Photo credit: Rajiv Mehta
I’ve spent the last span of days trying to figure out what I want to say (first) about Quantified Self Europe 2013 (#qseu13), which took place in Amsterdam on 11 and 12 May. The conference spanned a truly amazing pair of days, both of which I spent furiously live-tweeting and paper-scribbling field notes as my jet-lagged brain threatened simultaneously to implode and to explode (in the best of all possible ways) on both an intellectual and a personal level. The Twitter-length post is easy: “Wow, #qseu13 was so awesome!” A few chapter-length essays would be easy as well, given enough time. A blog post, though…blog-length is hard.
For the sake of continuity, I’ll start this first post by picking up where I left off last week. On the first day of this year’s Quantified Self Europe, I hosted a breakout session [pdf] called, “The Missing Trackers,” in which I posed questions about who might be missing from the Quantified Self community, what we might learn about the Quantified Self community by looking at who’s missing from it, and whether those absences might be a problem. (more…)
Let’s play a guessing game: How far do you have to read before you can guess what I’m describing?
To begin, it’s both an organization and a group of people. It’s quite large; over a million people participate. They don’t all participate together, though; rather, they meet up regularly in much smaller groups, in cities all over the world. Participants are almost all doing some kind of self-tracking, which usually includes things about their bodies, their activities, what they eat, and sometimes how they feel. When the smaller groups get together, meetings include both presentations and time for participants to get advice from each other about their self-tracking projects.
If you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology (or someone I’ve talked to about my dissertation project), you might think I’m talking about Quantified Self—and that would not be an unreasonable guess. But in this case, the group I’ve described isn’t Quantified Self; it’s Weight Watchers International. (more…)
Does this phone make me seem like…less of a man?
When did mobile phones go from being symbols of status and power to being “emasculating”? Probably around the time they became easier to access than toilets are.
Sergey Brin, of course, would likely say that emasculation arrived with the touchscreen smartphone—when using a mobile phone became a matter of “standing around and just rubbing this featureless piece of glass” while looking down, instead of flexing one’s bicep to bark orders into a massive handset while staring straight ahead (or glaring at a subordinate). Real men don’t “stand around”; real men do stuff! Real men punch buttons with authority, and take decisive action! PJ Rey (@pjrey) and I may have argued that we express agency through our smartphones, but “rubbing”? Touching? That’s, like, girl stuff. Eeeeeeew.
Tongue-in-cheek riff aside, there’s more to Brin’s smartphone insecurity than may be apparent on the (glassy) surface. (more…)
(This is not the dive bar in question)
I’ve been thinking a lot over recent weeks about digital media, smartphones, and absence-vs.-presence, all of which was compounded by an interesting experience I had last weekend. On one particular night, 1:00 AM found me in a Lower East Side dive bar playing pinball with a friend from Brooklyn and a friend from D.C.; I was also chatting with a third friend (who was in D.C.) via text message and Snapchat between my pinball turns, and relaying parts of that conversation to our two mutual friends there with me in the bar. More people joined us shortly thereafter, madcap shenanigans ensued and, sometime around stupid o’clock in the morning, I started the drive back to where I was staying.
As I was getting up the next day, I recalled various scenes from the night before. One such scene was from the earlier end of being at the dive bar: Getting to hang out with three people I don’t see often was a nice surprise, and how neat was it that we’d all gotten to hang out together? A few seconds later, however, it hit me that my mental picture of that moment didn’t match my memory of it. What I remembered was being in the dive bar spending time with three friends, but I could only picture two friends lit by the flashing lights of so many pinball machines. I realized that Friend #3 had been so present to me through our digital conversation that my memory had spliced him into the dive bar scene as if he’d been physically co-present, even though he’d been more than 200 miles away.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this. On the one hand, yay: My subconscious isn’t digital dualist? (more…)
As I write this, it’s 5:00 PM on April 15th, 2013. From my window over Massachusetts Avenue (we call it “Mass Ave”) in Cambridge—which I have open to let in one of the first nice spring days of the year—I can hear waves of sirens from the emergency vehicles that are still moving in response to the two explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line that went off just before 3:00 PM. The Mass Ave bridge between Boston and Cambridge is reportedly closed; large shuttle buses are trying, awkwardly and uncertainly, to make the turn off of Mass Ave onto one of my cross streets. The flags at both Cambridge City Hall and the Cambridge Post Office are still flying high, but I imagine they’ll be at half mast by the time you read this tomorrow. Even tomorrow, this intentional tragedy will still be very recent, very fresh, and very raw.
I’m sad in ways I can’t fully identify or explain, grateful that (so far as I know) everyone I care for here is okay, and—as I said on Twitter—longing for that time in the recent past when all the bombs (“bombs”) in Boston were actually stupid light-up LED pictures of cartoon characters. Somewhere in my disorganized thoughts, I’m also struck by the many ways that both people and institutions are using digital social technologies in response to this attack, and I’m going to try to get a few of those thoughts down here. In particular, I want to focus on the “vine” (short looping video) of one of the explosions that spread throughout my Twitter feed within an hour of the carnage at the finish line. (more…)
If you haven’t yet noticed (you’ve probably noticed), Facebook likes to appropriate features from competing apps and platforms. You can credit the demise of the old “[Name] is…” status update prompt, for instance, to the rise of Twitter. You may also recognize the “share” feature on your friends’ status updates from Tumblr; the place check-ins from Foursquare; the friend “lists” from Google+; the photo albums from Flickr (or any other photo sharing site); the photo filters from Instagram (back before Facebook bought Instagram outright); the vanishing images of Poke (that’s a newer Facebook app, not the older Facebook feature) from Snapchat; the “Music” app from Myspace (new or old); or even the “Work and Education” profile field from LinkedIn. Yes, that’s right: voracious media amoeba that it is, Facebook has even engulfed some of LinkedIn. Icky.
Yet in its seeming quest to digest and regurgitate elements from every digital social technology ever, Facebook most recently appropriated features not from a competing platform or app, but from the pre-Web-2.0 ‘sharing’ stalwart LiveJournal[i]. Remember the “Current Mood” field, and the various “Mood Theme” icons you could use to answer when you weren’t feeling up to free response? If you don’t already, you’ll soon have something similar in a new field on your Facebook status update prompt. Go into that new field and select “feeling,” and you’ll get to answer “How are you feeling?” with one of roughly 200 preset emoji/emotion combinations like it’s 2001 all over again. Your profile will then show something like the image above.
There are some significant differences between LiveJournal’s “Current Mood” field and Facebook’s new “feeling” icons, however, and these differences get at the heart of why—potentially cute/annoying emoji notwithstanding—talking about your emotions with the new Facebook feature is very different from talking about your emotions on LiveJournal. (more…)
Digital dualism is pervasive, and the understandings that it informs—of ourselves, of our experiences, and of our very world—are a mess. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the fact that digital dualism arises from varying sets of flawed assumptions, and was never purposefully assembled as such by the people who embrace it. But guess what? As theorists, we have the opportunity not only to build new frameworks for understanding, but also to assemble those frameworks with both consciousness and intentionality. So with that in mind, what should a theory of augmented reality look like? What would we do differently from digital dualists?
It is of paramount importance that theories of augmented reality acknowledge complexities and differences—whether between materials, media, degrees of access, or subjective experiences—without falling into dualisms. (more…)
Photo credit: Evan Ludes
Last week, I started a somewhat ridiculously ambitious post wherein, by way of making a whole bunch of points I’ve been wanting to make anyway, I intended to push us all toward strengthening and clarifying our ideas around both digital dualism and augmented reality. In light of some really excellent work by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), PJ Rey (@pjrey), and Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford), in addition to some old-fashioned conversation on these topics with PJ and Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson), I’m now going to change course a bit. In this middle installment, I’m going to revisit the three problematic dualisms of digital dualism (Atoms/Bits, Physical/Digital, and Offline/Online), take up the two recent major critiques of the digital dualism framework, advance a few provocations in the service of breaking dualisms and promoting clarity, and then finally conclude for this week with a preview of this essay’s final destination.
Alright, pop quiz: Is there a reality outside of human experiences? Please circle YES or NO.
Chances are you find this question either very silly or very complicated, possibly both. But I argue that this question is actually lurking in the background of much this month’s earlier digital dualism debate, and that giving it some attention straightens a lot of things out—especially the compelling (but ultimately incorrect, I argue) charge that augmented reality is itself a dualist framing.
To illustrate why this question matters, consider the following fictional (but not entirely unlikely) scenario, in which I either am or am not a jerk:
If you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology, chances are good that you caught the most recent “brouLOL” (yes, that’s like a 21st century brouhaha) over digital dualism and augmented reality. If you’re a careful reader of Cyborgology, chances are good you also caught (at least) one glaring omission in much of the writing featured in this wave of commentary. What was missing?
Ladies, gentlemen, and cyborgs, allow me to (re)introduce you to Jenny Davis (@Jup83) and Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry)—oh yeah, and my name’s Whitney Erin Boesel (I’m @phenatypical). None of us identify as men, and all of us have written about digital dualism. In fact, you may have seen our work referenced recently under some collective noms de plume: “the other digital dualism denialists,” “others on this blog,” “others,” “other Cyborgologists,” “other regular contributors,” etc. If you’re a crotchety sociologist with a penchant for picking apart language (ahem: guilty), it doesn’t get much better than this. During the conversation earlier this month, the named and cited Cyborgologists were (almost) always men—while Jenny, Sarah, and I were referenced obliquely (at best) in an unnamed “other” category. (more…)