Tag Archives: cyberpunk

Augmented Activism: A Tactical Survey (Part 1)

Academics usually do not talk about “tactics.” There are theories, methods, critiques, but we -as professionals-rarely feel comfortable advocating for something as unstable or open to interpretation as a tactic. In the latest edition of the Science, Technology, and Human Values (The flagship journal for Society for Social Studies of Science) three authors threw caution to the wind and published the paper “Postcolonial Computing: A Tactical Survey“ [over-priced subscription required]. While the content of the paper is excellent, what excited me the most was their decision to describe their new “bag of tools” as a set of tactics. Kavita Philip, Lilly Irani, and Paul Dourish take a moment in their conclusion to reflect on their decision:

We call our results tactics, rather than methodologies, strategies, or universal guarantors of truth. Tactics lead not to the true or final design solution but to the contingent and collaborative construction of other narratives. These other narratives remain partial and approximate, but they are irrevocably opened up to problematization.

I will employ the language and approach of the “tactical survey” to offer a new set of conceptual tools for understanding augmented protest and revolution. It is my aim that they prove useful for activists as well as academics and journalists following Occupy Wall Street and similar movements. This first part focuses on the intersections of transparency, social media, privilege, and public depictions of protest. Part 2 will cover the utilization of corporate technological systems (e.g. Apple productsTwitter) and building alternatives to those systems (e.g. Vibe, Diaspora). These tactics are forged from observations (first hand and otherwise) of the #OWS movement. They are intentionally abstract, because they are menat to apply to a wide range of instances and scenarios.  (more…)

On The Flow of Tweets: Private Interests and Public Speech

I took the liberty of making a new meme: "Censorship Sandworm". http://memegenerator.net/Censorship-Sandworm

“I must rule with eye and claw — as the hawk among lesser birds.”

-Duke Leo Atreides in Book 1: Dune

Over a week ago, Twitter announced a new censorship policy, stating that it would comply with any “valid and applicable legal request” to take down tweets. The announcement came just as we were still digesting Google’s unified privacy policy and were still debating the (now confirmed) rumors that Facebook was releasing an IPO. Twitter has since been applauded, denounced, and dissected by a variety of scholars, media critics, and business leaders. In this post I will give a brief summary of the controversy, briefly weigh in with a commentary of my own, and conclude with a discussion of what all this means for theorizing online social activity.


How Cyberpunk Warned against Apple’s Consumer Revolution

It’s a notable coincidence that Steve Job died exactly two decades after Neil Stephenson completed Snowcrash, arguably, the last great Cyberpunk novel. Stephenson and Jobs’ work exemplified two alternative visions of humans’ relationship with technology in the Digital Age. Snowcrash offers a gritty, dystopian vision of a world where technology works against human progress as much as it works on behalf of it. Strong individuals must assert themselves against technological slavery, though ironically, they rely on technology and their technological prowess to do so.

Apple, on the other hand, tells us that the future is now, offering lifestyle devices that are slick (some might say, sterile). Despite being mass produced, these devices are supposed to bolster our individuality by communicating our superior aesthetic standards. Above all, Apple offers a world where technology is user-friendly and requires little technical competency. We need not liberate ourselves from technology; there’s an app for that.

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Values and style are inextricably linked (as Marshal McLuhan famously preached). So, unsurprisingly, the differences between Apple’s view of the future and that of Cyberpunk authors such as Stephenson run far deeper. The Cyberpunk genre has a critical mood that is antithetical to Apple’s mission of pushing its products into the hands of as many consumers as possible. The clean, minimalist styling of Apple devices makes a superficial statement about the progressive nature of the company, while the intuitive interface makes us feel that Apple had us in mind when designing the product—that human experience is valued, that they care. Of course, this is all a gimmick. Apple invokes style to “enchant” its products with an aura of mystery and wonderment while simultaneously deflecting questions about how the thing actually works (as discussed in Nathan Jurgenson & Zeynep Tufekci’s recent “Digital Dialogue” presentation on the iPad). Apple isn’t selling a product, it’s selling an illusion. And to enjoy it (as I described in a recent essay), we must suspend disbelief and simply trust in the”Mac Geniuses”—just as we must allow ourselves to believe in an illusionist if we hope to enjoy a magic show. Thus, the values coded into Apple products are passivity and consumerism; it is at this level where it is most distinct from the Cyberpunk movement. (more…)

Surveillance: From the Cloud(s) to the Fog

Last winter, Cyborgology contributor David Banks described the Pentagon’s Gorgon Stare system—a nine-camera flying drone that can stay airborne for weeks at a time—as a “panopticon in the clouds.”  Like Jeremy Bentham’s infamous prison design (later adopted as a metaphor for all of contemporary society by Michel Foucault), the deployment of surveillance drones serves, in part, to limit the actions of militants by creating a perception that the US government was perpetually watching.  Banks argues that, ultimately, these sci-fi-esque surveillance regimes were made possible by recent refinements in automated data management that originally had mundane applications, such as helping spectators follow activity on the sports pitch or producing individualized film recommendations.

Compiled by PJ Rey

There is, thus, a double-sense in which the panopticon has entered the cloud(s).  Surveillance devices are not only omnipresent—flying through the air—but these devices are also linked remotely to command and control centers—large, centralized databases that store and process the information produced in surveillance operations.  Thus, unlike the historic spy operations conducted by manned U2 spy plans, drones never have to physically return home for data processing; instead, this information is transmitted in real-time. (more…)

Speculative Fiction, Atemporality, and Augmented Reality

“The future is there,” Cayce hears herself say, “looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. And from where they are, the past behind us will look nothing at all like the past we imagine behind us now.”
–William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

“This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”
–Bruce Sterling, “Slipstream”, SF Eye #5, July 1989

I first read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition almost a year ago, after a long hiatus from his work. I’ve long loved his books, but went through the kind of distance that time and life just sometimes put between a reader and an author. Pattern Recognition was the return, and I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it except for the author–an experience that I always find somewhat refreshingly like exploring a dark, richly appointed room with a small flashlight.

And then something rather interesting happened. The book contains a description of the memories that the protagonist retains of the events of September 11, 2001, and as I read, I experienced a curious kind of vertigo–something that I have since come to understand as the mirror-hallway perception of reading a fictionalized account of a real event in my own memory, remembered as past in a near-future context. In that moment, what I experienced as vertigo was the collapsing of a number of categories–past, present, and future, fiction and non-fiction, myself and other. It should be noted that Pattern Recognition is not actually set in the future; nevertheless, I processed it that way at the time because of how I’m used to reading Gibson. But that’s not the only reason for the vertigo. It was an intense case, but in fact this implosion of metaphysical categories is one of the things that speculative fiction (SF) essentially does.


Cyberpunk Author Bruce Sterling on Cyborgology

In his Beyond the Beyond blog (hosted by WIRED magazine),  cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling recently made some comments on my post, “Cyborgs and the Augmented Reality they Inhabit.”

Here’s how he describes the piece:
[...] an argument about the definition of Augmented Reality and the definition of Cyborgs, until you can get ‘em to click together like puzzle pieces. But so much debris is left on the floor when they’re done with the theory tin-shears, that the debris looks more interesting than the remainder.
Though it may appear quite critical, I actually agree with Sterling on this point—authors on this blog have rendered augmented reality (and the cyborgs that inhabit it) quite banal.  Or, rather, the techno-saturated world that has emerged in the 21st Century appears to us far more mundane than the exotic dystopian imagery that enveloped the famous cyberpunk novels of yesteryear.  The fantasy of ocular implants and digital immersion have given way to the seemingly unremarkable reality of smartphones and Facebook. Through the “theory tin-shears” futurist art of the past becomes the sociology of the present.  But, the study of present realities will never be as exciting as the imagining of future possibilities. (more…)

Facebook – Homepage for a Cyborg Planet

The cyborg is a technologically-enhanced human. While we recognize and even play off of the campy sci-fi/cyberpunk vision of a half-robot that is conjured up by the term “cyborg,” our vision of the cyborgour topic of study for this new blogis at once more sophisticated and more mundane. We believe that the cyborg concept is epitomized by the ordinary person living in the 21st Century, whose everyday activities are seldom, if ever, independent of technology, whether they be for communication (e.g., cell phones and other electronic communication devices), bodily enhancement (e.g., medicine and specialized articles of clothing), or self-presentation (e.g., fashion or the social media profile).

Our fundamental thesis is that technology (exemplified by social media) alters who we are, how we interact, even how we define reality. And, in turn, we continuously alter and define these technologies. All of reality, including ourselves, has been augmented by technology of some sort, and all technology has been augmented by our sociality. As such, we are all cyborgs. And the study of this blurring of technology and social reality is cyborgology.

Facebook has become the homepage of today’s cyborg. For its many users, the Facebook profile becomes intimately entangled with existence itself. We document our thoughts and opinions in status updates and our bodies in photographs. Our likes, dislikes, friends, and activities come to form a granular picturean image never wholly complete or accuratebut always an artifact that wraps the message of who we are up with the technological medium of the digital profile. (more…)