Category Archives: commentary

The Quantified DJ Set: Work Hard, Play Hard

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DJs need to know how to mix records, sure, but even the best mixer will tank if they don’t know how to read a crowd. You have to know what kinds of songs keep your crowd dancing, and what kinds of songs send them to the bar or the bathroom. Usually this involves a combination of prior knowledge (of the venue, of who you’re opening for, the night’s theme, etc.) and actual observation of the crowd–do they look and sound like they’re into it?

Lightwave is a platform that uses WiFi enabled wristbands to track and transmit biometric data–their temperature, heartrate, and the volume of sound they hear–from individual crowdmembers to a program that analyzes and visualizes that data. Lightwave visualizes audience responses to…well, that’s one of the questions I have here: what experience is it visualizing? Is it the DJ performance? The clubbing itself? Both? It seems absolutely incorrect to say that Lightwave visualizes audience responses to music. Clubbling is a social and interactive experience, and music is just one factor in the mix, so to speak. When you’re dancing, you’re responding to other people around you, to the overall ‘vibe’ of the crowd–this is what makes it more fun than dancing to the same records alone at your house.

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What the EPA’s Kardashian Tweet Says About Affective Labor

Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The Tweet was one of those automatically generated ones meant to announce progress in a game or the unlocking of an achievement. Its easy to imagine the scenario: an over-worked or deeply bored social media manager didn’t realize they were signed into their work account instead of their personal one and let the tweet go. Or maybe a family member borrowed their work phone. Who knows? What we do know is that the tweet immediately garnered thousands of retweets and countless more screenshots were shared on other platforms. Why is this even remotely funny? What sorts of publicly held believes does it reveal? (more…)

The Other Little Blue Pill

Pharmaceutical drugs do an array of things to the body. They can affect mood, energy, blood flow, experiences of pain, and capacities for pleasure.  Their increasing prevalence in the marketplace and home medicine cabinets suggests an addition to the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’ Today, we are also what we take.

But embedded within cultural realities,  pharmaceuticals do not simply do things to the body. Rather, they are the conduits through which the body becomes connected with and constituted through economies of both money and moral value. Pharmaceutical drugs are at once tools of medicinal healing and commodities of social and financial exchange. In understanding the implications of any particular pharmaceutical drug, then, it is pertinent to ask not only what it does, but what the pharmaceutical company is selling, to whom, and with what kind of trajectory.  (more…)

An attempt at a precise & substantive definition of ‘neoliberalism,’ plus some thoughts on algorithms

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One secondary effect of the blow-up over Jack Halberstam’s trigger warning essay is the widening skepticism of the term “neoliberal” as a sort of empty buzzword. Because I just finished teaching a grad seminar whose main objective was to figure out what the hell we mean when we say “neoliberalism” (here is the tumblr for the class), I thought I might be of some assistance here. I think the term “neoliberalism” can mean something useful and specific if we’re more cognizant of its use.

It seems to me that a lot of the confusion around the term is that it is used in (at least) two senses: one indicates a period in time, and one indicates an ideology. Just as “the Cold War” or “modernity” can refer to both a historical time-frame and a dominant ideology that shaped that historical period, “neoliberal” can mean both “now” and the ideology that informs this “now.”

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How I (sorta) stopped worrying and (kinda) learned to love the selfie

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Today’s makeup selfie (Urban Decay’s Electric Palette).

I had no idea the upcoming ABC sitcom Selfie was going to be a thing (this fall if you for some reason care) until I saw an ad spot for it while half watching the World Cup or something. Very suddenly I was more than half watching, and within a few seconds I was tweeting angrily.

I mean. Read the premise (courtesy of Wikipedia). (more…)

Open (Source) for Business

The Tower of David (Image Source)

The Tower of David (Image Source)

I was scrolling through Tumblr the other morning (like I do) when I came across “the world’s tallest slum.” Located in downtown Caracas, an unfinished 45-story skyscraper that was supposed to host Venezuela’s business elite is now home to an estimated 3,000 squatters. The “Tower of David” (named after finance tycoon that started and abandoned the project) is now owned by the state but there are no government-provided utilities. The building is, in essence, not much more than an immense concrete frame, upon which the residents have begun to build a community. They pool money to pay for building security, there are bodegas on every floor, and water and electricity reach as high as the 22nd floor. This is no small feat of engineering or human organization, but it isn’t comfortable living either. I don’t think it would be romanticizing the living conditions of these people to say that they (and no one else) have made something that is both modest and remarkable for themselves. Abandoned by both private industry and the government, some people pooled their limited resources and made their lives a little more livable.  Zulma Bolivar, a Caracas City planning official in an interview with the New York Times described the situation in one sentence: “This tower is a perfect example of anarchy.” (more…)

On “Listening” as metaphor for feminized social media labor

This is a cross-post from its her factory.

 

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that “music is traversed by a becoming-woman” (272). By this they mean that Western systems of musical organization evoke and confront the very phenomena that serve as these systems’ constitutive exclusions.  For example, while tonal harmony was a hierarchical system of consonances (i.e., chords), it nevertheless relied upon the introduction and resolution of (as the nineteenth century progressed, increasingly jarring and destabilizing) dissonances. Similarly, the abjection/rejection/marginalization of “woman” (or better, “girl”) is what solidifies and guarantees patriarchal orders: maleness/masculinity become the “norm” or the “absolute” only insofar as femaleness/femininity are circumscribed as abnormal, unthinkable, and invisible (or, to use Irigaray’s terms, insofar as “woman” is the sex which “is not”). Thus, to claim that “musical expression is inseparable from a becoming-woman” (Deleuze & Guattari, 299) is to posit that [Western, tonal] music works by “confronting its own danger, even taking a fall in order to rise again” (Deleuze & Guattari, 299).  As Susan McClary and Catherine Clement have famously argued, the logic of tonality turns upon the evocation and ultimate containment of “feminized” musical elements (e.g., chromaticism, actual female characters in operas, etc.). To say that “musical expression is a “becoming-woman,” then, means that femininity is the danger a musical work confronts, only to rise again. Traditionally, patriarchy has treated femininity as a deterritorializing force, something whose destabilization is necessary and even pleasurable.

But plenty of feminist and non-feminist scholars have pointed out that neoliberalism co-opts and rebrands traditional (white) femininity: the Young-Girl is the ideal model for human capital, just as feminized work–flexible, care-oriented, informal/unpaid–is the new model for labor. As Natalia Cecire puts it, “neoliberalism operates through hypertrophied forms of femininity.” Femininity isn’t deterritorializing, but the mechanism of reterritorialization.

So, in the same way that neoliberalism co-opts femininity and has it lead the charge to “creative destruction,” does it also co-opt “sound” or “music” as the primary medium of and/or metaphor for this work?

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Facebook has Always Manipulated Your Emotions

 

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Emotional Contagion is the idea that emotions spread throughout networks. If you are around happy people, you are more likely to be happy. If you are around gloomy people, you are likely to be glum.

The data scientists at Facebook set out to learn if text-based, nonverbal/non-face-to-face interactions had similar effects.  They asked: Do emotions remain contagious within digitally mediated settings? They worked to answer this question experimentally by manipulating the emotional tenor of users’ News Feeds, and recording the results.

Public reaction was such that many expressed dismay that Facebook would 1) collect their data without asking and 2) manipulate their emotions.

I’m going to leave aside the ethics of Facebook’s data collection. It hits on an important but blurry issue of informed consent in light of Terms of Use agreements, and deserves a post all its own. Instead, I focus on the emotional manipulation, arguing that Facebook was already manipulating your emotions, and likely in ways far more effectual than algorithmically altering the emotional tenor of your News Feed. (more…)

Yo, it’s communicative capitalism

Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962. It’s like the “Yo” of painting.

 

As you may have heard, “Yois a social networking app has distilled social networking into its most elemental form. Basically, you can’t share any content on Yo–no words, no images, no links. All you can do is exchange the same monosyllabic ping, “yo.”

It’s so simple, many find it laughable: what, indeed, is the point? Well, it’s certainly not to communicate content. In the same way that a Yves Klein painting is about the medium of paint (specifically, color), Yo is about social networking. If “content” is traditionally a means to the end of clicks, Yo cuts out this middleman. It’s more efficient than traditional social networking–no content to waste our time, or for a company to waste money producing, transmitting, and supporting.

Yo isn’t a novelty. It’s the quintessence of communicative capitalism. As Jodi Dean defines it, “communicative exchanges, rather than being fundamental to democratic politics”–for example, as the deliberative exchanges among citizens [1]–“are the basic elements of capitalist production” (56). Put differently, communicative exchanges have no “use” value–their message doesn’t matter; rather, they’re just empty exchange value like any other commodity. Thus,

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More on games/sexism/representation: a response to a response to a response

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Every time I see someone make the argument that representation in fiction isn’t a big issue, and that advocating for diversity is just a waste of time because audiences can identify with anyone, and anyway, trying to include a wide range of backgrounds is just tokenism, I have the overwhelming urge to grab them by the shoulders and hiss, If you really believe that representation doesn’t matter, then why the fuck are you threatened by it? If not seeing yourself depicted in stories has no negative psychological impact – if the breakdown of who we see on screen has no bearing on wider social issues – then what would it matter if nine stories out of ten were suddenly all about queer brown women? - Foz Meadows

So about my last post and related kerfuffle.

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