#TtW14 Panel Preview: Gone Viral

Panel Preview

Presider: Britney Summit-Gil (@beersandbooks)

Hashmod: Kate Miltner (@katemiltner)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Gone Viral: All Watched Over by Memes of Loving Grace.

There’s something categorically different about things that are a hit on the Web. Unlike a blockbuster movie or a critically-acclaimed TV show, a viral meme inculcates everyone in its production, popularity, and eventual descent into hackneyed trope-dom. Sometimes the “patient zero” of the meme is notorious or well-known, but often times there is no clear author. Such is the case in almost all of the case studies in this panel where memes are not so much treated as stories told by authors, but as tools and methods of political dissent, identity construction, and cultural critique. Patrick Sharbaugh’s presentation on civic engagement in Vietnam shows how viral memes afford new kinds of cultural protest that can come from very oblique angles, rather than head-on collisions with hegemony. Joel Penney surveys two seminal texts on virality and concludes that the intervening decades have proven these texts to be the basis of a “persuasion model of political internet use” but we have yet to see a systematic articulation of this persuasion model in action. Rob Horning turns the conversation inward by positing that “To the extent that the self is constituted in social media, it knows itself in terms of statistical measures of circulation and algorithmically generated feedback rather than other forms of content.”


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Wa$ted

Panel Preview

Presider: David Paul Strohecker (@dpsFTW)

Hashmod: R. Stuart Geiger (@staeiou)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Consensual Hallucination: Wa$ted: The Making and Unmaking of Commodities

From the clean lines of an Apple product to the intangibility of the Internet, we are encouraged to think of the Web as something that doesn’t take up much room, let alone produce waste. At the heart of digital dualism is the false assumption that what happens on the internet, stays on the internet. The panelists in Wa$ted thoroughly debunk that notion by showing just how tangible the Web really is. Even if the work that happens online is largely intangible, it often organizes bodies and physical means of production. Wesley Shumar, Nora Madison, and Tyson Mitman’s work on craft beer communities demonstrate how networked individuals are enrolled in the production of goods that is both a part of and in contention with the neoliberal regime that created it. Heather Rosenfeld demonstrates a similar point by showing how energy smart devices and utility grids both feed into the neoliberal conception of the citizen-consumer but also point toward liberatory potentialities and environmental justice. Silicon Valley isn’t usually lumped together with energy and car companies as major polluters but, as Andrea Zeffiro and Mél Hogan’s work on techno-trash and Brian Thill’s work on digital wastelands show, the Internet makes a lot of trash. From spam folders to mercury-laden landfills, our status updates have deleterious effects on ourselves, others, and the environment. While Zeffiro and Hogan’s work underscores truly global nature of ewaste streams, Thill shows how deeply the problem of waste is misunderstood by those that create the most of it. (more…)

“The Cuckoo”: Chaos and performative memes


I haven’t done an actual fiction review through a Cyborgological lens since I wrote a critical analysis of Catherynne M. Valente’s Silently and Very Fast back in 2012, but I think a story I read yesterday is worth examining in that light, because it’s a great example of the kind of subtle theorizing that we can do through fiction, especially through speculative fiction. And, among other things, it’s about communication and performative memes. It’s also about how those memes, when they gain sufficient cultural power, alter social reality for good or for ill.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Consensual Hallucination

Panel Preview

Presider: Benjamen Walker (@benjamenwalker)

Hashtag Moderator: Aakash Sastry (@aakashsastry)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Consensual Hallucination: Fantasy in Public Life

Stories are one of the fundamental building blocks of society. How we tell those stories and assure their continuation has always been a mixture of tradition, practice, and technology. The presentations in this panel demonstrate just how deeply and profoundly the means of telling stories can effect their content. Of course, what is being told and the intended use of a technology can come into conflict, as we see in both Laren Burr and Molly Sauter presentations, both of which deal with varying levels of deception propagated by technologies that are usually treated as conduits of true and useful information. Fiction, whether it is purposefully masquerading as an accurate account of facts or designed to offer an alternative reality, can be immensely useful to those of us that think critically about the maintenance of the status quo. Iskandar Zulkarnain’s work on “playable nationalism” and Amy Papaelias and Aaron Knochel’s work on anti-racist ARGs show how the speculative can become the prescriptive or even the aspirational. All of the presenters demonstrate the power and promise of fiction to bring about productive reflection and opportunities for change. (more…)

On Pharrell’s “Happy”

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I find Pharrell’s massive hit “Happy” really, really irritating. And, for that reason, I love it. In the same way that The Sex Pistols were Malcolm McLaren’s massive joke on us, this song is, I think, Pharrell’s attempt to pull a fast one on the economy of viral “upworthiness”–an economy that, as David has shown, is really racist.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play

Panel Preview

Presider: Jeremy Antley (@jsantley)

Hashmod: Kate Miltner (@katemiltner)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play.

One of the best things about Theorizing the Web is its dedication to exploring topics that either sit on the fringe of mainstream consciousness or underlie, to a large extent, those forces that increasingly shape our augmented lives.  This year, Theorizing the Web would like to discuss a topic that is rapidly increasing in both scope and relevance for daily life: games.

We invited three emerging scholars whose work explores and critiques the games we and others play; Catherine Goodfellow, Cameron Kunzelman, and Daniel Joseph.  Below is a Q&A, conducted over email, between these panelists and TtW.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Tales From the Script

Panel Preview

Presider: Michael Connor (@michael_connor)

Hashmod: Annie Wang (@annieyilingwang)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Tales From the Script: Infrastructures and Design.

Each presentation in this panel considers very different case studies but all are deeply interested in the  standards, practices, and assumptions that undergird our augmented society. From Karen Levy’s study of “meth-proof” Sudafed to Angela VandenBroek research into a nation’s Twitter account, the panel demonstrates that our relationships to consumer goods and services are often based in assumptions and technical standards worthy of interrogation. The panel suggests several opportunities to intercede in hidden or ignored infrastructures, including R. Stuart Geiger’s call for “Successor Systems” in the tradition of Donna Haraway’s “Successor Science” and the infrastructure-based activism presented by Sebastian Benthall. Taken together, this panel presents an intriguing look into some of the more institutionalized uses of networked technology. (more…)

More fumbling toward a theory of digital abandonment/ruin

"Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Ruins" - Hubert Robert (1796)

“Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Ruins” – Hubert Robert (1796)

Last week I wrote a follow-up to a much older post I did here; today I want to do another followup that moves in the footsteps of a bunch of other great posts on this site recently, that offers possibilities for consideration rather than seeking to nail down any specific answers. Basically, considering links, I expanded on an earlier theoretical approach toward abandonment and ruin in both digital and physical “spaces”, and I concluded that:

[W]e can understand the appearance of abandoned digital space as past-oriented atemporal. But the fact that there exists a literal process of rot means that the properties of a webpage are future-oriented atemporal – to the extent that we notice at all, it invites us to imagine the dissolution of our webbed pathways, the vanishing of entire sites, or at least their relocation. When a site goes offline, we might notice it when we can’t get to it anymore, provided we go there regularly – or if it’s a large, frequently used site like Facebook or Twitter – but otherwise, like those species of insect in the rainforests that no one ever discovers before they go extinct, websites probably disappear every day without anyone really noticing. Until you click on a link and nothing is waiting for you at the other end.

I think that lack of anything waiting for you at the other end needs more attention, as do other things. I spent a little time on web archives like Archive.org and the newer Memento Project, which – I argued – salvage abandoned websites but, because of broken image links and other lost elements, lock them into a static state of ruin. So now I think there are some points that need clarification and further exploration.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: a/s/l

Panel Preview

Presider: Alice Marwick (@alicetiara)

Hashmod: Allison Bennett (@bennett_alison)

This is the first in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled a/s/l.

Though presenting empirically and theoretically distinct works, the panelists of a/s/l are connected by their keen interests in identity. In particular, each work addresses—in its own way—the mutually constitutive relationship between identities and technologies. Furthermore, each paper is structurally situated, couching discussions of identity within frameworks of power in which certain voices, bodies, and desires take precedence over others, and in which technologies are both a means of struggle against, and reinforcement of, these power relations.

Check out the abstracts below: (more…)

Democracy comes to Mozilla

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Last week Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, had to step down amid backlash from his fellow board members, Silicon Valley elites, and the public at large for his $1,000 donation to supporters of California’s Prop 8 anti-marriage equality bill. In the grand scheme of things, a $1000 contribution from a guy that is I-invented-JavaScript-wealthy to a $38.7 million campaign, probably didn’t change much. But the headlines were never about Eich secretly bankrolling Prop 8; it’s been about what kind of person should be allowed to lead the best-known open-source organization that makes the third-most-installed browser on the planet.

There’s lots of people who say that even if you disagree with Eich, this shouldn’t be grounds for him to step down because his beliefs have no bearing on how you build a browser. I deeply disagree, and it isn’t a matter of ideological opposition, but of observable fact: technology always has a bit of its creator in it and technology is never politically neutral. Moreover, I don’t think, as many have claimed, that Eich’s departure was a failure of democracy. In fact I see it as a leading indicator for the free software community’s maturing legal and political knowledge. (more…)