TASCHA student Norah Abokhodair reflects on AoIR 13 conference

Along with fellow TASCHA student Luis Fernando Baron, I had the opportunity to attend the 13th Association of Internet Research conference (AoIR 13). At the beginning of the conference, we were welcomed to the University of Salford by the Internet Research President Alex Halavais. He made a special point of welcoming first-time attendees, and as one, I felt personally greeted. Then the first session started with the “ignite” talks, where each speakers gets 5 minutes—but must have 20 slides and each slide must automatically progress forward in 15 seconds.

Afterward, the first plenary panel was very interesting and had a feminist theme. The speakers were Mary Gray, who is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research NE, Larissa Hajorth, an Associate Professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and Sussanna Paasonen who is a Professor of Media Studies at the University of Turku. Their research was focused on the use of Internet from the viewpoint of different demographics, such as mothers and laborers, which feeds back to the feminist theme of the first session. Moreover, the other talked about the materiality and network technology, which was of particular interest to many attendees and I assume that is because it is a hot topic lately.

The keynote speaker was Liesbet van Zoonen who is a Media and Communication professor at Loughborough University in the UK, and a Media and Popular Culture professor at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Professor Zoonen’s talk focused on the future technologies of “identity management.” She discussed very fascinating examples from the use of Facebook and other social media portals. A few pointers from her talk were about iris and full-body scans, and face- and voice-recognition issues. These technologies have already become well-known practices, but innovations like implantable chips, odor scans, online “object-passwords,” and mobile identity sharing are on the horizon. She says “It is unclear whether and why members of the public will embrace these innovations or reject them.”

Personally, I enjoyed the conference and it was a change from the intense technical conferences I have attended in the past. I appreciated the opportunity to meet other researchers and colleagues in the area of Internet research, which is a very interdisciplinary field. I had the chance to talk to people about my PhD research interests and my work with TASCHA on the Youth, ICTs, and Democracy in Egypt project and gather contacts and feedback from people with similar interests. My general research area is in Information Assurance, and I would like to focus on the implications of emerging technologies, such as Cloud Computing, on non-technical home users, furthermore, help these users understand these risks and mitigate them. Therefore, I am glad I discovered this venue and plan to attend next year.