2014 Ello was in with the new and by 2015 it became out with the old. It’s New Years Eve and I want to look back on a thing that came and went this year, which leaves me feeling bummed. You can only be really disappointed if you start with high hopes, and lots of people for lots of reasons wanted Ello to work. It became quickly clear that the site didn’t have a strong vision. Neither its politics or its understanding of the social life it set out to mediate were inspired or clever enough to be compelling.
No doubt of interest to sociologists, Facebook is throwing a sociology pre-conference on its campus ahead of the annual American Sociological Association meetings this fall. When the company is interested in recruiting sociologists and the work we do –research of the social world in all of its complexity– their focus, as shown in the event’s program, is heavily, heavily focused on quantitative demography. Critical, historical, theoretical, ethnographic research makes up a great deal of the sociological discipline, but isn’t the kind of sociology Facebook has ever seemed to be after. Facebook’s focus on quantitative sociology says much about what they take “social” to mean.
My background is in stats, I taught inferential statistics to sociology undergrads for a few years, I dig stats and respect their place in a rich sociological discourse. So, then, I also understand the dangers of statistical sociology done without a heavy dose of qualitative and theoretical work. Facebook and other social media companies have made mistake after mistake with their products that reflect a massive deficit of sociological imagination. The scope of their research should reflect and respect the fact that their products reach the near entirety of the social world. (more…)
Sometimes it feels that to be a good surveillance theorist you are also required to be a good storyteller. Understanding surveillance seems to uniquely rely on metaphor and fiction, like we need to first see another possible world to best grasp how watching is happening here. Perhaps the appeal to metaphor is evidence of how quickly watching and being watched is changing – as a feature of modernity itself in general and our current technological moment in particular. The history of surveillance is one of radical change, and, as ever, it is fluctuating and rearranging itself with the new, digital, technologies of information production and consumption. Here, I’d like to offer a brief comment not so much on these new forms of self, interpersonal, cultural, corporate, and governmental surveillance as much as on the metaphors we use to understand them.
#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books.
Today, guest contributor Rob Horning reviews: Life on automatic: Facebook’s archival subject by Liam Mitchell. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 2 – 3 February 2014 http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4825/3823 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i2.4825
If, like me, you are skeptical of research on social media and subjectivity that takes the form of polling some users about their feelings, as if self-reporting didn’t raise any epistemological issues, this paper, steeped in Baudrillard, Derrida, and Heidegger, will come as a welcome change. It’s far closer to taking the opposite position, that whatever people say about their feelings should probably be discounted out of hand, given that what is more significant is the forces that condition the consciousness of such feelings. That approach is sometimes dismissed as failing to take into account individual agency; it’s implicitly treated as an affront to human dignity to presume that people’s use of technology might not be governed by full autonomy and voluntarism, that it’s tinfoil-hat silly to believe that something as consumer-friendly and popular as Facebook could be coercive, that the company could be working behind users’ backs to warp their experience of the world for the sake of Facebook’s bottom line.
Mitchell is not so overtly conspiratorial in this paper; (more…)
The debate over the ACA is carried out in ideological dogwhistle, waged with words barely capable of pointing to the concepts they are supposed to grip. While this well-oiled chatter is par for the course in American politics, it is doubly fruitless in the case of healthcare dot gov. The object of inquiry is a website, a kind of thing that is newer than our daily interactions would have us remember, and it has different ontological and anthropological qualities than our political commentators have learned to address. It is a kind of thing less suited to the language of communist bogeyman and other imaginary evils than the technics of networks and the processual language of software project management– topics where most of our politicians sound clueless and should follow Wittgenstein’s advice (“hey, shut up a minute”).
At the most basic syntax of domain naming, the phrase “healthcare dot gov”, repeated as much by its detractors as by its proponents, is a statement about the relationship of these two things: healthcare and government. (more…)
Lewis Powell (1865)
Go read “Dead And Going To Die”, a beautiful essay by Michael Sacasas posted today at The New Inquiry on the subjectivity expressed by people in old photographs. Part of why subjects look different in these images is they are expressing a different subjectivity to the camera lens. As the photographic gaze went from novelty to ubiquity, we’ve collectively oriented our selves to the camera differently. (more…)