Fuck, I Need Some New Swear Words

Note: This article touches on slut shaming, body shaming, homophobia, and ableism.

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I love swearing. It’s a weekly miracle that my essays don’t include “totally fucked” or “fucked up and bullshit” in every paragraph. If I were reborn as a linguist, I would study swearing and cursing. I watch documentaries about cursing, I play a lot of Cards Against Humanity, and this interview with Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing is my favorite episode of Slate’s just-nerdy-enough podcast Lexicon Valley. If you’ve been in the audience when I give a presentation, you probably (despite my efforts to the contrary) heard me swear five or six times. I would hate to live in a world without swearing because it would be fucking dull. Unfortunately, my (and most English-speaking people) love of swearing comes into direct contradiction with inclusionary social politics. I need a new arsenal of swear words that punch up and tear down destructive stereotypes. Every time I swear, I want to be totally confident that I’m offending the right people. more...

[Book Review] Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana

The theory and policy of Internet connectivity has not kept pace with the increasing diversity of network access. The full variety of access points, social practices, and meaning created by networked individuals has not been critically engaged by most authors.  Jenna Burrell’s new book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafe’s of Urban Ghana is the start of a major corrective in the social sciences’ treatment of the Internet. For “nonelite urban youth” the internet café provides an opportunity to extend one’s social network outside of the zongo (colloquial term for slum) that they grew up in, and gain access to resources and contacts they would otherwise never acquire. A majority of Burrell’s work takes place in these cafés but we are also treated to a discussion of global ewaste streams, international consortiums on the “information society” and the collective reputation and shared meaning of Ghanaians  on the Internet. Burrell provides a broad, but at times penetratingly deep look at the Internet from the margins.  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.


Helvetica: The Web’s Conflict Between Utility and Expression

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Helvetica, the 2009 documentary about the meteoric rise of a Modern minimalist typeface, chronicles the recent history of design theory and describes a continuing clash between hyper-functional Modern design and expressive post-Modern (“grunge”) design.  Interestingly, the design trends that characterize the field of typeface design seem to directly parallel the history of Web design.

Today, we take for granted the simple, sleek minimalism that has come to define the Web.  It is evidenced in the two-tone, single-logo body of the iPad; the bold, spare, and instantly recognizable typeface of the Facebook “f” logo; or the isomorphic convergence of browsers toward an uncluttered and relatively standardized interface.  Of course, various products have strayed from Silicon Valley’s prevailing design standard of Modernist minimalism, but the dominance of this design aesthetic is only further revealed by the ridicule that these companies and products receive.

The dominance of Modernist minimalism on the Web was not always a given.  For example, even at its peak popularity, Myspace afforded users a wide range of customizable with respect to this individual profiles.  In fact, profiles on Myspace continue to vary so widely that there is hardly any coherence to the site as a whole.  But, users seem to enjoy the freedom to customize their own profiles.  Beyond the content, the design itself becomes a medium of self-expression.  If you are an outward and expressive person, be sure to have music blaring when a visitor lands on the page.  If you are the dark and brooding type, exhibit this by selecting font and background colors from the bruise palate.  These observations, no doubt, echo the wisdom of Marshall McLuhan, who famously told us that “the medium is the message.” more...