Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You
Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.
Ugh. I hate the new Facebook. I liked it better without the massive psychological experiments.
Facebook experimented on us in a way that we really didn’t like. Its important to frame it that way because, as Jenny Davis pointed out earlier this week, they experiment on us all the time and in much more invasive ways. The ever-changing affordances of Facebook are a relatively large intervention in the lives of millions of people and yet the outrage over these undemocratic changes never really go beyond a complaint about the new font or the increased visibility of your favorite movies (mine have been and always will be True Stories and Die Hard). To date no organization, as Zeynep Tufekci observed, has had the “stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams.” When we do get mad at Facebook, it always seems to be a matter of unintended consequences or unavoidable external forces: There was justified outrage over changes in privacy settings that initiated unwanted context collapse, and we didn’t like the hard truth that Facebook had been releasing its data to governments. Until this week, it was never quite so clear just how much unchecked power Facebook has over its 1.01 billion monthly active users. What would governing such a massive sociotechnical system even look like? (more…)
The concept of “risk” comes up a lot in the classes I TA. Usually, it comes up as part of a conversation about acceptable levels of risk for consumer products: How safe should a car be? How much money should we spend on fire safety in homes? If you’re utilizing a cost-benefit analysis that also means calculating the price of a human life. How much is your life worth? These questions are familiar to safety regulators, inspectors, CEOs, and government officials but as private citizens and consumers, we like to think that such questions are sufficiently settled. Cars are as safe as we can make them because human life is incalculably valuable. After all, these sorts of questions sound macabre when we invert the function: How many cars should explode every year? How many jars of peanut butter should have salmonella in them? These questions are largely considered necessary evils in today’s risk-based society, but what kind of society does that create? (more…)
“Prosumption” is a bit of a buzzword here at Cyborgology. It refers to the melding of production and consumption. Although prosumption is not unique to the contemporary connected era, it flourishes within it. One slice of prosumption theorizing focuses specifically on identity. I first coined identity prosumption in an American Behavioral Scientist article (un-paywalled on my academia.edu page). Since then, references to identity prosumption have appeared periodically on the blog. For example, Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) applied identity prosumption to the asexual identity movement, Dave Paul Strohecker (@dpsFTW) mused about the role of identity in Star Wars fan fic., and I pondered the liberatory versus categorically constraining role of identity prosumption.
Identity prosumption refers to the identity meanings associated with prosumed content. What we create reflects and constructs who we are, just as who we are reflects and constructs what we create. Identity prosumption is a merging of prosumed objects and prosuming subjects. It applies: (a) when that which is prosumed can be connected to the prosumer in a defining way and (b) when the process of prosumption incorporates social interaction.
Today, I want to add a bit more nuance to the identity prosumption model. Specifically, I want to demonstrate that sites of identity prosumption (both online and offline) affect the identity prosumption process in non-uniform ways. I focus here on two key variations: collective vs. individualist orientation, and degree of control over identity meanings. I explore these variations through a comparison of two identity prosumption sites: Facebook and FetLife. The former is the preeminent social network platform, the latter an (ironically) mainstream social network site for people who like BDSM. To employ a twist on the Hipster trope, “FetLife: you’ve probably heard of it.” (more…)
This is the first of a two-part series dedicated to answering the question “Do we need a new World’s Fair?” It is an honest question that I do not have an answer to. What I aim to do here is share my thoughts on the subject and present historical data on what these sorts of events have done in the past. In the first part, I explore what previous World Fairs have accomplished and what we must certainly avoid. The second part will investigate what a new 21st century fair might look like, and how it would help our economy. Part 1 is here.
Our Generation's Only Exposure to the Concept of the World's Fair. (Copyright Paramount Pictures and Marvel)
Yesterday we looked at the last few World Fairs that were held in the United States. Those 20th century fairs demonstrated technologies that today we take for granted as common-place. Everything from Juicy Fruit gum to fluorescent lighting has been introduced to the world through these massive fairs. World Expos still take place, but are now found in China, Japan and South Korea. The 2012 expo will be held in Seoul, South Korea. The latest World’s Fair, Expo 2010, was held in Shanghai, China and set historic records as the largest and most well-attended expo. But the success of the Shanghai Expo doesn’t quite translate to America’s shores. As The Atlantic’s Adam Minter wrote last year:
To American ears, the concept of a World’s Fair sounds archaic, and when applied to Shanghai, a contemporary symbol of all that is new, vibrant, and even threatening, it’s disconcerting. But in Shanghai, where the future is an obsession, this reported $46 billion hat-tip to the past makes perfect sense: just as New York once announced its global pre-eminence via World’s Fairs in 1939 and, again, in 1964, the organizers of Expo 2010 view the six month event as nothing less than Shanghai’s coronation as the next great world city. (more…)
Today we have a guest post from Distinguished University Professor and social theorist George Ritzer. This text is only part of the talk Dr. Ritzer will deliver in Las Vegas on Friday, August 19thas part of the Consumer Society Research Network conference [program]. Ritzer’s work on the technologies of consumption is in full force in this essay. The technologies of consumption in the form of ever more spectacular “cathedrals” of consumption are coming to look more and more like “dinosaurs.” This essay to provides an important backdrop of the current economic situation in Las Vegas, one in which Ritzer argues mirrors larger trends in consumerism and globalization.
There is, at least from my point of view, no better place to discuss the crisis and contradictions in consumption in the US, especially in its cathedrals of consumption, than in Las Vegas, the city devoted to, and built on, consumption and defined globally by its iconic cathedrals of consumption; the major casino-hotels on the Strip. It is here that we witnessed what was arguably the greatest consumer-driven expansion in the US in the run up to the Great Recession and, as a result of the latter, perhaps the greatest economic setbacks. Unemployment in Las Vegas rose as high as 15% and is still over 12%. New construction is virtually non-existent. The foreclosure rate, while slightly down from 2009, remains the highest, and by a wide margin, of all the metropolitan areas in the US. Gaming revenue dropped by $2 billion at the depth of the recession and is still down about $1.5 billion from the peak. The largest casino hotel conglomerates- MGM and Caesars- continue to report huge losses largely because of debt incurred during the Great Recession. Mirroring the global economic shift to the Far East, Las Vegas is no longer the gambling capital of the world and has been surpassed by both Macau and Singapore. (more…)