Tag Archives: digital

fuck you email, I love you

I wrote something about my relationship to work and the eight hour day for artist Sam Meech, who is currently logging and transcribing to knitting people’s working patterns. The project Punchcard Economy, is part of the upcoming Time & Motion exhibition at FACT in Liverpool.


I’m mostly an academic. It tends to be a role where you don’t have set hours other than the teaching and meetings you have to be at. If you want to do your research or tell people about it, you have to find the time to do that yourself. If you want to apply for funding or make a connection with someone to do something new, you have to find time to write about your intentions too. If you need to plan teaching – what it would be useful or important or exciting to know about a topic – or assess how well people have understood or applied ideas you were exploring with them, you need to work out when to do that too. Most academics I know do parts of this in their own time. They may enjoy the days of marking exam scripts on the sofa more than at the desk, or they may find they can ‘only write away from the distractions of work’.

I’m currently on research leave, which means I don’t have any regular teaching. This takes away the weekly schedule of needing to be in a lecture theatre or seminar room for a particular time. I do occasional guest lectures and workshops at the moment, but those don’t carry the bulk tasks of administering, planning and marking whole cohorts of people studying a large subject. I’m also trying to get back in to doing more art and design work. People sometimes call the making of things as a way of thinking about them ‘practice’ – arts practice, design practice, research-by-practice. This seems a good term to me – because making things is also a good way at getting better at the tools you use, and learning about the subjects you are tackling.

I’m used to this way of ‘flexible’ working. Of taking work home to do. Or doing ‘real thinking’ at the kitchen table or on the sofa at a weekend. I think school homework made me approach work this way. I used to think this was entirely a good thing. I had flexibility to do tasks when I wanted to, to mix my personal and research interests. However, there is something uniquely stressful about homework. It requires you to fold a sense of continuous low-level guilt about tasks still un-done in to your ‘free time’. Homework requires you to consider the evenings, weekends, holidays as potential time slots for work, and to worry about how you, personally, will allocate those tasks. If the work doesn’t get done, the implication is that you, personally, failed to plan correctly. Perhaps your timetable wasn’t good enough, or your todo list too vague, or you put things off for too long.

In the workplace, email is much the same as homework in this respect. It allows us and our managers to hide the complexity of allocating and planning tasks in the personal space of each worker. Email has near infinite capacity to hold un-done tasks. And if they remain un-done, then it is assumed to be a failure of you, personally, to have correctly planned how to deal with those emails. I am interested in the implications of digital connectedness. Email allows me to be more efficient in my work. I can quickly find information, get help, make notes, and so on in a way paper and post encumbered, but our tools for well-being have not kept pace with our tools for task-setting, yet. I think digital technology has had the same effect we see in email, in other aspects of work and life that we haven’t noticed fully yet. We will keep making discoveries about things we do differently, often more quickly, in smaller parts, and the unintended repercussions for other parts of what we do.


‘flexible’ working and the guilt of undone tasks

Lots of ways of reading something

My latest CX Lab post is “Reading Digital Public Space”, a reflection on some of the meanings I bring to the phrase ‘digital public space’.

Another reading I find is the relationship between the words. For example, we can think of the digital/public space, that is, with an emphasis on the space between the digital and the public. For me, this becomes a discussion focused on interfaces. The space between the digital and the public is a space of screen, announcements, sensors, buttons, and so on. By phrasing this as ‘public’ and not ‘user’ we have an interesting shift from ‘computer human interaction’ to ‘computers humans interactions’. Design for a crowd or an ecosystem of interaction.

We could carry on, ‘Digital Space’ makes me think of navigation, spatial metaphors, instant blur and infinite zoom. Taking single words: ‘Space’ evokes thoughts of storage, archives, memory, forgetting, limited vs infinite; ‘Digital’ for me is about digitisation, copying, connectivity, remapping, recursion and lowering costs; while ‘Public’ makes me think of doing things ‘in public’ in contrast with ‘in private’ and themes of fame and pop.

(if you can’t access the CX Lab posts yet, they should be up in a week or two)

Reading Digital Public Space

Dowsing Invisible Cities, Leeds Psychogeography Group Talk, Feb 28th 2012

Man dowsing

Tues February 28th, 5.15pm, University of Leeds
Full Title: Dowsing Invisible Cities
Ben presents several projects he has worked on that attempt to reveal hidden aspects of city life. He will be talking about the ghosts of wasted heat, contrails of fashion choices, traces of acoustic detail, digital maps of playful crowds and music for forgotten buildings. The technologies he uses include CCTV computer vision, mechanical bubble machines, GPS apps, inflatables, hand soldered binaural microphones, openstreetmap data, building-sized displays, arduinos, laser-cut stencils, pocket-sized screens, digital projectors and hastily installed & poorly understood GIS software.

Venue: Baines Wing Miall Lecture Theatre 2.34, University of Leeds
Campus map of buildings: click on this link, then launch the interactive campus map, and choose Baines Wing from the list on the right.

From the main entrance, go straight on past the front desk, then through the doors on the left. Follow the corridor round to the right and then to the left. At the end of the corridor on your right take the lift to the second floor (West) or go up 5 short flights of stairs. The Miall Lecture Theatre (2.34) is straight opposite the lift.

Thanks to Tina Richardson for inviting me along to give a talk. The Leeds psychogeography talks are always a fun crowd.

copy connect remap repeat workshop, KHiB Bergen May 2011

copy connect remap repeat, Foundations of Computational Design

Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen | Bergen National Academy of the Arts

Equal parts design, social critique, and play, exploring fundamental principles of computational design. A course by Amber Frid-Jimenez Associate Professor and Ben Dalton Visiting Professor.


Digital Artisans – some notes

Some quotes and context around technology and art teaching, and the history in Leeds.

An understanding of contemporary media and the means of production, informed by a sense of digital technology, aesthetics and ethics.

Process & materials. Mechanisms of communication.

“In a field that moves so quickly – where today’s innovations may be obsolete tomorrow – students need more than just technical skills. They need an understanding of the underlying structures that fuel the dynamism between technology and creativity.”

Sara Diamond, Artistic Director Media and Visual Arts, Director of Research, The Banff New Media Institute

“… if technology and the ability to be connected disappear further into the background, what will occupy our foreground? A bit of the humanity we’ve always valued in the “real world.” Legislators who are currently fixated on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education as the key to innovation will realize that STEM needs some STEAM–some art in the equation. We’ll witness a return to the integrity of craft, the humanity of authorship, and the rebalancing of our virtual and physical spaces. We’ll see a 21st-century renaissance in arts- and design-centered approaches to making things, where you–the individual–will take center stage in culture and commerce.”

Your Life in 2020, John Maeda (2010)


“Innovation is born when art meets science.”

John Maeda, President, RISD

Leeds Mechanics' Institute
Leeds City Mechanics’ Institute

  • 1824 – Leeds Mechanics Institute founded.
  • 1845 – Leeds College of Commerce founded.
  • 1846 – Leeds College of Art founded.
  • 1868 – Leeds Mechanics Institute became the Leeds Institute of Science, Art and Literature, later renamed Leeds College of Technology
  • 1874 – Yorkshire College of Education and Home Economics founded.
  • 1907 – City of Leeds College of Education founded (part of City of Leeds Training College)
  • 1933 – Carnegie Physical Training College founded
  • 1970 – Leeds Polytechnic was formed from the amalgamation of Leeds College of Technology, Leeds College of Commerce, part of Leeds College of Art and Yorkshire College of Education and Home Economics

George Birkbeck (1776-1841), held a degree in medicine. When he started his lectures in 1799 he found it necessary to have a good deal of apparatus, and while this was being made under his instructions he became acquainted with a number of Glasgow artisans. He found them so intelligent and so eager to learn that he resolved to start a course of lectures and experiments in mechanics ‘solely for persons engaged in the practical exercise of the mechanical arts, men whose situation in early life has precluded the possibility of acquiring even the smallest portion of scientific knowledge.’ The lectures proved a great success. After Birkbeck removed to London in 1804, the lectures were continued by the next occupant of the chair; and finally, in 1823, the members of the class organised it into a ‘Mechanics’ Institute’. Its purpose was defined as ‘instructing artisans in the scientific principles of arts and manufactures’.


Artisan: “A skilled manual worker who uses tools and machinery in a particular craft. A person who displays great dexterity.”

  • open, free, course of lectures on the ‘mechanical arts’
  • mix of classes, library, reading-room, and apparatus for experiments
  • lectures on mathematics and its applications, and on natural and experimental science and drawing
  • “threw into relief the connection between material advancement and the necessity of education to take part in its advantages”
  • funded by benevolent groups and individuals, businesses and small rental fee
  • provided free light on two evenings a week from the local Gas Light Company


[in] 1955 [Harry Thubron] became Head of Fine Art at Leeds College of Art. During his ten year tenure in Leeds he helped to revolutionise art education in England by establishing the Basic Design Course, a programme inspired by the German Bauhaus college and the theoretical writings of Herbert Read. In this programme, art and design students were not taught specific skills for any of the disciplines of art and design, but visual literacy in the use of colour, establishment of form and construction of space. Out of this, and similar experiments undertaken by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton at Kings College Newcastle, a new introductory course for art, design and architecture students emerged, called the Foundation Course, which went on to became the standard degree course-entry qualification for art, design and architecture students … He also helped to create a prototype for Britain’s Polytechnics by sending his students to work on collaborative projects with engineering students from Leeds College of Technology, out of which Leeds Polytechnic was formed.


Students recreated the Locked Room
Out-take from Christopher Burstall’s BBC documentary A Question of Feeling 1970. Day one with students on the reconstructed The Locked Room project. © Garth Evans

O’Reilly Ignite Leeds speaker, Leeds May 2010

Invited speaker for O’Reilly Ignite Leeds 2010 – “a high-energy evening of 15 five-minute talks by people who have an idea”. My talk was on Digital Death and Virtual Suicideslides (pdf).

Ben speaking in front of corpse. Photo © Megan Smith

Here’s a nice write-up of the night from Phil, and the initial notes I wrote when planning the talk:

dead mac crash icon
ze frank’s religion game
no russia
suicide halo
business card roulette
uphill life pixel game
kill switch
bricking your phone == soul
why == afterlife or reincarnation
facebook suicide machine
blue screen of death