra journalister som forskere ikke bør svare på

Er det bra forskningsformidling å svare på telefoner fra journalister? Ja, ofte er det det. Jeg lærer mye av journalister som ringer for å spørre meg om et eller annet som nettopp har skjedd i sosiale medier. De forklarer meg hva som har skjedd og jeg prater mer enn gjerne om hvordan forskningen kan knyttes til det.

Vi forskere skal drive forskningsformidling. Det er en del av jobben vår. Men ofte syns jeg tiden jeg bruker på å snakke med journalister er dårligere forskningsformidling enn å bare holde kjeft. La meg prøve å forklare tre kjipe mediesituasjoner for en forsker som jeg skal prøve å unngå i framtiden. Jeg har opplevd alle tre flere ganger, men nøyer meg med å gi eksempler fra de siste to ukene.

1. Saken som ikke finnes men som journalisten prøver å skape

Du fikk kanskje med deg at på 17. mai i år postet en stortingspolitiker et bilde på Instagram av naboen som sto og tisset fra verandaen. En journalist sendte meg lenken. Jeg stirret og stirret på bildet på telefonen min og klarte ikke å se penisen, bare hender foran buksesmekken, og hår foran et ugjenkjennelig ansikt. Jeg åpnet det på laptopen for å se om det ble tydeligere. Fortsatt ingen synlig penis.

“Det var ikke så lett å se den penisen,” sa jeg til journalisten. “Å, da har du nok mindre skjerm enn jeg,” humret han. Jeg burde ha googlet pikselstørrelsen på Instagrambilder straks, men jeg gjorde det først nå. Instagrambilder vises i max 612 x 612 piksler, altså var skjermen min mer enn stor nok til å se det som kunne sees, og det var jammen ikke mye. Jeg tror journalisten hadde stor fantasi i tillegg til stor skjerm.

“Er det ikke sjokkerende, da? Kan en stortingspolitiker poste slik?” spurte journalisten. (Oppdatering 2/6: mulig at journalisten brukte et annet ord enn “sjokkerende” men det er slik jeg husker det.) Instagrambildet hadde én kommentar og en håndfull likes. “Lol” eller noe sånt var kommentaren, jeg tok ikke skjermbilde. “Mjo, det er vel ikke spesielt smart å poste bilder av folk som tisser,” sa jeg. “Men dette er jo en helt upolitisk Instagramkonto med bare vanlige, personlige bilder,” sa jeg, “og kontoen heller ikke mange følgere, og ingen ser ut til å ha brydd seg om bildet selv om det har lagt ute siden i går.”

Journalisten ville tydeligvis ha en sak, og spurte igjen. Jeg sa noe om at det ifølge norsk personvernslov ikke er lov å poste gjenkjennelige bilder av mennesker uten deres tillatelse om det ikke er en offentlig situasjon. Ingen bør poste slike bilder, spesielt ikke en stortingspolitiker, og det at personen tisser gjør det selvsagt ikke bedre. Jeg mener jo det.

“Er det ikke en dobbeltmoral her da,” gravde han videre. “Ville ikke det blitt ramaskrik om en stortingspolitiker postet et bilde av en jente som tisset?” Jeg tenkte på det. “Det kommer jo an på hvordan bildet var tatt,” sa jeg. “Det er ganske lett å se for seg et bilde av en jente sett bakfra hvor hun er på huk i gresset og du må en måte skjønner at hun tisser men hvor du ikke ser noe som helst av kjønnsorgan eller hud. Det ville vel ikke vært så annerledes fra dette bildet, og jeg tviler på at det ville skapt så veldig mye debatt.”

Dette bringer meg til den neste faren du som er forsker må vokte deg for:

2. Journalisten som allerede har bestemt seg for hva du skal si og vil stille deg spørsmål inntil du sier det.

Journalisten ringte meg opp igjen noen minutter seinere. “Men mener du ikke at det er en dobbeltmoral her, og at folk ville reagert annerledes om det var en jente?” Joda, medgikk jeg litt trøtt. Kanskje det.

I denne saken ble jeg ikke så veldig feil framstilt. Det var bare en så utrolig teit sak, skapt av en journalist som bare vil ha en nyhet. Nå ser jeg at Journalisten har diskutert dekningen av saken:

– Mimir Kristjánsson og Heidi Nordby Lunde mener BT senker takhøyden for politikeres rett til å gjøre alminnelige feil?

– Det poenget ser vi. Men vi mener dette ikke handler om mer enn å uttale noe uklokt eller skrive noe uheldig. Det var en alvorlig handling og kan oppfattes som en krenkelse av en ung person. Vi mener det var verdt å problematisere.

Den diskusjonen fikk jeg dessverre ikke med meg. Takk til Mimir Kristjánsson og Heidi Nordby Lunde for å ha kommet med mer nyttige kommentarer enn mine.

Jeg tror journalister ofte har skrevet saker på forhånd, eller i det minste bestemt seg for overskriften. Måten du som forsker kan oppdage dette er å være oppmerksom på spørsmål som gjentas. Når en journalist gjentar et spørsmål du allerede har svart på for å få et annet eller et mer unyansert svar avslører det ofte hovedvinklingen på saken. Da journalisten ringte meg opp for andre gang burde jeg sikkert ha reagert. Kanskje jeg skulle sagt at dette hadde jeg allerede svart på, eller jeg kunne kanskje trukket meg fra hele intervjuet (kan man det når man allerede har begynt å svare tro?) eller jeg kunne sagt at jeg ville ringe ham opp igjen om en liten stund og da hadde jeg fått tid til å tenke gjennom saken og kanskje kommet fram til noe like fornuftig som det Mimir Kristjánsson og Heidi Nordby Lunde seinere sa. Eller kanskje det lureste bare er å sukke og gå med på hva journalisten vil, jeg vet ikke.

En av de andre gangene jeg har opplevd dette var i forbindelse med snapchat-hackingen i fjor. Det var jo en viktig sak, og jeg var i grunnen fornøyd med det meste av NRK-journalistens framstilling, men hun spurte mange ganger “Er ikke dette et uttrykk for kvinnehat?” Jeg ville ikke brukt det begrepet, sa jeg, og forklarte hva jeg mente. Tredje gangen hun spurte om det ikke var kvinnehat ga jeg opp og sa, “joda, det er vel en form for kvinnehat.” Selvfølgelig ble det overskriften på saken: Professor om Snapchat-hacking: – Eit utrykk for kvinnehat.

3. Saken som lages som ny versjon av en annen journalists sak

Fredag ble jeg oppringt av en TV2-journalist som hadde sett at jeg hadde argumentert for at man ikke nødvendigvis ble deprimert av å se andres glade Facebookposter men at venners gode opplevelser kunne smitte over på deg. Eller rettere sagt: hun hadde ikke oppfattet meg slik, for det var ikke slik overskriftene i andre medier framstilte argumentet mitt. Jeg snakket med henne i et kvarter og syns jeg klarte å forklare meg ganske bra, men saken ble vinklet på en måte som virkelig ikke fremstiller min forskning riktig: “Forsker mener andres perfekte liv på Facebook gjør oss lykkelige.” (Oppdatering: journalisten og redaksjonssjefen i TV2 tok begge kontakt med meg etter jeg skrev denne bloggposten og spurte hvordan rette opp artikkelen. De lagde ny overskrift og ingress, og med det syns jeg framstillingen er helt i orden.)  

Her var tabben min at jeg ikke hadde fulgt godt nok med på de tidligere sakene om dette. Jeg burde ha fulgt med på overskriftene og vinklingene: da ville jeg ha forstått hva journalisten ville. (På den annen side ville jeg da ha brukt enda mer tid på dette, og målet mitt var jo egentlig å effektivisere forskningsformidlingstiden min.)

Det begynte med et intervju i StudVest, som var godt skrevet men hvor overskriften var “spisset”, som en journalist sikkert vil si, og overskriften ga tydeligvis mersmak til andre journalister. Hvordan dette har skjedd ble ganske tydelig da jeg gjorde et søk på navnet mitt på Atekst:

perfekte-liv perfekte-liv2

Jeg leste Studvest-intervjuet, ble intervjuet av P4 men verken så eller hørte resultatene. Jeg ante ikke at Framtida hadde skrevet om det. Og selv om journalisten fra TV2 helt sikkert brukte ordene “perfekte liv” så hørte jeg det på en måte ikke fordi jeg jo tenkte på det jeg mente og ikke på det som journalisten så for seg. Hun hadde lest at jeg snakket om det perfekte liv. Kanskje hun, med sitt kontekst, oppfattet det som om jeg snakket om skrytebilder og “det perfekte liv”, mens det jeg faktisk sa (trodde jeg) var at jeg ikke snakket om skrytebilder og glansbildeliv men om at dine virkelige venner, mennesker du bryr deg om, skriver om noe som har gjort dem glade på Facebook eller på Instagram. Selvsagt blir vi gladere om de rundt oss er glade. Det har ingenting med perfekte liv og selvskryt  å gjøre. Men selv om jeg trodde jeg forklarte det godt og trodde journalisten forsto meg godt så ble overskriften og vinklingen helt feil. Journalisten har til og med utelatt mitt poeng om at det ikke er alle som opplever det slik, og i stedet latt (dyktige og fine) Cecilie Staude uttrykke et slikt litt mer nyansert syn. Jeg ser at det fungerer bra fortellermessig å ha større kontraster mellom synene våre, men det er ikke riktig framstilling av hva jeg sa.

— Men Jill, ber du ikke om sitatsjekk, spør nok du som leser nå.

Jo, i blant. Jeg gidder ikke alltid det. Du skjønner, du får bare se dine egne direkte sitat i en sitatsjekk. Jeg blir sjeldent direkte feilsitert i media. Men jeg blir svært ofte feil framstilt.

Overskriften, vinklingen, beskrivelsene og det som utelates er vel så viktige for forskningsformidlingen som de direkte sitatene. Og det er jo for forskningsformidlingen sin skyld vi skal snakke med journalister, ikke sant? Det er ikke for at avisene skal få flere lesere og dermed selge flere annonsekroner. Det er for å formidle forskning.

Så er det alltid riktig tidsbruk for en forsker å ta telefonen når en journalist ringer? I blant er det det. Men ikke alltid. Spørsmålet er hvordan ta vare på de gode journalistsamtalene og unngå de som er bortkastet tid. Kanskje det ikke er mulig.

Jeg må legge til at jeg ikke er ute etter å ta noen journalister. Jeg vet at journalister er under et enormt tidspress hvor de ofte skal skrive flere saker på en dag, og jeg vet også at journalisten ofte ikke har mye kontroll over hvordan saken tilslutt spisses før publisering. Dette er mer generelle problemer som jeg tror vi som blir intervjuet må være mer oppmerksomme på. Jeg må i alle fall det.

Har du flere tips, tar jeg gjerne i mot dem.

31. May 2015 by Jill
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 comments

Can you imagine that the world will change?

Last night at the conference dinner I was chatting with Peng Hwa Ang, and we started talking about young people nowadays. That’s a sure sign that I’m getting older, I suppose, but we weren’t complaining about their wildness, we were comparing notes on teens in Norway and Singapore and how the younger generation is more conformist than their parents’ generation in both countries. And of course, social media is often blamed for the woes of youth today.

“No, it’s because of the future deficit,” Peng Hwa said. I demanded an explanation: I had never heard the term.

“Well, think about it. You and I experienced the world changing when we were young. The end of the cold war, the Berlin wall, the internet.”

“Oh, yes, ” I nodded, instantly seeing where he was going. “Our students were born after the web was well established. They weren’t even teenagers yet when Facebook took over the world.”

Peng Hwa nodded.

“Do you mean that for a young person today, the world looks as though nothing ever changes?”

He nodded again. The term “future deficit” was a term a colleague of his had coined, he explained as we piled on to the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

At drinks a little later, I eagerly told Luciana Gattas about the future deficit.

“Oh, he’s talking about the broad present,” she said. Another term I’d never heard before.

“You know, Gumbrecht talks about that.”

Sure enough, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s book, The Broad Present: Time and Contemporary Culture, was published in English last year. As Luciana continued to explain the rich basis for this idea in contemporary culture (she clearly reads a lot more critical theory than I do and she made me want to read it all) I remembered Tim Barker’s talk at Le sujet digital in Paris last year, and realized that these are ideas that are floating around in many discourses. We talked more over drinks, thinking of how we are clearly headed to mass annihilation and don’t really want to think about that future, and how youth in Southern Europe are facing record levels of unemployment and little chance of a stable future. And yet the future deficit Ang Peng mentioned goes even deeper than that. I googled Gumbrecht’s book, and read:

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht notes an important shift in our relationship to history and the passage of time. Although we continue to use concepts inherited from a “historicist” viewpoint, a notion of time articulated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the actual construction of time in which we live in today, which shapes our perceptions, experiences, and actions, is no longer historicist. Without fully realizing it, we now inhabit a new, unnamed space in which the “closed future” and “ever-available past” (a past we have not managed to leave behind) converge to produce an “ever-broadening present of simultaneities.”

Perhaps, if we believe in this idea, young people today truly cannot imagine that the world changes. To them, perhaps, the world has always been the same. The internet and social media have always been there. The constant threat of terrorism has always been there. Climate change has always been there. There has always been fighting in the Middle East. How could you imagine change if nothing has changed in your life time?

When I was 18 the Berlin wall fell. Some of my classmates immediately got on trains and busses to participate in the protests. There are still protests, but does anything much change? The Occupy movement, the Umbrella movement: did anything change? Can anything ever change?

At Transmediale in January I was saddened by the one-sided dystopianism with little space given to those who are trying to hack the system and change it. Perhaps this is a sign of the times. If there is no future, why try to improve it?

What do you think? I may be too rooted in the past to really know.

26. April 2015 by Jill
Categories: Networked Politics | 4 comments

Teaching BASIC in the 21st century

If you bought a home computer in the 1980s, chances are you learnt a little bit of BASIC programming. The command line interface meant that the difference between starting to play a game and writing a short program was not as big as today, and most of the Commodore 64 User’s Manual was dedicated to explaining how to program your own game or program in BASIC. So for the last few years, our first year Computing Technology: History, Theory and Practice students have had a two hour workshop where they learn to program in BASIC. Here are my notes from the first time I taught this workshop, and the post you’re reading right now gives you some updated ideas. Continue Reading →

23. April 2015 by Jill
Categories: Teach kids to program!, Teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Åpen dag på digital kultur

I dag har Universitetet i Bergen invitert alle avgangselever i videregående skole til en åpen dag på universitetet. Fagmiljøene har laget smakebit-forelesninger og aktiviteter, og det har vi selvfølgelig gjort her på Digital kultur også. Continue Reading →

05. March 2015 by Jill
Categories: Teaching | Leave a comment

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