Author Archives: jennydavis

Demands from the Margins

Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014

Statistics are never objective. Rather, they use numeric language to tell a story, and entail all of the subjectivity of storytelling. Indeed, the skilled statistician, like the skilled orator, can bring an audience into the world of their creation, and get the audience to buy fully into the logic of this world. Numbers, like words, are tools of communication, persuasion, connection, and dissent.  Statistics are not objective. But my goodness, statistics can be powerful.

Check out this particularly compelling statistical story about Ferguson Missouri: (more…)

#SpeakBeautiful: Reinforcing a dangerous metric

Twitter and Dove have teamed up in a new campaign to combat criticisms of women’s bodies on social media. The #SpeakBeautiful campaign, which kicked off with a short video (shown above) during the pre-show of this year’s Academy Awards, cites the staggering statistic that women produced over 5 million negative body image Tweets last year. The campaign implores women to stop this, to focus on what is beautiful about each of us, and bring our collective beauty to the fore. Set to musical crescendo and the image of falling dominos, this message is both powerful and persuasive. (more…)

Theorizing Affordances

Affordances

There’s a tricky balancing act to play when thinking about the relative influence of technological artifacts and the humans who create and use these artifacts. It’s all too easy to blame technologies or alternatively, discount their shaping effects.

Both Marshall McLuhan and Actor Network Theorists (ANT) insist on the efficaciousness of technological objects. These objects do things, and as researchers, we should take those things seriously. In response to the popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” ANT scholar Bruno Latour famously retorts:

It is neither people nor guns that kill. Responsibility for action must be shared among the various actants

From this perspective, failing to take seriously the active role of technological artifacts, assuming instead that everything hinges on human practice, is to risk entrapment by those artifacts that push us in ways we cannot understand or recognize. Speaking of media technologies, McLuhan warns:

Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users.   

This, they get right. Technology is not merely a tool of human agency, but pushes, guides, and sometimes traps users in significant ways. And yet both McLuhan and ANT have been justly criticized as deterministic. Technologies may shape those who use them, but humans created these artifacts, and humans can—and do— work around them.   (more…)

#Hashtag Liberation

Official Promotional Poster for the Talk

Official Promotional Poster for the Talk

Jasmine Rand, lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family, came and spoke at my university last week. I held my breath as she walked out on stage. She began with the emotional announcement that we were on the eve of what would have been Trayvon’s 20th birthday. Along with a crowd full of students, professors, staff, and members of the community, I settled on the edge of my seat and listened eagerly for what this woman, in this moment of racial upheaval, had to say.  As I tweeted just before the talk: this was a big deal.

Rand2 (more…)

pplkpr: Creating a Data-Us

pplkpr

We’ve all been there. Sweaty palms, racing heart, left eye that winks at involuntary intervals. You’re emotionally fraught and having a physiological response. It could be an upcoming exam, a big presentation, or that one friend who can’t stop telling you about their fantastic job/spouse/kids/new shoes while wondering out loud how you manage living in such messy quarters.

Our bodies are key sources of information and guidance. Bodied reactions, coupled with culturally situated reflexive analyses, help us make sense of day-to-day events and make behavioral decisions. Feel like you’re going to vomit every time that colleague stops by your office? Maybe they’re toxic. Maybe you’re in love. The bodily response prompts you to do something, and how you interpret that response tells you what that something is. (more…)

Higher Education’s Credentializing Trend

Barack Obama

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a radical shift in the structure of education at the national level. With a tone of idealism, he set forth the intention to provide all students in good standing two free years of community college. In response to this highly anticipated announcement, half of the room stood in applause, while the other half sat firmly in their seats. Unsurprisingly, standers and sitters divided along party lines, with democrats welcoming the proposal and republicans opposed.

In theory (and in general) I’m with the standers on this issue. In practice, the issue is complicated and I have some deep concerns— concerns that stem from troubling trends within higher education. If I had to locate myself among the split-level congressional crowd, I would be out of my seat, but remain in an awkward and uncomfortable squat. (more…)

Cultural Studies of New Media Syllabus

cultural studies

For those of us in the Academy, mid-January is bittersweet. As Winter Break turns into Spring Semester, we  shrug off the Gross that comes along with 12 hour Netflix marathons, rush to meet conference/journal deadlines, and prepare for a new set of students. For me, this means finally starting my Cultural Studies of New Media course–what I not so humbly announced as the Best. Class. Ever!!

Some regular readers may remember that upon this announcement, I asked for content suggestions. Those suggestions were wonderful and I spent many hours sorting through the comments on that post, as well as threads that proliferated on Twitter. Seriously, you guys are the best. Below I’ve copied a link to the final version of the syllabus. (more…)

Facebook’s Structure of Compulsory Happiness

happy

The end of a year is an introspective time. We reflect on the past 365 days and lay plans for the year to come. This is a time of remembering, analyzing, hoping, and figuring. Helping us through this introspective process is Facebook’s Year in Review.  This app compiles the “highlights” of each user’s year through images, events, and status updates. It then displays this compilation for the user, and gives the option to share the review with Friends.  The default caption reads: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being part of it[i].”

Quickly, the app garnered negative attention when web designer Eric Meyer blogged about his heart wrenching experience of facing pictures of his 6 year old daughter who passed away not long ago. There was no trigger warning. There was no opt-in. There was simply an up-beat video picturing his daughter’s face when he logged into his Facebook account. He aptly attributes this experience to “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty.”

Although the cruelty was indeed inadvertent, it was none-the-less inevitable. It reflects a larger issue with the Facebook platform: its insistent structure of compulsory happiness. This insistence is reflected in a “Like” button, without any other 1-click emotive options; it is reflected in goofy emoticons through which sadness and illness are expressed with cartoon-like faces in cheerful colors; it is reflected in relationship status changes that announce themselves to one’s network. And as users, we largely comply. We share the happy moments, the funny quips, the accomplishments and #humblebrags, while hiding, ignoring, or unFriending those with the audacity to mope; to clog our newsfeeds with negativity. But we do not comply ubiquitously nor condone/censure unanimously. Sometimes we perform sadness, and sometimes we support each other in this. (more…)

We Don’t Have Data, We Are Data

the-interview

Does anyone else feel like the terms ‘cyber-attack’ and ‘cyber-terrorism’ should always be accompanied by cold-war style red flashing lights?  Maybe I’m just watching too much mainstream news. In any case, I argue below that the ‘cyber’ prefix is not only dated and dualist, but imprecise. I suggest ‘data’ as an alternative. This relies on the assumption that we don’t have data, we are data; an attack on our data is therefore, an attack on us. (more…)

Facebook Remembers

Facebook remembers

Facebook announced this week that it will add a new search feature to the platform. This search feature will, for the first time, allow users to type in keywords and bring up specific network content. Previously, keyword searches lead to pages and advertisements.  Now, it will bring up images and text from users’ News Feeds. Although search results currently include only content shared with users by their Friends, I imagine including public posts in the results will be a forthcoming next step.

Facebook, as a documentation-heavy platform, has always affected both how we remember, and how we perform. It is the keeper of our photo albums, events attended, locations visited, and connections established, maintained, and broken. It recasts our history into linear stories, solidifying that which we share into the truest version of ourselves. And of course, the new search feature amplifies this, stripping users of the privacy-by-obscurity that tempered (though certainly did not eliminate) the effects of recorded and documented lives.

The search feature also does something interesting and new. It aggregates. For the first time, users can take the temperature of their networks on any variety of topics. Music, movies, news events and recipes can be called up, unburied from the content rubble and grouped in a systematic way.

Perhaps because I’ve been able to think of little else lately, I immediately considered what this new feature means for how we will remember the events of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the parade of police violence against young men of color. And relatedly, I considered how we will remember ourselves and each other in regard to these events. (more…)