File this one under “what is at stake” when we talk about the digital dualist critique. Bitcoin, the Internet’s favorite way to buy pot and donate to Ron Paul, hit an all-time high this week of around $900 to one Bitcoin (BTC). The news coverage of Bitcoin and the burgeoning array of crypto-currencies (according to the Wall Street Journal there’s also litecoin, bbqcoin, peercoin, namecoin, and feathercoin) has largely focused on the unstable valuation of the currencies and all of the terrible things people could do with their untraceable Internet money. What hasn’t been investigated however, is the idea that crypto-currencies are somehow inherently more “virtual” and thereby less susceptible to centralized control the way US dollars, Euros, or Dave & Buster’s Powercards are. Both assumptions are wrong and are undergirded by the digital dualist fallacy. (more…)
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.
On August 21st, thousands of Syrians suffered the effects of an alleged chemical attack by contested Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad and his regime. According to U.S. reports, 1,400 people died, and many more were injured. Many of those killed and injured were not part of the Free Syrian Army, but innocent citizens, including children. Investigations indicate that the weapon of choice was Sarin, a liquid-to-vapor nerve agent that can cause an array of symptoms, up to and including death. The Obama administration is now pushing for a U.S. military response. The president will hold a vote today (Tuesday) in an attempt to get congressional backing for targeted missile strikes against the Assad regime.
Importantly, this is an openly symbolic act. Obama and his supporters—along with British PM David Cameron , whose Syria plan was recently voted down—explicitly state that they do not intend to change the tide of the ongoing civil war. Rather, military action against the Assad regime acts as a public punishment for the use of chemical weapons, a violation of the Geneva Protocols of 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Below are some excerpts from Obama’s remarks a few days ago (here is the full transcript): (more…)
Here is a list of skills that, as a grad student at one time or another, I’ve been expected to have with absolutely no offered training whatsoever: (more…)
People coming out of their homes and into the streets to particpate in #duranadam or #standingman. Photo by @myriamonde and h/t to @zeynep
In Taksim Square, at around 8PM local time, a man started standing near Gezi park facing the Atatürk Cultural Center. According to CNN –and more importantly Andy Carvin (@acarvin) and Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) — the man is believed to be Erdem Gündüz, a well known Turkish performance artist who has inspired a performative internet meme that has already made it around the globe. (There’s a nice Storify here. Thanks to @samar_ismail for putting it on my radar.) Gündüz and his supporters were removed by police after an 8 hour stand-off (in multiple senses of the term) but now that small act has gone viral and spread well beyond Taksim Square. The idea is simple: a photo, usually taken from behind demonstrates that person’s solidarity with those hurt or killed by Turkish police actions in the past month, and the increasingly repressive policies of that country’s government in the last few years. On twitter, the hashtag #duranadam (“duran adam” is “the standing man” in Turkish) quickly spilled over the borders of Turkey and has been translated to #standingman as more people in North America and Western Europe start to stand in solidarity with those in Taksim. #standingman is an overtly political meme because, unlike other performative memes like #planking, #owing, or even #eastwooding, it is meant to demonstrate a belonging to a cause. (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 is not the dive bar in question)
I’ve been thinking a lot over recent weeks about digital media, smartphones, and absence-vs.-presence, all of which was compounded by an interesting experience I had last weekend. On one particular night, 1:00 AM found me in a Lower East Side dive bar playing pinball with a friend from Brooklyn and a friend from D.C.; I was also chatting with a third friend (who was in D.C.) via text message and Snapchat between my pinball turns, and relaying parts of that conversation to our two mutual friends there with me in the bar. More people joined us shortly thereafter, madcap shenanigans ensued and, sometime around stupid o’clock in the morning, I started the drive back to where I was staying.
As I was getting up the next day, I recalled various scenes from the night before. One such scene was from the earlier end of being at the dive bar: Getting to hang out with three people I don’t see often was a nice surprise, and how neat was it that we’d all gotten to hang out together? A few seconds later, however, it hit me that my mental picture of that moment didn’t match my memory of it. What I remembered was being in the dive bar spending time with three friends, but I could only picture two friends lit by the flashing lights of so many pinball machines. I realized that Friend #3 had been so present to me through our digital conversation that my memory had spliced him into the dive bar scene as if he’d been physically co-present, even though he’d been more than 200 miles away.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this. On the one hand, yay: My subconscious isn’t digital dualist? (more…)
I won’t link to this essay.
We did it! According to the Editors* of n+1, Sociology—in fact, the underdog coming from behind, Critical Sociology—has won the cultural debate. Critical thinking about power and how it constructs individuals is now universally applied. The bad news is that critical thinking about power hasn’t solved inequalities, and therefore we have “Too Much Sociology.” The Editors of n+1 fail to understand their topic, fail to cite accurately, and, fundamentally, have written a piece that is logically flawed from even its own position.
There are many good reasons to dismiss this essay, but let’s first skip over the most inaccurate parts to explain why the essay does not even make sense on its own terms. There is a good argument that Bourdieusian theorizing can be used for regressive ends. But: that is a Critical Sociology argument! Interrogating exactly how an episteme can be co-opted, even by that of which it is critical, is what critical sociology does. The article uses critical sociology as its method, as its logic, in order to conclude—against its own logic—against doing critical sociology. Hilariously, the essay is a work of critical sociology about critical sociology that is critical of critical sociology. (more…)
“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
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…)
Two weeks ago, I talked about the tension between empowerment and dependence in light of pervasive technological advancement in general, and its application to the body in particular. To briefly summarize, I argued that new technologies simultaneously empower us to take control over our own bodies—through bio-tracking, geographically unconstrained community support, and access to information—while embedding us in a relationship of dependence with the biomedical institution. We regain authority over bodily meanings, while relinquishing authority over bodily treatment. Taking the case of contested illness, I explained this complex relationship as a function of resources. To define embodied experiences biomedically is to actively place the body at the mercy of medical authorities whose techniques and serums remain inaccessible the subject, while opening access to insurance coverage, treatment protocols, and legal protections.
This trade-off, however (like all trade-offs), is not purely material. Rather, the empowerment-dependence tension, and the related earnestness of patient-consumers to embed themselves within the biomedical institution, has a strong social psychological component—namely, the reduction of moral stigmatization. (more…)