Category Archives: commentary

BuzzFeed’s Halloween #RaceFail

“It’s okay, see? There’s a black guy in the picture with me!!”

After my annual in-class Race and Halloween conversation, one of my students sent me  this BuzzFeed link. Check it out, and then see below for commentary.


Technologies of Violence

Swedish Non-Violence Sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

Swedish Non-Violence Sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

As a social scientist and theorist of technology, I follow some general rules in my thoughts and writings. One such rule is that I make no claims about the nature of people or the nature of things. Below, I do both. I then put these rule-breaking claims to use in beginning to make sense of the Washington school shooting, in which a reportedly “popular” and “normal” 15 year old boy shot 5 classmates before killing himself.

I begin with two claims about human nature: (more…)

The Poorer Silence Now

image by Anna Piovani

image by Anna Piovani

I don’t remember exactly when I got into my first argument online. I don’t remember who I was fighting with or what it was about. I was probably angry. I don’t ever remember being afraid.


Hey Hun, can you stick those eggs in the freezer for a few?



Facebook and Apple are offering  women employees the opportunity to “lean in,” which is great…right?

Humans both make and use technologies. Because of this, technologies themselves are imbued with politics, and the way people employ technologies have political implications. Untangling what those politics are, is sometimes a tricky process, as technological potentialities in both design and use are multiple and sometimes contradictory. Such is the case with egg-freezing technologies and the offer from Apple and Facebook to cover this procedure for women employees.

Since their announcement—a clear response to criticisms over Silicon Valley’s disproportionately dude populated work force—commentators have tried to discern the political implications. While the move certainly offers an opportunity for women who want to delay childbirth, it also presents a pressure to do so. (more…)

Vibrant Data

This is a cross-post from Its Her Factory.


Is data “vibrant” in the new materialist sense? That is, does it exhibit the “agency” or power that living things have to affect other things? It may not materially vibrate in the way sound waves do, but in its interaction with other phenomena (especially other data), data does exhibit the liveliness new materialists attribute to all things. In fact, some data scientists use concepts of “vibrancy” to describe data’s post- and extra-human capacities to percieve, know, and act.

Intel Vibrant Data from Incubate Design on Vimeo.


Power to the Players: Games, meaning, humanity

Image by Ourania

Image by Ourania

Something that’s become a bit of a refrain for me here is stories matter – in one way or another I think it’s popped up in just about everything I’ve written about. I’m sure it can come off repetitive, but there’s a reason I keep flogging that particular horse: first, it’s one of the things I hold most deeply and personally true, and second, it’s surprising to me sometimes how many people don’t actually seem to grasp it. At least not in all the situations to which it applies.

I’ve been writing a lot about games recently, and a lot of people have been talking a lot about games. It’s one of those cultural moments. For a variety of reasons I’m not going to go into much more detail than that in this post, except to say that there are intense emotions wrapped up in games and those emotions are extremely apparent right now. Someone outside this particular subculture might be baffled regarding why people are feeling things so deeply about games.


Echoes of the iPod clickwheel in the BeatsMusic touch interface.

YouTube Preview Image

In an earlier post, I talked about Apple’s 86ing of the iPod Classic, the one with the clickwheel interface rather than the touchscreen interface. There was plenty of iPod nostalgia as news of the clickwheel iPod’s discontinuation spread, including this piece, which focuses on the aesthetics of the clickwheel as an interface.

Though the touchscreen is often seen as replacing the clickwheel, I think the clickwheel has influenced toucscreen music interfaces. As you can see in the video above, the BeatsMusic touch interface echoes the iPod clickwheel. Just as you use the iPod clickwheel to fast forward or rewind or jump around in a track (press the center key, then slide back or forward on the wheel to place the cursor on the track’s progress bar at the bottom of the screen), you use Beats’ circular touch interface to fastforward or rewind the currently-playing track. (Beats is owned by Apple, so this resonance isn’t surprising; however, I don’t know if the Beats touchscreen wheel was developed before they were acquired by Apple.) So, to paraphrase a line from L.A. Style’s “James Brown Is Dead,” maybe we shouldn’t be mislead when the newsman said the iPod clickwheel is dead?

You could argue that the Beats interface also echoes turntable interfaces…and that’s not wrong, but when I scroll around the circular wheel on my iPhone 5’s touch screen, that much more closely and directly echoes the iPod classic than it does a record turntable. In fact, I’d argue that the clickwheel itself echoes turntablism (has anyone written on this?), so the resonance with turntables is included in the Beats interface’s resonance with the iPod clickwheel.

Clearly the clickwheel has had a lasting impact on digital music interface design. Are there other examples, besides the BeatsMusic interface, that y’all can think of?

A Few Notes for STS on Big Data

In the 60s there was this flourishing of  _________Studies Departments across Western academe. Women’s Studies, Cultural Studies, American Studies, Urban Studies, African American Studies, and Science and Technology Studies set up shop in large Universities and small colleges and slowly but surely created robust intellectual communities of their own. These interdisciplinary fields of study sought to break apart centuries-old notions about the noun that came before “studies.” It was a radical idea for the social and behavioral sciences that now seems somewhat banal; focusing an entire department on a subject, rather than a method or tradition, allowed researchers to focus on pressing issues at the expense of traditional methodological barriers. One could easily argue that this approach produced some of the most influential academic and popular writing of the 20th century. The 21st century has seen an unfortunate decline in these institutions and the complex problems they sought to investigate and mitigate have come roaring back in uncanny ways. (more…)

Meanwhile, in Philosophy…

You may have heard that academic philosophy is in the middle of an identity crisis. The Philosophical Gourmet Report (aka the Leiter Report, after its founder Brian Leiter) has been central to English-language academic philosophy’s self-concept. It has defined what counts as good and/or real philosophy for nearly 20 years. But in the last few weeks the administration and the validity of the PGR has been called into question by the parts of the discipline that had, up till now, supported it. If you want to read up on the scandal and the ensuing debate, check out Leigh Johnson’s “Archive of the Meltdown.”

At the heart of the debate is whether ranking philosophy departments and programs is something we ought to do in the first place. For reasons articulated here and here, I don’t think ranking philosophy (or any discipline’s) programs is something we ought to do. Rankings actively discourage meaningful diversification of a very non-diverse discipline, and help reinforce existing inequities.

One thing that actively encourages meaningful diversification of philosophers and philosophical practices is PIKSI, the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute. This is a summer program for philosophy students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the discipline; the point is to given them the encouragement and tools they need to successfully apply to graduate school in philosophy, and thus help remedy the discipline’s “pipeline problem.”

However, though the American Philosophical Association has traditionally funded PIKSI, this year it chose not to. So, PIKSI’s organizers are running a crowdsourcing campaign. Herreticat from the XCPhilosophy blog does a great job explaining why you ought to donate to PIKSI:

The subject matter of PIKSI is also crucial to its success. By focusing on the relationship between lived experience and philosophical reflection, the institute emphasizes the importance of students bringing their own concerns and questions to the table. Many students remark that the institute is the first time they learn there are “philosophers like them” and that they could have a role to play in philosophy. It is often the first time students participate in seminar discussions about anti-racist and feminist philosophical work. The testimonials in the PIKSI video also demonstrate the importance of this approach.

If you are a first generation college student, PIKSI could entail learning about what going to graduate school even means. If you are a low income student, it might mean learning concrete details about graduate stipends and having conversations with people who understand what it is like to have to support your family while in grad school. It involves talking to other people who get it about what it is like to be the only queer person of color, or woman with a disability, or first generation college student, and how to find the community that will allow you to not just get through, but thrive. It gives you email addresses and phone numbers and support networks.

Here’s where to go to donate. I know most of Cyborgology’s readers aren’t academic philosophers, but you should still care about diversity in philosophy (a) if you care about ideas, and/or (b) if you care about social justice in general.

Accessibility in Higher Education: The TEACH Act


Pic via: The Accessible Icon Project

Let me start by saying, accessibility is a human rights issue, not an afterthought. Frankly, it’s an insult to people with disabilities that access is even a subject of debate. And yet…

The Technology, Equality, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (i.e., the TEACH Act) is currently under debate in congress. The legislation requires that technologies used in college classrooms be accessible to all students, including students with disabilities. It is entirely possible that you have not heard of the TEACH Act, but for those who it most affects—students with bodies that deviate from the norm—the stakes are quite high. The bill has some strong support, but also strong opposition, from surprising sources.   (more…)