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…)
Last week Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry) and Whitney Erin Boesel (@phenatypical) separately broached the tensions between technologies, bodies, ownership, and power. Here, I want to articulate this tension more explicitly, and argue that at a broad level, this is a tension between empowerment and dependence. Empowerment—as producers become consumers, reducing institutional authority over identity meanings and cultural representations; dependence— as these identity and cultural prosumers necessarily rely upon increasingly complex technical systems of implementation. (more…)
Photos by Nathan Jurgenson, taken in Washington, D.C., 17, January 2012.
Malcolm Harris has posted one of the most provocative things I’ve ever read about social media, “Twitterland.” I’d like to point you the story and go through some of the many issues he brings to light. Harris’ story is one of theorizing Twitter and power; it can reinforce existing power imbalances, but, as is the focus here, how it can also be used to upset them.
Harris begins by taking on the idea that Twitter is a “tool” or an “instrument”, arguing that, no, Twitter is not a map, but the territory; not the flier but the city itself; hence the title “Twitterland.” However, in nearly the same breath, Harris states he wants to “buck that trend” of “the faulty digital-dualist frame the separates ‘real’ and online life.” As most readers here know, I coined the term digital dualism and provided the definition on this blog and thus have some vested interest in how it is deployed. And Harris’ analysis that follows indeed bucks the dualist trend, even though I would ask for some restating of the more theoretical parts of his argument. I’d like to urge Harris not to claim that Twitter is a new city, but instead focus on how Twitter has become part of the city-fabric of reality itself. (more…)
The Sheriff says “Likeing” isn’t speech, but he’ll fire you if you “Like” the wrong thing.
Ann Swidler argues that we operate using complex cultural repertoires. These are the propensities, scripts, frameworks, and logics—the tools with which to navigate everyday life. Our repertoires are vast, and often contradictory—and yet we deftly pull what we need, when we need it, easily ignoring contradictions. She illustrates these practices through narratives of romantic love, in which participants, within the same interview, draw seamlessly on logics of independence (e.g. we are separate people and we need our separate space), intertwinement (e.g. we have grown together over the years, our marriage is a true union of two souls), fate (e.g. we were meant to be) and rationality (e.g. marriage is a product of hard work and sacrifice).
With Swidler’s cultural tool kit as a framework, we can begin to make sense of the logical gymnastics that enabled a Virginia Sheriff to fire his subordinates for hitting a Facebook “Like” button in support of an opposing candidate and then argue successfully in court that this firing was not a violation of free speech. (more…)
This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 3.30.12 and was updated to include video on 7.19.12. See the conference website for
Presider: Kari Kraus (@karikraus)
Drawing on a diverse range of approaches–from media archaeology and ethnography to queer theory and critical code studies–the “Politics of Design” panel will collectively consider where and how power pools and collects in the designed, value-laden spaces of the internet. Individual panelists will take up digital networks and anonymity (Moesch); established and proposed internet architectures (Shilton and Neal); slick Web 2.0 and grungy “dirt style” interfaces (Kane); and the failed rhetoric of the digital sublime by the founders of Google and Second Life (Chia). Not content to dwell on surface design features, each speaker unearths hidden variables–whether technological, social, or historical–that affect the systems, platforms, and communication structures under discussion. In the process, they expose the faultlines in those structures that allow us to envision them otherwise; the politics of design, that is to say, ultimately point–directly or indirectly–to alt-design and re-design.
Please join us on 4/14 for what promises to be a fabulous #TtW12 panel!
[Paper titles and abstracts are after the jump.] (more…)
In an interview with Craig Ferguson last week, Jason Alexander called the game of Cricket “a gay game.” It was clear (and you can see for yourself in the video above, starting at the 9 minute mark) that Alexander was equating “gay” with “effeminate” and juxtaposing words like “gay” and “queer” with notions of masculinity and being “manly.” After the show aired, the tweets started pouring in. This tweet by @spaffrath was pretty trypical: (more…)