I don’t recommend doing it, but if you search for “Charles Ramsey” on Reddit, something predictably disturbing happens. First, you’ll notice that the most results come from /r/funny, the subreddit devoted to memes, puns, photobombs, and a whole bunch of sexist shit. Charles Ramsey, in case you don’t know, is the Good Samaritan that responded to calls for help by Amanda Berry- a woman that had been held captive for 10 years in a Cleveland basement, along with Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The jokes on Reddit are largely at the expense of Ramsey, poking fun at his reaction to a police siren or his reference to eating ribs and McDonalds. As Aisha Harris (@craftingmystyle) said on Slate: “It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform.” (more…)
About this time last year I asked our readers, “why we don’t criticize other things like we criticize the internet?” It seemed like a fitting topic for the season; we utilize some of the most resource-intensive technologies at our disposal so that we may enjoy egg nog with old friends or taste grandma’s famous Thanksgiving day turkey. Everyone wants to be near their loved ones for the holidays, and so begins a massive effort to transport ourselves in cars, trains and planes until we arrive at our optimal holiday season arrangements. It is a wonder, then, why we spend so much of our lives outside of this optimal arrangement. What kind of relationship do we have with our immediate surroundings? Not just the people, but the technologies and the patterns. There is a lot of excellent work on carbon footprints, local food movements, and walkable communities but I hear comparatively little about who is capable of making this transition. What does opting out of the status quo truly entail? (more…)
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…)
The IBM System/360 was the clock tower of its time.
I want to spend a few hundred words today, considering the geographic dimensions of digitally augmented/mediated social action. I am not only talking about GPS-enabled smartphone apps (Foursquare, Geocaching, SeeClickFix, etc.) but also the sorts of practices and habits– the kind that most people barely notice– that make up one’s daily Internet usage. Just as there are different car cultures in different parts of the United States (and the rest of the world), are there different “Interent Cultures” based on geographic region? Does where you connect, have any impact on how you connect? In some respects, yes– speed, availability, and stability of a connection matters; nations put up firewalls to prevent their citizens from accessing dangerous ideas; and you wouldn’t (or can’t) do the same things on your work computer that you could do on your home computer. All of this leads to a common provocation: can we utilize the properties of scale, place, and community to create radically new kinds of augmented realities. Can communities utilize a shared Internet connection to deal with local issues? Can we deliberately work against the individualist ethic of the Internet to revitalize public life? (more…)
This post combines part 1 and part 2 of “Technocultures”. These posts are observations made during recent field work in the Ashanti region of Ghana, mostly in the city of Kumasi.
Part 1: Technology as Achievement and Corruption
An Ashanti enstooling ceremony, recorded (and presumably shared) through cell phone cameras (marked).
The “digital divide” is a surprisingly durable concept. It has evolved through the years to describe a myriad of economic, social, and technical disparities at various scales across different socioeconomic demographics. Originally it described how people of lower socioeconomic status were unable to access digital networks as readily or easily as more privileged groups. This may have been true a decade ago, but that gap has gotten much smaller. Now authors are cooking up a “new digital divide” based on usage patterns. Forming and maintaining social networks and informal ties, an essential practices for those of limited means, is described as nothing more than shallow entertainment and a waste of time. The third kind of digital divide operates at a global scale; industrialized or “developed” nations have all the cool gadgets and the global south is devoid of all digital infrastructures (both social and technological). The artifacts of digital technology are not only absent, (so the myth goes) but the expertise necessary for fully utilizing these technologies is also nonexistent. Attempts at solving all three kinds of digital divides (especially the third one) usually take a deficit model approach.The deficit model assumes that there are “haves” and “have nots” of technology and expertise. The solution lies in directing more resources to the have nots, thereby remediating the digital disparity. While this is partially grounded in fact, and most attempts are very well-intended, the deficit model is largely wrong. Mobile phones (which are becoming more and more like mobile computers) have put the internet in the hands of millions of people who do not have access to a “full sized” computer. More importantly, computer science, new media literacy, and even the new aesthetic can be found throughout the world in contexts and arrangements that transcend or predate their western counterparts. Ghana is an excellent case study for challenging the common assumptions of technology’s relationship to culture (part 1) and problematizing the historical origins of computer science and the digital aesthetic (part 2). (more…)
Facebook Inc. and researchers from the University of Milan recently released a study showing that Facebook users are linked by only 4.7 degrees of separation. This is a significant decrease from the 6 degrees of separation found in Milgrim’s 1967 study, from which the common conception of our degree of networked connection (and the Kevin Bacon game) stems.
Here, I examine what these findings mean in terms of social relationships in the contemporary era.
These findings point to three main things: In the most basic sense, these findings show that Facebook is a highly pervasive and global platform through which interaction takes place. Relatedly, those who interact on Facebook connect to large and diverse networks. Finally, as we increasingly interact on a shared platform, with a wide and diverse group of others, these findings indicate that we are increasingly connected through weak ties. It is this last point that I will expand upon (more…)
The 2011 American Sociological Association Meetings are about to start this week in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As the conference gets underway, the volume of tweets containing the #ASA2011 hashtag is rising.
Using NodeXL, I collected a set of tweets with the #ASA2011 tag and mapped the connections among the people who tweeted that term.
These are the connections among the Twitter users who recently tweeted the word ASA2011 when queried on August 15, 2011 (more…)
- Sometimes, we forget birthdays… (Image Credit: Someecards.com)
Last Tuesday, Slate’s editor David Plotz wrote about a social experiment he performed last July.
I was born on Jan. 31, but I’ve always wanted a summer birthday. I set my Facebook birthday for Monday, July 11. Then, after July 11, I reset it for Monday, July 25. Then I reset it again for Thursday, July 28. Facebook doesn’t verify your birthday, and doesn’t block you from commemorating it over and over again. If you were a true egomaniac, you could celebrate your Facebook birthday every day. (You say it’s your birthday? It’s my birthday too!)
Plotz’s Facebook wall was filled by well-wishers on all three of his “birthdays.” He writes,
My social network was clearly sick of me. I received only 71 birthday wishes on July 28, down from more than 100 on my first two fake birthdays. And even more skeptics caught on to the experiment: 16 doubters, compared with 9 from three days earlier.
The rant that anything digital is inherently shallow, most famously put forth in popular books such as “The Shallows” and “Cult of the Amateur,” becomes quite predictable. Even the underlying theme of The Social Network movie was that technology trades the depth of reality for the shallowness of virtuality. I have asserted that claims about what is more “deep” and “real” are claims to truth and thus claims to power. This was true when this New York Times panel discussion on digital books made constant reference to the death of depth and is still true in the face of new claims regarding the rise of texting, chatting and messaging using social media.
Just as others lamented about the loss in depth when moving from the physical to the digital word, others are now claiming the loss of depth when moving from email to more instant forms of communication. E-etiquette writer Judith Kallos claims that because the norms surrounding new instant forms of communication do not adhere as strictly to grammatical rules, the writing is inherently “less deep.” She states that
We’re going down a road where we’re losing our skills to communicate with the written word
and elsewhere in the article another concludes that
the art of language, the beauty of language, is being lost.
There is much to critique here. Equating “depth” to grammatical rules privileges those with more formal education with the satisfaction of also being “deeper.” Depth is not lost in abbreviations just as it is not contained in spelling or punctuation. Instant streams of communication pinging back and forth have the potential to be rich with deep, meaningful content. (more…)