Author Archives: jennydavis

Digital Divide in Action: Lessons from a Canceled Flight

plane

“You are talking to me like I don’t understand what you are saying. I understand what you are saying, I don’t accept what you are saying,” shouted the bespectacled woman who would soon have tears running down her indignant face. “I’m not from this country. I don’t have a phone. I have kids with me. What am I supposed to do!?” The customer service representative at the airline desk spoke slowly and explained again, as if to a spoiled child, that all of the hotels were full and customers were now responsible for finding and booking their own, but not to worry, customers would be reimbursed after going online and submitting the necessary information with a paid receipt. The woman stared blankly at him, and stepped aside to wait for a supervisor. Now she would cry.

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Exposed: Constitution through Contradiction

Contradiction

Last week I wrote about the curious case of traditional love narratives in the face of online dating. In short, the profiled format, pay structure, and overall bureaucracy of online dating throws into stark relief the constructed belief in a fateful meeting of souls. And yet, the narrative persists. Here’s a brief snippet:

…[T]he landscape has drastically changed but the narrative, not so much. The maintenance of romantic love as a cultural construct, personal striving, and affective embodied response to courtship rituals speaks to the resiliency of normative culture and its instantiation through human action. Even as we transact and negotiate romantic relationships; even as we agree upon terms; even as we screen partners and subject ourselves to screening; we nonetheless speak of butterflies and hope for magic.

In the case of love and online dating, the narrative is both highlighted and strengthened through its empirical contradiction.

This idea sparked an interesting conversation among the Cyborgology team about how this principle—constitution through contradiction—is theoretically useful in understanding the relationship between technologies and culture. Technologies reflect cultural realities, but can also expose the constructed nature of these realities, threatening their taken-for-granted logic and concomitant guidance over behavior and interaction. In the face of such a threat, however, the logics remain, and even strengthen. (more…)

Online Dating and the Bureaucratization of Love

Online Dating2

Romantic love occupies a significant amount of space in both popular culture and, often, the human psyche. It is the muse of artists, musicians, and poets; the downfall of great characters; the impetus for sheer giddy joy, deep comfort, and the sharpest most debilitating pain. Truly, what else matters when you’re in the arms of a lover? What else is of import after a lover breaks your heart? Of course, romantic love, as  conceived in the contemporary West, has an end game: marriage and/or life partnership along with the formation of a family.

This has not always been the case, and is not the case everywhere. The notion of romantic love began with knights and ladies of nobility and had nothing to do with marriage, or even sex, while arranged marriages and dowry agreements have little to do with romantic love.  That is, the coupling of love with marriage is not compulsory, but culturally constructed as such. And it strikes me, when I think about it, as a bit of an odd couple. (more…)

The Other Little Blue Pill

Pharmaceutical drugs do an array of things to the body. They can affect mood, energy, blood flow, experiences of pain, and capacities for pleasure.  Their increasing prevalence in the marketplace and home medicine cabinets suggests an addition to the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’ Today, we are also what we take.

But embedded within cultural realities,  pharmaceuticals do not simply do things to the body. Rather, they are the conduits through which the body becomes connected with and constituted through economies of both money and moral value. Pharmaceutical drugs are at once tools of medicinal healing and commodities of social and financial exchange. In understanding the implications of any particular pharmaceutical drug, then, it is pertinent to ask not only what it does, but what the pharmaceutical company is selling, to whom, and with what kind of trajectory.  (more…)

Best. Class. Ever!!

best class everOkay, readers, it’s time to get to work. I recently found out that I get to teach a New Media and Society course in spring 2015. The course, housed in Sociology,  is geared toward upper-level undergraduates and will be listed under “Special Topics,” which basically means it’s a trial run with the potential for eventual inclusion in the official course catalog. I have had this course milling around in my head for quite awhile now, and have an outline ready.

What would really make the course great, though, is input from the scholarly community (broadly conceived). Since Cyborgology has a truly fantastic scholarly community, I’m asking for help here.

Below, I outline the general topics I plan to cover. Your job is to suggest content for any of these topics. You can list them in the comments. I will combine everyone’s suggestions, along with my own existing list, and construct a follow up post. Suggestions can include books, journal articles, blog posts, videos, and popular media pieces in written or visual form.

This only works if you participate, so please, everyone, give me what you’ve got and spread widely.

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The Feminisms of Laser Hair Removal

Laser 4

On 25 February 1940, an officer with the San Francisco police department’s homicide detail reported a “rather suspicious business” operating in the city. At 126 Jackson Street sat an old, three-story rooming house, recently leased by Dr. Henri F. St. Pierre of the Dermic Laboratories. As Assistant Special Agent J. W. Williams later described the scene, “women had been seen entering the place from the Jackson Street side at various times of the day, subsequently leaving by … an alley at the rear of the building. Following the arrival of the women, cars would arrive with a man carrying a case resembling … a doctor’s kit. They would also enter the building for a short time, come out, and drive away. . . .” At first sight, the medical kit, the furtive departures, and the seedy locale all signaled to Williams that St. Pierre was running a “new abortion parlor.” As it turned out, however, “the so-called ‘Dr.’” was offering a somewhat different service to these women: the removal of their unwanted body hair through prolonged exposure to X rays (quoted directly from Rebecca Herzig’s Removing Roots: ‘North American Hiroshima Maidens’ and the X-Ray).

Body hair. Humans have it. Where they have it, how much they have, and what color it is, holds moral connotations tied to cultural norms of both gender and race. In the simplest sense, men should be hairy. Women should be hairless.

The good and moral woman has little to no body hair, and the body hair she does have is only on her legs, and all of those hairs are blond and fine. For those of us who fail to naturally achieve this bodied moral norm, the medical-cosmetic market offers an array of technologies to help hide, temporarily or permanently, our moral failing.  laser

 

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Facebook has Always Manipulated Your Emotions

 

emotion 1

Emotional Contagion is the idea that emotions spread throughout networks. If you are around happy people, you are more likely to be happy. If you are around gloomy people, you are likely to be glum.

The data scientists at Facebook set out to learn if text-based, nonverbal/non-face-to-face interactions had similar effects.  They asked: Do emotions remain contagious within digitally mediated settings? They worked to answer this question experimentally by manipulating the emotional tenor of users’ News Feeds, and recording the results.

Public reaction was such that many expressed dismay that Facebook would 1) collect their data without asking and 2) manipulate their emotions.

I’m going to leave aside the ethics of Facebook’s data collection. It hits on an important but blurry issue of informed consent in light of Terms of Use agreements, and deserves a post all its own. Instead, I focus on the emotional manipulation, arguing that Facebook was already manipulating your emotions, and likely in ways far more effectual than algorithmically altering the emotional tenor of your News Feed. (more…)

Triggered: An Ethic of Collective Forgetting

 

Trigger warning 1

Over the summer I began supervising a student for an independent study of BDSM and Kink communities. To begin, this student created a list of academic articles, books, and blog posts relevant to the question of study. I will be reading along with the student, and am currently making my way through the blogosphere. In doing so, I’ve been struck by the prevalence of “trigger warnings” attached to blog posts, many of which deal with safety, abuse, and rape culture. Many readers are probably familiar with the trigger warning. Posted in front of potentially upsetting content, the trigger warning gives potential readers a heads up about the nature of the text, sound, or images that follow.

It is perhaps unsurprising that trigger warnings are common among bloggers writing about rape, consent, and sex-positive encounters. These are sensitive topics and the authors (the ones that my student and I have been reading) come at these topics from a conscientiously critical feminist perspective. But what about all of those trigger warnings outside of this explicitly conscientious space? Although unscientific, I’ve noticed an abundance of trigger warnings throughout my Twitter and Facebook feeds as people share content with one another.  The phenomena has even spread to higher education, with students and universities calling for the integration of trigger warnings into class syllabi (though this is not without critique). (more…)

Autism and the Internet

Several months ago, the CDC released a report on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They found that as of 2010, 1 in every 68 U.S. children are on the ASD spectrum. This is up from 1 in every 150 children just ten years prior. This means that rates have more than doubled. The reasons for the large increase are fodder for some wonderfully interesting conversations and heated debates about biology vs. environment vs. culture vs. the Medical Industrial Complex. Putting these debates aside for another day, however, I instead want to talk about how new technologies can serve this ever growing population. As a quick caveat, I should say that I am a person who dabbles in disability studies research. My hope is that those who know more than I—through personal experience and/or professional expertise—will add nuance to the ideas I present below and help guide the discussion into all of the complex places I know it can go, but don’t quite know how to take it.

autism_data_graphic2012-copy (more…)

UCSB: A Terrible Lesson in Digital Dualism and Misogyny

UCSB

How does one begin a blog post about a profoundly tragic event? With shock? Only, I’m not shocked. With anger? I am angry, but starting there doesn’t feel right. Empathy, I think, is how I have to start.  I can only imagine the pain and fear of the people of Isla Vista, and honestly can’t imagine the depth of pain felt by those who lost family members and loved ones in Friday’s shooting.

As we all fumble through this event—which feels like yet another blow in a terrible but patterned chain of violent events—I believe many of us can’t help but wonder: how did this happen? How does it keep happening?

As with all things, the “how” is a complex question, one for which complete answers are largely impossible.  In this case, however, I can identify two key interlocking factors: digital dualism and misogynistic culture. (more…)