Category Archives: essay

Attention Topographies and Small Town Protest

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Every year my little city of Troy, New York holds a kind of Dickensonian Renaissance festival called The Victorian Stroll. The Stroll has been going strong for over 30 years and it affords an opportunity for lots of white people to dress up in period clothing that matches the surrounding buildings and ––as some have recently demonstrated–– their retrograde race politics. Even police officers don those funny dome-shaped hats and long wool coats that make it seem as though they’re ready to beat someone up over taking too much gruel. A few really great activists in the area organized a #Shutitdown solidarity event at The Stroll and I was there to capture video. The video above is a nice summary of what we were able to accomplish. (more…)

Facebook Remembers

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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…)

Identity Prosumption GeekOut

ProcessProsumption is something of a buzzword here at Cyborgology. It refers to the blurring of production and consumption, such that consumers are entwined in the production process. Identity prosumption is a spin-off of this concept, and refers to the ways prosumptive activities act back upon the prosuming self. Identity prosumption is a neat and simple analytic tool, particularly useful in explaining the relationship between social media users and the content they create and share.

If you’ll stick with me through some geekery, I would like to think through some of the nuances of this humble bit of theory.   (more…)

Commodifying Voice: The Net Neutrality Debate

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Net neutrality is back in the news. It’s been a minute, so in case you forgot, some broadband providers want to speed up high traffic services (e.g. Netflix), creating a tiered model of delivery speed. In turn, proponents of net neutrality have lobbied the FCC to classify broadband companies as “common carriers,” requiring that all Internet traffic receive equal treatment (i.e., equal speed of delivery).

In light of overwhelming public support for net neutrality, conflicting with strong lobbies from broadband companies, the FCC is still working towards a solution. Some of this work was leaked last week, revealing a sort of hybrid plan, in which broadband companies could sometimes establish “fast lanes” for service providers, but only when they deem it is “just and reasonable” (whatever “just and reasonable” means).

Whitney Erin Boesel does a fantastic job laying out the policy and delineating a strong argument in support of Open Internet. I want to take a bit of a simpler approach, and address one issue which underlies the debate in its entirety: the relationship between speech and money. (more…)

An Ethic of Prosumptive Sharing

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The contemporary information economy is made up of prosumers—those who simultaneously produce and consume. This is exciting, as we lay-folk become micro-journalists, creating content and spreading what others create. However, such a system poses serious questions about the ethics of sharing practices.

In what follows, I offer a skeleton guideline for the ethics of sharing. It is purposely broad so as to remain flexible. I offer three key guiding principles: Who always matters; Intention always matters; and The law is a really good suggestion. (more…)

When a Gift is Really a Data Breach

Can a gift be a data breach? Lots of Apple product users think so, as evidenced by the strong reaction against the company for their unsolicited syncing of U2’s latest album songs of innocence to 500 million iCloud accounts. Although part of the negative reaction stems from differences of musical taste, what Apple shared with customers seems less important than the fact that they put content on user accounts at all.

u2-apple-eventWith a proverbial expectant smile, Apple gifted the album’s 11 songs to unsuspecting users. A promotional move, this was timed with the launch of the iPhone6 and Apple iWatch. And much like teenagers who find that their parents spent the day reorganizing their bedrooms, some customers found the move invasive rather than generous.

Sarah Wanenchack has done some great work on this blog with regards to device ownership—or more precisely, our increasing lack of ownership over the devices that we buy. That Apple can, without user permission, add content to our devices, highlights this lack of ownership. Music is personal. Devices are personal. And they should be. We bought them with our own money. And yet, these devices remain accessible to the company from which they came; they remain alterable; they remain—despite a monetary transaction that generally implies buyer ownership—nonetheless shared. And this, for some people, is offensive.   (more…)

What the hell are people applauding for when they applaud the Apple Watch? 

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What are all those people celebrating with their standing ovation? Even the guy on stage is applauding. Sure the new product is exciting, but applause? Unlike a play or a musical performance (even a U2 performance), nothing is actually happening on stage when a product is announced. All that work that goes into making a product was done months ago, and the audience isn’t even being asked (at the moment) to thank the people that made the product. Instead of rapt silence or an excited buzz, lots of people are moved to show their unbridled enthusiasm in a very specific way. It is the same kind of collective reaction that comes after a political speech and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we applaud the Apple Watch we’re applauding an imagined future. (more…)

Digital Divide in Action: Lessons from a Canceled Flight

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“You are talking to me like I don’t understand what you are saying. I understand what you are saying, I don’t accept what you are saying,” shouted the bespectacled woman who would soon have tears running down her indignant face. “I’m not from this country. I don’t have a phone. I have kids with me. What am I supposed to do!?” The customer service representative at the airline desk spoke slowly and explained again, as if to a spoiled child, that all of the hotels were full and customers were now responsible for finding and booking their own, but not to worry, customers would be reimbursed after going online and submitting the necessary information with a paid receipt. The woman stared blankly at him, and stepped aside to wait for a supervisor. Now she would cry.

***** (more…)

Jezebel’s Harassment Problem Needs More than Comment Moderation

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The editors of Jezebel did a really brave thing yesterday and called out their parent company, Gawker Media for not dealing with a very serious and persistent abuse and harassment problem. For months now, waves of violent pornography gifs have been posted to Jezebel stories using anonymous accounts untied to IP addresses or any other identifiable information. That means it’s effectively impossible to stop abusive people from posting to the site. Instead, Jezebel writers and editors have to delete the posts themselves, hopefully before too many of their readers see them. People higher up on the Gawker masthead have known about this issue and have, through inaction, forced their co-workers to look at this horrific and potentially triggering content instead of dealing with the problem. This is precisely how spaces and tools meant for everyone, turn into alienating environments that foster homogenous audiences and viewpoints. Gawker needs to help their editors defend against harassment –and fast– but they should also be thinking more comprehensively about the culture of comments. (more…)

Exposed: Constitution through Contradiction

Contradiction

Last week I wrote about the curious case of traditional love narratives in the face of online dating. In short, the profiled format, pay structure, and overall bureaucracy of online dating throws into stark relief the constructed belief in a fateful meeting of souls. And yet, the narrative persists. Here’s a brief snippet:

…[T]he landscape has drastically changed but the narrative, not so much. The maintenance of romantic love as a cultural construct, personal striving, and affective embodied response to courtship rituals speaks to the resiliency of normative culture and its instantiation through human action. Even as we transact and negotiate romantic relationships; even as we agree upon terms; even as we screen partners and subject ourselves to screening; we nonetheless speak of butterflies and hope for magic.

In the case of love and online dating, the narrative is both highlighted and strengthened through its empirical contradiction.

This idea sparked an interesting conversation among the Cyborgology team about how this principle—constitution through contradiction—is theoretically useful in understanding the relationship between technologies and culture. Technologies reflect cultural realities, but can also expose the constructed nature of these realities, threatening their taken-for-granted logic and concomitant guidance over behavior and interaction. In the face of such a threat, however, the logics remain, and even strengthen. (more…)