A longer, more academic version of this post appears at Its Her Factory.
This post follows up on my earlier post about a culture of moderation. Here I want to consider one aspect of this contemporary focus on moderation: the idea of “balance.” We talk about work/life balance, the “balance” between individual freedom and national security, and, as Jenny notes, the “balance” between tech use and abstention.
Like many Burners (and non-Burners), I was outraged when, yesterday, an image with variations of the title “Grabbing 100+ Boobs at Burning Man 2013″ went viral. In light of the public distribution of these photos, I think it’s imperative for the public in general, and Burners in particular, to have a focused conversation about a range of important social issues including the meaning of consent, rape culture, and slut shaming.
I do not know what each woman in the photos consented to and what problems may arise if they are recognized by people they know from contexts other than Burning Man, so I am reluctant to link to or share the image. However, because it is difficult to discuss the issues in question here without making specific references to the content of the photographs and because most of the harm from distributing the image has probably already been done, I have cropped and anonymized a small portion of the long gridded image here.
The philosopher Michel Foucault taught that sexual repression and taboos aren’t so much the repression of sex but instead evidence of obsession. I’m reminded of this lesson after reading about a terrible story wherein a Georgia high-school decides to make a presentation to hundreds of students and parents on what not to do on social media. In doing so, they project a photo of one student in her bikini, an image taken from her Facebook page [she says shared with ‘friends of friends’] without her permission. Her face is not blurred; in fact, her full name is printed below the image. Her photo, indeed, her body itself, is being projected to all these people as ‘what not to do’, her image and body construed as a problem, how one should not present themselves in 2013. Humiliated by the school’s disrespectful and irresponsible behavior, the woman is suing. In trying to warn students of the dangers of posting online, the Georgia high-school acted in exactly the dangerous way students—everyone—shouldn’t act. (more…)
There’s A LOT more to (self-)tracking than Quantified Self
When people ask me what it is that I’m studying for my PhD research, my answer usually begins with, “Have you ever heard of the group Quantified Self?” I ask this question because, if the person says yes, it’s a lot easier for me to explain my project (which is looking at different forms of mood tracking, primarily within the context of Quantified Self). But sometimes asking this return question makes my explanation more difficult, too, because a lot of people have heard the word “quantified” cozy up to the word “self” in ways that make them feel angry, uncomfortable, or threatened. They don’t at all like what those four syllables sometimes seem to represent, and with good reason: the idea of a “quantified self” can stir images of big data, data mining, surveillance, loss of privacy, loss of agency, mindless fetishization of technology, even utter dehumanization.
But this is not the Quantified Self that I have come to know. (more…)
Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.
The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture. As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.” Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. (more…)
This post expounds on just one section of Liquid Surveillance and should not be considered a proper “review” as such, though I have completed a full review for a journal [read it here]. Further, one of the co-authors of this book, David Lyon, is giving the keynote to the Theorizing the Web conference this Saturday in New York City [more info].
In Liquid Surveillance, the theorist of liquidity, Zygmunt Bauman, and the perhaps the preeminent theorist of surveillance, David Lyon, apply their unique perspectives to social media. I’ve already written a general review of the entire book, submitted to a journal; here, I’m expanding on one specific section of the book that was too much for the general review and deserves its own treatment. In any case, this post has more of my own ideas than would be appropriate for a journal review.
On the anniversary of the Occupy movement, an anonymous saboteur released a secret video from a private Mitt Romney Fundraiser back in May, potentially replacing “99%” with “47%” as the new progressive rallying cry.
I know I ended my post last week with a promise for continuation, but that will have to wait (next week, I promise). Today, I want to talk about privacy, sousveillance, but mostly, context collapse in light of Monday’s events.
In case anyone missed it, here is what happened: An attendant at a small, private, high-dollar Mitt Romney fundraiser secretly taped Romney’s speech and released the tape to the mainstream media. On this tape, Romney makes several politically damning statements, most notably, referring to 47% of American citizens as “victims” who will always depend on the government and about whom it is not his job to worry. Here is a quick snippet of the transcript (see full video below): (more…)
This piece is cross-posted on Microsoft Research New England’s Social Media Collective Research Blog.
In her recent post here on the Cyborgology blog, Jenny Davis brought the pervasive use of Facebook as a study site back into conversation. In brief, she argued that “studying Facebook—or any fleeting technological object—is not problematic as long as we theorize said object.” The take away from this statement is important: We can hope to make lasting contributions to research literature through our conceptual work – much more so than through the necessarily ephemeral empirical details that are tied to a time, a place, and particular technologies.
In this post, I want to give a different yet complementary answer to why it may be a problem if our research efforts are focused on a single study site. This is regardless of whether it is the currently most popular social network site or an already obsolete technological object. (more…)
This is the complete version of a three-part essay that I posted in May, June, and July of this year:
Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy
Part II: Disclosure (Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t)
Part III: Documentary Consciousness
Privacy is not dead, but it does need to change.
Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy
Last spring at TtW2012, a panel titled “Logging off and Disconnection” considered how and why some people choose to restrict (or even terminate) their participation in digital social life—and in doing so raised the question, is it truly possible to log off? Taken together, the four talks by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), Jessica Roberts (@jessyrob), Laura Portwood-Stacer (@lportwoodstacer), and Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) suggested that, while most people express some degree of ambivalence about social media and other digital social technologies, the majority of digital social technology users find the burdens and anxieties of participating in digital social life to be vastly preferable to the burdens and anxieties that accompany not participating. The implied answer is therefore NO: though whether to use social media and digital social technologies remains a choice (in theory), the choice not to use these technologies is no longer a practicable option for number of people.
In this essay, I first extend the “logging off” argument by considering that it may be technically impossible for anyone, even social media rejecters and abstainers, to disconnect completely from social media and other digital social technologies (to which I will refer throughout simply as ‘digital social technologies’). Consequently, decisions about our presence and participation in digital social life are made not only by us, but also by an expanding network of others. I then examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. Finally, I argue that the reality of inescapable connection and the impossible demands of prevailing privacy discourses have together resulted in what I term documentary consciousness, or the abstracted and internalized reproduction of others’ documentary vision. Documentary consciousness demands impossible disciplinary projects, and as such brings with it a gnawing disquietude; it is not uniformly distributed, but rests most heavily on those for whom (in the words of Foucault) “visibility is a trap.” I close by calling for new ways of thinking about both privacy and autonomy that more accurately reflect the ways power and identity intersect in augmented societies. (more…)
Documentary consciousness entails the ever-present sense of a looming future failure.
In Part I this essay, I considered the fact that we are always connected to digital social technologies, whether we are connecting through them or not. Because many companies collect what I call second-hand data (data about people other than those from whom the data is collected), whether we leave digital traces is not a decision we can make autonomously. The end result is that we cannot escape being connected to digital social technologies anymore than we can escape society itself.
In Part II, I examined two prevailing privacy discourses to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequalities and larger issues of power.
In this third and final installment, I consider one of the many impacts that follow from being inescapably connected in a society that still masks issues of power and inequality through conceptualizations of ‘privacy’ as an individual choice. I argue that the reality of inescapable connection and the impossible demands of prevailing privacy discourses have together resulted in what I term documentary consciousness, or the abstracted and internalized reproduction of others’ documentary vision. Documentary consciousness demands impossible disciplinary projects, and as such brings with it a gnawing disquietude; it is not uniformly distributed, but rests most heavily on those for whom (in the words of Foucault) “visibility is a trap.” I close by calling for new ways of thinking about both privacy and autonomy that more accurately reflect the ways power and identity intersect in augmented societies. (more…)