How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tagging: Overcoming the Public Fear of Tagging Culture.
Burke, M. Shingleton, D. Speed, C. Hudson-Smith, A. Karpovich, A. O’Callaghan, S. Simpson, M. Barthel, R. Blundell, B. De Jode, M. Leder, K Lee, C. Macdonald, J.
Many people associate tagging with negative situations, for example, to track “criminals” or to track journeys and locations. RFID and other forms of near field tagging are being adopted for logistical purposes by commercial industries and governments alike and the UK public remain fearful of the implications of a tagging culture. This paper reflects upon the extent of “tagging culture” fears and identifies them as a significant problem that is preventing widespread public acceptance of the technology and hampering its social, economic and technical benefits.
As a form of recovery for this dire situation, the authors present information concerning an EPSRC project that uses a fresh tactic to encourage the public to actively use tagging technologies themselves and to reap the benefits. TOTeM (Tales of Things and Electronic Memory) is a three-year funded pan-UK project that focuses on the archiving of people’s memories associated with specific objects. Through the technical development of simple interfaces aimed at the home user, people are encouraged to tell a story about an object, to record the associated memory and to ‘tag’ their object in a unique way that will always associate their memory with their artefact.
This paper aims to present a brief outline of issues concerning current “tagging culture”. This is achieved in three ways. Firstly, we consider the perceived “threats” around tagging; secondly, we identify the opportunities offered by the Internet and new mobile technologies and thirdly, we present an outline of the TOTeM Project. This section touches on the technical implications of the research and the paper concludes with a wider consideration of the societal impact of the work.
Information and communication technologies have expanded traditional physical space, through the creation of “virtual communication” spaces. The deliberate linkage of the physical world with the virtual world through RFID tags and sensors, has led to“permeability” between the public and private contexts . One of the leading debates surrounding privacy in a ubiquitous Internet of Things hinges upon an individual’s ability to control the blurring boundary between the public and private spheres, and to determine who can access his/her private sphere and under what conditions . Whilst RFID and other forms of near field tagging are being adopted for logistical purposes by commercial industries and governments alike, the UK public remain fearful of the implications of a tagging culture. Apart from the use of tagging systems to support necessary ‘access’ to travel networks such as the London Underground (the Oyster card), through toll gates and getting in and out of the country (UK passports), people associate the technology with surveillance and the fear of being ‘tracked’.
A contemporary example of such a fear is manifested in the British public’s concerns over the reintroduction of a national identity card. An identity card hasn’t been in place in the UK since the 1950s . Used after the end of WWII by the police, who became accustomed to the idea of demanding the card, its use was finally ruled unlawful in 1953 by the High Court . As a consequence of the draconian experiences associated with ID cards, there is a significant proportion of the population that is concerned about a new card that is connected to the Internet via a built-in RFID tag.
In contrast, Estonia, touted as one of Central Europe’s most advanced and technically aware nations, is issuing its 1.4 million citizens with an “EstEID”, a chip-based ID card that carries the citizen’s name, address, date and place of birth, digital certificates and email. The card will be valid for travelling to most European countries and for electronic payments, filing tax documents, banking and access to e-government services .
Another source of concern is the possible misuse of biometric passports and ID cards. Potential dangers associated with electronic identification include, for example, identity theft and illegitimate tracking. These applications of emerging technologies have fostered debate on the trade-offs between national security and personal privacy. In recent years, the fear of terrorism has made the collection of personal identification, profiling and data mining a matter of national policy, prompting increased interest of government agencies in tracking and tagging technologies. However, as the UK public get closer to the government’s date for the introduction of a compulsory biometric national ID card, there is an increasing need for a strategy that communicates the benefits of tagging.
The term ‘Internet of Things’ refers to the technical and cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves to a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and every device is connected in some way to the Internet . The specific term ‘things’ refers to the concept that every new object manufactured will also be able to be a part of this extended Internet, because it will have been tagged and indexed by the manufacturer during production. It is also envisaged that consumers will have the ability to ‘read’ the tags through the use of mobile ‘readers’ and use the information connected to the object, to inform their purchase, use and disposal of an object.
The implications for the Internet of Things upon production and consumption are tremendous, and will transform the way in which people shop, store and share products . The analogue bar code that has for so long been a dumb encrypted reference to a shop’s inventory system will be superseded by an open platform in which every object manufactured will be able to be tracked from cradle to grave, through manufacturer to distributor, to potentially every single person who comes in to contact with it following its purchase. Further still, every object that comes close to another object, and is within range of a reader, could also be logged on a database and used to find correlations between owners and applications. In a world that has relied upon a linear chain of supply and demand between manufacturer and consumer via high street shop, the Internet of Things has the potential to transform how we will treat objects, care about their origin and use them to find other objects. If every new object is within reach of a reader, everything is searchable and findable, subsequently the shopping experience may never be the same, and the concept of throwing away objects may become a thing of the past as other people find new uses for old things.
4. Bridging the gap: The TOTeM project
A research project has been initiated that aims to nurture support for tagging and ameliorate the rupture between the public perception of tagging as a threat and the recognition of the opportunities for RFID.
The project identifies that the primary intended use of RFID technologies is for the tagging of new objects by industry and the building of database by governments. TOTeM recognises that there is currently limited opportunity for the public to take part in the tagging process, and such an opportunity may offer them insight into the benefits of an Internet of Things. In order to find an appropriate subject worthy of becoming involved in a tagging process, the TOTeM project is concerned with the recording of personal memories associated with objects.
It has been suggested that, in the course of their lives, people surround themselves with between 1,000 and 5,000 objects. Of those thousands of objects, many are probably not truly cared for and end up in rubbish bins or in storage. But for every owner, in almost every household, there are objects that hold significant resonance, and will already connect them to an Internet of memory and meaning. We don’t just see or consume these objects – we experience them, either in memory or as key elements of identity itself . An intrinsic human trait is the process of imbuing meaning onto objects so that they provide connections to people, events and environments. As objects are instilled with memories they take on secondary meanings and are transformed from a technological system towards a cultural system  whose experience over time transforms our internal and external world . Artefacts across a mantelpiece become conduits between events that happened in the past, to people who will occupy the future. These objects become essential coordinates across families and communities to support the telling of stories and passing-on of knowledge. TOTeM has the capacity to alter the public fear of tagging by allowing individuals to become familiar with the technology in a way that is socially inclusive across generations.
Central to the process of adding stories to objects is the rise of Web 2.0 technologies and Cloud Computing from an underground movement to the driving force behind many Internet communications and data collection techniques. The term is adapted from O’Reilly Media in 2004 to summarise the rise of services from web-based communities focusing on technologies of social networking, social bookmarking, blogging, Wikis and RSS/XML feeds . Add into this mix the ability to tag, provide and embed objects with memory and you have the potential to change the social and economic value of real world objects. To borrow a term relating to geographic information, the ‘MashUp’ is changing our information landscape. By linking objects to people’s memories we propose to ‘MashUp’ data existing in systems such as YouTube with the real world. Creating a real-world link to memories has the potential to change the value of any object which becomes part of the TOTeM project.
The first objective of the project is to develop a platform to allow personal memories to be attached to objects that already exist in the world. Object elicitation (a technique based on photo-elicitation used in visual sociology) will be used to encourage people to evoke memories that are associated with particular artefacts. These will be collected on an online video database and project participants will then be able to attach a customised tag to their object which, when read by the appropriate device, will automate a direct link to their video space. Through this we will explore existing notions of value that objects hold within society and provide a means to extend their value as they re-enter our economic system. The collected material will provide a rich resource for online ethnographies that explore our relationship to objects, the stories they represent in our lives and reflect upon our current value systems.
By providing a mechanism to secure memories linked to an object, we envisage the emergence of a fresh perspective upon the culture of tagging. TOTeM will empower the public with an opportunity to tag things for themselves and contribute to the construction of databases that have a qualitative dimension in which people’s identities remain highly personal.
This has notable societal impacts, which we are suggesting takes a different approach to anything that has gone before in terms of object tagging. Benefits are therefore intergenerational, reaching out across social and industrial communities. TOTeM supports diversity of culture and it positions knowledge and relationships as value systems in their own right. As such, TOTeM will impact academics, professionals, researchers and policy makers dealing with issues relating to the digital economy in the UK and internationally. In the wider business context, the work will ensure that capabilities developed within the digital economy are able to be embedded within business and user practices. This is TOTeM, Tales of Things: Electronic Memory. In these ways and through this project we will all be to “Stop Worrying and Love Tagging!”
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