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Today seems like a good day to talk about political participation and how it can affect actual change.

Habermas’ public sphere has long been the model of ideal democracy, and the benchmark against which researchers evaluate past and current political participation. The public sphere refers to a space of open debate, through which all members of the community can express their opinions and access the opinions of others. It is in such a space that reasoned political discourse develops, and an informed citizenry prepares to enact their civic rights and duties (i.e., voting, petitioning, protesting, etc.). A successful public sphere relies upon a diversity of voices through which citizens not only express themselves, but also expose themselves to the full range of thought.

Internet researchers have long occupied themselves trying to understand how new technologies affect political processes. One key question is how the shift from broadcast media to peer-based media bring society closer to, or farther from, a public sphere. Increasing the diversity of voices indicates a closer approximation, while narrowing the range of voices indicates democratic demise. more...

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Image Credit

The 2016 presidential race has already started and it’s easy to get caught up in the horserace and forget about all of the technologies and tactics that campaigns employ to get their message out. The 2008 Obama campaign was the first to take full advantage of social media and eight years later these tactics seem to have become the new normal. It is now possible to deliver precisely tailored messages for key demographics and even individuals. American presidential campaigns have never been models of democracy but with the help of private databases and corporate collusion, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a very murky process. more...

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This past December, most major American news outlets ran a story about police shooting statistics and race. No matter where they were situated on the political spectrum, journalists, pundits, and researchers tried to answer the question: Are American police disproportionately targeting and killing black people? The answers were universally supported by data, statistics, claims of objectivity, and a rhetoric of uncomfortable truths. Their conclusions, however, were all over the map. more...

Just about every social media network that relies on voting has more men than women in their user base.
Just about every social media network that relies on voting has more men than women in their user base. Graph from pingdom,com

The merits of voting[1] have come under scrutiny as of late, thanks in part to Russell Brand’s comments on the topic in his guest edited edition of the New Statesman. (Oh and I think there might have been an interview as well.) I’m highly suspicious of voting as well, which is why my ballots are mostly blank except for the one or two things I think might be strategically useful in later direct action. I voted earlier this week in a local election because my city is still small enough that there are very real and tangible differences to electing one counsel person over another: One city council person authorizes citizen working groups to organize municipal composting while another led the charge to close an indy media center that hosted an Iraqi artist because… terrorism.[2] A lot has already been said about the efficacy of voting and why it alone cannot possibly bring about the fundamental change that politicians promise. Besides, if you’ve read your Zinn, you know that all the important stuff happens between elections anyway. What I want to touch on today however, has less to do with government elections, and more to do with the abstract concept of voting. Why is it that, if voting is implemented within a system, do we automatically assume that it is more democratic? What happens to social networks and web platforms when we install voting as the overriding system of displaying public opinion? Why shouldn’t the critique of voting in general be directly imported as a critique of the social networking sites that use voting as the primary form of interaction on the site? more...

Photo by Michael Newman
Photo by Michael Newman

I’m in the midsts of one of those unavoidable grad student extended crises this month so I I thought writing something this week was going to be out of the question. But last Monday I had an interaction with a PDF that I really need to tell someone about. Trust me, its more interesting than it sounds.

Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of my institution’s (appropriately ancient-sounding) ILLiad Inter-Library Loan System. Usually, if I can’t find journal article I need, I just ask a fellow grad student friend over GChat or Facebook to get me the article from their library. If I can’t find anyone (or I’ve asked them too many times) I resort to ILLiad. Getting a book from ILLiad means waiting about 24 hours for an undergrad on work study to copy and paste a DOI and send me the article under another institution’s journal subscription. It is the ultimate exercise in artificial scarcity: A teenager in a library basement, fueled on Moe’s burritos and motivated by the threat of crushing student debt, orchestrates the transfer of a few ones and zeroes in such a way that my desire for the article can be monetized to the benefit of a publishing company’s CEO and a couple of computer system designers. The physical scarcity of a paper journal is transmuted into a new kind of scarcity: the scarcity of student labor and my own dedication to reading this article that I saw in someone else’s bibliography. more...

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Last week I came across an announcement on Facebook that said, “Introducing: The Occupy Money Cooperative.‪ #‎LetsCooperate‬.” At first, I’ll admit, I thought it was a poorly executed joke. Perhaps I’m projecting a little bit, since I’m one of those terrible people that still think occupy jokes puns are funny. (“Occupy toilets!”) Still thinking the link was from Occupy Lulz I clicked on it (maybe it would be funny…?) and was brought to a page that could have been mistaken for the Chase website. The cool blues and abstract shapes scream “financial institution” and the video still looks like it might come from a credit card company. All the distinguishing aesthetic features of finance are there. But this is definitely an Occupy venture, and a serious one at that. Why would a radical leftist movement try to make a bank?

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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...

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...


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E. Gabriella Coleman’s new book Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (2012, Princeton University Press) is an ethnography of Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) hackers working on the Debian Linux Operating System. It is a thorough and accessible text, suitable for  someone unfamiliar with open source software or coding. It would make an excellent addition to an IT and Society 101 course syllabus, or a reading group on alternative work organization. Coleman’s greatest achievement in this text, however, is not the accuracy of her depiction, but the way in which she dissects the political and economic successes of the open source community. By claiming absolute political neutrality, but organizing work in radical ways, contributors to F/OSS “sit simultaneously at the center and margins of the liberal tradition.” (p. 3) Coleman argues that while F/OSS, “is foremost a technical movement based on the principles of free speech, its historical role in transforming other arenas of life is not primarily rooted in the power of language or the discursieve articulation of a broad political vision. Instead, it effectively works as a politics of critique by providing a living conterexample…” (p. 185) more...


Credit: Andrew Hoppin

Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and PJ Rey (@pjrey) live-tweeted Personal Democracy Media’s From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Beyond: A Flash Conference. Below is an archive of the conference backchannel (also here) as well as the video from the event. more...