Experimental session, hosted at the Association of Internet Researches (AoIRs) Conference, “Trust in the System”, 2-5 October 2019, Brisbane, Queensland.
Triple-blind, peer-reviewed abstract:
In this interactive experimental session, participants will be asked to use a mobile application that rapidly depletes the ‘battery life’ of their personal device for the purpose of examining the role of the battery in internet studies. The session will focus on embodying Ellcessor’s (2018, p. 10) ‘infrastructure of feeling’—the process of ‘recognising and intentionally eliciting felt phenomena through media technologies’—and foreground, not only our reliance on the battery as a ‘hard’ infrastructure but, the ‘battery icon’ as a ‘soft’ infrastructure which elicits feelings. Participants should leave the session having explored how the battery (icon) is an intermediary of online sociality and reflect on how this impacts research of Internet-based communication, entertainment, and services.
The rechargeable battery manifests a ‘sociotechnical imaginary’ (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009) of endless ‘on tap’ power, which, in the case of a mobile device, is mediated through the device’s battery icon—a visual metaphor for the physical lithium-ion battery encased within. When the battery icon is ‘green,’ everything that the device can do is perceived as possible and there is a trust that we can do the things we need. However, when the icon transforms to ‘red,’ we must rethink what is still possible and what is a priority. As such, the battery icon represents both the physical battery, as well as, the possibility to access all the social affordances that the device offers by having available battery life (e.g., arranging an Uber, posting on Twitter, playing Fortnite). The battery icon implicitly communicates the ‘attainable’ and ‘prescribed’ online sociality that the device can manage (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009, p. 20). Watching the battery icon deplete (100%, 99%, 98%…) threatens our ‘ontological security’ (Giddens, 1991)—the continuity of an individual’s expected experiences such as watching YouTube or scrolling through Instagram. The objective of this session is to foreground feelings of (mis)trust that the battery (icon) elicits and to reflect on how the battery’s material infrastructure and sociotechnical imaginary remains seemingly invisible until something ‘goes wrong.’
This interactive session has three parts. First, participants will be asked to use an energy-intense mobile application and watch their battery life deplete. Participants will then be asked to use their bodies as markers and spatially position themselves on an embodied Likert scale to explore how the infrastructure of feeling is experienced differently for different people, devices, and expectations. Second, once an ‘uncomfortable’ battery life is achieved for each person, participants will work in small groups—negotiating with what battery life each user has left—to collectively complete an online task; avoiding any device to succumb to 1%. Third, continuing to work in small groups, participants will take turns using a charger and will need to negotiate who charges, in what order, and for how long—prompting dialogue about energy as a shared resource and what feelings this elicits. Finally, in fitting with the theme of (dis)trust, participants are encouraged to ‘backup’ their personal data beforehand and bring a charger for the session.
Ellcessor, E. (2018). Blue-light emergency phones on campus: Media infrastructures of feeling. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877918820336
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Jasanoff, S., & Kim, S.H. (2009). Containing the atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva, 47(2), 119-146. doi:10.1007/s11024-009-9124-4