Knowing your values

“To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

via a ‘Moment of Happiness’ post by

More on Eleanor Roosevelt and her thoughts on happiness at Brain Pickings.

What is Mobilities?

Last month, I had the great pleasure of attending the Pan-American Mobilities Network’s annual conference, this year framed around the theme of Differential Mobilities. The event was brilliantly hosted by Concordia University’s Mobile Media Lab in Montreal, and brought together a huge range of scholars, some of whom had not been identifying their work with what has been called ‘the new mobilities paradigm‘ by Mimi Sheller and John Urry. Nonetheless, despite, or perhaps more correctly because of, this diversity, the event was extremely fruitful, with papers that were of a very high standard and conversations and events that will stay with me for some time yet.

Since there was a huge new media presence for the event (in part thanks to the huge team of student volunteers that Kim Sawchuk and Ben Spencer amassed), there are several options for those who are curious but couldn’t make it in person. You can check out the conference website, #mobilities13 hashtag, which was used throughout the event, or even my very first explorations of tweeting from an academic conference. The MML team also went around the conference interviewing participants about their work and how they engage with the concept of ‘mobilities’. This series of interviews, entitled ‘What is Mobilities?’ offers brief introductions to people’s research, but even more importantly helps to convey the energy and passion of the conference and the people who comprised it. Too often academic research can seem dry because we encounter it through typeset words that have been poked and prodded to fit expected genres and styles. The WIM? series provides a glimpse of the people, and what makes working in this area so energizing. I did one, which you can find here, or spend some time browsing through the others from a great groups of colleagues.


[View the story “Differential Mobilities Conference 2013” on Storify]


Time of Doubles: Flux (2011) immersive art installation by Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield

Time of Doubles: Flux (2011) immersive art installation by Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield

While recent revelations about the US National Security Agency’s PRISM program have provided much to reflect upon in relation to government, security, risk, and privacy, they also prompted for me a much more basic question. Why is the tracking of the metadata of our communications such an abhorrent idea? Beyond the fact that this has been going on in secret, is there a deeper frustration or fear? I’m not sure that people are only afraid that Orwell’s 1984 is coming to fruition, or that as the Daily Show has suggested, people are relieved that previous worries were not just paranoia.

I wonder if it isn’t connected to the more basic point that in many countries today, people pay little attention to what becomes of the traces of their everyday practices. Revolutions in production and a plethora of plastic commodities has made it increasingly easy to buy and discard things with little thought given to the ecological consequences or plastic soup that is filling our oceans. Digital technologies have also made it increasingly easy to keep in touch, but with little sense of how texts and emails and phone calls themselves leave traces. Since we often don’t pay much attention to our own traces, we have little idea of what they might tell someone about us. Would they say more than we would like them to? What if we want them back? How do we possibly get a grip on their implications now, when we have been ignoring them for so long? Perhaps our worry is not that the details of our lives might be read off the traces we leave, but rather that others will misread and misrepresent us, to undesirable ends.

To end then, a quote from a great article by Louise Crewe which looks at ordinary objects and lists in order to think about disposal, the traces we leave, and the significance of banal practices:

Meaning lurks in surprising spaces, in the lowly and lost, the abandoned, and damaged. It is important to look at this stuff in the background “both as the resonance or fall-out of things in the foreground and, at some level, something that contributes to it. The foreground is made up of the information that we more regularly notice, although the background things-who we chat with or what we sketch out-probably takes up more of our everyday engagement” (Julier, 2004). The important point is to acknowledge how much “we construct the complexity of our lives from minutiae; and how little, from inspecting the minutiae, can we deduce that complexity” (Bywater, 2001, page 53).

– Crewe, Environment and Planning D, 2011, vol 29, pg44