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The New York Times has a bad habit of uncritically replicating mainstream opinions about technology and society, for instance this piece from Sunday that states,

Much of the research on selfies reveals that (surprise!) people who take a lot of them tend to have narcissistic, psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits — which may explain why they are oblivious when they bonk you on the head with their selfie sticks. This is not to say that everyone who takes a selfie is a psychopath, but it does imply a high need for self-gratification, particularly if they are posted online for social approval.

For at least the past year, this narrative that selfies equals narcissism has been deeply challenged in popular and academic work. Perhaps the “research” should have included this really terrific special issue of the International Journal of Communication on selfies, edited by Theresa Senft and Nancy Baym (scroll to special sections and click the + more articles). Especially the paper by Anne Burns, who continues to be the strongest critic of the selfies-as-pathological narrative (read her paper and also see her present part of this work at Theorizing the Web 2014 here). Indeed, the concerns over pathologization, especially by dismissing the selfie as narcissistic, is a powerful thread through the entire issue. Hopefully this critique will soon be less necessary, but as the New York Times makes evident each weekend, it’s still a much needed intervention. By my count, more than 2/3rd of the papers in the issue explicitly mention and are rightly critical of the narcissism frame.

If you read Cyborgology you might have already seen and read this issue, but in case you haven’t, I just just want to briefly use this space to highlight terrific work being done on the topic of selfies (I especially loved the stand-out papers by Jenna Brager and Elizabeth Losh). It’s quite good, and open access, so download away. more...


Apple rolled out a new line of racialized emojis last week through their iOS 8.3. Originating in Japan, emojis are popular symbols by which people emote via text. Previously, the people-shaped emojis appeared with either a bright yellow hue or peach (i.e., white) skin. The new emojis offer a more diverse color palate, and users can select the skin tones that best represent them. It’s all very United Colors of Benetton.

While many applaud the new emojis— such Dean Obeidallah writing for CNN who announced “Finally, Apple’s Emojis Reflect America”—this has been far from a win for racial equality. more...

Facebook remembers

Facebook announced this week that it will add a new search feature to the platform. This search feature will, for the first time, allow users to type in keywords and bring up specific network content. Previously, keyword searches lead to pages and advertisements.  Now, it will bring up images and text from users’ News Feeds. Although search results currently include only content shared with users by their Friends, I imagine including public posts in the results will be a forthcoming next step.

Facebook, as a documentation-heavy platform, has always affected both how we remember, and how we perform. It is the keeper of our photo albums, events attended, locations visited, and connections established, maintained, and broken. It recasts our history into linear stories, solidifying that which we share into the truest version of ourselves. And of course, the new search feature amplifies this, stripping users of the privacy-by-obscurity that tempered (though certainly did not eliminate) the effects of recorded and documented lives.

The search feature also does something interesting and new. It aggregates. For the first time, users can take the temperature of their networks on any variety of topics. Music, movies, news events and recipes can be called up, unburied from the content rubble and grouped in a systematic way.

Perhaps because I’ve been able to think of little else lately, I immediately considered what this new feature means for how we will remember the events of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the parade of police violence against young men of color. And relatedly, I considered how we will remember ourselves and each other in regard to these events. more...

ProcessProsumption is something of a buzzword here at Cyborgology. It refers to the blurring of production and consumption, such that consumers are entwined in the production process. Identity prosumption is a spin-off of this concept, and refers to the ways prosumptive activities act back upon the prosuming self. Identity prosumption is a neat and simple analytic tool, particularly useful in explaining the relationship between social media users and the content they create and share.

If you’ll stick with me through some geekery, I would like to think through some of the nuances of this humble bit of theory.   more...

A University of Toronto Study identified the "golden" facial proportions for women (
A University of Toronto Study identified the “golden” facial proportions for women (

So about Selfies… They were the Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 Word of the Year. #TtW14 had an entire panel on them. And on a personal note, I mentored a student through an independent study of Selfies over the course of two semesters.

Today, I want to talk about one particular Selfie varietal: The Duckface. Specifically, I want to talk about the architecture of the Duckface and how it becomes the symbolic locus of control over feminine bodies within the context of compulsory visibility.[i] more...

Panel Preview

Presider: Alice Marwick (@alicetiara)

Hashmod: Allison Bennett (@bennett_alison)

This is the first in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled a/s/l.

Though presenting empirically and theoretically distinct works, the panelists of a/s/l are connected by their keen interests in identity. In particular, each work addresses—in its own way—the mutually constitutive relationship between identities and technologies. Furthermore, each paper is structurally situated, couching discussions of identity within frameworks of power in which certain voices, bodies, and desires take precedence over others, and in which technologies are both a means of struggle against, and reinforcement of, these power relations.

Check out the abstracts below: more...


#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books.

Today, guest contributor Rob Horning reviews: Life on automatic: Facebook’s archival subject by Liam Mitchell. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 2 – 3 February 2014 doi:

If, like me, you are skeptical of research on social media and subjectivity that takes the form of polling some users about their feelings, as if self-reporting didn’t raise any epistemological issues, this paper, steeped in Baudrillard, Derrida, and Heidegger, will come as a welcome change. It’s far closer to taking the opposite position, that whatever people say about their feelings should probably be discounted out of hand, given that what is more significant is the forces that condition the consciousness of such feelings. That approach is sometimes dismissed as failing to take into account individual agency; it’s implicitly treated as an affront to human dignity to presume that people’s use of technology might not be governed by full autonomy and voluntarism, that it’s tinfoil-hat silly to believe that something as consumer-friendly and popular as Facebook could be coercive, that the company could be working behind users’ backs to warp their experience of the world for the sake of Facebook’s bottom line.

Mitchell is not so overtly conspiratorial in this paper; more...



So I’ve been thinking a lot about curation and its role in contemporary social life. I’ve had such thoughts before, and have since expanded upon them. Here’s where I am…

Curation is the act of picking and choosing, marginalizing and highlighting, adding, deleting, lumping, and splitting. Social life in itself is highly curatorial, as social actors necessarily filter infinite masses of stimuli, selecting and preening in intricate ways while sculpting performances out of the broad slabs that constitute affect, body, and demeanor. In what follows, I argue that new technologies—and social media in particular—amplify curation, facilitating its operation as a key organizing principle of augmented sociality.

Specifically, I briefly outline a three-pronged theory of curation, in which social actors curate their own performances, curate what they see, and are always subject to curatorial practices of others—both human and machine. I refer to curated performance as outgoing curation, curated viewing as incoming curation, and curation at the hands of others as third-party curation. more...


The Quantified Self is defined—in the tagline of the movement’s website—as self -knowledge through numbers.  With the example of the Tikker “Happiness Watch” (also known as the Death Watch) I argue for the primacy of self-knowledge within the movement, and the subservient role of numbers. more...

tldr self1

The What-Would-I-Say App, (#wwis) created by HackPrinceton, has garnered widespread popularity. The app basically amalgamates your Facebook posts, rearranges them, and computes a best guess at what you, the Facebook user, would say. According the app’s creators, here’s how it works: more...