Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Another review out on my book 'The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0'

Kevin Driscoll a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, has written a thoughtful review of my book, The Leisure Commons, A Spatial history of Web 2.0 for the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

Here are some excerpts from the review:
"Arora’s analysis of social media centers on a comparison with an older spatial technology that was also introduced with a bloom of optimism and collective imagination: the public park. For Arora, social media and the public park are both part of “the leisure commons,” spaces designed primarily for collective, nonutilitarian purposes such as play, relaxation, and socializing."

"One of Arora’s goals in The Leisure Commons is to put the critical study of social media in dialogue with the interdisciplinary body of research on urban parks. Readers will be quickly convinced by Arora’s wide-ranging exploration of park metaphors that the two fields share a number of core theoretical concerns.”

Click here for the full review

Friday, July 8, 2016

4 conferences, 3 cities, 2 countries: Nice wrap up for a sabbatical


The month of June served as a nice wrap up of my almost yearlong sabbatical that started in New York and ended in Germany. Four conferences, three cities and two countries (Japan and China) – indeed was a true roller-coaster ride. The end of this sabbatical is reminiscent of my start where I launched it as a NYU Steinhardt Fellow in New York, my old stomping grounds where I spent ten years of my life, including my doctoral days of trying to get in as much New York at the price of as little sleep as possible.

Nobody warns you on the work that goes into organizing a sabbatical and the psychology of dislocation that comes with it, both liberating and disorienting at the same time. Giving up your home, moving to different countries, being confronted with a long to-do list of writing on a daily basis mixed with the classic promise of finding yourself on a beach somewhere sipping pina coladas. Well, the latter did not happen but instead of beaches, I managed to escape regularly for hiking into the Bavarian region of Germany, with some of the most spectacular nature I have ever experienced.

This escape kept my sanity as the year stacked up quickly with reports, papers, workshops, alongside the book I am currently writing for Harvard University Press due next year.  One of the highlights was the report I was commissioned for by UNESCO on evaluating incentives for ICT innovation in education in the global South. This report has opened up pathways of new research I would like to pursue, particularly on what does technology innovation look like to the world’s poor and to what degree does it matter to them? We take it for granted that innovation must be a good thing especially for the marginalized as if novelty is all that it takes to leapfrog ones current social realities.

Another highlight from my sabbatical is getting into the theme of algorithms and bots and their impact on our understandings of representation and social media activism in developing countries. One of the workshops that I presented at in June absolutely immersed me into this area and cemented my commitment to pursuing this further. Organized by Oxford Internet Institute,the preconference ‘Algorithms, Automation and Politics’ at Fukuoka, Japan, revealed the multiplicity and complexity of analyzing the impact of bots on the social media landscape.

Of course, the biggest positive constant was the uninterrupted time to think and write for the Harvard book ‘Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West.” It will be my first non-academic style book writing which makes me excited as I have always wanted to break out of the circle of academic jargon and write accessibly, simply and hopefully through that, create a wider reach beyond academia. So here’s to my spending the summer doing just that! 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Review of my paperback out: "The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0"

When we write books, it seems to take forever and yet, once published, it is amazing how quickly it disappears from our horizons as we move to the next project. The academic rat wheel I guess. So it is always a pleasant surprise to encounter a positive review of one's book, reminding one of all the energy and passion that went into the makings of the book.

My recently published book, The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0  was reviewed for the Journal of Popular Culture by Kiranjeet Dhillon of University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Here is an excerpt: “Readers will value Arora’s argumentative advances from chapter to chapter. Arora thoroughly explains and articulates The Leisure Commons and appeals to a vast inter-disciplinary audience of media, rhetorical, visual culture, critical/culture studies, history, and geography scholars. In particular, media and rhetorical scholars will find that Arora’s metaphorical framework offers insight in regards to the digital public sphere, leisure space, virtual activism, online privacy, digital labor, and globalization of virtual networks. Media and communication scholars will appreciate this insight, which illuminates and compels readers to analyze and theorize the rhetorics of the public sphere, digi-tality, and leisure space through a new heuristic vocabulary.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New paper out on big data and the global South

My paper, "Bottom of the Data Pyramid, Big data and the Global South" has been published in the International Journal of Communication, an open access journal. This work is a build-up from the blog that I wrote earlier on regarding this topic for  Discover Society as well as a couple of keynotes I gave in 2015 at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference in Berkeley and IS4IS Summit in Vienna. 

Basically, this paper argues that so far, little attention has been given to the impact of big data in the Global South, about 60% of whose residents are below the poverty line. Big data manifests in novel and unprecedented ways in these neglected contexts. For instance, India has created biometric national identities for her 1.2 billion people, linking them to welfare schemes, and social entrepreneurial initiatives like the Ushahidi project that leveraged crowdsourcing to provide real-time crisis maps for humanitarian relief. While these projects are indeed inspirational, this article argues that in the context of the Global South there is a bias in the framing of big data as an instrument of empowerment. Here, the poor, or the “bottom of the pyramid” populace are the new consumer base, agents of social change instead of passive beneficiaries. This neoliberal outlook of big data facilitating inclusive capitalism for the common good sidelines critical perspectives urgently needed if we are to channel big data as a positive social force in emerging economies. This article proposes to assess these new technological developments through the lens of databased democracies, databased identities, and databased geographies to make evident normative assumptions and perspectives in this under-examined context.

Hope you enjoy the article.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Project leader for an UNESCO Report on prize-based incentives for innovations in ICT's in Education

In the next few months, I will be working on a UNESCO commissioned report on prize-based incentives to foster innovation in the area of ICT's in education. This is indeed timely as there is much hype on mobile-based learning and educating through gamification, particularly in developing countries. New technology again promises to come to the rescue by circulating hope in the midst of chronic failures in schooling in these contexts. With a majority of people in the global South gaining access to mobile phones, there is much proclamation that learning is now literally at their fingertips.


At the UN Mobile Week in Paris with the UNESCO Secretary General Irina Bokova
Since we cannot afford to have another 'lost generation' as the state fails the youth, funders are taking on the neoliberal approach to education, using financial incentives to capitalize on new ICT's to provide engaging and relevant e-content for these emerging platforms of learning. But are these incentives working to attract the best innovations in this field? What constitutes as sustainability in such schemes and is this coming at the cost of funding traditional modes of education? Is there an expectation that mlearning innovation will supplant traditional models of schooling? And who are the target audiences anyway for these innovations and is this overlapping with the actual gaps and inequalities within these societies? These are but a few questions one needs to tackle when approaching a project such as this.

Previously, I have worked on two major projects that were recipients of such prize-based incentives for innovation, namely the Development Marketplace Award for the Same Language Subtitling initiative on Bollywood songs to sustain neo-literacy by the Founder Brij Kothari. I have written a number of articles on the impact of SLS on literacy outcomes that can be accessed here. The second project was my critique of the much celebrated Hole in the Wall initiative by TED prize winner Sugata Mitra.

The bottom line is that today, the use of prizes to spur innovation in education has dramatically increased since the beginning of the millennium, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these prizes have had on education. UNESCO proposes to fill this gap by conducting a landscape review of education prizes with an ICT focus. I will be taking the lead on this project, working with a promising young scholar Andrea Gudmundsdóttir as my research assistant. Should be a fun couple of months ahead!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

LSEImpactBlog out on Facebook as the Internet and the digital romance economy

Check out my blog on the London School of Economics Impact Blog regarding Facebook and the Digital Romance Economy.

Brief overview...

Through the controversial internet.org initiative, Facebook now serves as The Internet to the majority of the world’s marginalized demographic. The Politics of Data series continues with Payal Arora discussing the role of Facebook and internet regulation in the global South. While the West have had privacy laws in place since the 1970s, the emerging markets are only now seriously grappling with this. This piece explores some of the unfolding areas of vulnerability in the digital romance economy.

Starting my sabbatical journey as a visiting scholar at NYU Steinhardt

Who doesn't love sabbaticals! It's one of those ancient and privileged rituals in academia which is prized dearly and rightly so. It allows us to disconnect, recharge and rediscover our passions for writing, reading and engaging with new ideas and people. Time is structured not by grading or teaching but by exploratory thought. With my book deadline with Harvard University Press in the summer of 2016, I have my path carved by this dominant goal. The book Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West is not a typical academic book but rather will be written in the style which is more New Yorker ...and that's exciting as its about unlearning journal style writing and going back to a time where we write to engage a larger intelligent public and yet, back it with the vigor of serious scholarship.

So what better place to start my sabbatical journey than Steinhardt's NYU. I am working closely with Arjun Appadurai and will be attending the weekly Privacy Research Group under the mentorship of Helen Nissenbaum - two larger than life figures in academic life and brilliant mentors!

Of course, New York is an intellectual hotbed that is energizing and exhausting at the same time. Already signed up for two conferences this month which takes away from writing time. Sabbaticals are a constant struggle between becoming a student and becoming a leader of thought, which requires serious solitude for writing original text.

So, I keep this in mind while I approach this journey...