The Cyborg project, as articulated by Haraway, is at its core, a utopic project. It is the melding of mechanical and organic, digital and physical, human, machine, and animal in such a way that categorizations cease to hold meaning, and in turn, cyborg bodies break through repressive boundaries.
And yet here we are, at the pinnacle of a cyborg era, inundated with high tech, engaged simultaneously in digital and physical spaces, maintaining relationships with organic and mechanical beings, constituted with and through language, medicines—and increasingly—machines, and we STILL have to deal with bullshit like this (click below to view):
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…)
“The primacy of contemplation over activity rests on the conviction that no work of human hands can equal in beauty and truth the physical kosmos, which swings in itself in changeless eternity without nay interference or assistance from outside, from man or god.” –Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition
I’ve been thinking a lot about methods lately. I want to spend a few paragraphs considering the current state of affairs for social scientists interested in science and technology as their objects of analysis. What kind of work is impossible in our current universities? What kinds of new institutions are necessary for breaking new ground in method as well as theory? Think of this post as an exercise in McLuhan-style probing of institutions of higher learning. I’m going to play with a lot of “what-ifs” and “for instances.” None of this is particularly actionable, nor am I even interested in proposing anything that would be recognized as “realistic” or even “pragmatic.” Mainly, I’m interested in stepping back, considering the state of our technosociety, and asking what kinds of questions need asking and what kinds of science is being systematically left undone. (more…)
About this time last year I asked our readers, “why we don’t criticize other things like we criticize the internet?” It seemed like a fitting topic for the season; we utilize some of the most resource-intensive technologies at our disposal so that we may enjoy egg nog with old friends or taste grandma’s famous Thanksgiving day turkey. Everyone wants to be near their loved ones for the holidays, and so begins a massive effort to transport ourselves in cars, trains and planes until we arrive at our optimal holiday season arrangements. It is a wonder, then, why we spend so much of our lives outside of this optimal arrangement. What kind of relationship do we have with our immediate surroundings? Not just the people, but the technologies and the patterns. There is a lot of excellent work on carbon footprints, local food movements, and walkable communities but I hear comparatively little about who is capable of making this transition. What does opting out of the status quo truly entail? (more…)
The semantics of Silicon Valley Capitalism are precise, measured, and designed to undermine preexisting definitions of the things such capitalists seek to exploit. It is no coincidence that digital connections are often called “friends,” even though the terms “friend” and “Facebook friend” have very different meanings. And then there is “social,” a Silicon Valley shorthand term for “sharing digital information” that bears little resemblance to the word “social” as we’ve traditionally used it. From “Living Social” to “making music social,” “social media” companies use friendly old words to spin new modes of interaction into concepts more comfortable and familiar. It is easier to swallow massive changes to interpersonal norms, expectations, and behaviors when such shifts are repackaged and presented as the delightful idea of being “social” with “friends.”
But is this “social” so social? Yes and no and not quite. To elaborate, we propose a distinction: “Social” versus “social,” in which the capital-S “Social” refers not to the conventional notion of social but specifically to Silicon-Valley-Social. The point is, simply, that when Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say “social,” they mean only a specific slice of human sociality. (more…)
The Jager Bomb:
- One 8 oz. can of Red Bull
- One shot of Jägermeister
- Willingness to overpay for an overhyped experience
The shot of Jager is dropped into a glass of Red Bull and chugged until all evidence disappears down the throats of the youthful.
Felix Baumgartner jumps higher and faster than anyone ever before. Image c/o AP
As I (and a record 8 million other live Youtube viewers) witnessed Felix Baumgartner jump from a floating platform 128,000 feet in the air, I could not help but think about those little red bulls on his helmet. Red Bull, the ubiquitous energy drink and funder of all things Extreme™, had branded nothing less than a moment in human history. A monumental achievement brought to you by a peddler of a sugary drink that has fueled some of the worst decisions in the world [NSFW]. There was a day when the United States government was in the business of dazzling humanity with its feats of technological superiority and raw tenacity. For three years we were landing on the moon almost every six months. We made it look easy. Baumgartner’s jump is truly incredible, but it also makes me a little angry. I am tempted to bemoan the fall of civic life and the rise of corporate-sponsored spectacle, but ultimately I cannot find a moral handhold. Do I want an arms race or consumer capitalism to fund the greatest technological achievements of my lifetime? (more…)
Image c/o selector.com
If you watch the documentary “Urbanized” (now streaming on Netflix) you will eventually see an interview with the man pictured above. His name is Enrique Peñalosa and he is the former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia. During his tenure as mayor he instituted several major changes to the city’s physical and social character. His signature accomplishment was a major bus rapid transit system that is widely regarded by urban planners as one of the most advanced in the world. (See video after the jump.) While the physical changes are no small feat, characterizing his work as simply in the domain of transit or even environmental conservation, would be missing the larger picture. Peñalosa sees urban planning, and specifically access to transportation, as a moral issue. Constitutional rights must extend beyond the juridical or the legalistic sense and into the very physical manifestations of governance. His vision can be summed up in a simple, bumpersticker-ready quote: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” In this brief essay I will apply this rationale to networked computing both in the American context and the developing world. (more…)
PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.
While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. (more…)
dont read all of the tweets
There is often the assumption that the information economy expects us to consume more and more, leading us to process more but concentrate less. Some have called this a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO), a “blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media.” However, most of these arguments about FOMO make the false assumption that the information economy wants and expects us to always process more. This isn’t true; we need to accept the reality that the information economy as well as our own preferences actually value, even need, missing out.
Many do feel in over their heads when scrolling social media streams. Especially those of us who make a hobby or career in the attention/information economy, always reading, sharing, commenting and writing; tweeting, blogging, retweeting and reblogging. Many of us do feel positioned directly in the path of a growing avalanche of information, scared of missing out and afraid of losing our ability to slow down, concentrate, connect and daydream, too distracted by that growing list of unread tweets. While it seemed fun and harmless (Tribble-like?) at first, have we found ourselves drowning in the information streams we signed up for and participate in? (more…)
I just published a piece in a special issue of American Behavioral Scientist on the topic of Prosumption and the Prosumer. The article will likely be of interest to many of Cyborgology blog readers. In it, I consider the applicability of Marx’s two main critiques of capitalism—alienation and exploitation—to social media. Though Marx was describing the materialist paradigm of factory production, it is useful to see how far these concepts can be stretched to account for the immaterial paradigm of digital prosumption, because, even if we observe weaknesses in how the concepts graft on to social media, these observations become a starting point for new kinds of theorizing.
Additionally, I found it important to try to bring alienation into the conversation surrounding social media. Thus far, most Marxian analysis has focused solely on exploitation (many hyperbolically claiming that we have entered an era of hyper- or over-exploitation). I argue that exploitation has remained a constant between material and immaterial modes of production and that what is most remarkable is the fact that productivity occurs on social media with so little alienation.
You can access the article on the publisher’s site or as a .pdf here.
PJ Rey (@pjrey) is a sociologist at the University of Maryland working to describe how social media and other technology reflect and change our culture and the economy.