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…)
(This is not the dive bar in question)
I’ve been thinking a lot over recent weeks about digital media, smartphones, and absence-vs.-presence, all of which was compounded by an interesting experience I had last weekend. On one particular night, 1:00 AM found me in a Lower East Side dive bar playing pinball with a friend from Brooklyn and a friend from D.C.; I was also chatting with a third friend (who was in D.C.) via text message and Snapchat between my pinball turns, and relaying parts of that conversation to our two mutual friends there with me in the bar. More people joined us shortly thereafter, madcap shenanigans ensued and, sometime around stupid o’clock in the morning, I started the drive back to where I was staying.
As I was getting up the next day, I recalled various scenes from the night before. One such scene was from the earlier end of being at the dive bar: Getting to hang out with three people I don’t see often was a nice surprise, and how neat was it that we’d all gotten to hang out together? A few seconds later, however, it hit me that my mental picture of that moment didn’t match my memory of it. What I remembered was being in the dive bar spending time with three friends, but I could only picture two friends lit by the flashing lights of so many pinball machines. I realized that Friend #3 had been so present to me through our digital conversation that my memory had spliced him into the dive bar scene as if he’d been physically co-present, even though he’d been more than 200 miles away.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this. On the one hand, yay: My subconscious isn’t digital dualist? (more…)
Facebook and Twitter, like any other form of communication, can be used to forge solidarity. As philosopher Richard Rorty reminds us in Method, Social Science, and Social Hope, one of the boundless powers of the humanities and of storytelling—novels, journalism, ethnographies, photography, documentaries—is to grow our imaginations so that the norms which would exclude foreigners, or the poor, or minorities, are replaced with a solidarity against suffering. In stories like Native Son, The Diary of Anne Frank and Brokeback Mountain, the cruelties of those who are not familiar to us are described in astonishing, bright detail. The humans who populate Dirty Pretty Things, Sin Nombre and How to Survive A Plague become less distant, more familiar. Through imagination, their suffering becomes ours. In many instances, networked media facilitate this kind of sensitivity building, this form of democratic attunement. But under the ceaseless pressure of shareability and virality, tragedy on social media often resembles disaster porn: a ghastly vine, a sappy post, attention seeking hashtags, confusing the spread of symbolic images for enduring political achievement.
That grief is best endured in groups was not lost on those involved in the Boston Marathon or to those who experienced it through networked media. (more…)
If you haven’t yet noticed (you’ve probably noticed), Facebook likes to appropriate features from competing apps and platforms. You can credit the demise of the old “[Name] is…” status update prompt, for instance, to the rise of Twitter. You may also recognize the “share” feature on your friends’ status updates from Tumblr; the place check-ins from Foursquare; the friend “lists” from Google+; the photo albums from Flickr (or any other photo sharing site); the photo filters from Instagram (back before Facebook bought Instagram outright); the vanishing images of Poke (that’s a newer Facebook app, not the older Facebook feature) from Snapchat; the “Music” app from Myspace (new or old); or even the “Work and Education” profile field from LinkedIn. Yes, that’s right: voracious media amoeba that it is, Facebook has even engulfed some of LinkedIn. Icky.
Yet in its seeming quest to digest and regurgitate elements from every digital social technology ever, Facebook most recently appropriated features not from a competing platform or app, but from the pre-Web-2.0 ‘sharing’ stalwart LiveJournal[i]. Remember the “Current Mood” field, and the various “Mood Theme” icons you could use to answer when you weren’t feeling up to free response? If you don’t already, you’ll soon have something similar in a new field on your Facebook status update prompt. Go into that new field and select “feeling,” and you’ll get to answer “How are you feeling?” with one of roughly 200 preset emoji/emotion combinations like it’s 2001 all over again. Your profile will then show something like the image above.
There are some significant differences between LiveJournal’s “Current Mood” field and Facebook’s new “feeling” icons, however, and these differences get at the heart of why—potentially cute/annoying emoji notwithstanding—talking about your emotions with the new Facebook feature is very different from talking about your emotions on LiveJournal. (more…)
Last week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments on landmark civil liberties cases with regards to same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the courts took on California’s Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage, and on Wednesday they heard arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, a law that excludes same-sex couples from federal recognition. In light of these cases, I saw two interrelated trends in my Facebook newsfeed: profile pictures in the form of the red Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sign (headline photo), and snarky status updates making fun of these HRC profile pictures, accompanied by a note of support for marriage equality[i]. That is, although both groups shared and expressed the same opinion about same-sex marriage, they disagreed about the appropriate methods for showing this support. This disagreement highlights debates about political activism in the face of new technologies and brings us back to the question: Does slacktivism matter? I will argue here, as I have argued before that yes, it does. (more…)
Apologies for the typos and the general lack of editing of this piece, I’m hurriedly tapping this out right before putting on the Theorizing the Web conference in a couple of hours.
Nicholas Carr chose a great lead photo for his post yesterday critiquing the anti-digital-dualism argument put forth by myself and others on this blog. The image of a remote landscape evokes “wilderness”; well, it doesn’t “evoke”, it literally says “wilderness” right on it and the filename was “wilderness.jpg”. I think this image might be a fun way to illustrate one very fundamental disagreement Carr and I have. But before we can get there, I should spend some time replying to the various points in his post. Since Carr’s rebuttal to the digital dualism argument gets the digital dualism argument I have made wrong in some very fundamental ways, I’ll have to spend much of this post simply clarifying that; which is fine, reiterating things is a useful task. Though, what’s more fun than restating what’s already been said is jumping off into new directions, and hopefully we can do a little of that here, too, finishing with that lead photo. (more…)
This post expounds on just one section of Liquid Surveillance and should not be considered a proper “review” as such, though I have completed a full review for a journal. Further, one of the co-authors of this book, David Lyon, is giving the keynote to the Theorizing the Web conference this Saturday in New York City [more info].
In Liquid Surveillance, the theorist of liquidity, Zygmunt Bauman, and the perhaps the preeminent theorist of surveillance, David Lyon, apply their unique perspectives to social media. I’ve already written a general review of the entire book, submitted to a journal; here, I’m expanding on one specific section of the book that was too much for the general review and deserves its own treatment. In any case, this post has more of my own ideas than would be appropriate for a journal review.
Each morning, after reading the news and checking my emails, I reward myself with a quick (okay, not that quick) scroll down the Facebook News Feed. Over a peanut butter bagel and strong cup of coffee, I look at pictures, laugh at status updates, ignore political rants, and leave small traces along the way: Likes, congratulations, the occasional snarky retort. I look forward to my Facebook time. It’s the dessert portion of my morning routine. The little sugary something that warms me into my day. And yet, this is a precarious treat—one day sweet, the next lip-puckeringly tart.
I never know quite how I will feel at the end of my scroll session. Some days, I am energized, connected, warm, fuzzy, and one with the world. Other days, I feel annoyed, left out, jealous, regretful that I let that half hour slip away while others were doing something more productive, more impactful, more meaningful. Admittedly, on most days, my feelings lie between these poles in the far less dramatic realm of mild amusement or hinted anxiety. (more…)
In what follows, I attempt to diagnose the IRL Fetish, or the explicit preference of physical over digital, and in particular, the designation of the former as more “real” than the latter. Bear with me, the punch line is at the end.
I get invited to a lot of things. It’s not because I’m cool or popular—rest assured, I am not. I also get regular messages from friends offering deals on the products that they sell, such as Scentsy, MaryKay, and Tasteful Pleasures. It’s not because I’m rich or have expressed interest in these products—rest assured, I am a poor post-doc far more likely to buy new running shoes than liquefying candle wax . Rather, I receive these invitations, messages, and deals because I am part of a large Facebook network, through which information can be easily spread. And as a recipient under these circumstances, I think little of not only declining invitations and consumptive offerings, but often completely ignoring said objects with a fully clear conscience. No, I do not want any Fifty Shades of Grey Toys, nor do I want to attend an event entitled “Come Punch Me in the Face” (yes, that was an *actual* event someone invited me to), and I feel no inclination to articulate my decline, but assume that my silence implies disinterest. (more…)
(This is the full version of a two-part essay that I posted in October of this year. Here are links to Part I and Part II)
“Well, you saw what I posted on Facebook, right?”
I don’t know about you, but when I get this question from a friend, my answer is usually “no.” No, I don’t see everything my friends post on Facebook—not even the 25 or so people I make a regular effort to keep up with on Facebook, and not even the subset of friends I count as family. I don’t see everything most of my friends tweet, either; in fact, “update Twitter lists” has been hovering in the middle of my to-do list for the better part of a year. And even after I update those lists, I probably still won’t be able to keep up with everything every friend says on Twitter, either.
I feel guilty when I get the “You saw what I posted, right?” question. I feel like a bad friend, like I’m slacking off in my care work, like I’m failing to value my important human relationships. Danah boyd (@zephoria) was talking about something similar in October of this year at “Boom and Bust“—about how social networking sites create pressure to put time and effort into tending weak ties, and how it can be impossible to keep up with them all. Personally, I also find it difficult to keep up with my strong ties. I’m a great “pick up where we left off” friend, as are most of the people closest to me (makes sense, right?). I’m decidedly sub-awesome, however, at being in constant contact with more than a few people at a time. (more…)