When I was young, Robert Stack would visit me in my dreams. His monotone voice and sharp eyes would come through my wood-paneled RCA cathode-ray childhood TV and settle in my subconscious until I went to sleep. During the day Unsolved Mysteries was an opportunity to, “solve a mystery” from the comfort of my own home. If I watched the dramatizations closely enough I thought I might recall some repressed memory of an alien abduction or I might notice a telltale tattoo that marks the new neighbor as a relocated serial killer. Solving these Lifetime-disseminated mysteries was a sacred trust that I did not take lightly. Everything from persistent hauntings to serial killings were on my plate. When you grow up in South Florida, extra terrestrial abduction and friendly serial killers seem so plausible. If we were able to fit over a million people on a sandbar and intoxicate them long enough to stay through hurricane season, anything could happen. But no matter how much I investigated I always seemed to disappoint Robert. My neighbor with eight fingers that loved ham radio was not the man suspected of murdering two teenagers in Ohio; he was just really racist. The lady across the street was not a reoccurring spectral phenomena; she was just 90 years old. None of these people were particularly extraordinary —let alone extraterrestrial— but Unsolved Mysteries injected a sense of the enchanted in an otherwise mundane suburban landscape. (more…)
Lewis Powell (1865)
Go read “Dead And Going To Die”, a beautiful essay by Michael Sacasas posted today at The New Inquiry on the subjectivity expressed by people in old photographs. Part of why subjects look different in these images is they are expressing a different subjectivity to the camera lens. As the photographic gaze went from novelty to ubiquity, we’ve collectively oriented our selves to the camera differently. (more…)
Credit: author, age 6
For many people, moving—especially to another city, state, or country, instead of just across town—is an opportunity to sort through (and likely, discard) possessions, in hope of making the impending relocation process less of an ordeal. I did this when I moved back to Massachusetts from California last February; I actually gave away more than 65 percent of my worldly possessions (by volume) before trading a two-bedroom house in West Oakland for a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge. This pales in comparison, however, to what my parents are currently undertaking: After 28 years in the same house, they’re preparing to move across state lines next month. For them, July has so far been all about sifting through the accumulated sediment of so much time in one enclosed space; since this is the Internet age (and since my mom has access to a scanner), for me July has been all about a steady stream of emailed highlights from rediscovered family—and personal—history. (more…)
From Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project
Last week, Hailey Morris-Cafiero, a photographer and college professor, wrote an article for Salon.com about an ongoing project, five years in the making. Morris-Cafiero’s project is to document those who mock her because of her body size. She selects a public venue, sets up a camera in full view, and has her assistant snap photos as Morris-Cafiero engages in the world under the derisional gaze of fatphobic publics. One image shows a teenage girl slapping her own belly while intently staring at Morris-Cafiero eating gelato on a sidewalk in Barcelona; another shows two police officers laughing, as one stands behind her holding his hat above her head; a third shows her sitting on bleachers in Times Square, a man a few rows back openly laughing at her as his picture is taken. The project is called “Wait Watchers.” (more…)
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…)
As I write this, it’s 5:00 PM on April 15th, 2013. From my window over Massachusetts Avenue (we call it “Mass Ave”) in Cambridge—which I have open to let in one of the first nice spring days of the year—I can hear waves of sirens from the emergency vehicles that are still moving in response to the two explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line that went off just before 3:00 PM. The Mass Ave bridge between Boston and Cambridge is reportedly closed; large shuttle buses are trying, awkwardly and uncertainly, to make the turn off of Mass Ave onto one of my cross streets. The flags at both Cambridge City Hall and the Cambridge Post Office are still flying high, but I imagine they’ll be at half mast by the time you read this tomorrow. Even tomorrow, this intentional tragedy will still be very recent, very fresh, and very raw.
I’m sad in ways I can’t fully identify or explain, grateful that (so far as I know) everyone I care for here is okay, and—as I said on Twitter—longing for that time in the recent past when all the bombs (“bombs”) in Boston were actually stupid light-up LED pictures of cartoon characters. Somewhere in my disorganized thoughts, I’m also struck by the many ways that both people and institutions are using digital social technologies in response to this attack, and I’m going to try to get a few of those thoughts down here. In particular, I want to focus on the “vine” (short looping video) of one of the explosions that spread throughout my Twitter feed within an hour of the carnage at the finish line. (more…)
Is there a Dunbar’s Number for our documentary consciousness?
Dunbar argued that we can only keep up with about 150 people at a time, at which point we reach a cognitive saturation. Can this similar sort of saturation occur with the proliferation of ways we can document ourselves and others on social media? The ways someone holding a working smartphone can document experience grows not just with the number of sites one can post to, but also the number of available mediums of documentation: audio, video, photo, and their recombinations into things like GIFs and Vines whatever else I’m forgetting or will come next. Each new app carries with it a different audience with different expectations, adding to the documentary chaos.
Or: Given the proliferation of options, how should I document this cat? (more…)
Don’t tell the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that sharing videos from your Twitter account is ineffectual. They will point to their two-hundred thousand twitter followers that have generated 35 million views on their official Youtube account. They will extoll the virtues of a ruthlessly efficient and effective ad campaign that invites participation without the young Israeli even knowing they are engaged in two wars: a war of flesh as well as a war of mind. Granted, the IDF is no Justin Beiber, but it is hard to deny the impact of the IDF’s 30-person social networking team. The IDF’s social media savvy has not gone unnoticed. Technology and business publications have been more than happy to publish uncritical, lengthy interviews of top officials. This meta-propaganda usually begins by noting that Pillar of Defense was first announced through Twitter. The conversation will then turn to their complete arsenal: (Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, Pintrest, and even Google+) before commenting on their brief tweet confrontations with Hamas. All of this happens almost apolitically. Every news pieces calls it propaganda, and yet it still has a powerful aesthetic and rhetorical effect. Social media is the Abrams tank of propaganda. Messages must navigate the harsh terrains of corporate and government-owned mass media and arrive safely in the minds of citizens. Unedited, unfiltered, pure. Social media can trample news cycles, navigate the minefields of editorial desks, and maintain total media superiority in the vacuum of Western under-reporting. (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…)
Egyptian solidarity protest in Paris, Jan. 2011. Image by Jacques Delarue.
When it comes to thought and research on social movements and technology (separately and together), emotion is that crucial piece of the picture that everyone technically sees but hardly anyone explicitly acknowledges as worth paying attention to in its own right. Some of this is likely because emotion is hard to study in any way that social science would consider rigorous; it’s often taken as something fundamentally irrational and therefore fundamentally inexplicable. It is highly subjective. It is culturally and situationally constructed, and therefore conceptually slippery. It is interior; it is a difficult thing to see and to know. If explicitly drawing it out as an important factor is problematic for some, identifying it as a variable capable of carrying any causal weight is even more so.
Regarding technology and social movements combined, there is the question of how the digital and physical play out as far as what ends up really being important. What is the relationship between the two? Where exactly is the body in augmented contention and is the way in which it matters changing? What is really going on when we see a bunch of street protesters carrying smartphones?