A rendering of Facebook’s new Anton Menlo subdevelopment.
Silicon is a cyborg element. You can find it everywhere, but almost always bonded to something else. Silicon is the second-most abundant element on the planet and yet you have probably never seen it in its pure form. (For the record, it looks kind of like a leftover baked potato wrapped hastily in tin foil.) Entire geographic formations are named after the element, but (and I think this might be a first for naming conventions) those places have largely nothing to do with the extraction or even refinement of that element. Silicon is a prerequisite, a synecdoche for a larger industry that demands we refine and purify this promiscuous metal into a predictable and highly controlled component. True to its namesake, Silicon Valley (not to mention Austin’s lesser-known “Silicon Hills”) is an exercise in refinement. Intricate and eclectic streets are tossed aside in favor of gleaming, modern campuses with strict access control. It is a place where functions are separated so that they may reach the sorts of optimal efficiencies that Le Corbusier promised and Moses tried to deliver. But unlike Moses or Le Corbusier, the planners and corporate patrons of Silicon Valley are making places meant to be freely chosen. (more…)
Describing “types” of capitalisms, their components, the central logics they operate by is always a risky game: nothing is ever entirely new, there are always outliers, the different types always overlap, and so on. However, I’d like to speculate very briefly on a specific trend within Silicon Valley capitalism, what strikes me as an anti-capitalism sort of capitalism. I’m speaking of this type of capitalism not as something that is fully realized in reality, but as an “ideal type”, a hypothetical possibility that we can determine if or how much validity it has in illuminating the world–or at least one small chunk of the contemporary economy. Mostly, I’m just musing on a smart, fun piece by Sam Biddle about the rhetoric of Tumblr founder David Karp before Yahoo’s acquisition of the site for one billion dollars.
The rhetoric is familiar for those who follow Silicon Valley and is indicative of a particular type of capitalism. (more…)
Facebook just enabled its new Graph Search for my profile and I wanted to share some initial reactions (beyond the 140 character variety). Facebook’s new search function allows users to mine their Facebook accounts for things like: “Friends that like eggs” or “Photos of me and my friends who live near Chuck E. Cheese’s. ” The suggested search function is pretty prominent, which serves the double role of telling you what is searchable and how to phrase your search. More than anything else, Graph Search is a stark reminder of how much information you and your friends have given to Facebook. More importantly however, it marks a significant change in how Facebook users see each other and themselves in relation to their data.. You no longer see information through people; you start to see people as affiliated with certain topics or artifacts. Graph Search is like looking at your augmented life from some floating point above the Earth. (more…)
This is the complete version of a three-part essay that I posted in May, June, and July of this year:
Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy
Part II: Disclosure (Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t)
Part III: Documentary Consciousness
Privacy is not dead, but it does need to change.
Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy
Last spring at TtW2012, a panel titled “Logging off and Disconnection” considered how and why some people choose to restrict (or even terminate) their participation in digital social life—and in doing so raised the question, is it truly possible to log off? Taken together, the four talks by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), Jessica Roberts (@jessyrob), Laura Portwood-Stacer (@lportwoodstacer), and Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) suggested that, while most people express some degree of ambivalence about social media and other digital social technologies, the majority of digital social technology users find the burdens and anxieties of participating in digital social life to be vastly preferable to the burdens and anxieties that accompany not participating. The implied answer is therefore NO: though whether to use social media and digital social technologies remains a choice (in theory), the choice not to use these technologies is no longer a practicable option for number of people.
In this essay, I first extend the “logging off” argument by considering that it may be technically impossible for anyone, even social media rejecters and abstainers, to disconnect completely from social media and other digital social technologies (to which I will refer throughout simply as ‘digital social technologies’). Consequently, decisions about our presence and participation in digital social life are made not only by us, but also by an expanding network of others. I then examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. Finally, I argue that the reality of inescapable connection and the impossible demands of prevailing privacy discourses have together resulted in what I term documentary consciousness, or the abstracted and internalized reproduction of others’ documentary vision. Documentary consciousness demands impossible disciplinary projects, and as such brings with it a gnawing disquietude; it is not uniformly distributed, but rests most heavily on those for whom (in the words of Foucault) “visibility is a trap.” I close by calling for new ways of thinking about both privacy and autonomy that more accurately reflect the ways power and identity intersect in augmented societies. (more…)
We fetishize the Exotic Other. We expect hir to save us, yet s/he remains ‘matter out of place.’
“Otherness” has long been a concern of social scientists. It refers to those who are marked, set-apart, excluded, or included with qualification. Those who fail to fit into normative conceptions of belongingness are treated, unsurprisingly, as though they do not belong. They are a polluting force, an intruder, an outsider. In this post, we discuss the dual nature of Otherness and the Othered subject, as they must navigate a social space in which they are either excluded or fetishized, but never fully integrated. We exemplify this dual nature with a discussion of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer—a tech industry power player marked with femininity, amplified by pregnancy. We begin with a theoretical discussion of Otherness.
The Dirty Other
As suggested by Sigmund Freud and Marry Douglas, “Dirt is matter out of place”; it threatens the integrity of boundaries—moral, aesthetic, symbolic, experiential and otherwise. The removal or neutralization of dirt is not an easy matter for its methods of contamination are many. The most effective method of contamination occurs within and through fantasy. Case in point, the non-normative Other acquires her pollution powers from the fantastic projections of “Normals.” But in analyzing the non-normative Other, we find that not all dirt is abject. Rather than demonstrating the power of horror, dirt may acquire the quality of seduction, indulgence and exotic profundity. Of course, Kristeva notes that the abject—while maintaining its horrifying quality—is the sight of fascination. Although such a stipulation is relevant to the present discussion, we may note that said fascination need not coincide with horror. For example, the “out of place” position of non-normative others facilitates the fantastic lure of systemic escape, reparation or atonement. After all, that which is not dirt: the normative, the systemic, the homogenized, carries the weight of morality and social judgment.
Google’s “Project Glass,” is the Augmented Reality (AR) Heads-up-Display (HUD) glasses offering that Google is designing for a near future Internet interactive experience.
(Video credit: Google)
From watching their demonstration video, I certainly have some questions and observations. Google’s vision (no pun intended) of the future is a place where people ignore women except as witnesses to their achievements, talk with their mouth full, and put their live friends on hold to interact with a machine (oh wait, that’s what people do now); and is one without ads (wait…what?). Thankfully, rebelliouspixels mixed them in: (more…)
On constructing a lesson plan to teach Pinterest and feminism
I teach sociology; usually theoretical and centered on identity. I pepper in examples from social media to illustrate these issues because it is what I know and tends to stimulate class discussion. It struck me while reading arguments about Pinterest that we can use this “new thing” social media site to demonstrate some of the debates about women, technology and feminist theory.
We can view Pinterest from “dominance feminist” and “difference feminist” perspectives to both highlight this major division within feminist theory as well as frame the debate about Pinterest itself. Secondly, the story being told about Pinterest in general demonstrates the “othering” of women. Last, I’d like to ask for more examples to improve this as a lesson plan to teach technology and feminist theories. I should also state out front that what is missing in this analysis is much of any consideration to the problematic male-female binary or an intersectional approach to discussing women and Pinterest while also taking into account race, class, sexual orientation, ability and the whole spectrum of issues necessary to do this topic justice.
“What’s a Pinterest?”
Before we begin, let me very briefly explain what Pinterest is [or read a better summary here]. Likely, (more…)
The tech world and consumers at large have been buzzing amid recent reports/leaks which indicate that Google will, in the next year, come out with smartphone-esque glasses. Apparently, these devices, often dubbed “Terminator” glasses after the cyborg technology portrayed in the 1980s classic film by the same name, will overlay the physical world with digital data—augmenting our practices of looking. (more…)
Debates will likely ensue over the cost of privacy, the blurry line between labor and leisure, and the degree to which surveillance can—or should—be resisted.
[Editor's comment: while this is only a small test, might we envision a model where users are paid for their data? Would it work? What are the implications? ~nathan]