Author Archives: davidbanks

Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat.

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat. Source.

Paul Budnitz describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” having created other companies that make artisanal toys and luxury bicycles. He’s also the creator/founder/president/charismatic leader of Ello. And when a social network launches with a manifesto that proudly proclaims “You are not a product”, there’s more on the line than embedded video support. Despite the radical overtures of the initial launch, we shouldn’t expect any more from Ello than we would from a luxury bicycle. (more…)

Designing for Timelessness

This essay is cross-posted with TechnoScience as if People Mattered

A Swiss-made 1983 Mr. T Watch. Timeless. (Source)

A Swiss-made 1983 Mr. T Watch. Timeless. (Source)

Micah Singleton (@micahsingleton) over at the Daily Dot has a really great essay about one of the biggest problems with the Apple Watch. You should read the whole thing but the big takeaway is that really great watches and mainstream tech have a fundamental incompatibility: nice watches usually become heirlooms that get handed down from generation to generation, but consumer technology is meant to be bought in product cycles of a only a couple of years. A really nice watch should be “timeless” in a way our devices never have been. Compared to the usual 2-year contract phone purchase, the technological evolution of high-quality watches moves about as fast as actual biological evolution. Is it possible to deliberately build timelessness into electronics? (more…)

What the hell are people applauding for when they applaud the Apple Watch? 

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What are all those people celebrating with their standing ovation? Even the guy on stage is applauding. Sure the new product is exciting, but applause? Unlike a play or a musical performance (even a U2 performance), nothing is actually happening on stage when a product is announced. All that work that goes into making a product was done months ago, and the audience isn’t even being asked (at the moment) to thank the people that made the product. Instead of rapt silence or an excited buzz, lots of people are moved to show their unbridled enthusiasm in a very specific way. It is the same kind of collective reaction that comes after a political speech and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we applaud the Apple Watch we’re applauding an imagined future. (more…)

Cameras on cops isn’t the same as cops on camera

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The murder of Mike Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson has catalyzed an already fast-growing national conversation about outfitting police officers with cameras like the one shown above. These cameras, the logic goes, will keep officers on their best behavior because any abuses of power would be recorded and stored for later review. Officer’s behavior, much like an increasing amount of civilian behavior, will be subject to digital analysis and review by careful administrators and impartial juries. This kind of transparency is extremely enticing but we should always be critical of things that purport to show us unvarnished truths. As any any film director will tell you: the same set of events recorded on camera can look very different when viewed from different angles and in different contexts. (more…)

Jezebel’s Harassment Problem Needs More than Comment Moderation

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image source

The editors of Jezebel did a really brave thing yesterday and called out their parent company, Gawker Media for not dealing with a very serious and persistent abuse and harassment problem. For months now, waves of violent pornography gifs have been posted to Jezebel stories using anonymous accounts untied to IP addresses or any other identifiable information. That means it’s effectively impossible to stop abusive people from posting to the site. Instead, Jezebel writers and editors have to delete the posts themselves, hopefully before too many of their readers see them. People higher up on the Gawker masthead have known about this issue and have, through inaction, forced their co-workers to look at this horrific and potentially triggering content instead of dealing with the problem. This is precisely how spaces and tools meant for everyone, turn into alienating environments that foster homogenous audiences and viewpoints. Gawker needs to help their editors defend against harassment –and fast– but they should also be thinking more comprehensively about the culture of comments. (more…)

Don’t Opt Out, Take Back

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Imagine you live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdevelopment that is only accessible by a single gate that leads out to a large, high-speed arterial road.  Your friends, your job, your kids’ school are all outside of this development which means life is lived through and on the road that connects your subdevelopment to the rest of the world. Now imagine that, without warning or any kind of democratic process, the company that maintains that road (private companies are subcontracted to do regular maintenance on public roads all the time) decides to add trees on either side of the road to reduce car speed. It’s a relatively benign design intervention and it works. In fact the trees work so well that the company’s engineers publish in a few journals which directly benefits the company financially, through prominence within the truly boring world of road maintenance. When the residents get wind of this experiment, and demand to know why they weren’t even notified, the owner of the road maintenance company says, “if you don’t like it use a different road.” That mind-bending response actually makes more sense than what has been coming out of OKCupid and Facebook these last few weeks. (more…)

An Extremely Brief History of Science and Technology Studies

Image source

Image source

Having just uploaded the final document of an NSF grant proposal (for this project) I feel like going “back to basics” and revisiting the big picture of my field. Unlike most of my fellow Cyborgology contributors, I don’t hold a degree in sociology and I’ve never been to the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting. My department is an interdisciplinary social science called Science and Technology Studies. Similar departments call themselves Science, Technology, and Society (helpfully, both can be called simply “STS” and that’s what I’m going to use for the rest of this post) but other departments have slightly altered listicle names: MIT’s History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society probably wins for longest department name. (True Story: went to a grad conference there once and they handed out pint glasses that said “We put the HA in STS. Funny kids over there.) What follows is, in some really broad strokes, the contours of this little-known but growing intellectual tradition. I’m going to cover a rough history, and the field’s major projects and subfields that emerged from that history. As the title suggests, I’m going to make a lot of generalizations in service of brevity so… just be prepared for that. My hope is that this is somewhat helpful around this time of year for people who might just be getting into STS departments (congrats!) and for recent undergraduate degree holders who are considering going back to school. One final caveat: like all histories, this one is confined by its author. My friends at the Cornell STS program would write a different history, and the folks that study STS policy at Georgia Tech would write something different as well. (more…)

What the EPA’s Kardashian Tweet Says About Affective Labor

Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The Tweet was one of those automatically generated ones meant to announce progress in a game or the unlocking of an achievement. Its easy to imagine the scenario: an over-worked or deeply bored social media manager didn’t realize they were signed into their work account instead of their personal one and let the tweet go. Or maybe a family member borrowed their work phone. Who knows? What we do know is that the tweet immediately garnered thousands of retweets and countless more screenshots were shared on other platforms. Why is this even remotely funny? What sorts of publicly held believes does it reveal? (more…)

Open (Source) for Business

The Tower of David (Image Source)

The Tower of David (Image Source)

I was scrolling through Tumblr the other morning (like I do) when I came across “the world’s tallest slum.” Located in downtown Caracas, an unfinished 45-story skyscraper that was supposed to host Venezuela’s business elite is now home to an estimated 3,000 squatters. The “Tower of David” (named after finance tycoon that started and abandoned the project) is now owned by the state but there are no government-provided utilities. The building is, in essence, not much more than an immense concrete frame, upon which the residents have begun to build a community. They pool money to pay for building security, there are bodegas on every floor, and water and electricity reach as high as the 22nd floor. This is no small feat of engineering or human organization, but it isn’t comfortable living either. I don’t think it would be romanticizing the living conditions of these people to say that they (and no one else) have made something that is both modest and remarkable for themselves. Abandoned by both private industry and the government, some people pooled their limited resources and made their lives a little more livable.  Zulma Bolivar, a Caracas City planning official in an interview with the New York Times described the situation in one sentence: “This tower is a perfect example of anarchy.” (more…)

Can Facebook Be Governed?

Image Credit: Marco Paköeningrat

Image Credit: Marco Paköeningrat

Ugh. I hate the new Facebook. I liked it better without the massive psychological experiments.

Facebook experimented on us in a way that we really didn’t like. Its important to frame it that way because, as Jenny Davis pointed out earlier this week, they experiment on us all the time and in much more invasive ways. The ever-changing affordances of Facebook are a relatively large intervention in the lives of millions of people and yet the outrage over these undemocratic changes never really go beyond a complaint about the new font or the increased visibility of your favorite movies (mine have been and always will be True Stories and Die Hard). To date no organization, as Zeynep Tufekci observed, has had the “stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams.” When we do get mad at Facebook, it always seems to be a matter of unintended consequences or unavoidable external forces: There was justified outrage over changes in privacy settings that initiated unwanted context collapse, and we didn’t like the hard truth that Facebook had been releasing its data to governments. Until this week, it was never quite so clear just how much unchecked power Facebook has over its 1.01 billion monthly active users. What would governing such a massive sociotechnical system even look like? (more…)