The new Google maps probably won’t destroy public space.
Maps are always political. Most maps show us something that we already believe, so its difficult to see what is being reinforced and what is systematically ignored. Even the most mundane AAA maps of highways and state borders are doing political work by recognizing the sovereignty of individual states and the obduracy of highways and roads. The near-infinite number of things, qualities, measurements, and people that have spatial characteristics (seriously, just think of all of it: temperatures, ancestral lands, endemic species, isobars, places to buy smoothies, locations of hidden treasure, and so on, and so on…_) mean that map makers must always select what is relevant and what is not. This selection process—a human endeavor—is inherently social and deeply political. Google, a company that has taken upon itself to reject that selection process and “organize all the world’s information,” wants to provide a single map and, instead of deciding what is relevant in any given map, will personalize it based on information it has about you and your friends. Evgeny Morozov, writing in Slate, is rightfully concerned that Google doesn’t quite know what they’re dealing with when they say they want to organize public spaces in their databases right next to email and photos of cats. He is concerned that–unlike books or weather forecasts—Google doesn’t “acknowledge the vital role that disorder, chaos, and novelty play in shaping the urban experience.” I completely agree that unpredictability is necessary for good urban space, but the biggest threat Google poses to public space isn’t that its maps are “profoundly utilitarian, even selfish in character.” Rather, Google hasn’t done enough to personalize maps in such a way that they become part of everyday social (and Social) life. (more…)
Is there a point in speaking about original, fake or authentic when it comes to music these days? Before you roll your eyes and look for the exit button, you might want to read this post. It led me to realise that some debates which were hot when postmodernism came out of the oven are still relevant. A good take on this matter is Ted Cohen’s reflections on the notorious debate about art:
Although I have participated in discussions of what are is, I have always been in a negative position, arguing that someone’s attempt to say what art is fails, and until recently it did not seem to me that I had anything to say about what art is. And that was because, although I could think of reasons for denying what someone says art is, I could think of no way to begin thinking about what art seems (at least to me) to be. Now I have begun to find a way, and I am finding it by trying to understand why I (or anyone, for that matter) would ever seriously care to assert or deny that something is art. (Cohen, 1998: 154).
This blog post describes the art of music spammers who operate within the Echonest platform. (more…)
Over the past few months there’s been a lot of hoopla around the “mass exodus” of teens from Facebook, with particular reference to Facebook’s decreasing cache of cool. Despite several refutations to the mass-exodus hypothesis, people—academics and non-academics alike— still ask me all the time: “So Jenny, what’s up with all the kids leaving Facebook? I hear it’s not cool anymore.”
Now let me be clear; I am not cool. I hold no pretense of being cool, and hence have no business making any sort of objective hipness-rating on anything. Seriously. I just used the word “hip.” I am, however, a social scientist, and I want to take a moment to talk about some data—an area in which I am qualified. (more…)
Over the past few months, a lot of theoretical work has been done to further develop the concept of “digital dualism.” Following a provocation from Nicholas Carr, a number of thoughtful people have chimed in to help both further explicate and defend the theory. Their responses have been enlightening and are worth reading in full. They have also clarified a few things for me about the topic that I’d like to share here. Specifically, I’d like to do a bit of reframing regarding the nature of digital dualism, drawing upon this post by Nathan Jurgenson, then use this framework to situate digital dualism within a broader field of political disagreement and struggle.
In his reply to Carr, Jurgenson helpfully parses apart two distinct-but-related issues. (Technically he draws three distinctions, but I will only focus upon two here). First, Jurgenson identifies what he calls “ontological digital dualism theory,” a research project that he characterizes as focused upon that which exists. Such theory would seem to include all efforts that seek to explain (or call into question) the referents of commonly used terms such as “digital” or “virtual,” “physical” or “real.” In contrast to this ontological theory, he then identifies what might be called normative digital dualism theory—a branch of analysis concerned with the comparative value that is attributed to the categories established by one’s ontological position. Such theory would thus analyze the use of value-laden modifiers such as “real” or “authentic” in describing the “digital” or the “physical.”
I posit that digital dualism, in fact, draws from both the ontological and the normative analyses. Specifically the digital dualist: (more…)
Before we get into it, allow me to direct your attention to the massive link roundup about this on Fanlore. It’s worth a look on its own, and contains many awesome arguments and viewpoints to which I can’t do justice here.
It was one of those moments of glorious serendipity that, a day before I left for Wiscon – a weekend of feminist SF and fandom in Madison, Wisconsin, hence the name – Amazon announced that they would start selling fanfiction.
Specifically, the venture is called Kindle Worlds, wherein Amazon has secured licenses for various IPs in order to allow writers to publish fic set in those various canon for which they will receive royalties – while, of course, Amazon takes its cut (and it’s a sizable cut). So far the only licenses specified are the CW’s The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, and ABC’s Pretty Little Liars, but Amazon indicates that writers will be able to publish fic from “popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games” and they claim that more licenses are on the way.
And fandom exploded, as fandom is wont to do.
I have been thinking a lot about technology and emotion. Most likely, this is because the past month has been an emotional rollercoaster—in the best possible way—and I’ve found myself directing a lot of that emotion at my phone.
Although I officially graduated in December, my partner (also a sociologist) and I both decided to do the whole ceremonial graduation thing at the end of the Spring semester. At the beginning of May, members from both of our families came down to Texas to celebrate. They traveled from Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York. This was wonderful. I love my family—immediate and in-laws alike. Like, gooey, gushy, here-take-half-my-sandwich, capital “L” Love these people!! But I may or may not have thrown my phone angrily onto the bed and refused to look at it for a full 30 minutes after an onslaught of text messages and phone calls in which everyone was confused/upset/annoyed about logistical arrangements (okay, I did do this). I also laughed with my brother when we both rolled our eyes and tightened our shoulders upon the simultaneous beeping from both of our phones as family members, who again, we both love very much, contacted us to tell us about a change of plans. Over the course of the weekend, I fake strangled my phone, threw it (see above), twitched my eyes in response to its beckon, and smiled sadly into it after everyone left and the text message beep brought news that we were missed, loved, and the source of pride. (more…)
In the first chapters of every Economics 101 textbook there’s a misleading hypothetical about the origins of money. David Graeber, in his book Debt: The First 5,000 Years calls it “the founding myth of our system of economic relations.” This myth is so pervasive that even people who have never taken an Economics 101 class know, and believe in, this myth. We tend to assume that before money there was this awkward barter system where you had to keep all your chickens and yams with you when you went to market to buy a calf. If the person selling the calf didn’t want chicken or yams, no transaction would take place. Money seems to fill a very important need: it lets us compare and exchange a wide variety of goods by establishing a common metric of value. The problem with this construction—of simple barter being replaced with cash economies—is that it never happened. That’s what makes Bondsy, an app that let’s you effortlessly barter with a private set of friends, so interesting: It takes a modern myth and turns it into everyday reality. (more…)
So Tuesday night’s big reveal of Xbox One – Microsoft’s new incarnation of their console – appears to have been a disaster of spectacular proportions. This is interesting in itself, though not totally unexpected; people often react to new things in less than positive ways. But what’s especially interesting are the things that Microsoft got wrong and the specific elements that people are finding so problematic. On Microsoft’s part, they first amount to a baffling inability to understand the actual living situations of its own market, but they also amount to the continuation of a trend that I’ve written about several times before, namely: the worrying inclination of companies and their designers to remove agency from tech owners.
In other words, owners increasingly = users.