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...
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?
Rob Horning has been working on the topic of the “Data Self.” His project has a close parallel to my own work and after reading his latest post, I’d like to jump in and offer a conceptual distinction for thinking about the intersection of the online/data/Profile and the offline/Person.
The problem is that our online presence is too often seen as only the byproduct of our offline selves. Sometimes we talk about the way online profiles are passive reflections of who we are and what we do and other times we acknowledge our profiles are also partly performative adjustments to the “reality” of the person. However, in all the discussion of individuals creating this content what is often neglected is how the individual, in all of their offline experience, behavior and existence, is simultaneously being created by this very online data. We cannot describe how a person creates their Profile without always acknowledging how the Profile creates the person.
One of the most heavily trafficked posts on this blog in 2011 was Nathan Jurgenson’s excellent essay on “faux-vintage” photography and the construction of meaning in documentation; given the discussion around this phenomenon, it’s interesting to consider photographer Michael Chrisman’s year-long photo project, especially in the details of how it was processed and how you and I are able to view it above.
When the occupiers in Zuccotti Park began setting up tents, it was an inherently practical move. After cold, uncomfortable nights on tarps and huddled into sleeping bags (a situation imposed by a no-tent policy in the park, which was eventually not enforced), tents were a welcome way to make an occupied space more of a home, and closer to familiar conceptions of an established community.
But we need to understand tents as more than just tents.
With all the rhetoric around “Facebook Revolutions” and “Twitter Revolutions”1 that we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years, it’s easy to get the sense that there’s something new about the character of contemporary political protest and revolutionary action, and that this newness is, in some fundamental way, the practical result of the omnipresent nature of technology. It’s difficult to miss the profound interweaving and enmeshing of the physical and digital aspects of protest as we see it in both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street – the weight of the protests produced by the occupation of physical space by gathered human bodies, coupled with the constant documentation and nearly instantaneous sharing of images, video, and text that have chronicled these physical occupations and arguably helped them to grow – in short, the augmented nature of contemporary social action. We see this and to us it feels new. Even if we recognize that there are old things at work here – symbolism, patterns of mobilization and diffusion, pieces of the past reclaimed for the purpose of the present – we at least feel instinctively that there is something novel about the Arab Spring, Occupy, and all the other movements and events that have birthed themselves in correlation.
We begin with the assumption that social media expands the opportunity to capture/document/record ourselves and others and therefore has developed in us a sort-of “documentary vision” whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document. How might my current experience look as a photograph, tweet, or status update? Here, we would like to expand by thinking about what objective reality produces this type of subjective experience. Indeed, we are increasingly breathing an atmosphere of ambient documentation that is more and more likely to capture our thoughts and behaviors.
As this blog often points out, we are increasingly living our lives at the intersection of atoms and bits. Identities, friendships, conversations and a whole range of experience form an augmented reality where each is simultaneously shaped by physical presence and digital information. Information traveling on the backs of bits moves quickly and easily; anchor it to atoms and it is relatively slow and costly. In an augmented reality, information flows back and forth across physicality and digitality, deftly evading spatial and temporal obstacles that otherwise accompany physical presence.
When Egyptians dramatically occupied the physical space of Tahrir Square this past January more...
(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)
Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval. Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.
Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.
Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model more...
I have been thinking through ideas on this blog for my dissertation project about how we document ourselves on social media. I recently posted some thoughts on rethinking privacy and publicity and I posted an earlier long essay on the rise of faux-vintage Hipstamatic and Instagram photos. There, I discussed the “camera eye” as a metaphor for how we are being trained to view our present as always its potential documentation in the form of a tweet, photo, status update, etc. (what I call “documentary vision”). The photographer knows well that after taking many pictures one’s eye becomes like the viewfinder: always viewing the world through the logic of the camera mechanism via framing, lighting, depth of field, focus, movement and so on. Even without the camera in hand the world becomes transformed into the status of the potential-photograph. And with social media we have become like the photographer: our brains always looking for moments where the ephemeral blur of lived experience might best be translated into its documented form.
I would like to expand on this point by going back a little further in the history of documentation technologies to the 17th century Claude glass (pictured above) to provide insight into how we position ourselves to the world around us in the age of social media. more...