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A Kracking Time

Myself and a friend are just back from visiting Krakow, Southern Poland – my first proper trip to Eastern Europe! Well, I have been to Vilnius (in Lithuania) but by post-Cold War definitions that’s actually Northern Europe and to say otherwise would be lazy journalism. Still, my initial impressions were that there is a similarity […]

Hej, Sweden!

A trip to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, with one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, was just what I needed after going far too long without a proper holiday! Staying with a friend made it all the more special since getting an inside perspective always provides a far richer experience than relying on websites and a Lonely Planet guide – not that those aren’t great too of course. Highlights of the trip included sunbathing for hours between the rocks while a gentle sea breeze blew all around, and tasting the various baked goodies on offer at Tjörn’s superb sourdough bakery. I really had forgotten how good it is to forget all about working! 🙂 Inevitably we stuffed ourselves with some of the amazing fish and seafood that Sweden is renowned for. Sjöbaren restaturant in the old part of town has a great selection. Personally, I would recommend their “Wallenberger of the sea” (which I think is egg yolks, cream and ground fish?) with asparagus and flavoured mashed potato. The staff are also really friendly and don’t mind taking some time to explain their menu to you.

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At Röhsska Museum of fashion, design & applied arts, we wandered through an interesting mixture of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. “Ond Design”, or “Evil Design”, was particularly intriguing. The objects on display are either “designed to harm” or can be “linked to evilness through events that can be called bad”. This means everything from machetes, nazi flags and explosive devices designed to look like children’s toys, to clothes made in sweatshops, consumer electronic goods that harm the environment, and products tested on animals. Röhsska also has a great collection of Japanese statues and a plethora of furniture and glass. Nordiska Akvarellmuseet (the Watercolour Museum) on Tjörn was really worth seeing. Yes, their exhibition on Alice Neel was fascinating – but the setting and the design of the museum itself were equally memorable. Sitting snugly amongst the island’s houses and shellbanks, the museum is bright red and typically Swedish, with relaxing views over the water and studios for both artists and researchers to create and contemplate.

Gothenburg is full of cheerful and beautiful people and it’s hard not to think that some clichés about Sweden are true. Still, not everything is predictable. I was surprised to find that it has a fair few little sushi bars, all of which cater for vegetarians as well as lovers of squid and raw tuna. Another unexpected treat came in the form of some local bagpipers, whose music drifted up through the park one sunny afternoon. Formed in 1976, the Murray Pipes and Drums of Gothenburg play “everything from christenings to funerals” and their founder was himself trained by a genuine Scotsman, somewhere near the banks of Loch Lomond.

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It was kind of cool to be in Gothenburg for various nationally significant events. First, Sweden’s national holiday brought everyone to the park with picnics and surreptitious bottles of wine; then, the national football team lost 2-1 to Austria during a qualifying match for Brazil 2014. But at least a Royal Wedding (which seemed to put even Kate and William’s in the shade) gave everyone reason to celebrate again. Amusingly, the groom was a British-born American who speaks barely any Swedish and who seemed to understand just about as much of the ceremony as I did!

Little Green

People often refer to Chorlton, where I live now in Manchester, as “leafy” or green – and to be sure, on a sunny day, it is certainly one of the nicer places to be. The scents of flowers and plants drift through the streets from various front gardens and parks to provide a reassuring sense that here at least, nature is asserting herself just a little. Still, moving between two cities throws up inevitable comparisons, and back in Glasgow for a few days, I couldn’t help but think that there is nowhere quite like the city’s beautiful West End, which really does come alive on a warm day (20 degrees Celsius!) with a combination of urban modernity and lovingly maintained foliage that most cities would really envy.

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Well, Glasgow does mean “dear green place” after all. Or something like that. Maybe I’m getting nostalgic! Who would have thought I’d get more of a suntan North of the Border than down here? 🙂

Majestic Skagen

One of the best parts of being involved in academia is getting the chance to travel, meet new people, and hear about research in areas you might never learn about in your daily work environment. Getting feedback and being challenged on your research by people not specialist in your particular field can be just as useful as hearing what those closely interested in it have to say. Add in the chance to experience some of Scandinavia’s most beautiful scenery while staying in a former royal residence, and it’s pretty hard not to be happy! Skagen, famous for its fish, its boating opportunities, and for a crystal clear natural light that has historically attracted the best of the nation’s painters, was the venue for CMI’s PhD Summer School. This year’s topic was “The Future of the Internet” and we focused on two areas in particular: Internet and the Media and the RFID/smart device-centred Internet of Things (IoT).

The students and researchers attending came from Finland, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and um, Scotland – some of us via Thailand, Norway, China, Italy, or the US. Our backgrounds, methods, and our own research topics were almost as diverse as our nationalities, some people being based firmly in political economy, others in technology development, others in policy formation and some in media and cultural studies, with varying degrees of specificity. This type of group is definitely a good reflection of the key role which “convergence” (a keyword at the event) and interdisciplinary understandings now play in socio-technical research and development – and by extension in the businesses and market-places which drive or are driven by their results.

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Bill Melody, one of our lecturers, was keen to emphasise and challenge us to think about the inter-relations and interactions between theory, practise, applications, markets, and infrastructure configurations – as well as the increasingly vital role played by policies and regulation (whether at EU or national level). What determines how society makes use of its ICTs and media? What leads and what follows? To a complex “ecology” of path dependencies and paradigm shifts, those of us outwith Political Economics would of course add human nature, imagination, epistemology and pedagogy. Wherever you locate your specific research, it’s important to be aware of all of these overlaps. Diagramming is helpful for that. So too is disagreement. Everyone was given the chance to ask, answer, and debate.

As well as lectures on topics such as Standardisation, Business Models, Copyright Economics, and Hybrid and Over-the-top television services, we worked in small thematic groups on our own PhD topics, presenting, discussing and giving critical feedback. I got a lot of inspiration and many useful ideas from the other members of my group (our common link being a socio-cultural and new media focus) and am already thinking about how to reflect that in my thesis; in particular, the theories I want to draw upon and the scope of my questions. Many thanks to Martina, Atle, Alkim and Professor Ruth Towse! 🙂 As you can see from the photographs, there was a very good social schedule as well as work one, with a trek across moving sand dunes, cycling, and trips to the beach (as well as the local pubs) all included in an intellectually refreshing event which was excellently organised by Aalborg University Professors Reza Tadayoni and Anders Henten.