Author Archives: davidbanks

#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…)

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…)

Why Facebook’s Acquisition of Oculus Still Seems Unfair

Last week, The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries (@adrjeffries) asked a really provocative titular question: “If you back a Kickstarter Project that sells for $2 billion, do you deserve to get rich?” After interviewing venture capitalists and the like she concludes that the answer isn’t even “no” it’s “that’s ridiculous.” After speaking to Spark Capital’s Mo Koyfman Jeffries writes, “Oculus raised money on Kickstarter because it wanted to see if people wanted and would buy the product, and whether developers wanted it and would build games for it. The wildly successful campaign validated that premise, and made it much easier for Oculus to raise money from venture capitalists.”

Kickstarter’s biggest innovation is its ability to cut two time-consuming tasks –market research and startup funds– down to a 90 day fundraising window. Companies that choose to use Kickstarter usually aren’t ready to offer equity because that comes after the two steps that Kickstarter is so useful in accelerating. Or, perhaps more honestly, companies opt to use Kickstarter precisely because they want to avoid selling off shares of their company as much as possible. Jeffries gives us a good financial and legal (juridical, if we want to be Foucauldian about it) but that seems like a wholly unfulfilling argument for someone who spent $25 on an Oculus-branded t-shirt. Let’s forget for a moment about what’s legal and normal –those things are rarely moral or fair– and start to compare what happens on Kickstarter to similar (and much older) social arrangements. To start, let’s go way back to the early 1990s. (more…)

Notorious Learning

giphy.gif

I learn a lot on Tumblr. I follow a lot of really great people that post links, infographics, GIF sets, and comics covering everything from Star Trek trivia to trans* identity. I like that when I look at my dashboard, or do a cursory search of a tag I will experience a mix of future tattoo ideas and links to PDFs of social theory. Invariably, within this eclectic mix that I’ve curated for myself, I will come across a post with notes that show multiple people claiming that the post taught them something and so they feel obligated to reblog it so others may also know this crucial information. If you’re a regular Tumblr user you’re probably familiar with the specific kind of emphatic sharing. Sometimes it is implied by one word in all caps: “THIS!” In other instances the author is ashamed or frustrated that they didn’t know something sooner. For example, I recently reblogged a post about America’s Japanese internment camps that contained a note from another user who was angry that they were 24 when they first learned about their existence. I want to give this phenomenon a name and, in the tradition of fellow regular contributor Robin James’ recent “thinking out-loud” posts, throw a few questions out there to see if anyone has more insights on this. (more…)

My Application for the #AmtrakResidency

_AmtrakResidency__

Full Name*: David A. Banks

City*: Troy

State*: New York

email*: david.adam.banks at gmail dot com

twitter*: @da_banks

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/DABanks

Instagram handle: thoriumdirigible

Why do you want an #AmtrakResidency?* [In 1,000 characters or less (including spaces)]

I want to be a part of the #AmtrakResidency insomuch as this is one of only a handful of options left to me as an author. Its good to see that someone is willing to give away a thousand dollar ticket for a couple of tweets and a blog post. I want my workspace to be funded by a tax structure written by corporations combined with ticket sales from working stiffs going back and forth on the Northeast corridor. Food is included in this trip right? (more…)

Producing Consumers: A Follow Up to Robin James

Today’s post is a reply to Robin James’ post, which raises questions stemming from the observations made in Jodi Dean’s recent post on “What Comes After Real Subsumption?

 

Image c/o Aldor

Image c/o Aldor

This might be a tad “incompatible” with the existing discussion because while the discussion so far has focused mainly on a Marxist approach to a series of philosophical questions, I want to take an anarchist approach to an anthropological re-reading of the initial question: “what comes after real subsumption?” That is, I think some of the subsequent questions might be more answerable if we interrogate their anthropological facets. Particularly, I want to focus on what is considered feedstock for production and what is identified as the act of consumption which, by definition, must yield a waste that capitalists sort through in an effort to extract more surplus value. Pigs in shit as it were.  (more…)

The New Normal: School Shootings as Industrial Disaster

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

One morning, in the seventh grade, my math class was told to prepare for a surprise standardized writing test. A writing test with no warning in math class wasn’t the weirdest thing we had been asked to do. Jeb Bush was our governor and Florida was a proving ground for what would later be called “No Child Left Behind.” Tests were common and testing different kinds of tests were even more common. You never knew if the test you were taking would change your life or never be seen again. This one was a little bit of both. The prompt was really strange, although I don’t remember what it was. As a life-long test taker (my first standardized test was in the 4th grade) you become a sort of connoisseur of writing prompts. This one didn’t seem to test my expository or creative writing skills. It just felt like a demand to write and so we did. We wrote for about half an hour. (more…)

The Conservative Social Scientist: What AcademicTorrents Says About the Social Sciences

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

The Social Sciences –despite the widely held notion that we’re all a bunch of Marxists that will turn your children into pinkos– are incredibly conservative when it comes to their own affairs. Our conferences are pretty traditional, we took a really long time getting around to noticing that the Internet was A Thing, and if you take a Social Theory 101 course you’re more likely to read Durkheim than bell hooks. You can blame it on tenure, fear of action, or simple lack of imagination, but the analysis remains the same: rarely do our articles’ prescriptive conclusions make it into our day-to-day practice. When I read that a couple of students from the University of Massachusetts had launched a torrent site to share data I knew it wouldn’t be social scientists. Not necessarily because we don’t have the expertise, (more on that later) but because we so rarely seem to have the will to act. Its always the engineers and the natural scientists that come up with faster, cheaper, and more egalitarian methods of sharing data and promoting their work. What gives? (more…)

#Review Actor-Network Theory’s Approach to Agency

#review Features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. This week, I’m reviewing:

Sayes, E. M. “Actor-Network Theory and Methodology: Just What Does It Mean to Say That Nonhumans Have Agency?” Social Studies of Science (2014) Vol. 44(1) 134–149. doi:10.1177/0306312713511867. [Paywalled PDF]

Update: The author, E.M. Sayes has responded to the review in a comment below.

Image from You as a Machine

Image from You as a Machine

A few weeks ago Jathan Sadowski tweeted a link to Sayes’ article and described it as, “One of the best, clearest, most explanatory articles I’ve read on Actor-Network Theory, method, & nonhuman agency.” I totally agree. This is most definitely, in spite of the cited material’s own agentic power to obfuscate, one of the clearest descriptions of what Actor-Network Theory (hereafter ANT) is meant to do and what it is useful for. Its important to say up front, when reviewing an article that’s mostly literature review, that Sayes isn’t attempting to summarize all of Actor-Network Theory, he is focused solely on what ANT has to say about nonhuman agents. It doesn’t rigorously explore semiotics or the binaries that make up modernity. For a fuller picture of ANT (if one were making a syllabus with a week of “What is ANT?”) I suggest pairing this article with John Law’s chapter in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (2009) entitled “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Between the two you’d get a nice overview of both of ANT’s hallmark abilities: articulating the character of nonhuman agency and the semiotics of modern binaries like nature/culture and technology/sociality. (more…)

The Parable of the Coffee Maker and the Design Sir

I’d like to start off with an admittedly grandpa-sounding critique of a piece of technology in my house: My coffee maker’s status lights are too bright. My dad got it for my partner and I this past Christmas and we threw-out-the-box-immediately-wanna-keep it, but the thing has a lighthouse attached to it.  We live in a relatively small (and very old) place and our bedroom is a small room right off the kitchen. The first night we had the coffee maker I thought we had forgotten to turn off the TV.  We don’t really need alarm clocks anymore either, because when it finishes brewing it beeps like a smoke detector. Again, we love the coffee maker (Dad, seriously we love it.) but sometimes it feels like wearing a shoe that was designed for someone with six toes. (more…)