Author Archives: davidbanks

The Subtle Tyranny of Vacation Responders

Okay, maybe the title is a bit dramatic, but hear me out. Vacation responders, those automatic emails that tell would-be correspondents that you are away from your inbox, are contributing to unrealistic work demands. The vacation responder directly implies that if it is not activated, the response should be prompt. It sets up a false binary wherein we are either working or on vacation. Its easy to tell that the work/vacation split is dubious because these two states of being that are in increasingly short supply. Lots of people are out of work, and those who do have jobs are working longer hours than ever before. Obviously vacation responders aren’t the cause of our economic woes (that can be found here) but they do enforce the worst parts of late capitalism’s work ethics.


Mutiny Aboard the Ship of the Imagination

Ship of the Imagination from Fox's rebooted Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson

Ship of the Imagination from Fox’s rebooted Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson

While I was, and still remain, a Beakman’s World partisan, I have fond memories of watching Bill Nye The Science Guy throughout the 90s. It is unfortunate that the just-so-happy-to-be-doing-science character of my childhood has turned into another angry white dude occupying a rectangle on a cable news show. Undoubtable he has a lot to be upset about: not enough Americans agree that the future will be marked by resource scarcity and vastly altered climates and even fewer are convinced that the way we live our lives can’t be sustained. Understandably, many of us (and cable news producers especially) turn to Science Guys like Bill Nye or Neil Degrasse Tyson for answers to society’s most important questions: What is the future going to look like? How can we make it better? Why are so many of us not agreeing on what needs to be done? This impulse is dead wrong.


The Work of #TtW14

Photo by Aaron Thompson. This and more can be found on the #TtW14 Picasa album.

Photo by Aaron Thompson. This and more can be found on the #TtW14 Picasa album.

Possibly one of the most insidious ideas to come out of the last two decades of corporate management has been the “do what you love” ethos. Not only is the concept built on the premise that you can afford to pursue your passion for free while you find a way to monetize it, the “do what you love” mantra also assumes that what you do for money will always fill most of your working hours and be something that you primarily identify with. Its a uniquely American concept that what you do to earn a pay check says something about you. That you’re not truly an artist or a scholar until you can make a living off of that labor. I’ve been thinking a lot about the different contours of work after this year’s extremely successful iteration of Theorizing the Web. It was my first year on the committee and, while I loved every minute of it, doing this kind of work always makes you think about what sorts of work organizations are sustainable and the nature of work more generally. (more…)

#TtW14 Panel Preview: Pics

Panel Preview

Presider: Rotem Rozental (@rotroz)

Hashmod: Ian M. Dawson (@ianmdawson)

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 Pics: Sex and the Selfie


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Ref(user)

Panel Preview

Presider: Jay Owens (@hautepop)

Hashmod: Andrew Dever (@andrewdever)

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 Ref(user): Movements of Resistance


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Casual Encounters

Panel Preview

Presider: Alyce Currier (@notalyce)

Hashmod: Lynette Yorgey Winslow (@yorglow)

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 Casual Encounters: Sex, Sexuality, and intimacy


#Ttw14 Panel Preview: Streetview

Panel Preview

JoAnne McNeil (@jomc)

Hashmod: Lauren Burr (@burrlauren)

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 Streetview: Space, Place, and Geography

It is difficult, if not impossible to talk about the Web without using physical metaphors to describe digital configurations. “The Web” after all isn’t really a web at all… Or is it? Offices, hydroelectric dams, bodies, and miles upon miles of interconnecting strands of copper, fiber, and electromagnetic signals makeup this amorphous thing that we call The Web. The panelists in Streetview aren’t talking about metaphors but are actually illuminating and revealing the physical contents and infrastructure of the web. Sites that seem  ephemeral and intangible to most of the world, are real flesh and mortar offices for a select few. It is this select few that gentrify entire metropolitan regions and run server farms that consume a city’s worth of fossil fuels. The Web is also deeply enmeshed in our own lives as it serves up wayfinding tools and documentation repositories.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Discipline and Publish

Panel Preview

Presider: Rachel Rosenfelt (@rachelrosenfelt)

Hashmod: Angela Chen (@chengela)

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 Discipline and Publish: The New Politics of Publishing

It is hard to overstate just how profoundly and completely the Web has changed publishing, both as a profession and as a set of technologies. Every major category of publishable content, from punk zines to encyclopedias has undergone massive changes and yet some things remain doggedly the same. Mastheads are still very white and male, (even the new ones) although some of the most intriguing and innovative publishing platforms are more representative of  the world. Rachel Rosenfelt, founder and editor of The New Inquiry will preside over a panel of four presentations looking at how the politics of publishing are changing and what it means for authors, readers, and society in general. Ana Cecilia Alvarez and Joseph Staten investigate the apparent disconnect between the popularity of a topic, and any individual piece on that topic. Alvarez, looking at feminist writing on Tumblr and other social media platforms, asks the provocative and absolutely necessary question:  “Feminism gets a lot of likes, but does this mean a lot of people like feminism?” Staten asks his audience to reconsider the thinkpiece and how it can be mobilized as a more effective tool for cultural critique. Matthew Clair and Mathias Klang consider the new kinds of ownership models and access systems that have cropped up over the years and outline their roles in expanding the control of private property. Clair takes a uniquely micro-level approach to studying neoliberalism within avante-garde writing communities and Klang discusses the implications of DRM on ebooks for both authors and readers. The panelists in Discipline and Publish approach this field with a critical eye towards the affordances and stated promises of new publishing technologies however, taken together, the panel paints a fairly optimistic picture of the future of publishing.

#TtW14 Panel Preview: World Wide Web(s)

Panel Preview

Presider: Jillet Sarah Sam (@JilletSarahSam)

Hashmod: Alice Samson (@theclubinternet)

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 World Wide Web(s): Theorizing the Non-Western Web

Far too often in popular and academic contexts, the Western experience of the Web is taken to be the universal experience. While some of the largest web presences on the globe have their ideological and cultural roots in the United States, there are entire practices, technologies, and services that have never graced an American IP address. This panel isn’t so much about those practices, technologies, and services so much as it is a prerequisite effort at de-centering the West in the Web. As a whole, this panel thoroughly breaks down the deficit model of technological development: and instead shows the  iterative, mutually-shaping relationships between nation-states, capital, culture, and networked technologies. David Peter Simon examines how Silicon Valley’s work “possibly subjugates the same people they aim to help” by way of applying a Gramscian analysis to his own work in Nairobi and Kampala. Jason Q. Ng not only reminds us that Wikipedia is not the primary reference site for the entire globe (perhaps not even a majority of it), but that the Western conception of what censorship looks like and how it acts should be similarly contextualized.

The invited presentations by Tolu Odumosu and Dalia Othman both offer glimpses into different social and technical (infra)structures that compose and influence each other and individual users. Odumosu’s focus on the development of Nigerian telecommunications infrastructure demonstrates the historical contingencies that make the Web many Americans are familiar with, and the primarily mobile phone-based web that has taken hold in Nigeria. By learning about the configuration of the Nigerian web, we come to understand just how easily the Western experience could have been radically different. Othman’s work in the Arab Spring is equally attuned to the particularities of geographies and local sociotechnical histories. By studying the ways in which activists use social media to organize and resist, Othman reveals networks’ social topography in a range of countries where civil societies’ relationships to their governments differ. (more…)

#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.”