Author Archives: whitneyerinboesel

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…)

The Introvert Fetish

I LOVE this. [Image credit: Schroeder Jones]

I LOVE this. [Image credit: Schroeder Jones]

Sometime during the spring of my seventh grade year, one of my best friends came to school with a book she’d pulled from her parents’ shelves called Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types. It had a long questionnaire in it that, after you answered all the A/B multiple-choice questions, sorted you across four different binaries (and thereby into one of 16 possible personality types). I forget whether it was after school or during a class (ooops), but she and I and another good friend eagerly took turns jotting down answers in our notebooks[i] and tabulating our scores.

We were three awkward, shy, 13-year-old girls; we were not, by any stretch of the imagination, “popular.” Surreptitiously read women’s magazines had taught us to seek self-knowledge through multiple-choice questions, while standardized tests had trained us to endure answering many multiple-choice questions in a row. The book’s subject matter promised to help us sort out everything that had perplexed us about interacting with others, and the title alone resonated with particular force. (more…)

Twitter Still Isn’t A Backchannel

asa-2013During the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (#ASA13) in New York this last week, I was reminded of the post that I wrote last year before #ASA2012 in which I encouraged tweeting academics to reach out to non-tweeting academics to bridge the gap between those who participate on the conference hashtags at ASA and those who don’t. Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) followed up with a post titled, “Twitter isn’t a Backchannel,” in which he made the point that the term “backchannel” perpetuates digital dualist ideas of what does and doesn’t count as “real” participation at a conference:

There is no “backchannel”, there is no more or less “real” way to exist within this atmosphere of information, yet we continue to hear that the Twitter distraction whisks people away from the “real” conference in favor of something separate and “virtual.” Each time we say “real” or “IRL” (“in real life”) to mean offline, we reify the digital dualist myth of a separate digital layer “out there” in some ‘cyber’ space. And when we call Twitter a “backchannel” to mean a separate conversation, running tangent to the offline conference in some space behind precious face-to-face exchanges, we continue to support this digital dualism. The implicit, and incorrect, assumption is that the on and offline are zero-sum, that being offline means being not online, and vice versa.

In the comments, I agreed that Nathan had a point: “backchannel” really isn’t a great term for what we-who-livetweet do when we tweet at a conference. But what, I asked, should we call this activity? (more…)