Author Archives: sWan

“The Cuckoo”: Chaos and performative memes


I haven’t done an actual fiction review through a Cyborgological lens since I wrote a critical analysis of Catherynne M. Valente’s Silently and Very Fast back in 2012, but I think a story I read yesterday is worth examining in that light, because it’s a great example of the kind of subtle theorizing that we can do through fiction, especially through speculative fiction. And, among other things, it’s about communication and performative memes. It’s also about how those memes, when they gain sufficient cultural power, alter social reality for good or for ill.


#TtW14 Panel Preview: Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play

Panel Preview

Presider: Jeremy Antley (@jsantley)

Hashmod: Kate Miltner (@katemiltner)

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 Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play.

One of the best things about Theorizing the Web is its dedication to exploring topics that either sit on the fringe of mainstream consciousness or underlie, to a large extent, those forces that increasingly shape our augmented lives.  This year, Theorizing the Web would like to discuss a topic that is rapidly increasing in both scope and relevance for daily life: games.

We invited three emerging scholars whose work explores and critiques the games we and others play; Catherine Goodfellow, Cameron Kunzelman, and Daniel Joseph.  Below is a Q&A, conducted over email, between these panelists and TtW.


More fumbling toward a theory of digital abandonment/ruin

"Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Ruins" - Hubert Robert (1796)

“Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Ruins” – Hubert Robert (1796)

Last week I wrote a follow-up to a much older post I did here; today I want to do another followup that moves in the footsteps of a bunch of other great posts on this site recently, that offers possibilities for consideration rather than seeking to nail down any specific answers. Basically, considering links, I expanded on an earlier theoretical approach toward abandonment and ruin in both digital and physical “spaces”, and I concluded that:

[W]e can understand the appearance of abandoned digital space as past-oriented atemporal. But the fact that there exists a literal process of rot means that the properties of a webpage are future-oriented atemporal – to the extent that we notice at all, it invites us to imagine the dissolution of our webbed pathways, the vanishing of entire sites, or at least their relocation. When a site goes offline, we might notice it when we can’t get to it anymore, provided we go there regularly – or if it’s a large, frequently used site like Facebook or Twitter – but otherwise, like those species of insect in the rainforests that no one ever discovers before they go extinct, websites probably disappear every day without anyone really noticing. Until you click on a link and nothing is waiting for you at the other end.

I think that lack of anything waiting for you at the other end needs more attention, as do other things. I spent a little time on web archives like and the newer Memento Project, which – I argued – salvage abandoned websites but, because of broken image links and other lost elements, lock them into a static state of ruin. So now I think there are some points that need clarification and further exploration.


Where do we go from here: “link rot” and atemporality

image courtesy of Quartz

unclaimed pixels on the Million Dollar Homepage. image courtesy of Quartz

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts on the atemporal nature of ruins and abandoned spaces. I moved from physical ruins to the nature of abandoned digital spaces, and the conclusion that I came to was that although both physical and digital “spaces” (not totally comfortable with that word but it seems the easiest and most understandable one so I’m going with it) are both atemporal – because a state of ruin/abandonment is intrinsically atemporal – physical ruins are atemporal with an orientation toward the future, while digital abandoned spaces are oriented toward the past. This is because physical ruins visibly decay, and that results in a kind of forward-thinking memento mori; we imagine our own future death and ruin through the present ruin that we see. By contrast, digital “ruins” – in the form of webpages – are marked as abandoned by the fact that they have stopped changing. They are locked forever into the last thing that was done to them, a snapshot of a past present (assuming they continue to exist at all). To borrow my brief summary of what the hell atemporality is in this context:

Atemporality most simply refers to the idea that our experience of time is not necessarily as linear as we like to present it; that we don’t just move in a straight line from A to B in time but that we often experience aspects of the past, the present, and the future simultaneously, simply by virtue of our nature as remembering, imagining creatures — as I wrote in my last piece on this topic, we remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past. Moreover, this phenomenon is intensified by technology and especially by technologies of documentation and sharing.

However, that analysis left out something sort of important: links.


Time, Aesthetics, and Text: Why Sherlock gets it right


A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of doing a quick interview on NPR’s Marketplace, using the post that David Banks and I co-wrote on the poor use of technology in film and TV (and written fiction) as a jumping-off point. I want to expand on something I said in that interview, as well as some things David said in a great post on the BBC’s Sherlock, and how texting is used as a visual storytelling component in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen text of any kind presented before. This is partly because – true confession – I hadn’t seen a whole lot of Sherlock before the last week or so, when I finally sat down to watch all of it. So I’m very late to the party, but some things struck me.


Keurig: Your New Coffee Overlord

what does that even meeeeeeean

what does that even meeeeeeean

Last February, I – piggybacking off a great short essay by Ed Felter on what he called “Property Rights Management” – said that I wouldn’t be surprised to see things like DRM making their way into other devices that don’t explicitly have to do with the kinds of software and firmware in which we’re accustomed to seeing DRM.

Literally one year later: Keurig!

The moral of the story is always listen to me.


Hooray, Facebook thinks I’m a real person

oh no no no

oh no no no

Turns out that my very first post here was about Facebook (and DeviantArt) and gender identification.

This is obviously something to which we Cyborgologists are again paying close attention, what with Facebook now allowing a plethora of new choices by which someone might identify their gender. There have already been a couple of great posts on the subject – the new ways in which Facebook is making it possible to self-identify and the ways in which gender is performed – by Jenny Davis and Robin James. But this is also something that’s very personal for me, and not just in terms of my Cyborgtastic journey of the last couple of years.


Gravitational Lensing: Death and Twitter and (not) making sense of it all


In preparing to write this post, I found myself going back over Whitney Erin Boesel’s post a couple of months back on death and digital/social media mediation, and I found myself running into a lot of the same issues she discusses. She suffered from massive uncertainty regarding how to talk about what she had experienced, or whether to talk about it at all. I’m going through the same. I’m not sure I should even be writing this, or what it will mean when I have. At the same time, I’m not sure how not to write about it, and that in itself is part of what I want to talk about.

Note: this is not going to be particularly organized, or particularly intellectual. It’s in part personal Livejournal-esque navel-gazing, part working through some disparate observations regarding how we deal with traumatic life events on social media, part general flailing around. Please bear with me. Or, you know, don’t.


Player vs. Game: Design, narrative, and power


Of all the games that comment on themselves – and it seems like there are more and more of those – I won’t say that The Stanley Parable is the best, but I definitely haven’t played another that made its intentions more blatantly clear or went for what it was after so aggressively. The Stanley Parable, originally a Half Life 2 mod, has a lot to say about games. But I think it also has a lot to say about everything.


It’s Complicated: Tone (and pettiness) in digital communication


comic by John Campbell

Once, many years ago, a friend and I Got Into It via a series of Livejournal comments.

Yes, you already know that this is going somewhere good.

I’ve long since forgotten what the It was about, though it was probably something exactly as silly as you’d expect. I don’t remember how it resolved itself; that friend and I are not friends anymore and haven’t spoken in nearly a decade, so I can’t ask them without things getting weird. What I do remember was one thing this friend said, which I’ve remembered as long as I have because it might be one of the single most ridiculous things anyone has ever said to me in any setting: I mentioned that I didn’t like their tone, and they responded, “there is no tone on the internet.”