Author Archives: whitneyerinboesel

Indecent Exposure: Breasts as Data, Data as Breasts

Earlier this week, I became aware of an art piece called “x.pose,” which is intended to make a statement about the data exhaust we generate and what large companies may or may not be doing with it. x.pose is a collaboration between two artists, and the first paragraph in a description of it on one of their websites reads as follows:

x.pose is a wearable data-driven sculpture that exposes a person’s skin as a real-time reflection of the data that the wearer is producing. In the physical realm we can deliberately control which portions our bodies are exposed to the world by covering it with clothing. In the digital realm, we have much less control of what personal aspects we share with the services that connect us. In the digital realm we are naked and vulnerable.

First, yes: digital dualism. I’ll set that point aside and come back to it later. Right now, I want to focus in on that first sentence, particularly where it says “exposes a person’s skin.” A person—sure, that could be any of us.[i] The sculpture exposes “skin” belonging to a person, a wearer. Data exposure is like bodily exposure. That’s not gendered, right?

Actually, it’s quite gendered. While x.pose draws attention to some important issues, it also starts from a number of problematic assumptions and reinforces some of the most sexist and patriarchal strains of privacy critique. Just in case you had any doubt, here’s what the piece looks like:

Newsflash: We can’t all wear that.


(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Net Neutrality

on-every-internetI was working recently on a short essay about net neutrality and, in the process, ended up writing a much longer piece about net neutrality. My aim in writing that longer piece (below) was twofold: I wanted both to demonstrate that net neutrality isn’t too technical and complicated for normal people to understand, and also to trace out how a trio of closely related issues—net neutrality rules, regulatory classifications, and the push to convert all voice traffic to digital—fit together, as well as what their combination might mean for the so-called “open Internet.”

SPOILER: You need to pressure the FCC to adopt strong net neutrality rules, and then you need to do a bunch of other stuff. Net neutrality isn’t enough, and neither Big Telecom nor Big Digital is talking about the pieces that will have the greatest (and most unequal) impact on Internet users.

Without further ado, here’s my attempt at a guided tour through roughly 18 years of Internet-related regulatory history:


Augmented (Im)mortality

antigone-july2013There’s a song from the musical Avenue Q that famously proclaims, “The Internet is For Porn”—but really, anyone who’s been paying attention to the post-“Web 2.0” era knows that isn’t true.

These days, the Internet is for cats.

Furthermore, I propose this corollary: Smartphones are for documenting cats. Whether through T. gondii or through their unrivaled documentability, cats actually rule the world. Cat people know this, and anyone who’s ever spent time with cats knows that cats know this. Rewrite the song: The Internet is For Cats.

My cat, however, is not a fan of the Internet. (more…)

#recap: Defending an Unowned Internet

(Photo credit: John Eckman)

(Photo credit: John Eckman)

If you follow me on Twitter, you almost certainly know of my propensity to livetweet the talks I attend (which is either the best or the worst thing about following me on Twitter, depending on your interests and whether or not you know how to use hashtag muting). In the spirit of Cyborgology‘s new #review feature, which looks at conversations surrounding academic articles, I thought I’d try summarizing my tweets from the talk I attended last night: “Defending an Unowned Internet” at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Defending an Unowned Internet” was a spirited conversation between Yochai Benkler, Ebele Okobi, Bruce Schneier, and Benjamin Wittes, plus moderator Johnathan Zittrain (you can find links to bios for all five participants here). Zittrain opened the panel by suggesting that what, exactly, an “unowned Internet” is was up for debate, and also used Wittes’s blog Lawfare in a cautionary tale: Someone(s) out there really, really doesn’t like Lawfare, which has experienced several outages in recent months as a result of “cyberattacks.” Lawfare‘s hosting service has done everything it can to keep Lawfare up and running, but beyond determining that the attacks are coming from IP addresses in the Netherlands, there isn’t much to be done.

Zittrain, therefore, posed the following question: What if this type of attack on speech meant that, in the future, everyone would move their web content to one of four major web hosting services—say, behemoths like Amazon Web Services—which are harder to overwhelm with DoS or DDoS attacks? (more…)

Death and Mediation


Hello, Cyborgology…it’s been a while. I’ve missed you, but I haven’t quite known what to say. Which is weird, right? Strangely enough, I’ve got half a dozen half-finished posts on my computer—twenty-thousand someodd words of awkward silence waiting to be wrapped up and brought into the world.

Writer’s block happens to the best of us, or so I’m told. What’s been strange for me is looking back and realizing that the last thing I posted was my piece from the beginning of #ir14, the 14th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. I say “strange” because I had an amazing experience at #ir14, and left it feeling so excited about my field and my work and what I imagine to be possible. And yet, in the two months since, something’s been off. I’ve managed to submit to a couple of important abstracts, and I continued sitting in on a really cool seminar, and I’ve plunged into the work of helping to organize this year’s Theorizing the Web (a conference about which I’m passionate, to say the least). But my words went somewhere, have been gone.

I realized recently, however, that it’s not about some kind of post-#ir14 crash. It’s actually about what happened after.


Resistance + Appropriation, + More Appropriation

The words you use to reference that fish matter.

The words you use to reference that fish matter.

This is just a very, very quick post, as I am presently in the thick of #ir14—the 14th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). It’s my first time at IR, and so far I’m really enjoying it. The keynote, preconference workshops, plenaries, and sessions I’ve attended have been great, and the hashtag-stream quality is high (there are some talented livetweeters here, and plenty of hashtag socialization too). Since it’s not a disciplinary conference, everyone is here because they really want to be here—which you can feel in the general atmosphere, and which makes such a difference. From my barely-informed new member perspective, it really does seem as though AoIR has managed to roll a thought-provoking academic conference and a fun reunion party into one four-day long event (which, as a Theorizing the Web committee member, is obviously a project near and dear to my heart).

TL;DR: #ir14, I love you. And I’m bringing attention to the following critique not to be a jerk, but because I think you’re great and I know you—we—can do better.  (more…)

By Whom, For Whom? Science, Startups, and Quantified Self

#qs13 took place in San Francisco's Presidio. Image credit: Whitney Erin Boesel

#qs13 took place in San Francisco’s Presidio. Image credit: Whitney Erin Boesel

It’s almost a week now since I attended the 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference in San Francisco, and I’m still not sure where to begin with my summary of the event itself. Instead of jumping in with an overview, this time I’ll cover my own session—in which what started out as asking how researchers studying Quantified Self could better connect with each other became an (at times) intense debate about what Quantified Self is, what Quantified Self should be, and what role (if any) academic or institutional research and researchers should have within the Quantified Self community.


Return of the Quantrepreneurs

Image credit: Charles O'Rear

Image credit: Charles O’Rear

It’s fall again—that time of year when the days shorten, the air turns crisp (at least in New England), and a young researcher’s mind turns to two things: 1) pumpkin beer, and 2) the Bay Area edition of the annual Quantified Self conference (which now goes by Quantified Self Global).

If that’s not where your mind turns, I guess that’s understandable: pumpkin beer isn’t for everyone, and this is only the second time Quantified Self Global has happened in the fall; QS2011, the very first Quantified Self conference, happened in the spring. Be that as it may, I’ve been thinking about QS13 for a while now, and—since I just realized I get on a plane to California a week from Monday—I thought I’d write about it. More specifically, I’m going to revisit my wrap-up post from Quantified Self Europe 2013 (QSEU13) last May, wander through some musings on individualism and Bay Area culture, consider some recent developments in the Boston QS community, and end with some speculation about what I might find in San Francisco next month.


The Spotification Diaries


You choose the routes, but Spotify builds the roads.

A little more than a year ago, I wrote on Cyborgology about how I refused to join the Social music service Spotify. A little less than a year ago, I wrote an expanded version of that essay for The New Inquiry (TNI). In between those two essays, a funny thing happened:

Yeah, I joined Spotify.

I swear to you though, it wasn’t my fault (“fault”). (more…)

Sextual Healing

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 4.42.41 PM

One of these days I’ll find something to cite on the topic of Early Internet Adolescence that isn’t my own experience, but here goes: I like to joke that the Internet and I went through puberty at about the same time. As a result, I spent my teenage years on the cusp of being what we now think of as “connected”—I journaled on paper but wrote poetry on computers (also napkins); I wrote letter-length notes during class but sent email during my free periods; in general, I communicated with friends and family (as well as myself) through an array of both analog and digital media. Though sometimes I hung out talking to strangers in AOL chat rooms (especially before I had friends who, like me, didn’t have a curfew), my digitally mediated interactions were a lot like my telephone-mediated interactions in that they occurred primarily with people I already knew from in-person contexts.

Digitally mediated interaction was new and exciting (especially to a shy kid who already fancied herself a writer), but from the very beginning, it was just another piece of the life I was already living. It didn’t make me a new or different person (in contrast, sometimes I felt more free to be myself via email), and nor did my friends interact with me through chat or email in ways that were incongruous with the ways they interacted with me in person. So what were those interactions like, especially as my friends and I tried to navigate the complicated social- and emotional politics of attraction in the context of a small high school? This was back in the pre-SMS era, mind you, so to hear The Today Show’s Matt Lauer tell it last month, I should have been receiving graceful, articulate, hand-written notes from classmates who fancied me, and perhaps responding with notes of my own if the fledgling twitterpation was mutual.

Oddly enough, this is not what I remember happening.  (more…)