Category Archives: commentary

“The Cuckoo”: Chaos and performative memes

Laughing_Fool

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.

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On Pharrell’s “Happy”

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I find Pharrell’s massive hit “Happy” really, really irritating. And, for that reason, I love it. In the same way that The Sex Pistols were Malcolm McLaren’s massive joke on us, this song is, I think, Pharrell’s attempt to pull a fast one on the economy of viral “upworthiness”–an economy that, as David has shown, is really racist.

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#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.

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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 Archive.org 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.

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#TtW14 Panel Preview: a/s/l

Panel Preview

Presider: Alice Marwick (@alicetiara)

Hashmod: Allison Bennett (@bennett_alison)

This is the first in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled a/s/l.

Though presenting empirically and theoretically distinct works, the panelists of a/s/l are connected by their keen interests in identity. In particular, each work addresses—in its own way—the mutually constitutive relationship between identities and technologies. Furthermore, each paper is structurally situated, couching discussions of identity within frameworks of power in which certain voices, bodies, and desires take precedence over others, and in which technologies are both a means of struggle against, and reinforcement of, these power relations.

Check out the abstracts below: (more…)

Democracy comes to Mozilla

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Last week Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, had to step down amid backlash from his fellow board members, Silicon Valley elites, and the public at large for his $1,000 donation to supporters of California’s Prop 8 anti-marriage equality bill. In the grand scheme of things, a $1000 contribution from a guy that is I-invented-JavaScript-wealthy to a $38.7 million campaign, probably didn’t change much. But the headlines were never about Eich secretly bankrolling Prop 8; it’s been about what kind of person should be allowed to lead the best-known open-source organization that makes the third-most-installed browser on the planet.

There’s lots of people who say that even if you disagree with Eich, this shouldn’t be grounds for him to step down because his beliefs have no bearing on how you build a browser. I deeply disagree, and it isn’t a matter of ideological opposition, but of observable fact: technology always has a bit of its creator in it and technology is never politically neutral. Moreover, I don’t think, as many have claimed, that Eich’s departure was a failure of democracy. In fact I see it as a leading indicator for the free software community’s maturing legal and political knowledge. (more…)

ZunZuneo: A Tale of Failed Transparency and Gross Surveillance

ZunZuneo was named for the slang term used to describe a Cuban Hummingbird’s tweet

The Internet seems both excited and generally confused by the U.S. government’s failed entre into Cuban Social media via its version of a bare-bones Twitter, called ZunZuneo. The confusion is not unwarranted, as the operation includes the United States government, two separate for-profit contractors, (and eventually, a management team who didn’t know they were part of an International government sponsored ruse), key players and various bases of operation which span the globe, from Spain to the UK to the Cayman Islands and Nicaragua, and, of course, tens of thousands of Cuban citizens who gratefully began using a new mysterious messaging service that made instantaneous text-based mobile communications financially accessible in 2010, and then inexplicably disappeared in September 2012.

This long form article from the Washington Post does a nice job disentangling the ins and outs of the story, based on documents leaked to the Associated Press. I highly suggest you take the time to read the piece, but in very short summation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) collaborated with Creative Associates and eventually, Mobile Accord, to distribute a Twitter-like service (ZunZeneo) to Cuban citizens, with the hope of eventually utilizing the service to incite political mobilization against communist regimes. Mostly, though, the operation never went beyond gaining users through shared news stories and sports commentary. They ran out of money in 2012, Cuban users lost the service, and no revolutions were incited. It’s all general buffoon-like and harmless (except, of course, for all of the money), begging for cynical commentary and smart jokes about a deeply ineffective U.S. government. Except, something very serious happened in the process, something that should make us all—both Cubans and Americans—pretty ticked off. (more…)

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.

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Why Facebook’s Acquisition of Oculus Still Seems Unfair

Last week, The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries (@adrjeffries) asked a really provocative titular question: “If you back a Kickstarter Project that sells for $2 billion, do you deserve to get rich?” After interviewing venture capitalists and the like she concludes that the answer isn’t even “no” it’s “that’s ridiculous.” After speaking to Spark Capital’s Mo Koyfman Jeffries writes, “Oculus raised money on Kickstarter because it wanted to see if people wanted and would buy the product, and whether developers wanted it and would build games for it. The wildly successful campaign validated that premise, and made it much easier for Oculus to raise money from venture capitalists.”

Kickstarter’s biggest innovation is its ability to cut two time-consuming tasks –market research and startup funds– down to a 90 day fundraising window. Companies that choose to use Kickstarter usually aren’t ready to offer equity because that comes after the two steps that Kickstarter is so useful in accelerating. Or, perhaps more honestly, companies opt to use Kickstarter precisely because they want to avoid selling off shares of their company as much as possible. Jeffries gives us a good financial and legal (juridical, if we want to be Foucauldian about it) but that seems like a wholly unfulfilling argument for someone who spent $25 on an Oculus-branded t-shirt. Let’s forget for a moment about what’s legal and normal –those things are rarely moral or fair– and start to compare what happens on Kickstarter to similar (and much older) social arrangements. To start, let’s go way back to the early 1990s. (more…)

Human After All?: a bit on Beats

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Beats Music is the first streaming service that may make me cease regular use of my full-to-the-brim 80 gig iPod classic. I use that dinosaur because I am really picky about my music–by which I mean, I know exactly what I want to listen to, and I want to have easy access when and wherever I may be in the mood to listen to, well, anything from Nicki Minaj to Nitzer Ebb, which are right next to one another in my iPod “Artists” list. I love crass, stupid pop music (“Timber,” anyone?), so it’s not that I’m a snob who wants to have what I think are my elite tastes reaffirmed–I just want to have reliable access to what I do actually like without having to wade through crap I don’t.

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