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…)
I’m trained – in part – as a historical sociologist, focusing especially on periods of political upheaval, but I don’t have a whole lot of occasion to make use of it at the moment. However, when working on the proposal for my dissertation this past month – which will be on Occupy, emotion, and technology – there emerged an argument that isn’t directly related to my primary thesis but which I like. Not least because I think it’s useful, and it touched on an area that we don’t cover enough in our discussions about what augmented reality really means for how we do different kinds of analysis. We usually talk about augmented reality in terms of a conceptual framework to be applied in the present and into the future, but as I’ve argued before, it’s also useful for how we look at the past and what the past suggests about the present and future. It has temporal applications that are actually quite broad. I think there’s a possibility of being a kind of augmented historian.
From Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project
Last week, Hailey Morris-Cafiero, a photographer and college professor, wrote an article for Salon.com about an ongoing project, five years in the making. Morris-Cafiero’s project is to document those who mock her because of her body size. She selects a public venue, sets up a camera in full view, and has her assistant snap photos as Morris-Cafiero engages in the world under the derisional gaze of fatphobic publics. One image shows a teenage girl slapping her own belly while intently staring at Morris-Cafiero eating gelato on a sidewalk in Barcelona; another shows two police officers laughing, as one stands behind her holding his hat above her head; a third shows her sitting on bleachers in Times Square, a man a few rows back openly laughing at her as his picture is taken. The project is called “Wait Watchers.” (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…)
Facebook and Twitter, like any other form of communication, can be used to forge solidarity. As philosopher Richard Rorty reminds us in Method, Social Science, and Social Hope, one of the boundless powers of the humanities and of storytelling—novels, journalism, ethnographies, photography, documentaries—is to grow our imaginations so that the norms which would exclude foreigners, or the poor, or minorities, are replaced with a solidarity against suffering. In stories like Native Son, The Diary of Anne Frank and Brokeback Mountain, the cruelties of those who are not familiar to us are described in astonishing, bright detail. The humans who populate Dirty Pretty Things, Sin Nombre and How to Survive A Plague become less distant, more familiar. Through imagination, their suffering becomes ours. In many instances, networked media facilitate this kind of sensitivity building, this form of democratic attunement. But under the ceaseless pressure of shareability and virality, tragedy on social media often resembles disaster porn: a ghastly vine, a sappy post, attention seeking hashtags, confusing the spread of symbolic images for enduring political achievement.
That grief is best endured in groups was not lost on those involved in the Boston Marathon or to those who experienced it through networked media. (more…)
The very fact that your eyes rolled (just a little bit) at the title tells you that it is absolutely true. So true its obnoxious to proclaim it. Perhaps cable news died when CNN made a hologram of Jessica Yeller and beamed her into the “Situation Room” just to talk horse race bullshit during the 2008 election. Or maybe it was as far back as 2004 when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and shattered the fourth wall by excoriating the dual hosts for destroying public discourse. The beginning of the end might be hard to pinpoint, but the end is certainly coming. Fox News had its lowest ratings since 2001 this year, but still has more viewers than CNN & MSNBCNEWSWHATEVERITSCALLEDNOW combined. Even if ratings weren’t a problem, credibility certainly is. Imagine if CNN stopped calling themselves the “Most Trusted Name In News” and used the more accurate, “A Little Over Half of Our Viewers Think We’re Believable.” By now it is clear that the zombified talking heads of cable news are either bought and sold, or just irrelevant. Cable news channels’ hulking, telepresent bodies have been run through and left to rot on the cynical barbs of political bloggers and just about anyone at a comedy shop’s open-mic night. This last series of screw-ups in Boston (here, here, here and unless it was avant-garde electronic literature, here) begs the question if cable news channels can even tell us what’s going on anymore. Cable news is dead, but something keeps animating the corpse. (more…)
Are human genes patentable? At the beginning of this week, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard arguments to answer just that question. Specifically, the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics, Inc. wants to defend their patent on the isolation of BRAC1 and BRAC2—two genes related to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Such a patent grants the company 20 years of monopoly control over the genes for research, diagnostic, and treatment purposes. A group of medical professionals, scientists, and patients are challenging the patent.
The criteria for a medical patent are such that while tools, medications, laboratory produced chemicals etc. can be patented, “Nature” cannot be patented. That which is patented must therefore be created, not merely discovered (regardless of how costly or effortful the discovery). Opponents of the BRAC patent often evoke Jonas Salk, who famously said in response to the potential patent of his Polio Vaccine: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” (more…)
There’s something surreal about Vine. There’s something surreal about repetition, about the quality of looping. Short loops are the halfway point between still image and image in motion; they are also the spaces in which the distinction between the two breaks down. Watch a vine and watch shards, fragments of time yanked out of time and endlessly circling back on themselves, an aesthetic Ouroboros. The bland and innocuous: food, laughing friends, concerts, cats doing stupid things. People doing stupid things. You know, stuff. On endless repeat.
Explosions on endless repeat.
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…)
I won’t link to this essay.
We did it! According to the Editors* of n+1, Sociology—in fact, the underdog coming from behind, Critical Sociology—has won the cultural debate. Critical thinking about power and how it constructs individuals is now universally applied. The bad news is that critical thinking about power hasn’t solved inequalities, and therefore we have “Too Much Sociology.” The Editors of n+1 fail to understand their topic, fail to cite accurately, and, fundamentally, have written a piece that is logically flawed from even its own position.
There are many good reasons to dismiss this essay, but let’s first skip over the most inaccurate parts to explain why the essay does not even make sense on its own terms. There is a good argument that Bourdieusian theorizing can be used for regressive ends. But: that is a Critical Sociology argument! Interrogating exactly how an episteme can be co-opted, even by that of which it is critical, is what critical sociology does. The article uses critical sociology as its method, as its logic, in order to conclude—against its own logic—against doing critical sociology. Hilariously, the essay is a work of critical sociology about critical sociology that is critical of critical sociology. (more…)