Baltimore Uprisings: A Communicative Act

Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.
Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.

A few editorial cartoons offering a counterpoint perspective to the cultural sentiments and media portrayals that denounce the Baltimore “riots” as politically unproductive, ethically unjustifiable hooliganism have achieved viral status.  One particularly prominent cartoon illustrates alternative histories in which once denied freedoms and equities were achieved without systemically disruptive uprisings (see image above).  In one panel an 18th century Haitian slave cordially informs a French Imperialist that he and his fellow slaves would rather be free.  The receptive overseer responding in an equally kind fashion decides to abolish the system of slavery that legitimizes his very authority.  In another panel an 18th century French revolutionary asks King Louis XVI to abdicate his power as well as dissolve the monarchy to make way for democratic rule and, like in the previous example, history is comically rewritten to suggest that the powers that be were enthusiastically and progressively responsive to such a request.  more...

QR Codes and Self-Branding in the Digital Era

I have already written about QR code tattoos before on this blog, so again, I will keep this brief. The video above shows the latest QR code tattoo to gain public attention, this time for generating random .gifs, tweets, and videos.  I find these tattoos fascinating because of the way the flesh is made to transmit digital information (“LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH?!”), in essence augmenting the human body with digitally-encoded information (or are we augmenting the digital with the corporeal?). But many have found these trends disheartening (D’Costa 2012), in part because of the permanence of such body markings.

In a culture that is fast approaching lightspeed (both technologically and culturally), many see the permanence afforded by tattoos and other body modifications as attractive. For many enthusiasts, tattoos have become a source of stability in the postmodern era, a way for individuals to “ground” their identities in an era of whirlwind change (Oksanen and Turtiainen 2005; Sweetman 1999). more...

Gender, Culture, and Cooking on the Internet

Photo Credits: (From left to right) Candice Borden,, and

Since you are probably going to spend today arguing about Occupy Wall Street with your conservative family members and helping your parents with computer questions we figured you would appreciate some slightly ligher fare: internet cooking shows. But because we are social scientists, we can’t be satisfied with uncritical review. Therefore, I want to discuss how these cooking shows interact with, perform, reify, and probelmitize constructions of gender and nationality. The three shows I want to cover (I’m gonna have to pass on this and this. There’s a great article at that lists most internet cooking shows.) are Epic Meal Time, Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time, and My Drunk Kitchen. Full disclosure: I have a profound weakness for all of these shows, with increasing affinity in the order I just presented them. In case you’re unfamiliar with these shows, I’ll briefly introduce them and then get into the theory. [Images after the break might be considered NSFW.] more...

Speculative Fiction, Atemporality, and Augmented Reality

“The future is there,” Cayce hears herself say, “looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. And from where they are, the past behind us will look nothing at all like the past we imagine behind us now.”
–William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

“This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”
–Bruce Sterling, “Slipstream”, SF Eye #5, July 1989

I first read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition almost a year ago, after a long hiatus from his work. I’ve long loved his books, but went through the kind of distance that time and life just sometimes put between a reader and an author. Pattern Recognition was the return, and I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it except for the author–an experience that I always find somewhat refreshingly like exploring a dark, richly appointed room with a small flashlight.

And then something rather interesting happened. The book contains a description of the memories that the protagonist retains of the events of September 11, 2001, and as I read, I experienced a curious kind of vertigo–something that I have since come to understand as the mirror-hallway perception of reading a fictionalized account of a real event in my own memory, remembered as past in a near-future context. In that moment, what I experienced as vertigo was the collapsing of a number of categories–past, present, and future, fiction and non-fiction, myself and other. It should be noted that Pattern Recognition is not actually set in the future; nevertheless, I processed it that way at the time because of how I’m used to reading Gibson. But that’s not the only reason for the vertigo. It was an intense case, but in fact this implosion of metaphysical categories is one of the things that speculative fiction (SF) essentially does.


AI and IQ: The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of truth-seekers entreats Deep Thought, an artificially-intelligent supercomputer, to reveal the answer to the most elusive question in existence, “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”

Deep Thought takes up the challenge, but warns that it will require no less than seven and a half million years to produce the answer. Given the scope of the challenge, Deep Thought’s petitioners accept the computer’s terms and leave it to their descendants to benefit from Deep Thought’s protracted ruminations. Finally, following eons of cogitation, Deep Thought stirs and announces, ominously, that the long-awaited answer is ready–but Deep Thought adds that the answer is unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser. Their patience at an end, Deep Thought’s supplicants insist that the computer unveil the monumental secret that they have waited so long and faithfully to hear. At that, Deep Thought heaves an electronic sigh and pronounces that the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is…

…forty-two. more...