Google Maps Can’t Kill Public Space (A Belated Reply to Evgeny Morozov)

The new Google maps probably won't destroy public space.
The new Google maps probably won’t destroy public space.

Maps are always political. Most maps show us something that we already believe, so its difficult to see what is being reinforced and what is systematically ignored. Even the most mundane AAA maps of highways and state borders are doing political work by recognizing the sovereignty of individual states and the obduracy of highways and roads. The near-infinite number of things, qualities, measurements, and people that have spatial characteristics (seriously, just think of all of it: temperatures, ancestral lands, endemic species, isobars, places to buy smoothies, locations of hidden treasure, and so on, and so on…_) mean that map makers must always select what is relevant and what is not. This selection process—a human endeavor—is inherently social and deeply political. Google, a company that has taken upon itself to reject that selection process and “organize all the world’s information,” wants to provide a single map and, instead of deciding what is relevant in any given map, will personalize it based on information it has about you and your friends. Evgeny Morozov, writing in Slate,[1] is rightfully concerned that Google doesn’t quite know what they’re dealing with when they say they want to organize public spaces in their databases right next to email and photos of cats. He is concerned that–unlike books or weather forecasts—Google doesn’t “acknowledge the vital role that disorder, chaos, and novelty play in shaping the urban experience.” I completely agree that unpredictability is necessary for good urban space, but the biggest threat Google poses to public space isn’t that its maps are “profoundly utilitarian, even selfish in character.” Rather, Google hasn’t done enough to personalize maps in such a way that they become part of everyday social (and Social) life. more...

Social Media, Public Space, and Claimsmaking


Last week, cell phone footage emerged on Youtube that purports to be taken by a Saudi Arabian woman in a mall, of her clash with the Saudi religious police. The woman is righteously indignant, insisting that they have no right to harass her, that it’s “none of [their] business if [she] wears nail polish”. She also tells them to “smile for the camera”, as she’s filming the entire thing and is sharing the footage.

The pattern of this particular encounter isn’t necessarily novel, and by Western standards a claim on the right to wear nail polish in public seems fairly mundane, but there is something worth noting about the specific dynamics inherent in sharing this kind of footage. Most obviously there’s the fact that in countries with repressive laws based on gender, wearing nail polish in public may indeed be an extremely subversive act, but that leaves aside the question of the cell phone footage itself, and what uploading it to Youtube does.


Augmented Activism: A Tactical Survey (Part 2)

Is this an Oxymoron?

Most of our interactions with technology are rather mundane. We flip a light switch, buckle our seat belts, or place a phone call. We have a tacit knowledge of how these devices work. In other words, we have relatively standard, institutionalized, ways of interacting with familiar technologies. For example: if I were to drive someone else’s car, even if it is an unfamiliar model, I do not immediately consult the user manual. I look around for the familiar controls, maybe flick the blinkers on while the car is still in the drive way, and off I go. Removal of these technologies (or even significant alterations) can cause confusion. This is immediately evident if you are trying to meet a friend who does not own a cell phone. Typical conventions for finding the person in a crowded public space (“Yeah, I’m here. Near the stage? Yeah I see you waving.”) are not available to you. In years prior to widespread cell phone adoption, you might have made more detailed plans before heading out (“We’ll meet by the stage at 11PM.”) but now we work out the details on the fly. Operating cars and using cell phones are just a few mundane examples of how technologies shape social behavior beyond the actions needed to operate and maintain them. The widespread adoption of technologies, and the decisions by individual groups to utilize technologies can have a profound impact on the social order of communities. This second part of the Tactical Survey will help academics, activists, and activist academics assess the roll of information technology in a movement and make better decisions on when and how to use tools like social media, live video, and other forms of computer-mediated communication. more...

Romanticizing the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl at #OccupyWallSt

There are currently several debates going around the web about Steven Greenstreet’s “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” video and tumblr, his rape jokes posted on Facebook, and the rights of women (and men) to claim offense at such behavior. Now I want to contribute something more to the debate than simply rehashing on our rights to privacy in the public realm (both in the digital public space-in the case of Greenstreet’s Facebook comments and in the material public space-in terms of privacy while marching in the streets of #Occupy). I want to talk about the manic pixie dreamgirl.

What does the “hot chicks of occupy” have to do with the manic pixie dreamgirl? And what is the manic pixie dreamgirl trope? I think this short Feminist Frequency video encapsulates the trope quite well, as well as its connection to Greenstreet’s objectification of women at #Occupy. more...