What Was Ello?

ello

2014 Ello was in with the new and by 2015 it became out with the old. It’s New Years Eve and I want to look back on a thing that came and went this year, which leaves me feeling bummed. You can only be really disappointed if you start with high hopes, and lots of people for lots of reasons wanted Ello to work. It became quickly clear that the site didn’t have a strong vision. Neither its politics or its understanding of the social life it set out to mediate were inspired or clever enough to be compelling.

(more…)

My Top False Blog Post Starts of 2014

gif that says "ugh"

There are lots of posts that start but often go unwritten. Some don’t even make it past the first sentence. They just sit in the posts list in WordPress or in a Google Doc until I pronounce them trash. Here, in order from phoning it in to most profound (in memoriam of David Letterman’s Tonight Show, or is it the Late Show I don’t even care enough to Google it), are my best false blog post starts of the year.

(more…)

Facebook’s Structure of Compulsory Happiness

happy

The end of a year is an introspective time. We reflect on the past 365 days and lay plans for the year to come. This is a time of remembering, analyzing, hoping, and figuring. Helping us through this introspective process is Facebook’s Year in Review.  This app compiles the “highlights” of each user’s year through images, events, and status updates. It then displays this compilation for the user, and gives the option to share the review with Friends.  The default caption reads: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being part of it[i].”

Quickly, the app garnered negative attention when web designer Eric Meyer blogged about his heart wrenching experience of facing pictures of his 6 year old daughter who passed away not long ago. There was no trigger warning. There was no opt-in. There was simply an up-beat video picturing his daughter’s face when he logged into his Facebook account. He aptly attributes this experience to “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty.”

Although the cruelty was indeed inadvertent, it was none-the-less inevitable. It reflects a larger issue with the Facebook platform: its insistent structure of compulsory happiness. This insistence is reflected in a “Like” button, without any other 1-click emotive options; it is reflected in goofy emoticons through which sadness and illness are expressed with cartoon-like faces in cheerful colors; it is reflected in relationship status changes that announce themselves to one’s network. And as users, we largely comply. We share the happy moments, the funny quips, the accomplishments and #humblebrags, while hiding, ignoring, or unFriending those with the audacity to mope; to clog our newsfeeds with negativity. But we do not comply ubiquitously nor condone/censure unanimously. Sometimes we perform sadness, and sometimes we support each other in this. (more…)

“Here’s 2014!” “…Really?” – Facebook’s algorithmic storytelling

fbyear

promise I’ll be just as fabulous

I did Facebook’s “year in review” thing. I did it because it kept showing up on my feed and because I saw my friends doing it, and somewhere in his secret volcano fortress Mark Zuckerberg rubbed his fingertips lightly together and hissed “Eeeeeeeeeeexcellent.”

(more…)

We Don’t Have Data, We Are Data

the-interview

Does anyone else feel like the terms ‘cyber-attack’ and ‘cyber-terrorism’ should always be accompanied by cold-war style red flashing lights?  Maybe I’m just watching too much mainstream news. In any case, I argue below that the ‘cyber’ prefix is not only dated and dualist, but imprecise. I suggest ‘data’ as an alternative. This relies on the assumption that we don’t have data, we are data; an attack on our data is therefore, an attack on us. (more…)

Listening to Data: on Phantom Terrains

This is a cross-post from Its Her Factory.

Frank Swain has a hearing aid that sonifies ambient WiFi signals. A Bluetooth-enabled digital hearing aid paired with a specially programmed iPhone (and its WiFi detector), the device, named Phantom Terrains, “translate[s] the characteristics of wireless networks into sound….Network identifiers, data rates and encryption modes are translated into sonic parameters, with familiar networks becoming recognizable by their auditory representations.” The effect, Swain says, is “something similar to Google Glass – an always-on, networked tool that can seamlessly stream data and audio into your world.” (I’ll leave the accuracy of this comparison to people who have thought more about Glass than I have.)

Why would anyone want to do this? What’s the point of being able to sense, to detect and interpret, the flows of data that are transmitted in your environment? For Swain and his collaborator Daniel Jones, data transmissions are just as much a part of the material, engineered, designed, and planned environment as roads, pipes, and buildings are. We exist in a “digital landscape,” and just like all landscapes, this one has a social meaning and a politics. “Just as the architecture of nearby buildings gives insight to their origin and purpose, we can begin to understand the social world by examining the network landscape.”

(more…)

Shadows in the Gaslight

6993797135_11966f7b86_z

image courtesy of Carmen Jost

There are moments when we’re taught to mistrust ourselves, to regard our own feelings with high suspicion, where we learn that we are not our own friends or companions, where we do not lead ourselves well through the world but instead point the way toward traps, pits, quicksand. We learn to view ourselves as enemies.

Don’t pretend this isn’t true of some more than others.

(more…)

Call for Papers- Theorizing the Web 2015 #TtW15

callpapers2015-500

#TtW15

April 17–18 in New York City

Venue: the future home of the International Center of Photography, in lower Manhattan

Abstract submission deadline: 11:59 pm (EST), January 18, 2015

To theorize the web is to theorize the self, society, and the world. Although digital social technologies are relatively new, the web is hardly a “virtual reality” or a “new frontier”; rather, it is a deeply embedded part of our existing social world, which has been described in multiple traditions of social thought. Yet mainstream conversations about digital social technologies tend to emphasize the technological at the expense of the social and result in partial understandings of the web, disconnected from questions of power and social justice—and from public discourse. Useful, nuanced thinking about the web is too often hidden behind paywalls and academic jargon, while technology journalism too often fixates on stories of progress and personal triumph without examining underlying ideologies or structural conditions. (more…)

Attention Topographies and Small Town Protest

YouTube Preview Image

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…)

“Communities” are not Communal: fandom, capitalism, and contact zones

large

I should preface this by saying that I originally came out of what is generally referred to as “fandom” but I haven’t been part of one for a long time. Recently, though, I dipped a toe back into the water – specifically, the fandom around the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead – and I noticed some things I think are worth considering.

(more…)