Tag Archives: Philosophy

Democracy comes to Mozilla

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Last week Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, had to step down amid backlash from his fellow board members, Silicon Valley elites, and the public at large for his $1,000 donation to supporters of California’s Prop 8 anti-marriage equality bill. In the grand scheme of things, a $1000 contribution from a guy that is I-invented-JavaScript-wealthy to a $38.7 million campaign, probably didn’t change much. But the headlines were never about Eich secretly bankrolling Prop 8; it’s been about what kind of person should be allowed to lead the best-known open-source organization that makes the third-most-installed browser on the planet.

There’s lots of people who say that even if you disagree with Eich, this shouldn’t be grounds for him to step down because his beliefs have no bearing on how you build a browser. I deeply disagree, and it isn’t a matter of ideological opposition, but of observable fact: technology always has a bit of its creator in it and technology is never politically neutral. Moreover, I don’t think, as many have claimed, that Eich’s departure was a failure of democracy. In fact I see it as a leading indicator for the free software community’s maturing legal and political knowledge. (more…)

A Culture of Moderation: or, no more messages from Satan

Image from the 365 Days Project, where they discuss a 1981 Christian radio show about hidden Satanic messages in rock songs. You can listen here: http://ubu.com/outsiders/365/2003/012.shtml

This post is gonna wind its way through the last 30 years of pop culture on its way to saying something about Jenny’s recent post on “The ‘ought’ of Technology.” I want to broaden the lens from technology in particular to pop culture in general, because I think the “ought” Jenny identifies isn’t limited to tech use. The imperative to be moderate is a more generalized cultural norm. This concept of moderation may help us think about how norms and conventions about tech use are integrated in and impact other, less explicitly techy phenomena. It may also explain why nobody cares anymore about kids hearing hidden messages–e.g., from Satan–on records, but worries more about their BMI and their diet. (more…)

Modern Myths: Mundane Enchantment and Creating Ghosts

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When I was young, Robert Stack would visit me in my dreams. His monotone voice and sharp eyes would come through my wood-paneled RCA cathode-ray childhood TV and settle in my subconscious until I went to sleep.  During the day Unsolved Mysteries was an opportunity to, “solve a mystery” from the comfort of my own home. If I watched the dramatizations closely enough I thought I might recall some repressed memory of an alien abduction or I might notice a telltale tattoo that marks the new neighbor as a relocated serial killer. Solving these Lifetime-disseminated mysteries was a sacred trust that I did not take lightly. Everything from persistent hauntings to serial killings were on my plate. When you grow up in South Florida, extra terrestrial abduction and friendly serial killers seem so plausible. If we were able to fit over a million people on a sandbar and intoxicate them long enough to stay through hurricane season, anything could happen. But no matter how much I investigated I always seemed to disappoint Robert. My neighbor with eight fingers that loved ham radio was not the man suspected of murdering two teenagers in Ohio; he was just really racist. The lady across the street was not a reoccurring spectral phenomena; she was just 90 years old. None of these people were particularly extraordinary —let alone extraterrestrial— but Unsolved Mysteries injected a sense of the enchanted in an otherwise mundane suburban landscape. (more…)

Drones, Sound, and Super-Panoptic Surveillance


In last week’s excellent post on drones, Sarah argues that surveillance is what makes an remotely controlled, semi-autonomous robot a drone. As Sarah puts it, “a drone is what a drone does: it watches.” Or, more precisely, it “gazes,” or watches with the eyes/from the perspective of hegemony, and for the purposes of surveillance, normalization, and discipline. In this post, I want to both agree and disagree with Sarah’s definition. I agree on the fundamental premise, that a drone is what a drones does–surveil/normalize/discipline. I disagree, however, that this “doing” is primarily watching, a manifestation of the phenomenon we both call “the Gaze.” Droning, at least as I want to define it here, is a practice of surveillance distinct from Gazing.

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Is “Digital Dualism” really “Digital Ideal Theory”?

The “State of Nature”

When we talk about “digital dualism,” are we really talking about digital ideal theory? (I’ll explain what I mean by “ideal theory” shortly.) I’m not sure. But, I want to push the question because I think it’s very important for us to frame and discuss this critique in as precisely as possible. So, in this post, I’m going to try to argue that we are, in fact, talking about digital ideal theory–not necessarily because I actually believe this argument, but because we need to push this argument to see if, where, and how it breaks.

I ask this question because it seems to me that when we say “digital dualism,” we’re using the concept of an ontological dualism (reality vs virtuality) to describe a phenomenon or a view that isn’t necessarily dualist, and, as Nathan suggests here and Jesse Spafford summarizes here, isn’t necessarily ontological. What if the phenomenon we’re referring to when we say “digital dualism” isn’t an ontological dualism, but an idealized epistemological abstraction?

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Destabilizing Digital Dualism

A digital heap.

A digital heap.

In a previous post for Cyborgology, I attempted to take what has been called “digital dualism” and repackage it into a slightly new shape—one that would bring into focus what I considered to be the concept’s most significant features. Specifically, I posited that digital dualism should be understood to include—and be limited to—any instance where a speaker establishes a normatively-charged hierarchy of ontological categories, at least one of which is technological. Thus, were a speaker to carve up the world into the “digital” and the “physical” while suggesting the former is somehow ontologically inferior to the latter (or vice versa), she would be instantiating digital dualism, as I defined it.

I next sought to situate digital dualism within a broader set of views that I characterized as “conservative.” Conservatism, I argued, is a cluster of ideologies unified by an effort to justify and further social hierarchy. I argued that ontological hierarchy of the sort that characterizes digital dualism often plays an instrumental role in the conservative project, as it serves to legitimate perceived differences in status. (For more exposition of this point, see my previous Cyborgology post). Indeed, I contend that digital dualism is very often deployed for conservative ends by those who seek to elevate themselves above technophillic masses.

If one accepts these premises, it becomes possible to formulate generalized strategies for critique, beginning with contestations of (conservative) digital dualism and then abstracting to arguments that might be directed against other conservative ideologies that rest upon hierarchical ontologies.

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Beating A Dead Horse

Everyone’s already extensively theorized this week’s pulling-of-the-proverbial-curtain on Horse_ebooks. We’ve had two posts already on this very blog. But I’m gonna beat a dead Horse_ebooks because I think there are theoretical dimensions that, while sorta nerdy, are nevertheless important and productive to examine. (more…)

Seeing Music For What It Really Isn’t

or, “‘Reality’ is the only word in the language that should always be used in quotes”

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I get really nervous when people start making claims about what is and isn’t “real” music. Like Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, “I have a bad feeling about this” because these arguments, like the “cave” the Leia was exploring, are not what they seem. Usually they use “music” as a proxy to talk about something else–gender, race, (sub)culture, class, etc. They don’t have a lot to tell us about music, even though they may reveal other things, like the social values and biases implicit in the argument. I’m so certain of this that I wrote a whole book on it. (more…)

Why Theory?

[This is cross-posted at Its Her Factory.]

A few recent events and articles/news items have me thinking, in a somewhat disjointed fashion, about both what it means to “do theory” or to practice philosophy, and how, exactly, one should go about doing and practicing these things.

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In particular, it seems like philosophy is stuck between being reduced to a hard science, on the one hand, and being incompatible with “digital humanities,” on the other. And in the end I think this double-bind has the very troublesome effect of discouraging, silencing, and marginalizing what could be the most innovative things philosophy has to offer science, digital humanities, and contemporary intellectual life more generally.  (more…)

The Promise of Praxis

“The primacy of contemplation over activity rests on the conviction that no work of human hands can equal in beauty and truth the physical kosmos, which swings in itself in changeless eternity without nay interference or assistance from outside, from man or god.” –Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition

Praxis Exploding, Image c/o Paramount Pictures

Praxis Exploding, Image c/o Paramount Pictures

I’ve been thinking a lot about methods lately. I want to spend a few paragraphs considering the current state of affairs for social scientists interested in science and technology as their objects of analysis. What kind of work is impossible in our current universities? What kinds of new institutions are necessary for breaking new ground in method as well as theory? Think of this post as an exercise in McLuhan-style probing of institutions of higher learning. I’m going to play with a lot of “what-ifs” and “for instances.” None of this is particularly actionable, nor am I even interested in proposing anything that would be recognized as “realistic” or even “pragmatic.” Mainly, I’m interested in stepping back, considering the state of our technosociety, and asking what kinds of questions need asking and what kinds of science is being systematically left undone. (more…)