I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be joining the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London this September, as a Lecturer in Global Digital Cultures. The department has gathered a wide array of faculty, building connections across the humanities, the social sciences, and information technologies – a familiar environment for someone coming from an I School.
I’m excited to be joining my new colleagues to make sense of how these things we variously term “digital”, “information”, or “data” interact with the thing we term “society” – and I’m looking forward to hearing from old friends and new interested in these issues.
In my new position, I’ll be continuing my work on technical cultures, studying how sociotechnical relations of practice circulate within and across territorial and organizational boundaries to build and maintain the global infrastructure we call the Internet.
Or in short, studying the people who make the Internet go!
I’ll be presenting a paper at AOIR 2017 in Tartu, Estonia, as part of what promises to be an interesting session interrogating the metaphors through which we make sense of “the Internet”.
“For the Good of the Internet”: The Imagined Communities of Internet Infrastructure
The Internet is unusual among global infrastructures in the degree to which its operation relies upon volunteer work and contributions. In this paper, I explore the nature of volunteer work in Internet infrastructure through a focus on the provision of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which are physical locations at which computer networks interconnect to form the Internet. I draw from two years of ethnographic fieldwork as a volunteer with a non-profit IXP in the San Francisco Bay Area, SFMIX, to ask why it is that Internet infrastructure workers are willing to volunteer their time and money to provide services which could be provided as a for-profit offerings. I argue that volunteer work in Internet infrastructure is made possible through the ideal of acting “for the good of the Internet”. I build on Markham’s analysis of metaphors of the Internet, and Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities”, to show how acting “for the good of the Internet” functions as a way of being for Internet infrastructure workers, and serves to construct a political consciousness that allows them to imagine themselves as being part of a global community which acts “for the good of the Internet”.
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to present my work at King’s College, London, and the University of Tampere later this month:
Geographies of Trust and Practice in Internet Infrastructure
Since its origins, the Internet has been imagined as a space which is “everywhere and nowhere” (Barlow 1996): a virtual “space of flows” separated from the physical “space of places” (Castells 1996). These are politically charged imaginaries, as the virtual spaces of the Internet are often thought to intrinsically encode a democratic participatory politics, surpassing the the seemingly more limited democratic possibilities of the territorial space of the nation state. However, as the Internet has evolved, the problems of increased participation have become readily apparent, with attention today turning to questions of legitimacy and trustworthiness, whether in terms of “fake news”, or privacy and security in online settings.
In this talk, I connect the seemingly disparate problems of trust and space in the Internet through an analysis of the underlying mechanisms involved in the production of virtual space. I locate these mechanisms in the sociotechnical organization of Internet infrastructure: the practices, institutions, and cultures of the technical personnel responsible for the reliable, stable operation of the thousands of interconnected computer networks which comprise the Internet. I draw from two research projects for my analysis, in which I studied network operators and information security personnel, in sites spanning North America and South Asia.
As I found, the infrastructure of the Internet is stabilized and ordered through practices which rely upon social relationships of trust, across organizational and territorial boundaries. This reliance on trust relationships makes the Internet quite unusual in comparison to other global infrastructures (such as shipping, airlines, or telephone systems) which rely primarily upon state and market arrangements for governance. Indeed, I argue that it is critical to understand the geographies of trust and practice which govern Internet infrastructure if we are to develop a trustworthy and secure future Internet.
I had a great conversation with Violet Blue at Engadget about the recent Equifax breach, and the gendered conversations about the qualifications of the Equifax CISO (who happens to be a woman). Read the story here:
Why Equifax’s error wasn’t hiring someone with a music degree
A paper I co-authored with Coye Cheshire, “Risky Business: Social Trust and Community in the Practice of Cybersecurity for Internet Infrastructure”, has been accepted to HICSS 50, coming up in January 2017. I’m really happy to get these ideas out into the world, since they represent a really interesting set of directions that I’ve been evolving in my work. Here’s the abstract:
The security of computer networks and systems on the Internet is a growing and ongoing set of concerns for nation states, corporations, and individuals. Although substantial and valuable work is in progress to secure the hardware and software technologies of the Internet, less attention has been paid to the everyday practices of the people involved in maintaining this infrastructure. In this paper, we focus on issues in cybersecurity as they apply to computer networks, to show how effective practices of network security are premised upon social relationships of trust formed within communities of cybersecurity professionals, and enacted in the practice of cybersecurity. We describe three key cybersecurity problems that involve Internet infrastructural technologies: IP address hijacking, email spam, and DNS spoofing. Through our analysis of these three problems, we argue that social trust between people – not just assurances built into the underlying technologies – must be emphasized as a central aspect of securing Internet infrastructure.
I’ll be presenting a paper, “Situated Governance: On Topological Limits to Internet Governance” at AOIR 2016 in Berlin.
I won the iConference Dissertation Award for the best dissertation completed in the past year from an information school! I’ll be in Philadelphia for the iConference to accept the award. My dissertation is available here.
It’s been 9 years since I last wrote here – phew! I stopped when I left the world of software engineering to start my master’s – and then doctoral – work at the UC Berkeley School of Information. It turns out that trying to put the social sciences and technology into conversation is a fair challenge, though one that I have come to enjoy. I’ll be exploring the intersection of the technological and the social, especially as they related to Internet infrastructure, in the work that I’ll be publishing here.