Author Archives: davidbanks

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…)

Improving the Wearable

Image from Robert Cooke

Image from Robert Cooke

On Monday I posed two related questions:  “Are wearables like Glass relegated to the same fate as Bluetooth earpieces and the Discman, or can they be saved?  Is the entire category irredeemable or have we yet to see the winning execution?” I concluded that most of the problems have to do with the particular executions we’ve seen to date, but it’s also very possible that the very idea of the wearable is predicated on the digital dualist notion that interacting with a smartphone is inherently disruptive to a productive/happy/authentic lifestyle. Lot’s of devices are pitched as “getting out of the way” and only providing a little bit of information that is context specific and quickly (not to mention discreetly) displayed to the user. I contended that the motivation to make devices “invisible” can bring about some unintended consequences; mainly that early adopters experience the exact opposite reaction. Everyone pays attention to your face computer and nothing is getting out of the way at all. (more…)

Saving the Wearable

Image From Jeremy Brooks

Image From Jeremy Brooks

The wearable is going through an adolescence right now. Products like Google Glass, Oculus Rift, or the Pebble smartwatch are a lot like teenagers: They’ve come into their own, but still aren’t sure about the place in society. They are a little awkward, have problems staying awake when they need to be, and they attract derision by the New York Times. And just like human adolescence, this phase probably has a horizon. People could warm up to the idea of face computers, battery life will get better, and (eventually, hopefully) the public will learn to ignore Ross Douthat. But for right now, the wearable is in a precarious situtation. Are wearables like Glass relegated to the same fate as Bluetooth earpieces and the Discman, or can they be saved? Is the entire category irredeemable or have we yet to see the winning execution? (more…)

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.

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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.

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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

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#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

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#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

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#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.

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