Author Archives: dangreene

#TtW12 Panel Spotlight: The Politics of Design

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 3.30.12 and was updated to include video on 7.19.12. See the conference website for

Presider: Kari Kraus (@karikraus)

Drawing on a diverse range of approaches–from media archaeology and ethnography to queer theory and critical code studies–the “Politics of Design” panel will collectively consider where and how power pools and collects in the designed, value-laden spaces of the internet. Individual panelists will take up digital networks and anonymity (Moesch); established and proposed internet architectures (Shilton and Neal); slick Web 2.0 and grungy “dirt style” interfaces (Kane); and the failed rhetoric of the digital sublime by the founders of Google and Second Life (Chia).  Not content to dwell on surface design features, each speaker unearths hidden variables–whether technological, social, or historical–that affect the systems, platforms, and communication structures under discussion. In the process, they expose the faultlines in those structures that allow us to envision them otherwise; the politics of design, that is to say, ultimately point–directly or indirectly–to alt-design and re-design.

Please join us on 4/14 for what promises to be a fabulous #TtW12 panel!

[Paper titles and abstracts are after the jump.] (more…)

#TtW12 Panel Spotlight: Logging off & Disconnection

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 3.28.12 and was updated to include video on 5.10.12. See the conference website for additional information.

Presider: Dan Greene (@Greene_DM)

Logging Off and Disconnection” presents an important new set of perspectives on a key theme of Theorizing the Web: ‘Cyberspace’ does not exist as an immaterial realm separate from human bodies and relationships. The online is instead always imbricated with the offline and the connections we make and unmake are crucial determinants of of both spaces. This panel explores this co-determination from the perspectives of those who decide, or are forced, to disconnect from online media in order to examine the relationships between personal participation and motivation and structuring forces of media design, cultural narrative, and economies of data and prosumption.

Jenny Davis’ qualitative study of Facebook users explores how social networking technology’s tight integration into the rhythms and relationships of everyday life highlights the tension between moral definitions of a meaningful life and cultural ambivalence about the technology’s effects on sociality. Jessica Roberts uses the global data of the world Unplugged projectto investigate the behavioral and emotional responses university students had to a 24-hour withdrawal from ambient media. She expands the ‘awareness systems’ tradition in computer science and stresses the integration of already-existing awareness systems into daily life, demonstrating that the seamless connectivity of ambient media makes it harder for students to recognize how their relationships with, and through, those media function. Laura Portwood-Stacer focuses on discourses of Facebook rejection in popular and alternative media outlets and in her interviews with ‘non members’. This rejection of a specific, dominant medium is an important piece of non-members’ production and negotiation of political and ethical identity. Finally, Jessica Vitak builds on the rich social scientific research literature on self-presentation and privacy in order to explore different users’ management of personal information, audience relationships, and social norms through the specific affordances of Facebook . All four researchers illustrate how in relationships with and through online media the links not made, the social graphs refused, are powerful forces in media ecologies and (non-)users’ lives. 

[Paper titles and abstracts are after the jump.] (more…)

Urban Mobility: Homeless Hotspots and ICT4D

Bartle Bogle Hegarty has reportedly ended the homeless-Austinites-as-mobile-WiFi-spots experiment/publicity stunt that was one of the biggest news items to emerge out of South by Southwest 2012. There was strong backlash and, on this site, a thorough consideration of how the whole thing fit into broader political-economic currents. As a former psychiatric counselor who worked with currently or previously homeless folks, I’m happy to see any public discussion of homelessness as well as some relatively safe and transparent work opportunities—at around minimum wage—available to this often ignored population. But to me that conversation seemed to emerge more from the backlash than BBH’s actual involvement with the homeless community. I’d like to pick some of these threads up, add new ones, and consider what this incident has to say about the use of information technology as a development tool and knowledge workers’ relationships to postindustrial cities. These ideas were developed in conversation with Jason Farman, who was kind enough to provide the screencaps included below.

The Internet backbone—especially urban wireless infrastructure—generally exists as a series of nodes not remarked on, or massive nondescript buildings housing server farms just outside the attention of urban knowledge workers like myself. I don’t need to know how it happens. The infrastructural activity that undergirds so much of my work and life goes on whether I notice it or not. What’s interesting about BBH’s efforts, is that they bring the infrastructure directly into focus with mobile hotspots that you must see, name, and approach. I think the short-term publicity stunt may address the invisibility of the homeless that WiFi vendor Clarence points to, “They [residents] walk around and just see people, don’t talk to them. Past the homeless too. You don’t even see us.” But this new visibility trades invisibility for infrastructural non-awareness or acceptance. In DC, I can see the cell phone antennae in my neighborhood if I look hard enough, but I still don’t really care. BBH is asking us to accept homelessness as a feature of a wireless urban landscape to be navigated (more…)

Augmenting the Syllabus II: Midterms Strike Back!

In this space, about a month and a half ago, I laid out my design and pedagogy strategies for my mixed online/in-person AMST 201: Introduction to American Studies course. These strategies all hinged on the core idea of a building an augmented syllabus for an augmented reality: Web-based, in-class, and other tools each have their own strengths and weaknesses which can support or hamper learning objectives. In order to help students apply new ideas to their everyday lives, I’ve tried to

  • Lead with the practice of big course themes rather than graduate-level theory about them
  • Build safe spaces for engagement that reward multiple forms and levels of engagement
  • And to implement all course-related technologies (e.g., the online Ning network, podcasts specific readings or films, audiovisual materials for small-group work in class) with the prior two ideas in mind.

For the most part, there hasn’t been much student pushback and class is going well. Midterm exam grades were above average, and student responses to my midterm feedback form—which included technology-focused questions—were generally positive. That feedback is crucial, not just self-check data but a way to keep emphasizing the importance of transparency to the learning process. Keeping my core ideas and strategies in mind, I want to draw from student feedback and my own observations and experiences to review what’s worked so far, what hasn’t, and what can change. (more…)

Augmenting the Syllabus

AMST 201 landing page

Landing page for my Introduction to American Studies course site

The research and writing featured on this blog generally build from the idea that digital information and material experience do not exist in two separate realities à la The Matrix, but coexist in one augmented reality where the informational and material play a role in constituting one another. This semester at the University of Maryland, I’m exploring those moves between informational spaces and physical ones in a mixed online and in-person version of an American Studies course and wanted to share and get feedback on the process of planning, designing, and enacting this augmented introduction to the study of American culture. This design is specific to this course and its themes, but the general principles should work elsewhere and the cultural context of online higher education is important to anyone involved with that system.

Online education is playing a larger and larger role in the economics and pedagogies of the increasingly privatized and ‘right-sized’ U.S. research university and my course is certainly a product of these changes. At the same time, researchers and teachers in a variety of disciplines are using this moment of transition to question and revise outdated pedagogical routines and are designing classes to better facilitate multiple levels of student engagement with reference to the real world outside the ivory tower. I would have loved to have explored interventions such as contract grading or an increased focus on navigating and designing information systems within my course but, like many graduate students, I had to work within the boundaries of an already existing syllabus. The general shape of the course was set; so my pre-semester work become more about adjusting the course’s weaknesses and flexing its strengths within the mixed online/in-person environment, knowing that the different parts of that environment would lend themselves to different kinds of learning. I organized this effort around a few core principles that apply in any learning environment: (more…)

‘Infinite Vacation’ and Digital Identity

While the tide is turning, comics are still an under-appreciated medium in 2011. This despite increased interest in superheroes given the Hollywood treatment and critical attention to thoughtful indie pieces like Fun Home and Love and Rockets. It’s a shame because comics’ juxtaposed panels, their special way of framing time in terms of space, are well equipped to address those intersections of identity, technology, and visual representation that get so much play in mainstream and academic press. Image Comics’ Infinite Vacation is one new ongoing title that tackles those ideas head on.

Writer Nick Spencer is a rising star whose big hit, Morning Glories, blends teenage drama with the surreal paranoia of 60s TV thriller The Prisoner. In Infinite Vacation, Spencer teams with artist Christian Ward to tell the story of Mark, daily user of a ubiquitous, near-future technology which allows anyone to buy or sell their existence in parallel universes through a smartphone app; for $25,000 Mark can become the hero cop version of  himself, and it’ll cost at least $3000 for him to become a Mark who did not just get walked out on by that mystery girl in the coffee shop.

Mark is a cyborg less like Robocop and more like the average Facebook user who presents their preferred self to the world via an array of edited images, clicked “likes”, and comments with friends (i.e., exactly how Cyborgology editors define the cyborg in their inaugural post).  Identity definition and presentation through web spaces and consumer devices is a major theme in Infinite Vacation, whether it’s the RSS feed of your alternate selves’ lives and deaths or that mystery girl saying, “That thing in your hand isn’t worth shit to me…” when Mark tries to prove his seriousness by showing how expensive his app-assisted reality purchase would have been. A gorgeous opening spread (below) has infinite Marks fitted into generic male outlines, reminiscent of your chosen profile picture replacing the pale blue Facebook default. (more…)