Category Archives: commentary

Facebook Remembers

Facebook remembers

Facebook announced this week that it will add a new search feature to the platform. This search feature will, for the first time, allow users to type in keywords and bring up specific network content. Previously, keyword searches lead to pages and advertisements.  Now, it will bring up images and text from users’ News Feeds. Although search results currently include only content shared with users by their Friends, I imagine including public posts in the results will be a forthcoming next step.

Facebook, as a documentation-heavy platform, has always affected both how we remember, and how we perform. It is the keeper of our photo albums, events attended, locations visited, and connections established, maintained, and broken. It recasts our history into linear stories, solidifying that which we share into the truest version of ourselves. And of course, the new search feature amplifies this, stripping users of the privacy-by-obscurity that tempered (though certainly did not eliminate) the effects of recorded and documented lives.

The search feature also does something interesting and new. It aggregates. For the first time, users can take the temperature of their networks on any variety of topics. Music, movies, news events and recipes can be called up, unburied from the content rubble and grouped in a systematic way.

Perhaps because I’ve been able to think of little else lately, I immediately considered what this new feature means for how we will remember the events of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the parade of police violence against young men of color. And relatedly, I considered how we will remember ourselves and each other in regard to these events. (more…)

The Importance of Being Kim Kardashian


Reflecting on this brouhaha about Kim Kardashian’s recent callipygian escapades reminds me of KK’s powerful role as an image-maker.  In case, somehow, you were able to remain blissfully unaware, earlier this month Kim Kardashian posed for Paper magazine and shared the images on social media under the hashtag #breaktheinternet. The poses consisted of KK in various stages of dishabille.  We first see Kim side view in an evening gown, holding a bottle of champagne. A burst of bubbly arcing over her head to fills a glass tottering on her backside, echoing a 1976 photo in the same pose by the same photographer, Jean-Paul Goude. Next we see Kim happily sliding her gown off, then, smiling disingenuously over one shoulder, pin up style, revealing her famous rump’s rounded orbs. In the final shot, Kim goes the full monty, or, as Entertainment Weekly breathlessly had it, “Kim Kardashian Goes Full-Frontal Naked, Shows Off Boobs and Everything Else In Paper magazine.” (more…)

Anti-Consuming Ferguson

A tweeted picture of predominantly white faces with their hands up in a mall. Tweet reads: Back in #macys "hands up, don't shop" #blackoutblackFriday #boycottblackfriday #blacklivesmatter. tweet by @seanick_

This one time I got to meet Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir. They’re fun people with a knack for spectacle. The Reverend dresses up in all white to match his brilliant, platinum pompadour, and leads people into a mall or a busy street corner to preach and sing about the evils of consumer society. A small group of us exorcised a Bank of America ATM which was a great diversion for reaching around and unplugging it. All in all it was a lovely afternoon but today I’m nervous about the way people who look like me (white) are organizing around this topic. Given that it is prime time for shopping, it also means it is an excellent opportunity to protest the intricate tapestry of social norms and institutions that make up present-day consumerism. It is certainly true that lots of people should probably consume less than they do, but the activism around consumerism is often tin-eared and tone deaf when it comes to issues of class and, as we are seeing this year, race. (more…)

Ferguson: White Bodies Bearing Witness


The mobile phone camera has become an embedded tool of protest. It has given rise to the citizen journalist and is a key mechanism by which surveillance is countered with sousveillance. In a New Media & Society article earlier this year, Kari Andén-Papadopoulos names this phenomena citizen-camera witnessing. This is a ritual through which bodies in space authenticate their presence while proliferating images and truths that contest with the stories told by The State.  The citizen camera-witness is not merely witnessing, but bearing witness, insisting upon articulating, through image, atrocities that seem unspeakable. Indeed, as W.J.T. Mitchell compellingly claims: Today’s wars and political conflicts are to an unparalleled extent being fought on behalf of, against and by means of radically different images of possible futures.

The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that continue to follow, set the stage for drastically different futures. The way we tell this story will guide which future is most plausible, most logical, and most likely.   (more…)

Why some posthumanisms are better than others

It’s Thanksgiving, at least in the US. Originally, I had planned to do a post about feminized digital labor specifically related to “holiday” preparation, but I spent all my time finishing up another project for my own blog–a holiday weekend longread about a new academic book on, among other things, race/gender/sexuality and posthumanisms. One of the main things my post tries to do is work through the way the book distinguishes between the kinds of posthumanisms that actually do anti-racist, feminist work, and the kinds of posthumanisms that merely reinforce and strengthen white supremacist patriarchy.

Because this is Cyborgology, after all, at least some of y’all are probably interested in posthuman theory. So, I thought I’d share with y’all the post I put up on Its Her Factory. It’s definitely about theory, and it’s about an academic book, but, I think it’s accessible enough and grounded enough to be of interest to at least some of the Cyborgology audience. Here’s the introduction to that post, which you can find in full here:


TERRAFORM, Erasure, and (how to break) Community Norms


Note: This is half conventional Cyborgology post – if such a thing can be said to exist – and half explanation/personal apologia. It’s front-loaded with the latter. I usually assume it’s understood that when I have an opinion it’s not CYBORGOLOGY’S OPINION, all official-like, but I want to be very clear about that here for reasons that will become evident.

It seemed almost like fate, the way Vice’s tech blog Motherboard launched its new online science fiction short story magazine – somewhat ironically called Terraform – the day after nominations opened for the Nebula awards and all us SFF (science fiction and fantasy) writers were bemoaning the sheer amount of reading we all had to do to even have a prayer of being able to participate in the process.

Here’s why:


What Would a Better Technological Society Look Like?


One of the most dangerous misconceptions about our present political climate is that it is broken. That too many “bad apples” have achieved high-ranking positions and it s their greed and malfeasance that is to blame for rising inequality and state-sanctioned violence. Overcrowded prisons, rapid gentrification, industrial disasters, and predatory banking practices aren’t bugs, they’re features of our current historical moment. Even if CEOs and presidents wanted to end any of these problems tomorrow, they could easily be sued or even jailed for threatening their bottom lines. And while we should never hold critics to the impossible standard of “come up with a better system” it never hurts, from time to time, to play Minecraft with words and come up with some replacements for the current way of doing things. What would a vastly better technological society look like? (more…)

#ShirtStorm: On Forgiving Taylor but not The Internet



Earlier this month, Science had a big victory. The Rosetta Project landed their spacecraft, Philae, on a comet.  This was a billion Euro and entire careers in the making. This was a huge step in space exploration. The accomplishment is unprecedented and data gleaned from this project are entirely unique. Good job, Science.

Meanwhile down on earth, a #ShirtStorm broke loose. Rosetta Scientist Dr. Matt Taylor gave a television interview about the project. His choice of attire—a naked-lady shirt—was ill conceived. Moreover, he described the project as the “sexiest mission,” feminizing and then validating the probe as “sexy” but not “easy.”

Thank goodness women don’t have a science problem!! Oh, wait…

Quickly, Atlantic writer Rose Eveleth posted this tweet: (more…)

Taylor Swift Leans In


So it’s pretty hard to find a critique of Taylor Swift’s new record that isn’t also (or mostly) misogynist. As they say in academia, consider this piece an attempt to fill that gap in the literature. I may get to the actual record later, but for now I want to think about her business model.

Swift made headlines this week for two different, but ultimately, I think, related moves. First, she pulled her music from the free streaming part of Spotify. In an interview with Yahoo music, she explained that she was

not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

In an economy that has made free labor a de facto requirement for middle-class and creative jobs, Swift’s claim about fair compensation seems, on the one hand, laudable. From this perspective, she’s pushing back on the increasing demand for unwaged labor. But then we have to ask, on Spotify, whose labor is free? What about the fan labor of training the streaming algorithms? Of liking and unliking, skipping and playlist building? Swift doesn’t mention the unfairness of this sort of free labor. In her view, “art” deserves to be compensated…but maybe fan labor, which is a kind of care work, doesn’t deserve such ‘fair’ compensation. Or, to use some of Swift’s own language, the “amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work” is deserving of fair compensation, but the affective labor of fandom isn’t? From this perspective, Swift’s refusal to perform free labor sounds a lot like bourgeois white feminist demands for waged labor that then pass the underwaged care work off to less privileged women. (Eric Harvey has some really incisive things to say about Swift v Spotify here.) (more…)

Samaritans Radar: where imagination fails


The blow-up over Samaritans Radar is a couple of weeks old now, but I still want to say something about it, because – watching stuff about it spin past on my Twitter timeline – some things struck me.

For those who don’t know, Samaritans Radar is/was a Twitter app – which makes use of the Twitter API – that allowed one to monitor someone’s Twitter profile for any tweets that suggested plans or intentions to commit suicide, and would accordingly send notifications to the person monitoring. It’s since been yanked while the developers hopefully sit in a corner and think about what they’ve done, but the intention was – ostensibly – to enable family, friends, and other loved ones to identify when someone was in trouble in situations where it might otherwise be difficult to tell and to reach out to that person, offering help and counsel.

All well and good, except for how no.