“The primacy of contemplation over activity rests on the conviction that no work of human hands can equal in beauty and truth the physical kosmos, which swings in itself in changeless eternity without nay interference or assistance from outside, from man or god.” –Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition
I’ve been thinking a lot about methods lately. I want to spend a few paragraphs considering the current state of affairs for social scientists interested in science and technology as their objects of analysis. What kind of work is impossible in our current universities? What kinds of new institutions are necessary for breaking new ground in method as well as theory? Think of this post as an exercise in McLuhan-style probing of institutions of higher learning. I’m going to play with a lot of “what-ifs” and “for instances.” None of this is particularly actionable, nor am I even interested in proposing anything that would be recognized as “realistic” or even “pragmatic.” Mainly, I’m interested in stepping back, considering the state of our technosociety, and asking what kinds of questions need asking and what kinds of science is being systematically left undone. (more…)
Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.
The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture. As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.” Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. (more…)
It’s as if a TED conference smashed headfirst into a hackathon and then fell into an NGO strategy summit. CEOs sit next to non-profit employees and eat boxed lunches as a dominatrix (@MClarissa) presents a slide on teledilonics followed up by a garage hacker-turned-million dollar project director quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. It is a supremely uncanny experience that all happens within the confines of a movie theater (and, later, a sushi bar). This is what one can expect when they attend the Freedom to Connect conference (#f2c) held in Silver Spring, Maryland. The conference is meant to bring “under-represented people and issues into the Washington, DC based federal policy discussion…” I left the conference feeling generally good that there are people out there working to preserve and protect open infrastructures. I just wish that team were more diverse.
In the beginning, there was nature. And in spite of the obvious lack of humans to give names to the animals and to categorize the trees, it all basically looked and felt like it does now: Leaves were green and rocks were heavy. Over time, humans (those natural tool makers!) developed a plethora of explanatory concepts and ways of knowing that gave their universe a discernable order. At different times and in different regions of the world, the universe took on vastly different shapes and personalities. There were the four humors, animism, Feng shui and by the mid 1660s some white guys had developed something called experimental philosophy. Today we just call it the scientific method. One of those white guys, Robert Boyle, was particularly vocal about the benefits of the scientific method and objective observation. He believed deeply that if enough men of reputable repute watched something happen, you could call it true. No monarch or bishop required. Thomas Hobbes was skeptical. Not because he believed truth had to come from an authority figure, but because he was, among other concerns, suspicious that by observing effects one could derive the underlying physical causes. While both men had strong and informed opinions about society and the natural world, today we remember Hobbes as a political philosopher and Boyle as one of the first modern scientists. The separation of society and nature didn’t have to look the way it does, but historical and social circumstances encourage us to separate these two realms. (more…)
Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peers’ neglect of “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought. Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays. (more…)
The concept of “risk” comes up a lot in the classes I TA. Usually, it comes up as part of a conversation about acceptable levels of risk for consumer products: How safe should a car be? How much money should we spend on fire safety in homes? If you’re utilizing a cost-benefit analysis that also means calculating the price of a human life. How much is your life worth? These questions are familiar to safety regulators, inspectors, CEOs, and government officials but as private citizens and consumers, we like to think that such questions are sufficiently settled. Cars are as safe as we can make them because human life is incalculably valuable. After all, these sorts of questions sound macabre when we invert the function: How many cars should explode every year? How many jars of peanut butter should have salmonella in them? These questions are largely considered necessary evils in today’s risk-based society, but what kind of society does that create? (more…)
Facebook just enabled its new Graph Search for my profile and I wanted to share some initial reactions (beyond the 140 character variety). Facebook’s new search function allows users to mine their Facebook accounts for things like: “Friends that like eggs” or “Photos of me and my friends who live near Chuck E. Cheese’s. ” The suggested search function is pretty prominent, which serves the double role of telling you what is searchable and how to phrase your search. More than anything else, Graph Search is a stark reminder of how much information you and your friends have given to Facebook. More importantly however, it marks a significant change in how Facebook users see each other and themselves in relation to their data.. You no longer see information through people; you start to see people as affiliated with certain topics or artifacts. Graph Search is like looking at your augmented life from some floating point above the Earth. (more…)
This and more #OverlyHonestMethods can be found here.
I really love putting things in order: Around my house you’ll find tiny and neat stacks of paper, alphabetized sub-folders, PDFs renamed via algorithm, and spices arranged to optimize usage patterns. I don’t call it life hacking or You+, its just the way I live. Material and digital objects need to stand in reserve for me, so that I may function on a daily basis. I’m a forgetful and absent-minded character and need to externalize my memory, so I typically augment my organizational skills with digital tools. My personal library is organized the same way Occupy Wall Street organized theirs, with a lifetime subscription to LibraryThing. I use Spotify for no other reason that I don’t want to dedicate the necessary time to organize an MP3 library the way I know it needs to be organized. (Although, if you find yourself empathizing with me right now, I suggest you try TuneUp.) My tendency for digitally augmented organization has also made me a bit of a connoisseur of citation management software. I find little joy in putting together reference lists and bibliographies, mainly because they can never reach the metaphysical perfection I demand. Citation management software however, gets me close enough. When I got to grad school, I realized by old standby, ProQuest’s Refworks wasn’t available and my old copy of Endnote x1 ran too slow on my new computer. So there I was, my first year of graduate school and jonesing heavily for some citation management. I had dozens of papers to write and no citation software. That’s when I fell into the waiting arms of Mendeley. (more…)
Please excuse the Atlantic Magazine-worthy counterintuitive article title, but its true. The Consumer Electronics Show, more commonly referred to as CES is cheesy, expensive, and out-dated. I used to really love CES coverage. It was a guilty pleasure of mine; an unrequited week of fetishistic gadget worship. I savored it all: the cringe-worthy pep of the keynote addresses, the garbled and blurry product videos taken by tech blog contributors, the over-hyped promises that never come true. But this year, after watching the entire 90-minute Waiting for Godot-style keynote, I don’t see the point anymore. All the coolest stuff was made by indie developers and they introduced their products months ago, through awkward in-house YouTube videos. CES might be convenient for gigantic multinational corporations, but what’s in it for the Kickstarter-fueled entrepreneurs? Is a Las Vegas trade show the best medium to show off your iPhone-controlled light bulb, or e-ink wrist watch? Why does half of Maroon 5 need to half-heartedly churn out three songs at the end of an hour-long product description? The industry has matured, and CES is no longer sufficient. (more…)
The result of a Google Image search for “High Tech” What the hell could this possibly mean? Image c/o Small Business Trends
If you live in the United States and have been adjacent to something with the news on it, you have probably heard of the “Fiscal Cliff.” The fiscal cliff refers to several major tax breaks and earned benefit compensation programs that were set to expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress raised the debt ceiling. One of the few good things to come out of this manufactured crisis was some excellent reporting on the power of metaphor in politics. The ability to spur action and drive public opinion while offering next-to-no information demonstrates the awesome power of metaphors. Most people did not know why we were falling off the cliff, what the cliff was made of, or what the consequences for falling would be. Slate’s Lexicon Valley covered this phenomenon in an episode last month titled ”Good is Up.” Co-hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield dissected the cliff metaphor using the classic book, Metaphors We Live By (1980) by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Vuolo and Garfield note, “‘Success is rising’ and ‘failing is falling.’ Lakoff believes these primal, spatial metaphors form what he calls a ‘neural cascade’ that he says is ‘so tightly integrated and so natural that we barely notice them, if we notice them at all.’” In short, we might not understand what goes into creating or averting the fiscal cliff, but we know it should be avoided. Going down is bad, and staying up is good. The episode got me thinking about similar spatial metaphors and the work they do in our augmented society. One of the more ubiquitous metaphors is “high tech.” Is high tech “good” technology? Or is it high in the same way the Anglican Church uses the word; steeped in conservative traditions and formal code? (more…)