Confession: I watched the Apple event yesterday, and I’ve watched at least part of every product announcement for the last several years. Apple announcements are the opposite of a guilty pleasure; they are a burden that I take on with pride. They are insipid and represent everything that is wrong with Silicon Valley and yet I feel obliged to watch them because they let me stare deeply into this heaving morass of Cronenbergian lust for technology. It always feels like we’re one year away from Phil Schiller offing himself with an iGun after screaming “LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!” When I watch Silicon Valley spread out on the Moscone Center stage I feel prideful (to a fault perhaps) that these events just seem so… transparent. They’re so easy to read and so easy to critique they amount to social science target practice. (more…)
Does this phone make me seem like…less of a man?
When did mobile phones go from being symbols of status and power to being “emasculating”? Probably around the time they became easier to access than toilets are.
Sergey Brin, of course, would likely say that emasculation arrived with the touchscreen smartphone—when using a mobile phone became a matter of “standing around and just rubbing this featureless piece of glass” while looking down, instead of flexing one’s bicep to bark orders into a massive handset while staring straight ahead (or glaring at a subordinate). Real men don’t “stand around”; real men do stuff! Real men punch buttons with authority, and take decisive action! PJ Rey (@pjrey) and I may have argued that we express agency through our smartphones, but “rubbing”? Touching? That’s, like, girl stuff. Eeeeeeew.
Tongue-in-cheek riff aside, there’s more to Brin’s smartphone insecurity than may be apparent on the (glassy) surface. (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 [read it here]. 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.
What will happen if more apps start to play more important roles in more of our lives?
Last week I wrote about a pattern I’ve been seeing, one for which I wanted to create a new term. I’m still working on the terminology issue, but the pattern is basically this:
1) A new technology highlights something about our society (or ourselves) that makes us uncomfortable.
2) We don’t like seeing this Uncomfortable Thing, and would prefer not to confront it.
3) We blame the new technology for causing the Uncomfortable Thing rather than simply making it more visible, because doing so allows us to pretend that the Uncomfortable Thing is unique to practices surrounding the new technology and is not in fact out in the rest of the world (where it absolutely is, just in a less visible way).
The examples I sketched out last week were Klout and Facebook’s new “sponsored” status updates (which Jenny Davis has since explored in greater depth); this week, I’m going to take a look at ‘helpful’ devices and smartphone apps. (more…)
PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.
While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. (more…)
This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.
This panel consists of four presentations that exhibit a theoretically rich range of approaches to understanding theory of mobile technologies in contemporary contexts. Jason Farman’s “The Materiality of the Mobile Internet: An Object-Oriented Approach to Mobile Networks” uses the path of a single mobile phone signal to illustrate the importance of considering both human and non-humannodes in digital networks. Katy Pearce’s “Is your Web everyone’s Web? Theorizing the web through the lens of the device divide” considers the social implications of accessing the Internet via mobile vs. traditional interfaces. In doing so, she casts a much-needed theoretical spotlight on a notion many of us grasp intuitively: that the quality of one’s online experience depends critically on the device(s) used to get online. Along similar lines, David Banks’ “Finding it ‘Otherwise’: Culturally and Geographically Situating The Practice of Texting” takes a sociotechnical approach to mobile phoneuse in Ghana, discovering how residents use their phones to move about their world. In a laudable instance of research informing real-world practice, data from the project will inform the deployment of a regional condom distribution network. Finally, Jim Thatcher’s “MobileGeo-Spatial Devices: a theoretical approach to the GeoWeb” critically interrogates the mediation of geographical knowledge-gathering through mobile devices. Applying a critical Marxist understanding oftechnology, he develops a radical reading of ostensibly innocuous “apps” that may serve to reinforce offline inequalities.
[Paper titles and abstracts after the jump.] (more…)
Everybody knows the story: Computers—which, a half century ago, were expensive, room-hogging behemoths—have developed into a broad range of portable devices that we now rely on constantly throughout the day. Futurist Ray Kurzweil famously observed:
progress in information technology is exponential, not linear. My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT. And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.
Beyond advances in miniaturization and processing, computers have become more versatile and, most importantly, more accessible. In the early days of computing, mainframes were owned and controlled by various public and private institutions (e.g., the US Census Bureau drove the development of punch card readers from the 1890s onward). When universities began to develop and house mainframes, users had to submit proposals to justify their access to the machine. They were given a short period in which to complete their task, then the machine was turned over to the next person. In short, computers were scarce, so access was limited. (more…)
Siri on iPhone 4S lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use it.
The paragraph above is taken directly from the Apple iPhone homepage. It is a description of Siri, one of the most talked about features of the new iPhone 4S. I argue here that Siri is rich with cultural meanings, and that these cultural meanings reside at the intersection of gender, market economy, and technology. (more…)
laptops at the #occupy protests
Mass collective action is in the air, on the ground, on the web; indeed, there exists today an atmosphere conducive for revolutions, flash mobs, protests, uprisings, riots, and any other way humans coalesce physically and digitally to change the normal operation of society. [Photos of protests around the globe from just the past 30 days].
Some gatherings have clear goals (e.g., ousting Mubarak), however. there is also the sense that massive gatherings are increasingly inevitable today even when a reason for them is not explicit (e.g., the ongoing debate over the reasons for the UK Riots or the current #occupy protests). For some this is terrifying and for others it is exhilarating. And still others might think I am greatly overstating the amount of protest actually happening. True, we do not yet know if this second decade of the 21st Century will come to be known for massive uprisings. But if it is, I think it will have much to do with social media effectively allowing for the merging of atoms and bits, of the on and offline; linking the potential of occupying physical space with the ability of social media to provide the average person with information and an audience.
For example, the current #occupy protests across the United States (more…)
Pear Tree in a Walled Garden by Samuel Palmer, c. 1829
While our collective imagination has been gripped with the images of downtrodden folks in other parts of the world uprising in seemingly spontaneous acts of defiance, here at home, we late industrial consumers continue doing what we do best: passively and uncritically absorbing whatever is in front of us. In our zeal to dive into the next hot thing that the market offers us, we seldom have occasion to question what is absent—what is quietly being denied us—and what social costs are obscured by the price tag of a commodity.
Apple is an interesting contradiction in consumer society because, on the hand, it seems endlessly capable of producing new devices that we never knew we needed; yet, when we pick them up, they seem almost magical, enabling us to do things we hardly imagined—or, rather, to consume things in ways we never imagined. In light of its continual innovation and its capacity to generate “cool,” Apple is often seen as progressive organization. On the other hand, Apple is notorious for placing authoritarian controls on its products. As the old quip goes: “Linux is great at letting you do what you want to do (if you are willing to stare for hours at line code), Apple is great at letting you do what they want you do, and Windows is great at crashing.” Of even greater concern, Apple remorselessly outsources it labor to China’s most offensive factories, some of which recently received attention because they had to install nets around the buildings to end a spate of highly-public suicides.
Two recent artworks highlight the underside of Apple’s pristine white carapace. (more…)