Your phone is now a refugee’s phone

Watch  it on your mobile phone.

If you had to flee your country, what’s the one piece of technology you would take with you?

This striking film, designed to watch on a mobile phone, helps the viewer to experience with immediacy the confusion and fear facing refugees making a perilous journey by boat. Your phone is now a refugee’s phone. Text messages arrive from your family. Suddenly someone contacts you on WhatsApp warning you to turn back. But are they right? Your lifeline is a phone with no signal that’s rapidly running out of battery.
The film is based on research conducted by BBC Media Action, in partnership with DAHLIA, to help humanitarian agencies be aware of the communication issues of refugees in transit. It found that access to internet, mobile networks and social media are critical in helping people feel more informed and better connected. For more information, visit:

This article first appeared on BBC.

Mobile Bodies

“strange bodies are produced through tactile encounters with other bodies: differences are not marked on the stranger’s body, but come to materialise in the relationship of touch between bodies…. it is the very acts and gestures whereby subjects differentiate between others that constitutes the permeability of both social and bodily space”
– Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters (2000, page 15.)


Emoji Gender Bender

This article first appeared on Tech.Mic, written by Sophie Kleeman.

female emojis

This year, Oxford Dictionaries got creative with its Word of the Year. Instead of picking an actual word, it chose a familiar little yellow face. Upturned mouth, tears of joy streaming down its cheeks, eyebrows tilted in laughter: an emoji, precisely the one you’d add to a retweet of something that was so funny you cried. The decision was yet another example of how commonplace the small digital characters created by Unicode have become in daily life.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, use of the word emoji more than tripled between 2014 and 2015. Their ubiquity is undeniable. They’re popular with grandparents and teenagers, in Bangkok and Bel Air. There are pages and pages of them on smartphones, enough to suit a broad range of everyday texting situations. Yet despite their abundance, there’s an area of life that isn’t properly represented.

Where the hell, we ask, are all the emojis for professional women?

What options exist? As it stands, women who want to use something other than a neutral female emoji have the following options to choose from: a princess, a bride, twins that resemble Playboy bunnies, a dancer in a red dress and a series of “information desk person” characters.

Male emojis, on the other hand, have the following non-neutral forms: Santa Claus, a man wearing a turban, a man wearing a gua pi mao (a type of hat), a policeman, a guardsman, a male detective, a male construction worker and a male angel. There’s also a series of male athletes: a male horseback rider, a man bowing, a man walking, a man running, a man golfing, a man swimming and a man floating.

Ambiguously gendered figures with long hair and visible sideburns can be found playing basketball and surfing.

Besides the sheer difference in numbers, the occupations of these characters is telling. Men get the “serious” professional roles, and women get the “girlie” ones. Even the “information desk person” emojis have become better known for their seemingly sassy behavior: The woman holding out her hand, for instance, has been re-imagined as the hair-flip emoji.

“Every day we’re seeing this subtle message that there are these emojis of men doing jobs, but women are just dancing and getting their hair cut,” Niniane Wang, CEO of Evertoon and a former engineering manager at Google, told Mic. “It [has] an effect.”

Before men’s-rights types start screaming about political correctness gone haywire, no, this isn’t the most pressing feminist issue of our time. We shouldn’t necessarily throw all other causes to the wind and spend their days and nights fighting for equal emoji representation. There are myriad problems for women around the globe – violence, sexual assault, pay inequality and access to reproductive services, to name a few — that are far more threatening to women’s lives.

The lack of emoji options for the working woman is worth examining because it’s a small yet clear example of a social scheme that still manages to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes at every turn — even when the issue is as seemingly innocuous as a tiny digital face.

“I think it’s a symptom of a detrimental system — the patriarchy — that reinforces stereotypes (the bride, the princess, the dancer) that don’t represent the many layers of what it means to identify as female,” Kendall Mackey, 28, told Mic. 

Wang first noticed the lack of professional women emojis while developing Evertoon, an app that allows users to create avatars. “Emojis are a huge part of our product, and I’ve spent many hours of the last year of my professional life staring at [them],” she said.

Kelly Byrd, 29, theorized that the lack of emoji ladies in professional roles comes from a fear of representing women badly.

“They didn’t want them to come across as being totally stereotypical,” Byrd told Mic. If Unicode had chosen traditionally female-dominated — and thus easily identifiable — jobs, like nurses, teachers or secretaries, the backlash likely would have been powerful. Wang agreed, noting that it was possible Unicode didn’t want to do “the wrong thing.”

Still, both said they were dissatisfied with the emoji universe’s inadequacies.

“I’m definitely disappointed that there’s a big discrepancy,” Byrd said. Though she said she won’t be beating down the door of her local congressperson over the issue anytime soon, she emphasized that it’s still important to see herself represented properly.

“[Emojis have] become part of our cultural language,” Wang said. “That’s why I don’t think it’s silly. Lots of people communicate with emojis, and texting is such a pervasive part of how we communicate with each other. If we’re all texting, and all using emojis, then doesn’t it make sense that they should represent us?”

It doesn’t have to be a giant shift right away. Unicode can’t represent every single profession out there. But it should be aware, as Mackey put it, that there are different layers to what it means to be female — and that means acknowledging that women make up roughly 40% of the global workforce.

They could start, for example, by adding female versions of the male professions, and vice versa. That means including female construction workers, grooms, male information desk people, and so on. (They could also stand to experiment with more genderless figures.)

Eventually, other occupations — businesswomen, doctors, housekeepers, scientists, singers, cooks — should have a place. (As well as some other key roles.) Wang said she’d like to see a female engineer or a female CEO.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Though Unicode can seem like an impenetrable and distant fortress from the outside, recent updates to the emoji catalog have proven that change certainly isn’t out of the question. Although BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel describes Unicode as “a deeply technical and somewhat secretive organization.” (Unicode has not responded to a request for comment for this story.)

Racially diverse emoji finally made their way into Unicode’s updates in 2015, and on Friday, a Kickstarter campaign to add a dumpling emoji surpassed its goal. Jennifer Lee, the co-creator of the campaign, previously told Mic that beyond getting the dumpling emoji approved, she wanted to use the Kickstarter funds to help diversify Unicode’s voting bodies and make the proposal process more inclusive to the public.

The organizing body she intends to use to see this goal through, Emojination, will help tackle problems like the lack of professional women emoji, and it will start by adding to the ranks of people who participate in the process in the first place. Emojination is a “nonvoting associate member” of Unicode.

Engineers, for example, make a good portion of the membership, which Lee believes needs to change. “The skill set of engineering is not robust enough to address the demands the emoji world is putting on the system,” she told Mic earlier this week. “You need someone, ideally, who understands how to plug in to systems to gauge desire. The emoji subcommittee itself would benefit from a richer range of skill sets.”

Then again, there’s a much simpler solution to all of this. As Mackey put it, “Can’t we just have an emoji that’s of a woman smashing patriarchy?”

A excerpt from Jonathan Franzen’s review of Sherry Turkle’s new book titled ‘Reclaiming Conversation’

Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral. The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute.


Mobiles, Memories and Image

Captured in a searingly real and beautiful photo essay, photographer Grey Hutton ( shows how memory, migration and mobiles are entangled. In the context of the migration crisis in Europe, mobile phones embody mobility on a massive scale – across oceans not just cities. And with mobility comes memory, travelling as mobile background images.

Embedded in the captions are significant narratives about cultural integration: “Nobody wears jeans there”; surveillance “At night, the police could see the light” and affect as a motivator “It’s a reminder of a great moment”.

Smartphones and refugees

 “This is a picture of me and my Christian friend fishing in Kurdistan. It’s a nice memory and I like to have it with me.”


 “This is a photograph of my wife’s mother. She was killed by IS in Libya. I’ve had this phone for 10 years. I only use it for important things, really.”


“The journey would never have been possible without this phone. I used it all the time, both on land and at sea.”


“I used the GPS to navigate the boat to Greece. Only during the day, though. At night, the police could see the light.”


“This is the son of one of my friends. The photo was taken in Hamburg at a camp we stayed in. It’s a reminder of a great moment.”


“This is the traditional dress of the Pashtun. It reminds me of where I’m from in Pakistan. Nobody wears jeans there.”


“We used balloons and tape to protect our phones from the water.”


“I lost my smartphone in the ocean on the journey. I’m going out buy a new one as soon as I have money.”


“This is my four children. The phone was really useful for teaching them a few German words and keeping them busy with games while we were travelling.”


“This picture was the background on my old phone. I don’t know how to transfer it to the new phone my mother gave me. It’s a picture of my brother, who was killed by IS. My other brother was killed by Assad’s forces.”


“This is my daughter. She’s still in Syria, but we talk every morning, evening and night.”


“This is a Lebanese pop star called Elissa. During my trip, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music. Now that I’m in Germany, I feel like it again.”


“Our phones are extremely important to us.” (Somali couple)


“I chose this background because it reminds me of my mother. I’m 16 years old and this photo is my only way of staying in touch with my family and friends.”

Migration & Mobiles

Disturbing but not unexpected narratives are circulating about migrants and refugees traveling to Europe, centered on nationalist fears, job losses and worst of all – skepticism about the severity of refugee plights. Some narratives find expression in social media memes circulating on Twitter and Facebook like this one…

Australian Body builder not refugees

Props to writer Philip Kleinfeld and for exposing the paranoid bullshit content of these memes – which are often blatantly falsified.  The image above has nothing to do with European refugees, in fact it were taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia.

Some narratives have centered on the crippled logic that smartphones are a sign of prosperity and are in conflict with refugee life. While the veracity of memes cannot be trusted, the content of these narratives – specifically the relationship between people and technology and what this signifies – are still incredibly interesting to analyse, succinctly done by the blog Everyday Analysis:

Migration Meme

The horrible meme makes out that fleeing a war zone and the traumas associated with that is not enough to deserve our sympathy if you have a Samsung phone. Possess a symbol of capitalist success and modernity, manage a smile of relief and, in our unforgiving political climate, a traumatised refugee is be deemed a fraud….in the eyes of the British right, why should a refugee not have a mobile phone? …why should a refugee not take a selfie?

In the end this meme shows us three things. First, it quite simply and obviously shows how much hateful fascism there is in our society. Second, it shows how these structures are still supported by a colonial ideology that sees the passage to modernity as the natural course of events and does not want to admit that this trauma and devastation is a modern problem that our own brand of modernity is responsible for. Third, it warns us of the danger of our preconceptions and expectations when it comes to refugees and shows us how deeply ingrained in right wing ideology some of our assumptions may be.

everyday analysis See the full feature on Everyday Analysis.

Mobiles & Migration

This post originally appeared on

Why History Matters

Blackberry advert 2003

A Gender moment through mobile advertising taken from Wired magazine in 2003.

The Internet of Things Meets Barbie

“Hello Barbie” was released on 14 February at a toy fair in America- she’s wi-fi enabled and records kids conversations to develop authentic, real-time responses to them. While the tech press and others are dubbing her “eavesdropping Barbie” and “creepy” she’s not the first doll to be internet enabled.  See Cayla, a talking doll that uses speech-recognition and Google’s translation tools, that was subsequently hacked. Besides the obvious questions around privacy and safety, what does this mean for the future of play?

Cruel Algorithms

This post originally appeared on written by Eric Meyer

I didn’t go looking for grief on Christmas Eve, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it. In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook.

I know they’re probably very proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed, and deservedly so — a lot of people have used it to share their highlights of 2014. I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by various friends, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Which was, by itself, a little bit unsettling, but I didn’t begrudge my friends who’d had a good year. It was just a weird bit of copy to see, over and over, when I felt so differently.

year in review app

Still, it was easy enough to avoid making my own Year in Review, and so I did. After all, I knew what kind of year I’d had. But then, the day before Christmas, I went to Facebook and there, in my timeline, was what looked like a post or an ad, exhorting me to create a Year in Review of my own, complete with a preview of what that might look like.

Clip art partiers danced around a picture of my middle daughter, Rebecca, who is dead. Who died this year on her sixth birthday, less than 10 months after we first discovered she had aggressive brain cancer.

Yes, my year looked like that. True enough. My year looked like the now-absent face of my Little Spark. It was still unkind to remind me so tactlessly, and without any consent on my part.

I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them a selfie at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.

But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or foreclosure or job loss or any one of a hundred possible crises, we might not want another look at this past year.

To show me Rebecca’s face surrounded by partygoers and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring. It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems. It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

Where the human aspect fell short, in this case, was in pushing the preview image into my Facebook timeline without first making sure I wanted to see it. I assume Facebook only showed the ad to users who hadn’t already created a Year in Review, in an attempt to drive more adoption. So the Year in Review ad kept coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds but always showing Rebecca, as if celebrating her death, until I finally clicked the drop-down arrow and said I didn’t want to see it any more. It’s nice that I can do that, but how many people don’t know about the “hide this” option? Way more than you think.

This whole situation illuminates one aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design. In creating this Year in Review ad, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or really anyone who had a bad year. The ad’s design was built around the ideal user—the happy, upbeat, good-life user.

It didn’t take other use cases into account. It may not be possible to reliably predetect whether a person wants to see their year in review, but it’s not at all hard to ask politely—empathetically—if it’s something they want. That’s an easily solvable problem. Had the ad been designed with worst-case scenarios in mind, it probably would have done something like that.

To describe two simple fixes: First, don’t prefill a picture into the preview until you’re sure the user actually wants to see pictures from their year. And second, instead of pushing a preview image into the timeline, maybe ask people if they’d like to try a preview—just a simple yes or no. If they say no, ask if they want to be asked again later, or never again. And then, of course, honor their choices.

As a Web designer and developer myself, I decided to blog about all this on my personal Web site, figuring that my colleagues would read it and hopefully have some thoughts of their own. Against all expectations, it became an actual news story. Well before the story had gone viral, the product manager of Facebook’s Year in Review emailed me to say how sorry he and his team were for what had happened, and that they would take my observations on board for future projects. In turn, I apologized for dropping the Internet on his head for Christmas. My only intent in writing the post had been to share some thoughts with colleagues, not to make his or anyone’s life harder.

And to be clear, a failure to consider edge cases is not a problem unique to Facebook. Year in Review wasn’t an aberration or a rare instance. This happens all the time, all over the Web, in every imaginable context. Taking worst-case scenarios into account is something that Web design does poorly, and usually not at all. If this incident prompts even one Web designer out there decide to make edge cases a part of every project he or she takes on, it will have been worth it. I hope that it prompts far more than that.

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