From Michigan to Masiphumelele

library staff in Fort Hare, South Africa

Chelsea District Library’s Emily Meloche (front row, second from left) received a warm welcome from the library staff in Masiphumelele, South Africa.

In the summer of 2015, UMSI alumna Emily Meloche (MSI ‘12) participated in a one-month exchange program between the Chelsea (MI) District Library and the Masiphumelele Library outside of Cape Town, South Africa. She offered to share her experiences with readers of UMSI Monthly.

At 8,276 miles and nearly 24 hours from airport to airport; it really is the other side of the world. But there are libraries almost everywhere, and that includes Masiphumelele, a shanty community outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Continue reading

Maker spaces to high-tech production

By Silvia Lindtner

”The Promise of Production: How the Manufacturing Hub Shenzhen Became Enrolled in the Vision of the Maker Movement”

In April, 2015, at the annual Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced a strategic alliance between the American multinational semiconductor chip maker and one of its biggest competitors in China, the semiconductor company Rockchip.

Silvia Lindtner

Silvia Lindtner is an assistant professor in the School of Information and the co-founder of the Research Initiative Hacked Matter. She researches, writes and teaches about DIY maker culture with a particular focus on manufacturing and industry development in China.

The renewed partnership between Intel and Rockchip came at an opportune moment. Over the past years, Intel has had to take big cuts in the non-iPad tablet market, largely due to the growing success and reach of its Chinese counterparts Rockchip and Allwinner. The partnership between Intel and Rockchip should guarantee continuous leadership in established markets such as the PC and the tablet industry, but more importantly it should also help firmly anchor Intel as the core platform for the next era of computing: the age of the maker movement and the Internet of Things, or as Brian Krzanich put it:

“The local and global impact of our 50 years of Moore’s Law innovation and 30 years of strong collaboration and winning together in China is unmatched. Intel remains focused on delivering leadership products and technologies in traditional areas of computing, while also investing in new areas and entrepreneurs – students, makers and developers – to find and fuel future generations of innovation with China.” (Reynolds 2015)

Rockchip has until recently received little attention by advocates of technology innovation – as has the city of Shenzhen, a manufacturing hub in the South of China, where this renewed alliance was forged. If anything, Shenzhen used to be known as a place that stood for low-quality and copycat production, far from any connotations of “innovating with China” as Krzanich characterized Intel’s 30-year-long relationship with the region at the 2015 IDF. Continue reading

Why tech alone won’t save the world

By Kentaro Toyama

In a recent op-ed co-written with Bono, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg upped the ante for technological utopianism. He wrote, “If you want to help people feed, heal, educate and employ themselves around the world, we need to connect the world as well.” Translation: the Internet is necessary to ensure food, health, education, and jobs for everyone.

Kentaro Toyama

Kentaro Toyama is W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information at the School of Information and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

This is an astonishing claim, especially on top of another statement Zuckerberg likes to make: “The richest 500 million have way more money than the next 6 billion combined. You solve that by getting everyone online.”

These claims go well beyond the usual braggadocio of Silicon Valley. Once upon a time, tech titans would tentatively suggest, “Our technology can improve your life,” content to tantalize us with the possibilities. Later, they began to insist, “Our technology will improve your life.” But now we also have, “Our technology is necessary to improve your life.”

It’s all but a threat: Use our technology, or else!

But digital tools routinely fail to live up to their more grandiose promises. The evidence is all around us. In Detroit, you can see it among some of its residents who go hungry despite having Facebook accounts — the technology delivers neither food nor the means to pay for it. You can see it in the city’s schools where computer labs are commonplace, but students still don’t receive the education they deserve — overtaxed teachers don’t have the time to attend to individual needs. You can see it in the unemployment line, where the ”sharing economy” of Uber and Airbnb does little to bring jobs to people without cars or spare rooms to rent.

Across the United States, the last four decades have seen the number in poverty rise, social mobility stagnate, and inequality skyrocket to levels not seen for a century, and all this during a golden age of digital innovation. If all of Silicon Valley’s successes so far haven’t addressed America’s own social ills, why should we expect that they will do much for the rest of the world’s?

To be sure, the tech industry is an engine of economic growth. But those spoils go largely to technology producers, not consumers. When you buy an iPhone, it’s Apple employees and shareholders who get rich, not you. This is easy to forget amidst the noisy buzz of today’s digital entrepreneurship. Yes, tech companies create jobs, but the jobs go to those who have skills the industry values. The rest are lucky if some meager scraps eventually trickle down.

In the movie The Matrix, an advanced technology harvests human energy to feed itself while giving people the illusion of a pleasant life. It might seem that that dark future is pure science fiction. But, Facebook is an advanced technology that harvests human attention to feed its shareholders while giving people the illusion of a pleasant social life. Machines are already distracting us from honest living.

If Zuckerberg and other would-be tech-philanthropists were serious about helping the world less privileged, they’d be focused less on spreading the means of their profit-making, and more on nurturing others with the necessary skills to succeed. They’d be working to ensure universal quality education, not lobbying for selective immigration to steal other countriesí talent. And, they’d pay attention to the mounting research that shows that spreading technology doesn’t in and of itself solve poverty, inequality, or social immobility.

In Detroit, there are grassroots efforts to provide shelter for the homeless, training for the jobless, and community for neighborhoods alienated from themselves. These efforts work without the fanfare or the tech savvy of the glitzy start-ups and big corporations hailed for revitalizing the city. But, their work is at least as important if the goal is not only to revive Detroit but to support the people of Detroit to achieve their own aspirations. Whatever technology might do, in the end, social challenges need human solutions above all.

In the video below, Kentaro Toyama elaborates on these points and explores why technology alone cannot make schools better or make children better learners.

Event-full fall is underway at UMSI

By Thomas Finholt, Interim Dean

The 2015-16 school year at UMSI is off to an energetic start, with several new faces joining our faculty, several high profile speakers and plans for an expanded homecoming weekend.

Thomas Finholt

Thomas Finholt, interim dean of the School of Information

On September 9, we held our annual convocation, the traditional start to our school year, and the one occasion on which the entire school — faculty, students and staff — convene to hear of plans for the upcoming year, highlight our accomplishments of the previous and celebrate the fellowship that characterizes UMSI.

Here are highlights of the events we’re looking forward to this fall.

On Thursday, October 1, we welcome gaming journalist Leigh Alexander as the featured guest speaker at the annual John Seely Brown Symposium on Technology and Society. Alexander is the former editor of Gamasutra and current editor-in-chief of the website Offworld. She will be speaking on emerging alternative games culture and trends that show video games are coming into their own as an expressive cultural form.

Speaking of JSB, a former JSB speaker, social media researcher danah boyd, had an overflow crowd for a talk she delivered here on September 15, on big data and systemic discrimination. boyd is a member of our external advisory board and spent a few days with us conducting workshops and meeting with our faculty and doctoral students.

Homecoming is the second weekend in October and we have a number of activities planned. Alumni are invited to attend guest lectures by alumnus Tom Hyry, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Harvard’s Houghton Library, on October 9 and Jason Blessing, CEO of PlexSystems Inc. on October 7.

If you’re not able to attend in person, be sure to tune in for the premiere of an online lecture by our WK Kellogg Professor of Community Information, Kentaro Toyama, who will be expanding on ideas in his recently published book, Geek Heresy. Kentaro’s position is that technology amplifies human capacity but is no substitute for it. The lecture will be available to view on October 8; our events calendar will have information on where to see it.

A highlight of the homecoming weekend is the alumni awards presentation. Please read the feature on the recipients of this year’s alumni awards: Paul Poon, Sameer Halai and Stuart Feldman.

Later that month, we welcome another high-profile speaker, Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard professor of economics and the author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Mullainathan has been honored with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” and is the founder of ideas42, a non-profit that uses behavioral science to help solve social problems. He will be discussing his recent research on machine learning at noon on October 21, here at UMSI.

A full fall indeed, and only the start of what promises to be an exceptional year for our students, our school and the entire university. We look forward to sharing more news with you in the months ahead.