Merriam-Webster Adds New Words: What Took So Long?


The Merriam-Webster College Dictionary announced on Monday its addition of 150 new words.  Many of these are technologically derived. Selfie, hashtag, tweep, and catfish (false identity—not the sea creature) are all included. Many media outlets reporting on this are interested in how new technologies continue to influence language through the addition of informal terms first utilized by teen populations.

However, many of the words are not, in fact, technologically rooted. There are additions in food (e.g., turducken), geography (e.g., ‘yoopers), the environment (e.g., cap and trade) etc. My question is less about why these particular words—technological and not— were added, but rather, why so late? I  ate turducken my first Thanksgiving in grad school (before vegetarianism won me over), talked about cap and trade as an undergraduate, and have been ridiculed for referring to my Twitter network as “tweeps” for years. Where have you been, Merriam-Webster? more...

Sensory Co-Presence


A couple of months back, I wrote about an informal meeting of the Cyborgology Crew in which we began to hash out some of the vocabulary issues that currently muddle up theorizing about technology and society. In that post, I interrogated the words “online” and “offline.” This online/offline discussion took up the better part of our day. A second issue also arose, however, and this was one that we never fully resolved. With bellies full of pizza and leg-shaking levels of caffeine, we duked it out over the term “physical co-presence.” Today, I want to put forth our (mostly?) agreed upon critique of the term physical co-presence, and offer an alternative which, on the day of the meeting, I probably articulated poorly. Like the interrogation of online and offline, this is far from a definitive statement. Rather, it is a starting point and a widespread invitation for critique, suggestions, and participation in the construction of a useful theoretical vocabulary. more...

Of Bots And Humans


what’s a bot and what’s human and where do we draw the line and should we draw that line

Yesterday, we learned that the most infamous Weird Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, wasn’t a algorithmically-programmed “bot” but instead the product of a person tweeting as if. The revelation was accompanied by a live performance of the account in a Manhattan art gallery. While much is being written about the account, I’d like to share one thought about the live performance and what this all says about what is real and virtual, “bot” and human. In one day, @Horse_ebooks went from bot to human, and as I’ll argue, embodied in an art gallery, right back towards bot. more...

Smell Ya Later: Somatic Work in the Digitized Library


This week, the Bexar County Bibliotech Library opened in Texas. This library is unique in its all-digital format. It is a library without physical books. Instead, patrons have borrowing access to thousands of “e-books” and digital media materials, along with cloud space on which to store them. The library does have a physical building, which houses computers, laptops, kindles, and other hardware that people can borrow, or use on site. Patrons can also attend story time and literacy events at the library.  This is not the first library of its kind, but may be the first one to remain fully digital. In 2002, the Santa Rosa Branch Library in Arizona got rid of bound books. However, in light of consumer complaints, the SRBL—like most libraries— now offers texts through both bound books and digital media.

Perhaps now the timing is better. If so, a library such as this poses a host of questions. How will a digitatized library interact with the digital divide? Will this exclude the less tech-savvy, or act as a means of spreading digital literacy? How will the library continue to support itself without late fees? Why did they choose to eliminate books entirely?

Mostly, though, I want to know what this library will smell like, and how this will shape the intellectual somatic experiences of a new generation. more...

Digital Connection, Language, And Family

This was a lead image in a story from the New York Times titled, “Your Phone Versus Your Heart“. Let’s break this image down, shall we?

Becoming a parent has inflected how I see everything in the world, including the practice of “being online.” I apologize for using scare quotes so soon into this essay, but it feels necessary. “Online” contains several types of possible connection, as Jenny Davis and others at Cyborgology have argued. And the “being” part is what needs to be at stake: how does the way in which we exist change when that existence is networked and distributed? The anthropology of “being online” therefore includes a consideration of the ontological effects on people as much as empirically measurable effects of using iPads and Facebook.

A common narrative, and one Cyborgology has consistently disputed, is that “technology” or “social media” or “the digital” have impinged on an authentic mode of life that previously existed and which we retroactively call “offline.” This narrative relies on constructing images that can quickly code as “authentic,” as in this video that Nathan Jurgenson has dissected. The graphic above, from a New York Times essay, crystallizes this narrative as it makes us of family and child-rearing as an icon of authentic offline living. Devices and the information they present come between a parent and the child. They blot out the child’s pleading face. Tellingly, the phone is represented as blank–the viewer is not asked to make a judgment about the value of what the person is doing with the phone (checking Twitter? responding to an email? calling 911?), they are asked to condemn its vacuity. more...

Netflix doesn’t count as watching TV




The folks at eMarketer just released a study which projects that this year, adults will spend over 5 hours consuming digital media, as compared with about 4.5 hours watching television.  This makes for a nice headline. It also makes for a wonderful example of the social construction of knowledge, and relatedly, the embeddedness  of digital dualism.

A root assumption of Science and Technology Studies (STS) is that both science and technology, though billed as objective, are anything but. Knowledge systems, and methods of knowing (i.e. epistemologies), are necessarily based in human values, cultural norms, power structures, and historical context. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar famously deconstruct the notion of scientific objectivity in their 1979 anthropological study of Laboratory Life. In this vein, Emily Martin illuminates the gendered ways in which biologists depict the egg-sperm relationship within the reproductive process.  And a few months back, I argued that to be a Quantified Self requires quite a bit of qualitative interpretation and decision making. In short, Big Data, statistical techniques, and laboratory procedures produce knowledge that is equally as biased as storytelling or ethnographic interpretation. Sorry, Enlightenment. more...

Multidimensional Material Mapping (or what camping and WoW have in common)

multidimensional mapping2


A distinct feature of academically oriented blogs like Cyborgology is that these are spaces in which theories take shape over time through conversation, contradiction, progression, and stumbles. Rather than a finished product, readers find here a theoretical process, one that is far from linear and often fraught.  It is in this messy and fractured way that theories of digital dualism and augmented reality continue to develop here at Cyborgology and connected sites.  In this spirit of processual-theorizing, I want to further refine my material mapping of digital dualism for yet a third time*. With the ongoing dualism debates, the time is ripe for theoretical rethinking and adjustments. more...

Self-Tracking: A Low-Tech Practice



I have a dear family friend. She is highly educated, happily married, a wonderful mother, and incredibly successful in her career. She has also, however, always struggled with her weight.  Like many people, she tried dieting about a million times. This produced the kind of yo-yo style results which bring people to maintain several wardrobes of varying sizes. Then, about five years ago, she started journaling. She wrote down everything she ate and the approximate caloric count of each item. With this tactic, this dear family friend was, for the first time, able to maintain her desired body size.

Don’t worry; this is not a post about how to lose weight. I could write one of those, but the anti-feminist self-loathing would probably be too much for me to bear. Rather, this is a short post about self-tracking. We all know that Cyborgologist Whitney Erin Boesel (@phenatypical) is our resident expert on self-tracking however, as she makes her way from one side of the country to the other, I will pick up the self-tracking ball and talk about some recent findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. more...

Digital Life Is A Hoax…Because There’s No Such Thing

I’ve poked fun at these lazy op-eds before and, indeed, it must be tempting to retreat into the safe conceptual territory of “The Internet is fake!” when a juicy story of lies, deception, and computers makes headlines. The Te’o case is an almost unbelievable account of a football star allegedly tricked into falling for, and eventually mourning, a woman who didn’t exist. It’s the kind of fiction only non-fiction could invent. [More on the Te’o case]

What I’d like to point out is that people have incorrectly called this a cyber-deception, a digital-deception, an online-hoax, when this is not exactly right: it was a deception, and one that happened to involve digital tools in a significant way. This mistake is what I call “digital dualism”: conceptually dividing the digital and physical into separate realities. Dualists speak of “real” interaction as opposed to digital interaction, digital selves, and a digital life, like Neo jacking into The Matrix. [More. On. Digital. Dualism.] more...

Strong and Mild Digital Dualism

When I first began as a graduate student encountering social media research and blogging my own thoughts, it struck me that most of the conceptual disagreements I had with various arguments stemmed from something more fundamental: the tendency to discuss “the digital” or “the internet” as a new, “virtual”, reality separate from the “physical”, “material”, “real” world. I needed a term to challenge these dualistic suppositions that (I argue) do not align with empirical realities and lived experience. Since coining “digital dualism” on this blog more than a year ago, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. I’m happy that many seem to agree, and am even more excited to continue making the case to those who do not.

The strongest counter-argument has been that a full theory of dualistic versus synthetic models, and which is more correct, has yet to emerge. The success of the critique has so far outpaced its theoretical development, which exists in blog posts and short papers. Point taken. Blogtime runs fast, and rigorous theoretical academic papers happen slow; especially when one is working on a dissertation not about digital dualism. That said, papers are in progress, including ones with exciting co-authors, so the reason I am writing today is to give a first-pass on a framework that, I think, gets at much of the debate about digital dualism. It adds a little detail to “digital dualism versus augmented reality” by proposing “strong” and “mild” versions of each. more...