Tag Archives: augmented society

What Would a Better Technological Society Look Like?

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One of the most dangerous misconceptions about our present political climate is that it is broken. That too many “bad apples” have achieved high-ranking positions and it s their greed and malfeasance that is to blame for rising inequality and state-sanctioned violence. Overcrowded prisons, rapid gentrification, industrial disasters, and predatory banking practices aren’t bugs, they’re features of our current historical moment. Even if CEOs and presidents wanted to end any of these problems tomorrow, they could easily be sued or even jailed for threatening their bottom lines. And while we should never hold critics to the impossible standard of “come up with a better system” it never hurts, from time to time, to play Minecraft with words and come up with some replacements for the current way of doing things. What would a vastly better technological society look like? (more…)

Fuck, I Need Some New Swear Words

Note: This article touches on slut shaming, body shaming, homophobia, and ableism.

original (2)

I love swearing. It’s a weekly miracle that my essays don’t include “totally fucked” or “fucked up and bullshit” in every paragraph. If I were reborn as a linguist, I would study swearing and cursing. I watch documentaries about cursing, I play a lot of Cards Against Humanity, and this interview with Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing is my favorite episode of Slate’s just-nerdy-enough podcast Lexicon Valley. If you’ve been in the audience when I give a presentation, you probably (despite my efforts to the contrary) heard me swear five or six times. I would hate to live in a world without swearing because it would be fucking dull. Unfortunately, my (and most English-speaking people) love of swearing comes into direct contradiction with inclusionary social politics. I need a new arsenal of swear words that punch up and tear down destructive stereotypes. Every time I swear, I want to be totally confident that I’m offending the right people. (more…)

Boundless Informant: Augmented State Surveillance

Image under Creative Commons

Image under Creative Commons

I start with a nota bene by saying that I do not self-identify as a “surveillance scholar” but given our current sociotechnical and political climates, the topic is unavoidable. One might even be tempted to say that if you aren’t thinking about state and corporate surveillance, you’re missing a key part of your analysis regardless of your object of study. Last week, Whitney Erin Boesel put out a request for surveillance study scholars to reassess the usefulness of the panopticon as a master metaphor for state surveillance. Nathan Jurgenson commented on the post, noting that Siva Vaidhyanathan (@sivavaid) has used the term “nonopticon” to describe “a state of being watched without knowing it, or at least the extent of it.” I would like to offer up a different term –taken straight from recent NSA revelations—that applies specifically to surveillance that relies on massive power differentials and enacted through the purposeful design of the physical and digital architecture of our augmented society. Nested within the nonopticon, I contend, are billions of “boundless informants.” (more…)

The Politics of Communications Technology

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It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. (more…)

Cable News is Dead, Long Live Cable News

Original picture of control room from Flickr user llee_wu, edited and used by the author under Creative Commons

The very fact that your eyes rolled (just a little bit) at the title tells you that it is absolutely true. So true its obnoxious to proclaim it. Perhaps cable news died when CNN made a hologram of  Jessica Yeller  and beamed her into the “Situation Room” just to talk horse race bullshit during the 2008 election. Or maybe it was as far back as 2004 when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and shattered the fourth wall by excoriating the dual hosts for destroying public discourse. The beginning of the end might be hard to pinpoint, but the end is certainly coming. Fox News had its lowest ratings since 2001 this year, but still has more viewers than CNN & MSNBCNEWSWHATEVERITSCALLEDNOW combined. Even if ratings weren’t a problem, credibility certainly is. Imagine if CNN stopped calling themselves the “Most Trusted Name In News” and used the more accurate, “A Little Over Half of Our Viewers Think We’re Believable.” By now it is clear that the zombified talking heads of cable news are either bought and sold, or just irrelevant. Cable news channels’ hulking, telepresent bodies have been run through and left to rot on the cynical barbs of political bloggers and just about anyone at a comedy shop’s open-mic night. This last series of screw-ups in Boston (here, here, here and unless it was avant-garde electronic literature, here) begs the question if cable news channels can even tell us what’s going on anymore. Cable news is dead, but something keeps animating the corpse. (more…)

A Request for Methods: Studying the Development of Software

IBM’s SAGE, a large semi-automated air defense system from the Cold War era. C/o Wikimedia Commons

IBM’s SAGE, a large semi-automated air defense system from the Cold War era. C/o Wikimedia Commons

I just left my department’s colloquium lecture series where Dr. Virginia Eubanks from SUNY- Albany was giving an excellent talk on the computer systems that administer and control (to varying degrees) earned benefits programs like social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. The talk was really fascinating and a question from Dr. Abby Kinchy during the Q&A really stuck with me: How do we study different (and often long-outdated) versions of software? Particularly, how do we chart the design of software that runs on huge closed networks owned by large companies or governments? Are these decisions lost to history, or are there methods for ferreting out Ross Perot’s old wares? (more…)

What the Media is Getting Wrong about Steubenville, Social Media, and Rape Culture

Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.

 

Image from Youth Vector

Image from Youth Vector

The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture.  As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.”  Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. (more…)

What is High Tech?

The result of a Google Image search for “High Tech” What the hell could this possibly mean? Image c/o Small Business Trends

If you live in the United States and have been adjacent to something with the news on it, you have probably heard of the “Fiscal Cliff.” The fiscal cliff refers to several major tax breaks and earned benefit compensation programs that were set to expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress raised the debt ceiling. One of the few good things to come out of this manufactured crisis was some excellent reporting on the power of metaphor in politics. The ability to spur action and drive public opinion while offering next-to-no information demonstrates the awesome power of metaphors. Most people did not know why we were falling off the cliff, what the cliff was made of, or what the consequences for falling would be. Slate’s Lexicon Valley covered this phenomenon in an episode last month titled  “Good is Up.” Co-hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield dissected the cliff metaphor using the classic book, Metaphors We Live By (1980) by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Vuolo and Garfield note, “‘Success is rising’ and ‘failing is falling.’ Lakoff believes these primal, spatial metaphors form what he calls a ‘neural cascade’ that he says is ‘so tightly integrated and so natural that we barely notice them, if we notice them at all.’” In short, we might not understand what goes into creating or averting the fiscal cliff, but we know it should be avoided. Going down is bad, and staying up is good. The episode got me thinking about similar spatial metaphors and the work they do in our augmented society. One of the more ubiquitous metaphors is “high tech.” Is high tech “good” technology? Or is it high in the same way the Anglican Church uses the word; steeped in conservative traditions and formal code?  (more…)

Are There More Public Apologies Than Ever Before?

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The original video I posted was taken down. Alexander calls cricket a “gay game” 5 minutes in.

In an interview with Craig Ferguson last week, Jason Alexander called the game of Cricket “a gay game.” It was clear (and you can see for yourself in the video above, starting at the 9 minute mark) that Alexander was equating “gay” with “effeminate” and juxtaposing words like “gay” and “queer” with notions of masculinity and being “manly.” After the show aired, the tweets started pouring in. This tweet by @spaffrath was pretty trypical: (more…)

Sherry Turkle’s Chronic Digital Dualism Problem

Reason #15,926 I love the Internet: it allows us to bypass our insane leaders israelovesiran.com

— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle published an op-ed in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times’ Sunday Review that decries our collective move from “conversation” to “connection.” Its the same argument she made in her latest book Alone Together, and has roots in her previous books Life on the Screen and Second Self. Her argument is straightforward and can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Our world has more “technology” in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.
  • We use this technology to structure/control/select the kinds of conversations we have with certain people.
  • These communication technologies compete with “the world around us” in a zero-sum game for our attention.
  • We are substituting “real conversations” with shallower, “dumbed-down” connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities.

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.  (more…)