#AoIR 2020: Life is the 21st annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), a transdisciplinary gathering of scholars interested in the place of networked technologies in social processes.
Contemplating online identity in 1992, Sandy Stone joked that “the machines are restless tonight”. Today this seems less a moment of humour and more a prescient foreshadowing. Many of us now live in worlds populated by increasingly lively machines that are animated by networked connections and complex algorithms allowing them to learn and adapt. We also live lives entwined with these dynamic technologies, from algorithms that have the agency to shape our access to social and intimate others and to inform our political views; to smart watches, fridges, and speakers that record and respond to our commands; to omnipresent and compelling mobile media devices in our social, work, and political worlds. Our machines have life and our lives have machines.
These uncanny machines need critical exploration for they are encoded with and then go on to re-encode ideas of race, gender, class, sex, sexuality, and ability, that differentially distribute rewards and benefits. Toxic waste, vast amounts of energy consumption, sweatshop and slave labour practices, and environmental destruction are also part of what makes our machines so lively. Life on this planet is irrevocably shaped by internet technologies.
Researchers have long investigated what it means to have a life mediated by the internet, but the increasing sophistication and embedding of its technologies of capture and animation suggest it’s time to focus again on the topic of Life. This conference will ask questions of how the lively, animated machines of today’s internet are shaping our personal, social, sexual, emotional, working, political, cultural, urban, and biological lives. What is the life that animates these technologies and how does that inform their shape and sociocultural impacts? What are the implications for human life when the machines become restless?