Thursday, January 12, 2017

My TEDx video out on 'Who is in charge of the future of the Internet?'



Brief Description of the talk 
What do we really know about half of the world’s population who live on 2 dollars a day? How does their digital usage shape the future of the internet? If we have been paying attention in the last five years, we will see that much of what the poor are doing online are far from our traditional understandings fed to us over the decades. Instead of the much celebrated media stories of farmers checking crop prices, rural women searching for health information and the deprived youth learning math through mobile apps, Arora will take you on a different journey, one infused with sex, romance, socializing, and gaming. She pushes us to move past our preconceptions of the poor if we are to understand what the digital future will look like.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Release: My UN Commissioned Report on Innovation in the ICT's in Education sector

In February of 2016, I was approached by UNESCO to come up with a report to advise the UN Education Commission on the role of prizes in shaping innovation in the education sector. After months of research, and evaluation, I was thrilled to learn that the report made its way into the policy pathway. This paper was prepared for the International Commission on Financing Global Education.

Basically, here is the executive summary for the report. If interested, click here to get access to the final report.

The use of prizes to stimulate innovation in education has dramatically increased in recent
years, but, to date, no organization has attempted to critically examine the impact these
prizes have had on education. This report attempts to fill this gap by conducting a landscape
review of education prizes with a focus on technology innovation in developing countries.
This report critically analyses the diversity of education prizes to gauge the extent to which
these new funding mechanisms lead to innovative solutions in this sector. This is
supplemented with interviews with sponsors and prize participants to gain the muchneeded
practitioner’s perspective. We address important questions that pervade as prizes
are being implemented in this sector: What seems to be working and why? How do prizes
compare to other funding mechanisms to stimulate technology innovations? How is
sustainability achieved? What can be learned that can inform the design of future prizes?

We structure our recommendations along the Doblin framework, which entails analyzing
the design of prizes along the criteria of Resources (sponsorships & partnerships), Structure (types of prizes, eligibility criteria, scope, types of ICT projects, phases, & intellectual property rights), Motivators (monetary & non-monetary Incentives, Communications (marketing), and, Evaluation (measuring impact and long-term sustainability). 

Through this process, a number of important assumptions are re-examined, namely, that technology innovation is central to educational reform, prizes stimulate innovation, scalability is a proxy for sustainability, and prizes are the most efficient funding mechanism to stimulate innovation. We re-calibrate expectations of technology innovation prizes in the educational field against empirical evidence. We reveal key trends through the deploying of prizes in this field and offer case studies as good practices for sponsors to consider when designing future prizes. The report makes recommendations along each of the given criteria to enhance the impact of prizes, drawing from interdisciplinary sources. The intent of this report is to enable sponsors to distinguish the hype surrounding these prizes and proceed to design prizes that can best serve the education sector.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Keynote Talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland

I will be giving a Keynote talk at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland on November 30th 2016 on the topic “Databased democracies in the Global South.” This is a development studies symposium to explore contemporary themes and approaches in development studies with the advent of big data. The symposium is intended to draw scholars doing cutting-edge work on the intersection of digitized databases and democracy in the Global South. This is vital in the field of development studies today (and in the social sciences more generally), but which has not received much attention.
So, in a nutshell, my talk is about how democracy is being shaped today in emerging economies through digital media. Here is an abstract of my talk:
Democracy is an aspiration and a continuous struggle, particularly in post-colonial contexts. The instrument of datafication, the documentation of social life, has been used for the longest time to control subjects during the colonial days. Today, these instruments in the form of big data, algorithmic infrastructures, and social bots, promise empowerment. It gives us an alternative vision in how we can use data to improve the well-being of the vast poor in such emerging economies through the expansion of socio-political participation and citizenship. This talk will grapple with the trade-offs that ensue as the global South enters the digital age. Here, identity, locality, and value gain new meanings in this digitization of information.
For more information about the event, click here.

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.