Fallout 4 tells me that I am special.

At the start of the game, I am prompted to assign point values to Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck (yes, that spells SPECIAL) as an initial step towards the crafting of my customized protagonist. These statistics form the foundation of my character’s abilities, skills, and know-how. I will build on them and further specify them in the course of my play.

But Fallout 4 tells me that I am special in other ways, namely through the ways that it positions my protagonist within its narrative. My character is the lone survivor of a fallout shelter following a devastating nuclear war. She is cryogenically frozen, but wakes from her sleep long enough to witness her husband murdered and her infant son kidnapped. When she emerges from the vault 200 years after first entering it, she’s on a mission to find her son, despite having no knowledge of when the kidnapping happened.

Somehow, though, the local populace of wasteland Boston quickly determines that she exhibits exceptional leadership and combat skills. So they name her General, task her with the responsibility of restoring a floundering militia group, and put her at the head of rebuilding a new settlement and ultimately uniting the Commonwealth. Thus, immediately after emerging from a 200-year sleep during which time the world as she knew it was destroyed, my affluent-professional-suburban-Boston-wife-mother character is able to navigate a hostile irradiated wasteland, find resources on her own, master a particular fighting prowess, and then convince a straggling group of survivors to make her their leader. Soon enough she’s binding other settlements to her cause and gradually seizing power over the Commonwealth. more...

 Front page of one of Columbia’s local papers the day after the resignations
Front page of one of Columbia’s local papers the day after the resignations

The story emerged for me two Thursdays ago, when a colleague at the University of Missouri, where I work, asked if I wanted to accompany her to find a march in support of Jonathan Butler, a graduate student on hunger strike with demands that president Tim Wolfe resign over his inaction towards racism on campus. We encountered the protest as it moved out of the bookstore and followed it into the Memorial Union, where many students eat lunch. This was the point at which I joined the march and stuck with it across campus, into Jesse Hall, and finally to Concerned Student 1950’s encampment on the quad where the march concluded. Since then I’ve been trying to read up on what led up to this march, sharing what I find as I go. This task became much easier after Wolfe’s announcement on Monday that he would resign, and the national media frenzy that followed. At first, however, learning about the march that I had participated in proved far more difficult than I expected. more...

The author's home antenna
The author’s home antenna

I moved to rural Kansas a over a year ago. I live beyond Lawrence city limits, on the outskirts of Stull (where local legend places one of the gateways to hell), and 50 minutes driving to the nearest Google Fiber connection. It’s a liminal space in terms of broadband connection – the fastest network in the country is being built in the neighboring metropolitan area but when I talked to my neighbors about internet service providers in our area, they were confused by my quest for speeds higher than 1mbps. As this collection of essays on “small town internet” suggests, there’s an awareness that internet in rural, small town, and “remote” places exists, but we need to understand more about how digital connection is incorporated (or not) into small town and rural life: how it’s used, and what it feels like to use it.

One of my ongoing projects involves researching digital divides and digital inclusion efforts in Kansas City. The arrival of Google Fiber in Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO has provided increased momentum and renewed impetus for recognition of digital divides based on cost, access, education and computer literacy, relevance, mobility, and more discussion and visibility for organizations and activists hoping to alleviate some of these divides and emphasize internet access as a utility. I’ve argued that by reading digital media in relationship to experiences of “place,” we gain a more holistic and nuanced understanding of digital media use and non-use, processes and decisions around implementation and adoption, and our relationships to digital artifacts and infrastructures. In other words, one’s location and sense of place become important factors in shaping practices, decisions, and experiences of digital infrastructure and digital media.

The irony is not lost on me that while studying digital divides in a metropolitan area, I had chosen to live in a location with its own, unique series of inequities in terms of internet connection. These inequities have nothing to do with socio-economic instability or lack of digital literacy, as I had funds and willingness to pay a significant amount for internet service (comparable to the prices charged by urban-based, corporate ISPs), and everything to do with the fact that I lived in an area that felt as if it had been forgotten or intentionally bypassed by the internet service providers (ISPs) I had come to know living in other US cities and towns. more...

Greenville College

Small towns move at the rate of horse and buggy rather than high speed internet, and therefore tend to reside on the wrong side of the digital divide. However, digital divides are not fixed or homogeneous, and small towns can surprise you. This is made clear through the case of Greenville College.

Out far from the glow of St. Louis is the small rural community of Greenville, Illinois. Greenville is a negligible town of 7,000. Most pass it on the interstate without even noticing–or use it as a place to go to the bathroom on the way from St. Louis toward Indianapolis. Amidst its miniscule population is a small enclave of higher-ed: Greenville College. Greenville College, founded in 1892, is a small Christian liberal arts college. Greenville College was once on the unfortunate side of the digital divide–until, out of necessity, it surpassed its urban counterparts. more...

Image Credit: NASA

As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans, it is almost impossible not to draw connections between Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just as the storm exposed long-standing patterns of institutional neglect and structural racism that had typically been overlooked by the white American mainstream, so too have the uprisings across the country against police brutality drawn renewed attention to institutionalized racism in America this year. As Jamelle Bouie put it, “Black collective memory of Hurricane Katrina, as much as anything else, informs the present movement against police violence, ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

But what does such memory look like? What tools are available online besides simply Googling old news articles? What history do we have at our fingertips, beyond returning to the heavily criticized mainstream media coverage, which at the time was limited at best and, at worst, trafficked in harmful racial stereotypes? For instance, in one heavily publicized example, photos of African American storm survivors were captioned as showing “looting,” when nearly identical images of white survivors were captioned as simply “finding food.” This, too, is part of the memory of Katrina, but it is a part in which survivors were not allowed to speak for themselves. more...

African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.
African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.

Towards the beginning of Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo sits with Kublai Khan and tries to describe the city of Zaira. To do this, Marco Polo could trace the city as it exists in that moment, noting its geometries and materials. But, such a description “would be the same as telling (Kublai) nothing.” Marco Polo explains, “The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet.” This same city exists by a different name in Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. It’s protagonist, Julius, wanders through New York City, mapping his world in terms reminiscent of Marco Polo’s. One day, Julius happens upon the African Burial Ground National Monument. Here, in the heart of downtown Manhattan, Julius measures the distance between his place and the events of its past: “It was here, on the outskirts of the city at the time, north of Wall Street and so outside civilization as it was then defined, that blacks were allowed to bury their dead. Then the dead returned when, in 1991, construction of a building on Broadway and Duane brought human remains to the surface.” The lamppost and the hanged usurper, the federal buildings and the buried enslaved: these are the relationships, obscured and rarely recoverable though they are, on which our cities stand. more...

Photo taken at the Napoli Pride Parade in 2010
Photo taken at the Napoli Pride Parade in 2010

Content Note: This posts discusses various forms of transmisogyny and TERFs

On Tuesday, Lisa Wade posted a piece to the Sociological Images blog, asking some important questions about drag- Is it misogynistic? Should it be allowed in LGBT safe spaces? How can pride organizers enforce drag-free pride events, if such an idea is useful? The good news is that many of these questions are already being asked in some circles. The bad news, is that outside of these circles –where specifics are unknown and the cis experience takes centre stage– such questions can lead to some harmful conclusions. more...

A 1916 American Mug Shot
A 1916 American Mug Shot

Visual technologies continue to play an increasingly key role in strategies for monitoring and surveillance in modern capitalist societies in crime prevention and detection, and the apprehension, recording, documenting and classification of criminals and criminal activities. Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world. more...


Atrocities in Eritrea atop my Twitter feed. A few tweets below that, police violence against an innocent African American girl at a pool party. Below that, the story of a teen unfairly held at Rikers Island for three years, who eventually killed himself. Below that, news about the seemingly unending bombing campaign in Yemen. Below that, several tweets about the Iraq war and climate change—two longtime staples of my timeline. It reminds me of the writer Teju Cole exclaiming on Twitter last summer that “we’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us….”

This torrent of news about war, injustice, and suffering is something many of us experience online today, be it on Facebook, Twitter, in our inboxes, or elsewhere. But I wonder about the ‘evolutionary’ framing of this problem—do we really need to develop some new kinds of emotional or social or technical filters for the bad news that engulfs us? Has it gotten that bad? more...

The tools of my self-disciplining.
The tools of my self-disciplining.

The quantified self (QS) movement advertises itself as a way for individuals interested in tracking their daily lives to use sensors and computing technology to monitor their activities, whether those activities involve biological processes or social actions, to better understand the their habits and improve upon them. The tracking and use of personal data through proprietary sensing and software platforms is generally accepted as part of the benign “datification” of everyday life. These services span almost every activity, from making grocery shopping more efficient (Grocery IQ) to monitoring levels of physical activity (Fitbit). Many authors have made insightful criticisms and observations about the contemporary datification landscape as a system. Notably, Frank Pasquale, in The Black Box Society, writes about the increase of commercialization and the sale of users’ data, their “digital reputation,” in the opaque world of the data-as-insight industrial complex. This is a valuable systemic critique, yet I am more interested in the personal effects of self-quantification. I argue that the use of self-monitoring and tracking technologies can create anxiety around the data capturing process. Tracking technologies create an ordering of people and experiences that discourages moments which are not easily quantified. more...