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.
With 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 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…)
“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.
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…)
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…)
Imagine you live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdevelopment that is only accessible by a single gate that leads out to a large, high-speed arterial road. Your friends, your job, your kids’ school are all outside of this development which means life is lived through and on the road that connects your subdevelopment to the rest of the world. Now imagine that, without warning or any kind of democratic process, the company that maintains that road (private companies are subcontracted to do regular maintenance on public roads all the time) decides to add trees on either side of the road to reduce car speed. It’s a relatively benign design intervention and it works. In fact the trees work so well that the company’s engineers publish in a few journals which directly benefits the company financially, through prominence within the truly boring world of road maintenance. When the residents get wind of this experiment, and demand to know why they weren’t even notified, the owner of the road maintenance company says, “if you don’t like it use a different road.” That mind-bending response actually makes more sense than what has been coming out of OKCupid and Facebook these last few weeks. (more…)
Having just uploaded the final document of an NSF grant proposal (for this project) I feel like going “back to basics” and revisiting the big picture of my field. Unlike most of my fellow Cyborgology contributors, I don’t hold a degree in sociology and I’ve never been to the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting. My department is an interdisciplinary social science called Science and Technology Studies. Similar departments call themselves Science, Technology, and Society (helpfully, both can be called simply “STS” and that’s what I’m going to use for the rest of this post) but other departments have slightly altered listicle names: MIT’s History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society probably wins for longest department name. (True Story: went to a grad conference there once and they handed out pint glasses that said “We put the HA in STS. Funny kids over there.) What follows is, in some really broad strokes, the contours of this little-known but growing intellectual tradition. I’m going to cover a rough history, and the field’s major projects and subfields that emerged from that history. As the title suggests, I’m going to make a lot of generalizations in service of brevity so… just be prepared for that. My hope is that this is somewhat helpful around this time of year for people who might just be getting into STS departments (congrats!) and for recent undergraduate degree holders who are considering going back to school. One final caveat: like all histories, this one is confined by its author. My friends at the Cornell STS program would write a different history, and the folks that study STS policy at Georgia Tech would write something different as well. (more…)
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 25 February 1940, an officer with the San Francisco police department’s homicide detail reported a “rather suspicious business” operating in the city. At 126 Jackson Street sat an old, three-story rooming house, recently leased by Dr. Henri F. St. Pierre of the Dermic Laboratories. As Assistant Special Agent J. W. Williams later described the scene, “women had been seen entering the place from the Jackson Street side at various times of the day, subsequently leaving by … an alley at the rear of the building. Following the arrival of the women, cars would arrive with a man carrying a case resembling … a doctor’s kit. They would also enter the building for a short time, come out, and drive away. . . .” At first sight, the medical kit, the furtive departures, and the seedy locale all signaled to Williams that St. Pierre was running a “new abortion parlor.” As it turned out, however, “the so-called ‘Dr.’” was offering a somewhat different service to these women: the removal of their unwanted body hair through prolonged exposure to X rays (quoted directly from Rebecca Herzig’s Removing Roots: ‘North American Hiroshima Maidens’ and the X-Ray).
Body hair. Humans have it. Where they have it, how much they have, and what color it is, holds moral connotations tied to cultural norms of both gender and race. In the simplest sense, men should be hairy. Women should be hairless.
The good and moral woman has little to no body hair, and the body hair she does have is only on her legs, and all of those hairs are blond and fine. For those of us who fail to naturally achieve this bodied moral norm, the medical-cosmetic market offers an array of technologies to help hide, temporarily or permanently, our moral failing.
Ugh. I hate the new Facebook. I liked it better without the massive psychological experiments.
Facebook experimented on us in a way that we really didn’t like. Its important to frame it that way because, as Jenny Davis pointed out earlier this week, they experiment on us all the time and in much more invasive ways. The ever-changing affordances of Facebook are a relatively large intervention in the lives of millions of people and yet the outrage over these undemocratic changes never really go beyond a complaint about the new font or the increased visibility of your favorite movies (mine have been and always will be True Stories and Die Hard). To date no organization, as Zeynep Tufekci observed, has had the “stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams.” When we do get mad at Facebook, it always seems to be a matter of unintended consequences or unavoidable external forces: There was justified outrage over changes in privacy settings that initiated unwanted context collapse, and we didn’t like the hard truth that Facebook had been releasing its data to governments. Until this week, it was never quite so clear just how much unchecked power Facebook has over its 1.01 billion monthly active users. What would governing such a massive sociotechnical system even look like? (more…)