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…)
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 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.
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…)
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…)
The plot of Scream is impossible without cordless phones.
In Children of Men Clive Owen’s character Theo is trying to secure “transfer papers” from his cousin Nigel who seems to be one of the few rich people left in the no-one-can-make-babies-anymore-dystopia. The two older men are sitting at a dining table with a younger boy, presumably Nigel’s son, who seems to be inflicted in some way. He’s pale and stares vacantly at somewhere just past his left hand which is eerily still in between the twitches of fingers that are adorned by delicate wires. He doesn’t respond to others in the room and isn’t eating the food in front of him. After Nigel yells at him to take his pill we notice that they boy isn’t really sick or particularly disturbed, he’s playing a game attached to his hand. (more…)
On New Year’s Eve the biggest fireworks display ever was launched off of the biggest tower in the world. Dubai’s fireworks show was, in terms less vulgar than the display itself, an undulating orgasm of global capital. The 500,000 fireworks mounted to Burj Khalifa Tower and the surrounding skyscrapers, were reportedly viewed live by over a million people on the ground and livestreamed to millions more around the world. I can’t find a price tag for the display (too gauche?) but given that your typical municipal fireworks display for proles can easily top six figures, lets just assume that you could measure the cost of this display in national GDPs. It was profane in the way Donald Trump’s continued existence is profane. The fireworks display was so huge —such an utterly perfect metaphor for capitalism itself— that no single person standing on the ground could witness the entire thing. It was a spectacle meant for camera lenses. (more…)
The Planned Headquarters of Apple Inc.
The year is 1959 and a very powerful modern art aficionado is sharing a limousine with Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands. The man is supposed to be showing off the splendor of the capital of what was once —so optimistically— called New Amsterdam. His orchestrated car trip is not going quite as he had hoped and instead of zipping past “The Gut” and dwelling on the stately early 19th century mansions on Central and Clinton Avenues, Beatrix is devastated by the utter poverty that has come to define the very center of this capitol city now called Albany, New York. The art aficionado, unfortunately for him, cannot blame some far away disconnected bureaucrat or corrupt politician for what they are seeing because he is the governor of this powerful Empire State and he has done little to elevate the suffering of his subjects. He resolves, after that fateful car trip, to devote the same kind of passion he has for modern art to this seat of government. Governor Rockefeller will make this city into a piece of art worthy of his own collection. (more…)
This is the first in a series of autobiographical accounts by Cyborgology writers of our early personal interactions with technology. Half autoethnography, half unrepentant nostalgia trip this series looks at what technologies had an impression on us, which ones were remarkably unremarkable, and what this might say about our present outlook on digitality.
I wish I could say it was love at first sight when my Dad brought home what I just now leaned was called an IBM 5150. According to IBM, “ it was dramatically clear to most observers that IBM had done something very new and different.” I guess I wasn’t most observers. My parents say I liked it but my memories of it little to do with it being a computer per se. It was inculcated in major events in the household. It could make grayscale banners and quarter-page invitations, letters to pen pals and family. Nothing about that computer, for me, had to do with programming. In fact, what I remember most about it was how mechanical it was: All the different, almost musical sounds it made when it was reading a floppy or printing something on its included dot-matrix printer. The spring-loaded keys on its impossibly heavy keyboard made the most intriguing sound; when all ten fingers were on that keyboard it sounded like a mechanical horse clacking and clinking. My favorite part of the computer was when you’d turn it off and it would make a beautiful tornado of green phosphorus accompanied by a sad whirling sound. It sounded like this almost-living thing was dying a small death every time you were finished with it. I loved killing that computer.
#Friendsgiving on Instagram
Airports suck. They suck the worst on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving: some nearly a sixth of all Americans travel for the holiday and most of them are taking to the sky to get to leave their homes and go “back home” to some dining room that’s larger than their own. Every airport is full of government-groped travelers anxious over the possibility of missing their flight to a Thanksgiving table. For the 20-30 year-old set, Thanksgiving out of town usually means a paycheck’s worth of plane ticket plus a couple days of missed work or precious class time needed for a final exam. For many more, the prospect of taking an extended weekend is completely out of the question because most of us work in retail. As my friend Lisa wrote on her Facebook yesterday: “To fellow retail employees this holiday: Godspeed, we can do this.” Thanksgiving isn’t a time to relax, its a time to either gear up for a 12-hour work day or spend as little as money as possible to make up for the remarkable food bill you just racked up. To leave town on Black Friday’s Eve is near-impossible, and so many millennials plan for a Friendsgiving: the thoroughly post-modern holiday that celebrates a paradoxical mixture of just getting by, the excesses of late-capitalism, and the infinitely negotiable non-familial ties that make up young peoples’ lives.
File this one under “what is at stake” when we talk about the digital dualist critique. Bitcoin, the Internet’s favorite way to buy pot and donate to Ron Paul, hit an all-time high this week of around $900 to one Bitcoin (BTC). The news coverage of Bitcoin and the burgeoning array of crypto-currencies (according to the Wall Street Journal there’s also litecoin, bbqcoin, peercoin, namecoin, and feathercoin) has largely focused on the unstable valuation of the currencies and all of the terrible things people could do with their untraceable Internet money. What hasn’t been investigated however, is the idea that crypto-currencies are somehow inherently more “virtual” and thereby less susceptible to centralized control the way US dollars, Euros, or Dave & Buster’s Powercards are. Both assumptions are wrong and are undergirded by the digital dualist fallacy. (more…)