Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speaking on Digital Cultures at Collège des Bernardins in Paris

This international conference at the Collège des Bernardins was on the topic of "L’humain au défi du numérique". Basically, it focused on digital & cultural diversity. Following the work of Milad Doueihi, the Chair of the Collège des Bernardins on "The human being with the digital challenge", the study day "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" proposes to examine the digital experience in other regions of the world and the possibility of thinking differently, using different methodologies and categories of thought. Can we still study digital culture, or produce an audible discourse on it, without systematically discussing the issue of digitization, encoding, mapping, data and usage? The meeting of computer science with the human and social sciences seems to have tightened the perimeter of the latter. The suspicion that weighs since their origins on their scientificity and their social utility is thus based, at a time when public funding is always demanding more "results" applicable.

Faced with an institutional restructuring in progress, which imposes laboratories a hard model of scientificity, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" draws from diverse voices. What should a number of academic disciplines (anthropology, communication, etc.) and actors (artists, engineers), usually little understood, have to tell us about digital culture? How does the latter, for example, work our perception of ethnic groups? What relationships do we have with these "non-human" robots? What are the alternatives to western platforms, such as Google or Facebook, and what new culture do they create? Etc. The notion of "diversity" is thus to be understood in two ways: diversity of approaches to studying digital culture; Diversity of its "inhabitants", which deserve our attention.

To respond to this program, the colloquium "Numerique & Diversité culturelle" of the Collège des Bernardins brought together international actors whose work focuses on several issues (activism, robotics, standardization of Internet standards, etc.) and Other parts of the world, such as Asia, the Middle East or India.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

New article out on Facebook love and digital privacy

My article is out with Laura Scheiber in the Media, Culture and Society Journal on Facebook love and digital privacy. The open access paper is titled, “Slumdogromance: Facebook love and digital privacy at the margins.” This article is about  how Facebook has consolidated its position as the one-stop-shop for social activity among the poor in the global South. Sex, romance, and love are key motivations for mobile and Internet technology usage among this demographic, much like the West. Digital romance is a critical context through which we gain fresh perspectives on Internet governance for an emerging digital and globalizing public. Revenge porn, slut-shaming, and Internet romance scams are a common and growing malady worldwide. Focusing on how it manifests in diverse digital cultures will aid in the shaping of new Internet laws for a more inclusive cross-cultural public. In specific, this article examines how low-income youth in two of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations – Brazil and India – exercise and express their notions on digital privacy, surveillance, and trust through the lens of romance. This allows for a more thorough investigation of the relationship between sexuality, morality, and governance within the larger Facebook ecology. As Facebook becomes the dominant virtual public sphere for the world’s poor, we are compelled to ask whether inclusivity of the digital users comes at the price of diversity of digital platforms.
This article can be accessed here

An additional treat came from responses to the article by Catalina Toma, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ramina Sotoudeh (Princeton University), Roger Friedland (New York University) and Janet Afary (University of California, Santa Barbara).

Toma in her paper titled, “Developing online deception literacy while looking for love" argues with the following:

Payal Arora and her colleagues argue that Facebook has become a widely-used tool for finding romance in the global south, especially among marginalized youth. Yet this reliance on Facebook opens users up to the possibility of deception, forcing many to develop a dynamic online deception literacy. In this response paper, I unpack the notion of online deception literacy by reviewing the existing social scientific literature on this topic. I discuss (1) the prevalence of deception in online romance: (2) people’s ability to detect online deception; (3) the cues people use to detect online deception; and (4)
the usefulness of those cues in accurately gauging deception. I highlight avenues for future research, especially those inspired by the experience of marginalized users in the global south.

Sotoudeh, Friedland and Afary in their paper titled "Digital romance: the sources of online love in the Muslim world" summarizes the following:

Arora et al. find that young Indians use Facebook to find romantic partners and interact with the opposite sex outside of the circle of people they know, while Brazilians more commonly use it as a tool to keep in touch with friends whom they know offline. The authors attribute this to the more conservative nature of Indian society, especially its widespread disapproval of ‘immoral’ courtship behaviors in public spaces. Facebook, they argue, and social online platforms, in general, create an alternate public sphere that allows for the recalibration and regendering of norms and interactions. In such places, the digital space becomes an alternative public arena for young people to interact, court and love. They argue that the Internet creates an alternative public space in
conservative countries where physical public sphere is too restrictive and does not allow for young men and women to meet, interact and engage in courtship practices

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!