When it comes to data analysis, sometimes non-findings speak louder than findings. Particularly when non-findings shine a light on questions that aren’t being asked.
On 21 September 2014, UMd Professor of Sociology Dana R. Fisher took a small army of friends and graduate students to New York City to survey demonstrators at The People’s Climate March (PCM). The PCM survey is part of a longer thread of Dr. Fisher’s research, which surveys protestors to get a better understanding of who protests, how they are mobilized, and how their participation in protests relates to other forms of civic engagement they may partake in. Nate Silver’s data-nerd playground FiveThirtyEight.com sent a film crew to follow us to make a short documentary of our experience. The doc is part of their series The Collectors, a look at how scientists can apply rigorous research methods to a variety of unique settings outside of the laboratory.
The PCM’s greatest appeal—the thing that got us all up before dawn on a Sunday to take a bus from DC to Manhattan—was the sheer volume of potential data it made available to us. While more conservative estimates put the number of demonstrators at around 100,000, PCM organizers themselves suggest that it was closer to four times that. In any case, 350.org, who planned the march in collaboration with a long list of partner organizations, trumpeted the event as the “largest climate march in history.” By all accounts, they were right; the PCM was the brightest star in a constellation of nearly 2,600 simultaneous climate protests happening all over the world that day.
This thing was big, it was global, and it mobilized a lot of people.
Part of 350.org’s plan was to arrange protesters into neat blocks, according to where they fit along a spectrum of participant identities and organizational affiliations. Their hope was to organize participants into city-block-sized sections that would each represent a single unified ideological or social position. The map below details what these blocks were supposed to look like, and who was supposed to fill them during the assembly period before the march began. (more…)
Alert to fanpeople: The film version of Ender’s Game is not the sprawling political epic Orson Scott Card created in the Ender series. Alert to those unfamiliar with the story: The film is, however, a lean and contemporary plunge into questions of morality mediated by technology, and in order to tease out various issues, I’m gonna spoil the heck out of both book and film.
If you’re watching hoping to have your heart yanked out and shaken, you’ll probably be disappointed. Asa Butterfield’s guileless face makes a plausible approximation of the story’s world-weary protagonist, Ender, but he struggles to bring emotion to an over-trimmed, manically paced story. Minor conflicts are presented in expository dialogue and resolved before we have a chance to parse Harrison Ford’s (aka Colonel Graff’s) cranky barks. Minor characters are sketched in a single phrase, and the world appears divided into cute children who drift inevitably into Ender’s circle, and less typically-bodied children whose essential malice leaves them beyond redemption. Hood does a decent job of not Hollywood-izing the story beyond recognition: Here is Ender, cerebral, tormented, pubescent strategic genius in a world where children’s minds are employed as the best military defense against an alien enemy. Ender is taken from his home to Battle School in space, subjected to increasingly grueling battle simulations, and, in his final moment of victory is devastated to learn that the simulations were actually the real war. Without realizing, he has annihilated the aliens’ home planet. (more…)
what’s a bot and what’s human and where do we draw the line and should we draw that line
Yesterday, we learned that the most infamous Weird Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, wasn’t a algorithmically-programmed “bot” but instead the product of a person tweeting as if. The revelation was accompanied by a live performance of the account in a Manhattan art gallery. While much is being written about the account, I’d like to share one thought about the live performance and what this all says about what is real and virtual, “bot” and human. In one day, @Horse_ebooks went from bot to human, and as I’ll argue, embodied in an art gallery, right back towards bot. (more…)
As the American Sociological Society Annual Meeting approaches, I want to take this opportunity to give some theoretical attention to the language of digital technologies. The following is perhaps an overly verbose way of asking what to do with heavily integrated but problematic vocabularies? The timing here is significant, as I believe the meetings next weekend will include a lot of dualist language that we, as a discipline, aren’t quite sure what to do with.
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…)
Digital dualism is pervasive, and the understandings that it informs—of ourselves, of our experiences, and of our very world—are a mess. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the fact that digital dualism arises from varying sets of flawed assumptions, and was never purposefully assembled as such by the people who embrace it. But guess what? As theorists, we have the opportunity not only to build new frameworks for understanding, but also to assemble those frameworks with both consciousness and intentionality. So with that in mind, what should a theory of augmented reality look like? What would we do differently from digital dualists?
It is of paramount importance that theories of augmented reality acknowledge complexities and differences—whether between materials, media, degrees of access, or subjective experiences—without falling into dualisms. (more…)
Last week, I started a somewhat ridiculously ambitious post wherein, by way of making a whole bunch of points I’ve been wanting to make anyway, I intended to push us all toward strengthening and clarifying our ideas around both digital dualism and augmented reality. In light of some really excellent work by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), PJ Rey (@pjrey), and Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford), in addition to some old-fashioned conversation on these topics with PJ and Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson), I’m now going to change course a bit. In this middle installment, I’m going to revisit the three problematic dualisms of digital dualism (Atoms/Bits, Physical/Digital, and Offline/Online), take up the two recent major critiques of the digital dualism framework, advance a few provocations in the service of breaking dualisms and promoting clarity, and then finally conclude for this week with a preview of this essay’s final destination.
When someone sends a text to my phone, are they any less responsible for their comments than if they had said the same thing face-to-face? If someone says a photo I post is “unflattering” or “unprofessional,” do I feel like this says something about me as a person? Why has it become so common to equate the unauthorized use of someone else’s Facebook account to the violation experienced during rape, that the term “fraping”* has come into popular usage? These are some of the questions I think that digital dualism prevents us from answering satisfactorily. In framing an alternative to dualist thinking, I argue that it is important to account for people’s changing sense of self (hinted at in the examples above). To do this, we must examine the material conditions of subjectivity, or, put simply, how what we are affects who we are.
Interestingly, my argument that we ought to take serious account of people’s changing sense of self closely aligns me with with Nick Carr’s recent counter to the digital dualism critique. In fact, in re-reading his post, I realize that he is arguing for almost exactly the kind of theoretical frame work that I am working to develop. (more…)
Alright, pop quiz: Is there a reality outside of human experiences? Please circle YES or NO.
Chances are you find this question either very silly or very complicated, possibly both. But I argue that this question is actually lurking in the background of much this month’s earlier digital dualism debate, and that giving it some attention straightens a lot of things out—especially the compelling (but ultimately incorrect, I argue) charge that augmented reality is itself a dualist framing.
To illustrate why this question matters, consider the following fictional (but not entirely unlikely) scenario, in which I either am or am not a jerk:
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.