Category Archives: commentary

Writing as an exclusive aesthetic (it is)

image courtesy of matsuyuki

image courtesy of matsuyuki

I was doing a post on writing for my author blog, and I wanted an image for it, so off to the Flickr Creative Commons search I went. I searched the “writing’ keyword. Almost all of what I got back was some version of the above. Almost all of the rest of it was just random stuff. There were a few shots of laptops or computers but they nearly always also prominantly included notebooks and pens/pencils. Do a Google image search for “writing” and you get the same damn thing. All very attractive photos of pens and hands and often lovely, swooping script.

I do not write that way.

I can’t write that way.

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Theorizing Affordances

Affordances

There’s a tricky balancing act to play when thinking about the relative influence of technological artifacts and the humans who create and use these artifacts. It’s all too easy to blame technologies or alternatively, discount their shaping effects.

Both Marshall McLuhan and Actor Network Theorists (ANT) insist on the efficaciousness of technological objects. These objects do things, and as researchers, we should take those things seriously. In response to the popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” ANT scholar Bruno Latour famously retorts:

It is neither people nor guns that kill. Responsibility for action must be shared among the various actants

From this perspective, failing to take seriously the active role of technological artifacts, assuming instead that everything hinges on human practice, is to risk entrapment by those artifacts that push us in ways we cannot understand or recognize. Speaking of media technologies, McLuhan warns:

Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users.   

This, they get right. Technology is not merely a tool of human agency, but pushes, guides, and sometimes traps users in significant ways. And yet both McLuhan and ANT have been justly criticized as deterministic. Technologies may shape those who use them, but humans created these artifacts, and humans can—and do— work around them.   (more…)

The Conspicuous Absence of Solidarity

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

My small city of Troy, New York is drawing up a new comprehensive plan. Lots of towns and even universities do this from time to time as a way of coordinating and re-aligning the institutions and organizations into some kind of general direction. These sorts of moments encourage individuals to be reflective as well as divisive. There’s a lot at stake (or at least it feels that way) and people feel the need to protect what they see as threatened by change, or go on the offensive and try to root out what they see as a long-standing problem. More than anything, these sorts of comprehensive planning efforts force us to confront our everyday lives as a set of conditions and decisions that exist outside of our control but are ultimately steerable if enough political will can be leveraged, if enough organizing around a particular issue gets done. Last night, a wide variety of people came together to discuss what they thought was working and what was needed attention in our city. (more…)

#Hashtag Liberation

Official Promotional Poster for the Talk

Official Promotional Poster for the Talk

Jasmine Rand, lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family, came and spoke at my university last week. I held my breath as she walked out on stage. She began with the emotional announcement that we were on the eve of what would have been Trayvon’s 20th birthday. Along with a crowd full of students, professors, staff, and members of the community, I settled on the edge of my seat and listened eagerly for what this woman, in this moment of racial upheaval, had to say.  As I tweeted just before the talk: this was a big deal.

Rand2 (more…)

The Keurig coffee DRM thing: Yeah, that didn’t go so well

image credit: KeurigHack

image credit: KeurigHack. also, wow, even the machine talks to you like a jerk

A quick update regarding Keurig instituting the coffee maker form of Digital Rights Management in their products: Not so great for Keurig.

“It is a HUGE SHAME that the company decided to remove the ability to use your own coffee grounds in the home brew k-cup. …They should have just said we made these changes so our products would sell more so we could make a bigger profit,” reads a typical review. “They took a potentially killer machine and added horrible DRM – a rights management system, in the greedy attempt to get all other coffee pod manufacturers to pay them so their pods work,” reads another of the hundreds of one-star reviews. Many lamented the ability to give no stars. If you Google “Keurig 2.0,” the first thing that autocompletes is “hack.”

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The Tyranny of Small Town Internet

The Albany New York Town Hall

The Albany New York Town Hall

 

It is certainly good news that the Obama Administration has come out strong for net neutrality. The President recently made an announcement that his office would help promote local broadband competition as part of a broader effort to improve the country’s data infrastructure. More specifically, the federal government plans to help municipalities develop their own data networks, fight state laws that prevent municipal governments from offering public broadband options, and help small businesses compete in local markets with companies like Verizon and Time Warner. The chairman of the FCC followed suit by announcing (in WIRED Magazine…?) yesterday that he would be circulating a proposal to apply Title II to telecom companies and mobile phone carriers, effectively making it illegal to throttle connections based on what sorts of services you are connecting to. This is all good news but I’m also hesitant to trust local authorities with my internet connection. Aren’t these the same governments that defend murderous police forces and cooperated with the federal government to shut down political dissent? Why should these organizations control the network? While I am definitely not a fan of huge telecom corporations, I don’t trust my local government either.  (more…)

pplkpr: Creating a Data-Us

pplkpr

We’ve all been there. Sweaty palms, racing heart, left eye that winks at involuntary intervals. You’re emotionally fraught and having a physiological response. It could be an upcoming exam, a big presentation, or that one friend who can’t stop telling you about their fantastic job/spouse/kids/new shoes while wondering out loud how you manage living in such messy quarters.

Our bodies are key sources of information and guidance. Bodied reactions, coupled with culturally situated reflexive analyses, help us make sense of day-to-day events and make behavioral decisions. Feel like you’re going to vomit every time that colleague stops by your office? Maybe they’re toxic. Maybe you’re in love. The bodily response prompts you to do something, and how you interpret that response tells you what that something is. (more…)

Poetweet: Tiny Meanings in Large Coherence

la-et-jc-poetweet-a-website-that-turns-tweets-into-poetry-20150126

Quiet, please, for Art.

ACTUAL BEST
by Sunny Moraine

Fabulously awesome, congratulations
That wouldn’t be weird, right?
Put up with for a lot of reasons

Me. It also still has no title.
I may be able to help you out
Gorgeous. Sorta choked up a little.

Might fly better if it has a name.

Dudes are just not even human.

When I decided to try to throw something together about Poetweet it went without saying that I’d have to see what it scraped together out of me (note the “me”; I used that word without thinking about it and we’ll return to that shortly). And of course, looking at it, I’m making instinctive sense of it. I recognize those as my words, and arranged in that fashion they do indeed seem to make a kind of sense. Further, it’s a pleasurable kind of sense – doofy, a little ridiculous, a little nonsensical in spite of itself, but I read and I (granted the bias) am all like hey, I kinda like that person.

Which is actually somewhat remarkable considering how difficult it can be to like oneself.

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Yikkity Yak, Please Talk Back

silhouette of a man standing alone.

“Have you been on Yik Yak?”

My graduate student friends can attest to the fact that I ask this question of almost everyone at some point. Sometimes more than once, like when you’re excited about something and can’t help but tell the story over and over again to the same audience. Annoying, I know, and I’m sorry to all my friends.

But it’s just because I find Yik Yak absolutely fascinating. I’m drawn to it because, for at least some users, it serves as a sort of technologically cultivated hive-mind therapy session. For the uninitiated, Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app available on Android or iOS mobile devices. Users can post, vote on, and publicly reply to “yaks.” Users collect “Yakarma” based on how many votes their yaks receive and how often they vote on other yaks. Once a post receives more than five down votes it is removed. Rather than following other users or adding friends, Yik Yak shows posts from others within a ten-mile radius of your location, so when you visit the Yik Yak stream you are seeing the anonymous posts of other users in your area. As such, it is particularly popular among college students—a place to gripe about classes you hate, snoring roommates, bad cafeteria food, and attractive people that won’t give you the time of day. Of course, it’s also a place for inside jokes and celebrating particularly rowdy parties, but to be frank, there’s a lot of complaining. (more…)

Higher Education’s Credentializing Trend

Barack Obama

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a radical shift in the structure of education at the national level. With a tone of idealism, he set forth the intention to provide all students in good standing two free years of community college. In response to this highly anticipated announcement, half of the room stood in applause, while the other half sat firmly in their seats. Unsurprisingly, standers and sitters divided along party lines, with democrats welcoming the proposal and republicans opposed.

In theory (and in general) I’m with the standers on this issue. In practice, the issue is complicated and I have some deep concerns— concerns that stem from troubling trends within higher education. If I had to locate myself among the split-level congressional crowd, I would be out of my seat, but remain in an awkward and uncomfortable squat. (more…)