Christian Pentzold

The “smart village” flourishes—at least in policy papers that envision the revitalization of rural areas through the civic deployment of networked media and telecommunications. Yet while such aspirations are widespread, little is known about the views of those tasked with supervising and supporting digitally driven public participation for rural progress. To address the lack of insight into what these intermediary administrators conceive as catalysts and challenges for the realization of smart village conceptions, we surveyed representatives of regions in Germany who oversee rural development schemes, most notably within the European LEADER framework. For these key actors, digital participation does not mainly hinge on broadband access and IT availability. Instead, they emphasize the importance of human and administrative resources as well as multi-actor collaboration, which we discuss in terms of digital readiness, digital willingness, and digital activity. Building the smart village, we conclude, seems not so much a matter of technological infrastructure but of sociotechnical infrastructuring.

This article unpacks the short-lived but momentous buzz around big data. Although talk about big data was once widespread, little is known about the efforts animating its semantics. Tracing this sociotechnical imaginary, we revisit how business insiders and IT commentators fueled the ephemeral yet potent excitement around the term. Our genealogical examination rests on a selection of publications from 2013 to 2017. We employ methods from critical discourse analysis to interrogate how big data was written into being and hyped into a topic of concern. In this aspirational discourse, tech evangelists and writers extrapolated from contexts in which large troves of data were already being harnessed to suggest that inescapable transformations were imminent. They sought to concretize abstract and unfathomable quantities while simultaneously overwhelming their readers with a sense of vastness that exceeds all contexts and outruns the most exuberant expectations. The term may have lost this luster, but big data technologies and practices are an integral part of today’s technological infrastructures.

In this practice insight contribution, we reflect on our learnings from configuring and upholding a living lab as a third place in an urban and distinctively non-academic environment. Trying to make space for an empowering hospitality necessitated withholding our schemes and workshop plans so to facilitate grassroots endeavors on the side of the people dropping in and staying around though they might follow unexpected paths. This follows no blueprint but requires researchers and science communicators to be open to surprises, to be patient and persistent, and to be willing to swap positions and be the learners, not the instructors. While the physical and technical infrastructures were at one point installed, keeping the social infrastructuring of continuous presence running remains an open issue that requires us to rethink how to fund and support living labs and their mission in the long run.

Looking back at the 2019 Sharpiegate affair, the article investigates the articulation of “pre-truth,” which became evident when a willful ambivalence toward factual evidence dovetailed with a juxtaposition of provisional, future-oriented truth claims. In general, the maneuver works by taking predictive statements from the past and characterizing them as accurate from the standpoint of the present even when superseded by subsequent evidence. The notion of “pre-truth” adds nuance to conceptions of post-truth by looking more closely at the intertwining of veracity and temporality. Drawing lessons from the Sharpiegate affair, we show how the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account was employed to distort meteorological forecasts and challenge journalism’s privilege to premediate events as they unfold. In turn, legacy media organizations struggled to ward off these attacks. We investigate the snowballing U.S. news story around the affair using tweets and articles and reconstruct the frames bolstering the attempted pushback. None of the frames we found were new. Rather, they reflect yet another moment of public consternation and its limitations in coming to terms with the versatile repertoire of populist truth-tampering. Full text can be read here.

In this article, we propose to treat agency as something which is accomplished in the entanglement of humans with technologies. This redirects our attention away from the question of what distinguishes humans from smart machines and towards querying how people and automated apparatuses join in processes of mutual sociomaterial engagement. To further our argument, we look at self-service kiosks, which are ubiquitous yet largely overlooked components of mediated environments. We reflect on a participant observation in groceries stores and interviews with customers familiar with self-checkout facilities. They make us aware that operating this equipment is not an individual affair but a joint activity by default, taking place in a temporally regimented setting prone to human errors and malfunction when people try to respond to the terminals’ protocol. This sort of imperfect automation has ambivalent ramifications which rely on the capabilities of users and the capacities of an interface and its underlying operations. Agency, we conclude, thus becomes a matter of viable performance in which humans may act machine-like while machines perform an expanding share of activities.

In this crosscurrent contribution, we approach the notion of welfare through the lens of the data welfare state. We, further, suggest that datafied welfare can be fruitfully studied with the capabilities approach to better understand how ideas and values of data welfare intersect with and may allow for the ‘good’ life and human flourishing. The main aim is to highlight the deep-seated changes of the welfare state that emerge with the delegation of care and control tasks to algorithmic systems and the automation based on datafication practices. Welfare provision is undergoing major shifts that imply fundamentally rethinking the role of technology that supports and enhances welfare with the help of data.

Communication is, by all accounts, a global phenomenon. Yet, it is neither an overall practice, nor does it follow general rules. Instead, on one hand, we find a multitude of local ways to generate and disseminate information, to use media technologies, and to participate in public discourse. On the other hand, there are overarching connections and interrelations, forged by international conglomerates and political treaties or created by forms of cultural appropriation. Against this background, this edited volume serves as a Media Compass that allows locating and mapping media landscapes internationally through the help of a set of coordinates. It provides a middle ground between fairly robust, long-term media systems and fluctuating fashions and trends in media usage. In-between these two extremes, its contributions gather and discuss the key structural elements in the political, social, demographic, cultural, and economic set-up of media infrastructures and public communication that show some stability – but are open to change. These elements form the framework for how media organisations operate, and people come to engage with communication. Some of them are country-specific traits; others carry transnational, though rarely universal, relevance like basic liberties, forms of government, multinational policies, or global rules of trade. The Media Compass assembles a collection of country portraits, not snapshots. Each of the contributions furnishes readers with a useful resource that can be consulted for a concise overview and assessment of a country’s media environment, formative conditions and circumstances, historical background and development, current issues and challenges as well as its position vis-à-vis other countries. The entries allow for comparative readings of the conjunctions and divergences that characterise a country’s place in the wider media landscape.

Each year, the president of the International Communication Association speaks to the plenary session of its annual conference. Conceptualizing the speeches as disciplinary talk, we examined them using a combination of qualitative content analysis and bibliometric study. The results show how presidential addresses either aimed to present a metaview of the field or to offer targeted reflections revolving around individual interests. Both types reiterate common topics—that is, they talk the talk—but they receive scant attention and thus cannot respond to calls for more integration of the field. Moreover, the speeches do not lead the walk—they remain ambivalent about how to respond to its pluralization and do not steer communication studies in a particular direction. Read the full article here.

The article looks at artistic impressions of future robotics and considers how they inspire research into human–machine interaction. Our analysis of visual scientific practices and the epistemic ramifications of these speculative drawings emerges from a long-term participant observation study in a multi-disciplinary project on smart and autonomous technologies in public spaces. We discuss the design, appropriation and modulation of visual scenarios and scrutinize how these diegetic futurescapes are imaginatively engaging and suggestive of scientific progress and experimentation. We argue that the future-oriented scenes defy common notions of post hoc scientific representations. Instead, they are ex ante presentations of the ambition to imagine human–machine relations in the future and to draw the large-scale research venture together. The register of evaluation thereby shifts from aesthetic criteria to scientific parameters. More than just visual tokens, the scenarios became a catalyst for collaboration. The full article can be read here.

Memory is a communicative affair. Throughout history, a growing diversity of symbols and genres of communication have shaped how we come to remember and forget the past. Indeed, memory comes to matter when it is communicated: people connect to a collective past, return to personal reminiscences, and revive bygone moments but also impair, inhibit, or prevent memories by way of communication. It is the prime mode through which the past is enacted in the present. Unsurprisingly, the majority of studies into the practice of lived remembering operate with a notion of communicative memory, often in conjunction with the kindred concept of cultural memory.
The special issue will interrogate the current forms of communicative memory making. It starts from the idea that while communication is at the heart of commemoration processes, it has recently been sidelined by a focus on (media) technologies. These rapidly changing material environments attracted much scholarly attention around questions of living digital archives, virtual memory places, and media archaeology. Yet the actual communicative exchanges that happen on the cognitive level, in the often machine-mediated interactions between people, and the social realm at-large have received considerably less interest.
The special issue invites contributions that address the ways, data, services, and platforms enable communicative remembering across the scale from micro-level mental operations to macro-level societal processes. We assume that transforming media will leave their mark on how we engage with the past, interact with others, employ artifacts and documents, and thus construct memories. We also believe that memory making within and through these technologies means inclusion of some people and groups and exclusion of others. Reconsidering how communicative remembering has changed and how it is done today will also allow us to scrutinize some standard distinction on which the field is built. Hence, dichotomies such as communicative memory versus cultural memory, personal versus family versus public memory, cognitive memory versus social memory seem in need of re-thinking and renewal when considered from the point of digitally networked communication. With its focus on the active side of remembrance, the special issue aims at a tenet of memory studies yet it promises to also reach out to connate disciplines which share this interest, like cognitive science and psychology, science and technology studies, communication, political science, anthropology, and sociology. Read the full call here.

Not infrequently, smart home imaginaries and installations are envisaged for nuclear families dwelling in detached houses fitted with the latest Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. In our article, we follow one approach to escape this powerful but inadequate projection that entails inviting people to imagine alternative forms of domestic IoT use. Surveying the setup of these nascent endeavors, in particular attempts that pivot on narrative accounts and forward-oriented fictions on the design of new habitats, we show how these seek to evoke visions of technologically supported cohabitation and everyday life. Due to their inclusive ambitions, such approaches face participatory predicaments that arise from the sought-after spontaneity and creativity within a purposive process. In response, all of them resort to methodological scaffolding that helps their designers to reconcile the tension between the idiosyncrasies embraced by the procedures and the overarching requirements of a particular exercise. The full paper can be read here.