Category Archives: essay

Democracy comes to Mozilla

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Last week Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, had to step down amid backlash from his fellow board members, Silicon Valley elites, and the public at large for his $1,000 donation to supporters of California’s Prop 8 anti-marriage equality bill. In the grand scheme of things, a $1000 contribution from a guy that is I-invented-JavaScript-wealthy to a $38.7 million campaign, probably didn’t change much. But the headlines were never about Eich secretly bankrolling Prop 8; it’s been about what kind of person should be allowed to lead the best-known open-source organization that makes the third-most-installed browser on the planet.

There’s lots of people who say that even if you disagree with Eich, this shouldn’t be grounds for him to step down because his beliefs have no bearing on how you build a browser. I deeply disagree, and it isn’t a matter of ideological opposition, but of observable fact: technology always has a bit of its creator in it and technology is never politically neutral. Moreover, I don’t think, as many have claimed, that Eich’s departure was a failure of democracy. In fact I see it as a leading indicator for the free software community’s maturing legal and political knowledge. (more…)

Some Thoughts on Location-Based Dating Apps

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been interviewed twice about location-based dating apps. These are mobile applications that connect people with others in their geographic proximity, often in real-time. Popular examples include Tinder, Grindr (and its counterpart, Blendr), and SinglesAroundMe.  The apps are largely photo based, and offer an opportunity for serendipitous meet-ups, in which users can potentially find love, sex, or general companionship.

The fact that I was invited to take part in these interviews is a bit odd, since none of my own empirical research pertains specifically to dating or dating technologies. I did, however, write a post for Cyborgology about race and online dating sites, which got some attention, and I do (obviously) maintain research interests and projects in new technologies more generally. So anyhow, I agreed to fumble my way through these two interviews, offering the interviewers caveats about my knowledge gaps. In the end, I’m glad that I did, as their questions—much of which overlapped—pushed me to think about what these applications afford, and how they intersect with the realities and politics of love, sex, and gender relations. (more…)

#review: Social Media: A Critical Introduction

#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. Today I review Christian Fuchs’ book–Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

doyle_understanding.indd

Generally, I’m not a big fan of textbooks. The bold words and broadly glossed-over content beg for flash-card style teaching. Because of this, I always opt for edited volumes and peer-reviewed journal articles, sprinkled with blog posts and popular media clips. Fuchs Social Media: A Critical Introduction, however, is not your typical text book. Rather than a corpus of definitions, the book is at once a review of the field, an argument about how scholars should approach the field, and a biting critique of the social media landscape.

As indicated by the title, Fuchs’ work examines social media from a critical perspective. Critical, for Fuchs, refers explicitly to Marxism and neo-Marxism, with power and resource distribution the key focal points. A Marxist take on social media examines exploitation and domination by studying both political economy and political communication of social media. That is, a critical perspective looks at who owns the means of production in both the financial and attention economies, and how various media perpetuate, reflect, or potentially upend, an inherently exploitative capitalism.

Early in the book, Fuchs makes an effort to differentiate this perspective from other uses of the term “critical,” and to distance this work from non-Marxist scholarship. Reminiscent of a debate summarized by PJ Rey, Fuchs explicates this distinction: (more…)

The New Normal: School Shootings as Industrial Disaster

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

One morning, in the seventh grade, my math class was told to prepare for a surprise standardized writing test. A writing test with no warning in math class wasn’t the weirdest thing we had been asked to do. Jeb Bush was our governor and Florida was a proving ground for what would later be called “No Child Left Behind.” Tests were common and testing different kinds of tests were even more common. You never knew if the test you were taking would change your life or never be seen again. This one was a little bit of both. The prompt was really strange, although I don’t remember what it was. As a life-long test taker (my first standardized test was in the 4th grade) you become a sort of connoisseur of writing prompts. This one didn’t seem to test my expository or creative writing skills. It just felt like a demand to write and so we did. We wrote for about half an hour. (more…)

The Real Victims of Journal Paywalls

Access

As a professional sociologist, I maintain membership in several listservs and social networking site groups centered around my areas of study. Every now and then, someone will post a request for a particular academic article to which they do not have access at their home university. Quickly, another member of the group provides the article, and we all go about our business.

Not having access to one article, for a connected professional, is no big deal. But imagine if that same professional never had access to academic articles unless they were willing to pay—exorbitantly—to get beyond publishers’ paywalls. Were that the case, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for that professional to conduct research. (more…)

@YesYoureRacist: We can do better

yesyoureracist

Like many Americans, I spent Sunday evening watching the Super Bowl. This entailed tasty snacks, a comfy couch, and lots of head shaking because, well, the Denver Broncos. It also involved Facebook and Twitter. The day of, day before, and day after were full of commentary, predictions, snarkiness, and declarations of various sorts. Indeed, Sunday’s Super Bowl, like all media events, incorporated multiple media.  One item, within one piece of this media ecology, keenly sparked my interest: The Twitter feed of @YesYoureRacist. (more…)

The Curatorial Life

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So I’ve been thinking a lot about curation and its role in contemporary social life. I’ve had such thoughts before, and have since expanded upon them. Here’s where I am…

Curation is the act of picking and choosing, marginalizing and highlighting, adding, deleting, lumping, and splitting. Social life in itself is highly curatorial, as social actors necessarily filter infinite masses of stimuli, selecting and preening in intricate ways while sculpting performances out of the broad slabs that constitute affect, body, and demeanor. In what follows, I argue that new technologies—and social media in particular—amplify curation, facilitating its operation as a key organizing principle of augmented sociality.

Specifically, I briefly outline a three-pronged theory of curation, in which social actors curate their own performances, curate what they see, and are always subject to curatorial practices of others—both human and machine. I refer to curated performance as outgoing curation, curated viewing as incoming curation, and curation at the hands of others as third-party curation. (more…)

Player vs. Game: Design, narrative, and power

stanley-parable

Of all the games that comment on themselves – and it seems like there are more and more of those – I won’t say that The Stanley Parable is the best, but I definitely haven’t played another that made its intentions more blatantly clear or went for what it was after so aggressively. The Stanley Parable, originally a Half Life 2 mod, has a lot to say about games. But I think it also has a lot to say about everything.

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It’s Complicated: Tone (and pettiness) in digital communication

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comic by John Campbell

Once, many years ago, a friend and I Got Into It via a series of Livejournal comments.

Yes, you already know that this is going somewhere good.

I’ve long since forgotten what the It was about, though it was probably something exactly as silly as you’d expect. I don’t remember how it resolved itself; that friend and I are not friends anymore and haven’t spoken in nearly a decade, so I can’t ask them without things getting weird. What I do remember was one thing this friend said, which I’ve remembered as long as I have because it might be one of the single most ridiculous things anyone has ever said to me in any setting: I mentioned that I didn’t like their tone, and they responded, “there is no tone on the internet.”

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The Telephone: A Highly Deficient Technology

via commons.wikimedia.org

via commons.wikimedia.org

 

When my phone rings, it’s almost always my mom, or her mom, or my partner’s mom. It’s always somebody’s mom.  For everyone else, the notification is a buzz, a ding, a quick vibration. For all of the not-moms in my life, we communication via text message, Facebook, Twitter, email, chat, or Skype. We connect regularly, but rarely through voice calls. When I do pick up the phone, I last about 30 minutes max. Then, my ear feels hot, my shoulders tense, and I refuse to ask “were you talking to me, or to Dad?”” one more time.

This is indicative of a wider trend. The telephone, as a medium of voice-talk, is in massive decline—at least amongst the texting public. A widely cited 2012 CDC study shows that over half of all American homes rely predominately on mobile devices, with almost 40% living in landline-free homes. And we all know, the cellphone is far better at just about everything than voice-to-voice communication.  With smartphones, the talk function seems almost like an afterthought, available in case of emergency. (more…)