Hello, Cyborgology…it’s been a while. I’ve missed you, but I haven’t quite known what to say. Which is weird, right? Strangely enough, I’ve got half a dozen half-finished posts on my computer—twenty-thousand someodd words of awkward silence waiting to be wrapped up and brought into the world.
Writer’s block happens to the best of us, or so I’m told. What’s been strange for me is looking back and realizing that the last thing I posted was my piece from the beginning of #ir14, the 14th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. I say “strange” because I had an amazing experience at #ir14, and left it feeling so excited about my field and my work and what I imagine to be possible. And yet, in the two months since, something’s been off. I’ve managed to submit to a couple of important abstracts, and I continued sitting in on a really cool seminar, and I’ve plunged into the work of helping to organize this year’s Theorizing the Web (a conference about which I’m passionate, to say the least). But my words went somewhere, have been gone.
I realized recently, however, that it’s not about some kind of post-#ir14 crash. It’s actually about what happened after.
A couple of months back, I wrote about an informal meeting of the Cyborgology Crew in which we began to hash out some of the vocabulary issues that currently muddle up theorizing about technology and society. In that post, I interrogated the words “online” and “offline.” This online/offline discussion took up the better part of our day. A second issue also arose, however, and this was one that we never fully resolved. With bellies full of pizza and leg-shaking levels of caffeine, we duked it out over the term “physical co-presence.” Today, I want to put forth our (mostly?) agreed upon critique of the term physical co-presence, and offer an alternative which, on the day of the meeting, I probably articulated poorly. Like the interrogation of online and offline, this is far from a definitive statement. Rather, it is a starting point and a widespread invitation for critique, suggestions, and participation in the construction of a useful theoretical vocabulary. (more…)
what’s a bot and what’s human and where do we draw the line and should we draw that line
Yesterday, we learned that the most infamous Weird Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, wasn’t a algorithmically-programmed “bot” but instead the product of a person tweeting as if. The revelation was accompanied by a live performance of the account in a Manhattan art gallery. While much is being written about the account, I’d like to share one thought about the live performance and what this all says about what is real and virtual, “bot” and human. In one day, @Horse_ebooks went from bot to human, and as I’ll argue, embodied in an art gallery, right back towards bot. (more…)
This week, the Bexar County Bibliotech Library opened in Texas. This library is unique in its all-digital format. It is a library without physical books. Instead, patrons have borrowing access to thousands of “e-books” and digital media materials, along with cloud space on which to store them. The library does have a physical building, which houses computers, laptops, kindles, and other hardware that people can borrow, or use on site. Patrons can also attend story time and literacy events at the library. This is not the first library of its kind, but may be the first one to remain fully digital. In 2002, the Santa Rosa Branch Library in Arizona got rid of bound books. However, in light of consumer complaints, the SRBL—like most libraries— now offers texts through both bound books and digital media.
Perhaps now the timing is better. If so, a library such as this poses a host of questions. How will a digitatized library interact with the digital divide? Will this exclude the less tech-savvy, or act as a means of spreading digital literacy? How will the library continue to support itself without late fees? Why did they choose to eliminate books entirely?
Mostly, though, I want to know what this library will smell like, and how this will shape the intellectual somatic experiences of a new generation. (more…)
Becoming a parent has inflected how I see everything in the world, including the practice of “being online.” I apologize for using scare quotes so soon into this essay, but it feels necessary. “Online” contains several types of possible connection, as Jenny Davis and others at Cyborgology have argued. And the “being” part is what needs to be at stake: how does the way in which we exist change when that existence is networked and distributed? The anthropology of “being online” therefore includes a consideration of the ontological effects on people as much as empirically measurable effects of using iPads and Facebook.
A common narrative, and one Cyborgology has consistently disputed, is that “technology” or “social media” or “the digital” have impinged on an authentic mode of life that previously existed and which we retroactively call “offline.” This narrative relies on constructing images that can quickly code as “authentic,” as in this video that Nathan Jurgenson has dissected. The graphic above, from a New York Times essay, crystallizes this narrative as it makes us of family and child-rearing as an icon of authentic offline living. Devices and the information they present come between a parent and the child. They blot out the child’s pleading face. Tellingly, the phone is represented as blank–the viewer is not asked to make a judgment about the value of what the person is doing with the phone (checking Twitter? responding to an email? calling 911?), they are asked to condemn its vacuity. (more…)
…or just get new friends?
The easiest, laziest, most click-baitiest op-ed, trend video, or thing to scream at a bar right now is how, with today’s technologies, we are more connected but also more alone. Ooh. Zuckerberg has 500 million friends but it was never really a spoiler to say that Sorkin’s The Social Network ends with him sitting alone at a computer. Ooh. The Turkle-esque irony is just too good for it not to zeitgeist all over the place.
That argument should not be altogether dismissed but I am quite skeptical of where it’s so often coming from and how it’s articulated. This trend might be largely disingenuous, and by that I do not mean intentionally insincere but instead a sort of cultural positioning: we-are-connected-but-alone not only drips with that delicious ironic juxtaposition, it simultaneously props the person making the case as being somehow deeper, more human, more in touch with others and experience. (more…)
EXTRA!! EXTRA!!! DIGITAL MEDIA CONSUMPTION WILL SURPASS TRADITIONAL TELEVISION VIEWING THIS YEAR!!!!
The folks at eMarketer just released a study which projects that this year, adults will spend over 5 hours consuming digital media, as compared with about 4.5 hours watching television. This makes for a nice headline. It also makes for a wonderful example of the social construction of knowledge, and relatedly, the embeddedness of digital dualism.
A root assumption of Science and Technology Studies (STS) is that both science and technology, though billed as objective, are anything but. Knowledge systems, and methods of knowing (i.e. epistemologies), are necessarily based in human values, cultural norms, power structures, and historical context. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar famously deconstruct the notion of scientific objectivity in their 1979 anthropological study of Laboratory Life. In this vein, Emily Martin illuminates the gendered ways in which biologists depict the egg-sperm relationship within the reproductive process. And a few months back, I argued that to be a Quantified Self requires quite a bit of qualitative interpretation and decision making. In short, Big Data, statistical techniques, and laboratory procedures produce knowledge that is equally as biased as storytelling or ethnographic interpretation. Sorry, Enlightenment. (more…)
One problem with taking social problems and re-framing them as individual responsibility is that it ends up blaming victims instead of pressuring root causes. This mentality creates a temptation to, for example, respond to the NSA scandal involving the government tapping into Internet traffic with something like, “well stop posting your whole life on Facebook, then”. Or less glib is the point raised many times this month that the habit of constant self-documentation on social media has made possible a state of ubiquitous government surveillance. The brutality of spying is made both possible and normal by the reality of digital exhibitionism. How can the level of government spying be so shocking in a world where people live-tweet their dinner? Perhaps we should stop digitally funneling so much of our lives through Gmail now that the level of surveillance is becoming clearer. Sasha Weiss writes in The New Yorker that, (more…)
Over the past few months, a lot of theoretical work has been done to further develop the concept of “digital dualism.” Following a provocation from Nicholas Carr, a number of thoughtful people have chimed in to help both further explicate and defend the theory. Their responses have been enlightening and are worth reading in full. They have also clarified a few things for me about the topic that I’d like to share here. Specifically, I’d like to do a bit of reframing regarding the nature of digital dualism, drawing upon this post by Nathan Jurgenson, then use this framework to situate digital dualism within a broader field of political disagreement and struggle.
In his reply to Carr, Jurgenson helpfully parses apart two distinct-but-related issues. (Technically he draws three distinctions, but I will only focus upon two here). First, Jurgenson identifies what he calls “ontological digital dualism theory,” a research project that he characterizes as focused upon that which exists. Such theory would seem to include all efforts that seek to explain (or call into question) the referents of commonly used terms such as “digital” or “virtual,” “physical” or “real.” In contrast to this ontological theory, he then identifies what might be called normative digital dualism theory—a branch of analysis concerned with the comparative value that is attributed to the categories established by one’s ontological position. Such theory would thus analyze the use of value-laden modifiers such as “real” or “authentic” in describing the “digital” or the “physical.”
I posit that digital dualism, in fact, draws from both the ontological and the normative analyses. Specifically the digital dualist: (more…)
A distinct feature of academically oriented blogs like Cyborgology is that these are spaces in which theories take shape over time through conversation, contradiction, progression, and stumbles. Rather than a finished product, readers find here a theoretical process, one that is far from linear and often fraught. It is in this messy and fractured way that theories of digital dualism and augmented reality continue to develop here at Cyborgology and connected sites. In this spirit of processual-theorizing, I want to further refine my material mapping of digital dualism for yet a third time*. With the ongoing dualism debates, the time is ripe for theoretical rethinking and adjustments. (more…)