Instagram, Drugs, and Music Festivals: an Interview with Ingmar Gorman

Image Credit Miguel Noriega
Image Credit Miguel Noriega

Two weeks ago Zel McCarthy published a story in Thump about a mysterious infographic that’s been making the rounds lately. The infographic purports to show which drugs are popular at various music festivals by scraping Instagram for references to different drugs. Anyone that knows a thing or two about research design would already raise an eyebrow but it gets worse. According to McCarthy:

this intentionally-opaque study was conducted and assembled by a Florida-based content marketing agency Fractl, which works regularly with DrugAbuse.com. While at first glance the site appears to be a credible resource for those struggling with addiction and abuse issues, it’s actually a redirect for for-profit rehab and addiction centers, mainly ones that bankrolls the site.

To help dig deep into the issues of research design, online performativity, and substance use I sat down over Skype with Ingmar Gorman, a clinical psychologist at the New School for Social Research who was quoted in the Thump article saying that this “study” was not only poorly constructed, it was also indicative of an archaic, “moralistic approach” to substance abuse research. What follows is edited to make us both sound more articulate. You can listen to the whole interview (warts and all), using the SoundCloud embed at the end of the interview. The recording, along with the sound of a computer fan and me saying “uhh” a lot, also includes something I’ll call “bonus content” about a study that used the Watson supercomputer to tell if someone was on psychedelics. Enjoy. more...

Moving Beyond the Binary of Connectivity

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Image credit

What does it mean to have access to the internet? It’s an apparently simple question that gets complicated when we consider the wide variety of ways people access the web and products from the web. Indeed, the question is wrapped up in recent debates about zero rating, net neutrality, “the next billion” and numerous initiatives designed to bring people from the developing world online.

At Theorizing the Web this year, I presented research that combined my fieldwork and personal observations in developing world internet contexts like rural northern Uganda, urban China and rural Philippines with emergent research and journalism on the use of sneakernets–the physical transfer of data using devices like USB sticks or Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones–in places like Mali, North Korea and Cuba. These latter formed the basis for my talk and a recent paper in The New Inquiry, in which I draw from Jan Chipchase’s writing on binary thinking about connectivity and how this ultimately overlooks the vast diversity of ways that people do access the web and its products. more...

Yikkity Yak, Please Talk Back

silhouette of a man standing alone.

“Have you been on Yik Yak?”

My graduate student friends can attest to the fact that I ask this question of almost everyone at some point. Sometimes more than once, like when you’re excited about something and can’t help but tell the story over and over again to the same audience. Annoying, I know, and I’m sorry to all my friends.

But it’s just because I find Yik Yak absolutely fascinating. I’m drawn to it because, for at least some users, it serves as a sort of technologically cultivated hive-mind therapy session. For the uninitiated, Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app available on Android or iOS mobile devices. Users can post, vote on, and publicly reply to “yaks.” Users collect “Yakarma” based on how many votes their yaks receive and how often they vote on other yaks. Once a post receives more than five down votes it is removed. Rather than following other users or adding friends, Yik Yak shows posts from others within a ten-mile radius of your location, so when you visit the Yik Yak stream you are seeing the anonymous posts of other users in your area. As such, it is particularly popular among college students—a place to gripe about classes you hate, snoring roommates, bad cafeteria food, and attractive people that won’t give you the time of day. Of course, it’s also a place for inside jokes and celebrating particularly rowdy parties, but to be frank, there’s a lot of complaining. more...

Identity Prosumption GeekOut

ProcessProsumption is something of a buzzword here at Cyborgology. It refers to the blurring of production and consumption, such that consumers are entwined in the production process. Identity prosumption is a spin-off of this concept, and refers to the ways prosumptive activities act back upon the prosuming self. Identity prosumption is a neat and simple analytic tool, particularly useful in explaining the relationship between social media users and the content they create and share.

If you’ll stick with me through some geekery, I would like to think through some of the nuances of this humble bit of theory.   more...

Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat.
A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat. Source.

Paul Budnitz describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” having created other companies that make artisanal toys and luxury bicycles. He’s also the creator/founder/president/charismatic leader of Ello. And when a social network launches with a manifesto that proudly proclaims “You are not a product”, there’s more on the line than embedded video support. Despite the radical overtures of the initial launch, we shouldn’t expect any more from Ello than we would from a luxury bicycle. more...

What the EPA’s Kardashian Tweet Says About Affective Labor

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Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The Tweet was one of those automatically generated ones meant to announce progress in a game or the unlocking of an achievement. Its easy to imagine the scenario: an over-worked or deeply bored social media manager didn’t realize they were signed into their work account instead of their personal one and let the tweet go. Or maybe a family member borrowed their work phone. Who knows? What we do know is that the tweet immediately garnered thousands of retweets and countless more screenshots were shared on other platforms. Why is this even remotely funny? What sorts of publicly held believes does it reveal? more...

Open (Source) for Business

The Tower of David (Image Source)
The Tower of David (Image Source)

I was scrolling through Tumblr the other morning (like I do) when I came across “the world’s tallest slum.” Located in downtown Caracas, an unfinished 45-story skyscraper that was supposed to host Venezuela’s business elite is now home to an estimated 3,000 squatters. The “Tower of David” (named after finance tycoon that started and abandoned the project) is now owned by the state but there are no government-provided utilities. The building is, in essence, not much more than an immense concrete frame, upon which the residents have begun to build a community. They pool money to pay for building security, there are bodegas on every floor, and water and electricity reach as high as the 22nd floor. This is no small feat of engineering or human organization, but it isn’t comfortable living either. I don’t think it would be romanticizing the living conditions of these people to say that they (and no one else) have made something that is both modest and remarkable for themselves. Abandoned by both private industry and the government, some people pooled their limited resources and made their lives a little more livable.  Zulma Bolivar, a Caracas City planning official in an interview with the New York Times described the situation in one sentence: “This tower is a perfect example of anarchy.” more...

On “Listening” as metaphor for feminized social media labor

This is a cross-post from its her factory.

 

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that “music is traversed by a becoming-woman” (272). By this they mean that Western systems of musical organization evoke and confront the very phenomena that serve as these systems’ constitutive exclusions.  For example, while tonal harmony was a hierarchical system of consonances (i.e., chords), it nevertheless relied upon the introduction and resolution of (as the nineteenth century progressed, increasingly jarring and destabilizing) dissonances. Similarly, the abjection/rejection/marginalization of “woman” (or better, “girl”) is what solidifies and guarantees patriarchal orders: maleness/masculinity become the “norm” or the “absolute” only insofar as femaleness/femininity are circumscribed as abnormal, unthinkable, and invisible (or, to use Irigaray’s terms, insofar as “woman” is the sex which “is not”). Thus, to claim that “musical expression is inseparable from a becoming-woman” (Deleuze & Guattari, 299) is to posit that [Western, tonal] music works by “confronting its own danger, even taking a fall in order to rise again” (Deleuze & Guattari, 299).  As Susan McClary and Catherine Clement have famously argued, the logic of tonality turns upon the evocation and ultimate containment of “feminized” musical elements (e.g., chromaticism, actual female characters in operas, etc.). To say that “musical expression is a “becoming-woman,” then, means that femininity is the danger a musical work confronts, only to rise again. Traditionally, patriarchy has treated femininity as a deterritorializing force, something whose destabilization is necessary and even pleasurable.

But plenty of feminist and non-feminist scholars have pointed out that neoliberalism co-opts and rebrands traditional (white) femininity: the Young-Girl is the ideal model for human capital, just as feminized work–flexible, care-oriented, informal/unpaid–is the new model for labor. As Natalia Cecire puts it, “neoliberalism operates through hypertrophied forms of femininity.” Femininity isn’t deterritorializing, but the mechanism of reterritorialization.

So, in the same way that neoliberalism co-opts femininity and has it lead the charge to “creative destruction,” does it also co-opt “sound” or “music” as the primary medium of and/or metaphor for this work?

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Facebook has Always Manipulated Your Emotions

 

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Emotional Contagion is the idea that emotions spread throughout networks. If you are around happy people, you are more likely to be happy. If you are around gloomy people, you are likely to be glum.

The data scientists at Facebook set out to learn if text-based, nonverbal/non-face-to-face interactions had similar effects.  They asked: Do emotions remain contagious within digitally mediated settings? They worked to answer this question experimentally by manipulating the emotional tenor of users’ News Feeds, and recording the results.

Public reaction was such that many expressed dismay that Facebook would 1) collect their data without asking and 2) manipulate their emotions.

I’m going to leave aside the ethics of Facebook’s data collection. It hits on an important but blurry issue of informed consent in light of Terms of Use agreements, and deserves a post all its own. Instead, I focus on the emotional manipulation, arguing that Facebook was already manipulating your emotions, and likely in ways far more effectual than algorithmically altering the emotional tenor of your News Feed. more...

Autism and the Internet

Several months ago, the CDC released a report on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They found that as of 2010, 1 in every 68 U.S. children are on the ASD spectrum. This is up from 1 in every 150 children just ten years prior. This means that rates have more than doubled. The reasons for the large increase are fodder for some wonderfully interesting conversations and heated debates about biology vs. environment vs. culture vs. the Medical Industrial Complex. Putting these debates aside for another day, however, I instead want to talk about how new technologies can serve this ever growing population. As a quick caveat, I should say that I am a person who dabbles in disability studies research. My hope is that those who know more than I—through personal experience and/or professional expertise—will add nuance to the ideas I present below and help guide the discussion into all of the complex places I know it can go, but don’t quite know how to take it.

autism_data_graphic2012-copy more...