Tag Archives: pj rey

Ownership of the Commons in an Age of Divestment

We have a two-month break from self-inflicted government crisis, so let’s use it to take a breather, assess the situation, and cast some shade on rich people. Not because it is cathartic (it is), or because it will prevent the next crisis (it won’t); rather, I think studying the contours of the government-shaped hole of the last three weeks can teach us something about how Silicon Valley views public ownership. This is important because we typically use metaphors[1] like “the commons” or “the public” to describe their products. These words imply a sense of trust, if not mutually assured disruption: sure a rich guy might own Twitter on paper but it becomes worthless if everyone stops treating it as a (if not the) center of daily life. What do the people that own these service/spaces think about the de facto collective ownership of their product? (more…)

Difference Without Dualism (Part One)

realityAlright, pop quiz: Is there a reality outside of human experiences? Please circle YES or NO.

Chances are you find this question either very silly or very complicated, possibly both. But I argue that this question is actually lurking in the background of much this month’s earlier digital dualism debate, and that giving it some attention straightens a lot of things out—especially the compelling (but ultimately incorrect, I argue) charge that augmented reality is itself a dualist framing.

To illustrate why this question matters, consider the following fictional (but not entirely unlikely) scenario, in which I either am or am not a jerk:

(more…)

Dude-ly Digital Dualism Debates

no-girls-signIf you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology, chances are good that you caught the most recent “brouLOL” (yes, that’s like a 21st century brouhaha) over digital dualism and augmented reality. If you’re a careful reader of Cyborgology, chances are good you also caught (at least) one glaring omission in much of the writing featured in this wave of commentary. What was missing?

Ladies, gentlemen, and cyborgs, allow me to (re)introduce you to Jenny Davis (@Jup83) and Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry)—oh yeah, and my name’s Whitney Erin Boesel (I’m @phenatypical). None of us identify as men, and all of us have written about digital dualism. In fact, you may have seen our work referenced recently under some collective noms de plume: “the other digital dualism denialists,” “others on this blog,” “others,” “other Cyborgologists,” “other regular contributors,” etc. If you’re a crotchety sociologist with a penchant for picking apart language (ahem: guilty), it doesn’t get much better than this. During the conversation earlier this month, the named and cited Cyborgologists were (almost) always men—while Jenny, Sarah, and I were referenced obliquely (at best) in an unnamed “other” category. (more…)

The Hole in Our Thinking about Augmented Reality

I’ve been thinking on and off since mid-summer about a hole I’ve identified in our collective theorizing of augmented reality. To illustrate it, imagine the following conversation:

Digital Dualist: ‘Online’ and ‘offline’ are two distinct, separate worlds!
Me: That’s not true. ‘Online’ and ‘offline’ are part of the same augmented reality.
Digital Dualist: Are you saying that ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are the same thing?
Me: No, of course not. Atoms and bits have different properties, but both are still part of the same world.
Digital Dualist: So ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are different, but not different worlds?
Me: Correct.
Digital Dualist: But if they’re not different worlds, then what kind of different thing are they?
Me:

I don’t know about you, but this is where I get stuck.

(more…)

Between Reality & Cyberspace

Reposted from Peasant Muse.

Photo by aagius

What does the term ‘cyberspace’ mean?  Does this Gibsonian construct adequately fulfill the task, currently asked of it by many, of defining the digital/physical realm interaction in terms of its scope and function?

Attempts to frame new social interactions spurred by digital innovations in communication, documentation and self-actualization (just to name a few) generally encounter problems of word choice when describing the effects these advancements bring to our growing conceptions of reality.  Literary terminology, often built upon antiquated notions reconfigured to suggest a potential or future state of being, sometimes suits the purpose of analogy when looking at these phenomena.  Yet there always comes a time when our understanding of an event or construction of reality demands that we re-evaluate our word choice, lest our future analytical efforts be hindered by its, perhaps, outmoded or misleading operation.  PJ Rey and the internet persona known as Mr. Teacup produced just this sort of re-evalutation of the term mentioned above, cyberspace, through two excellent pieces titled ‘There is no Cyberspace‘ and ‘There is Only Cyberspace’, respectively written.

PJ Rey argued that the term cyberspace, first coined by William Gibson in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ and defined as a ‘consensual hallucination’, is deeply problematic in describing our contemporary social web because the web is neither consensual nor a hallucination.  Thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones, pervasive documentary practices (something Nathan Jurgenson calls the ‘Facebook Eye‘) mean that even if someone does not participate in the social web their actions are nonetheless captured by it to some degree, thus shaping our actions on the individual and societal level.  Many of us cannot control the degree to which this ‘Facebook Eye’ documents our actions (Could you stop every friend from making comments or posting pictures of your embarrassing moment from last week’s party?  What about last year’s party?) making the web far from a consensual space.  In many ways, because the web is not consensual it is also not a fantastical or a hallucinatory space either.  It is a part of reality- the web is as real as reality itself.  Actions taken offline impact online relations and vice-versa, allowing Rey to state that, “causality is bi-directional.  We are all part of the same human-computer system.” (more…)

How Academics Can Become Relevant

Or: Intellectual Accessibility by Availability and Design

As a sociology graduate student, I sometimes feel like Simmel’s “stranger,” close enough to academia to observe, but distant enough to retain an outside perspective. Like many graduate students staring down a possible academic career-path, I’m a bit terrified at the elephant in the room: is what academics do really important? are they relevant? does it matter?

Who reads a sociology journal? As my former theory teacher Chet Meeks once posed to my first social theory course,  how many people look to sociology journals to learn anything about anything? While the occasional sociologist is quoted in the New York Times or appears on CNN, the influence these experts have is vanishingly small. I do not know as much about other disciplines, but the point for most of the social sciences and humanities is that, in my opinion, expert knowledge is largely going to waste.

And to echo folks like Steven Sideman or danah boyd, we have an obligation to change this; academics have a responsibility to make their work relevant for the society they exist within.

The good news is that the tools to counter this deficiency in academic relevance are here for the taking. Now we need the culture of academia to catch up. Simply, to become more relevant academics need to make their ideas more accessible.

There are two different, yet equally important, ways in which academics need to make their ideas accessible:

(1) accessible by availability: ideas should not be locked behind paywalls

(2) accessible by design: ideas should be expressed in ways that are interesting, readable and engaging

To become publicly relevant, academics must make their ideas available to and articulated for the public. (more…)

The Environment vs. Technological Autonomy

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that what the scientists are saying about global warming – that we are headed for all manner of catastrophic changes in the environment unless fossil fuel emissions are drastically reduced, immediately – is accurate.

Also for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the world’s political leaders and the citizens they represent are sane, and that, therefore, they would like to avoid those catastrophic changes in the environment.

Assuming both propositions to be true, it would seem reasonable to ask ourselves whether it’s possible to take the necessary actions that would forestall those changes. In order to answer yes to that question we will need to overcome a series of challenges that can collectively be described as technological autonomy.

Technological autonomy is a shorthand way of expressing the idea that our technologies and technological systems have become so ubiquitous, so intertwined, and so powerful that they are no longer in our control. This autonomy is due to the accumulated force of the technologies themselves and also to our utter dependence on them. (more…)

Cyborgology Editors Discuss Technology and #Occupy

Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey on WYPR (Baltimore’s NPR affiliate) discussing technology and the Occupy movement: Click here to listen to the audio.

Ambient Documentation: To Be is to See and To See is to Be

We begin with the assumption that social media expands the opportunity to capture/document/record ourselves and others and therefore has developed in us a sort-of “documentary vision” whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document. How might my current experience look as a photograph, tweet, or status update? Here, we would like to expand by thinking about what objective reality produces this type of subjective experience. Indeed, we are increasingly breathing an atmosphere of ambient documentation that is more and more likely to capture our thoughts and behaviors.

As this blog often points out, we are increasingly living our lives at the intersection of atoms and bits. Identities, friendships, conversations and a whole range of experience form an augmented reality where each is simultaneously shaped by physical presence and digital information. Information traveling on the backs of bits moves quickly and easily; anchor it to atoms and it is relatively slow and costly. In an augmented reality, information flows back and forth across physicality and digitality, deftly evading spatial and temporal obstacles that otherwise accompany physical presence.

When Egyptians dramatically occupied the physical space of Tahrir Square this past January (more…)

Frictionless Sharing and the Digital Paparazzi

(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)

Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval.  Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.

Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.

Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model (more…)