Report from Umeå

Above: a beautiful and violent sunrise at 8:15 am (the picture was taken from my bed!). No snow yet, which is rare, but the light is really something—that is, until the sun sets at 2:30 in the afternoon.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been a visiting researcher at the HUMLab digital humanities lab at Umeå University in Sweden. The community here is wonderful: a great group of postdocs, researchers and happy geeks of different stripes, all exploring technology and digital strategies in their work. How does an anthropologist model a site and its spatial relations? How do we create ideas of futures in literature, text and image? How does religious practice play out in the digital world? It’s been a fascinating set of discussions and scholars to meet and I’ve liked how it’s stretching my brain. I’ve given three lectures since I arrived: in the QUMU lecture series on qualitative methods, in a cognitive psychology class, and my first weekend, as a part of the Umeå Institute of Design Fall Summit (which I wrote about earlier). It’s been great to connect with students at the design school, too: I’ve spent a lot of time with Adam Henriksson, Lorenzo Davoli and look forward to our future exchanges. I feel sad to be leaving so soon.

Um, and I turned 40. 40, it turns out, is awesome. They don’t tell you this when you’re 30 and I think it’s because if we all knew that it was awesome, we’d adjust our ages upward.

My final week here will be even busier, as we host the Critically Making the Internet of Things conference. I’m giving a short talk on pneumatic tubes, moderating a virtual and live discussion with Anthony Townsend, Haiyan Zhang and Liz Goodman participating from afar, and hosting a workshop called Future Things with HUMLab postdoc Mike Frangos. I’m really looking forward to seeing friends like Bruce Sterling, Jasmina Tesonovic, Anne Galloway (double yay: I miss Anne a lot) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and seeing their reaction to Umeå in the winter.  In addition, I’m doing lots of writing writing writing, wrapping up two chapters of the dissertation and finessing another, preparing for job talks in the US, and putting together ideas for classes I’d like to teach.

Hard to imagine that in one week, I’ll return to the States, soak in LA’s sunlight as we hit end-of-term reviews at Art Center for our Graduate Media Design students, a visit to San Francisco, and visits to Madison and then Minneapolis for the family. In 2012? I think I’m staying put.