It’s as if a TED conference smashed headfirst into a hackathon and then fell into an NGO strategy summit. CEOs sit next to non-profit employees and eat boxed lunches as a dominatrix (@MClarissa) presents a slide on teledilonics followed up by a garage hacker-turned-million dollar project director quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. It is a supremely uncanny experience that all happens within the confines of a movie theater (and, later, a sushi bar). This is what one can expect when they attend the Freedom to Connect conference (#f2c) held in Silver Spring, Maryland. The conference is meant to bring “under-represented people and issues into the Washington, DC based federal policy discussion…” I left the conference feeling generally good that there are people out there working to preserve and protect open infrastructures. I just wish that team were more diverse.
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. 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. (more…)
This is just an off-the-cuff post as I do some weekend reading, namely David Brin’s The Transparent Society (1998). I’m curious about the common grand narrative that society has become more transparent and thus will continue to be more so, ultimately creating the state of full transparency, full surveillance, where everything is seen, recorded, and known. I’ve critiqued this line of thought before, as the issue is common in writing about surveillance or privacy, from silly op-eds to pieces by serious scholars like Zygmunt Bauman.
Brin begins his book by asking the reader to look 10-20 years in the future, which from 1998 means today. Brin claims in the world of the future-for-him / now-for-us there will be no street crime because surveillance cameras peer down from “every lamppost, every rooftop and street sign” which are “observing everything in open view” (4). (more…)
The concept of “risk” comes up a lot in the classes I TA. Usually, it comes up as part of a conversation about acceptable levels of risk for consumer products: How safe should a car be? How much money should we spend on fire safety in homes? If you’re utilizing a cost-benefit analysis that also means calculating the price of a human life. How much is your life worth? These questions are familiar to safety regulators, inspectors, CEOs, and government officials but as private citizens and consumers, we like to think that such questions are sufficiently settled. Cars are as safe as we can make them because human life is incalculably valuable. After all, these sorts of questions sound macabre when we invert the function: How many cars should explode every year? How many jars of peanut butter should have salmonella in them? These questions are largely considered necessary evils in today’s risk-based society, but what kind of society does that create? (more…)
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the “fear of being missed (FOBM).” The flip side of FOMO (fear of missing out), FOBM captures the anxiety surrounding a complex and fast moving online realm in which it is easy to be buried, ignored, and/or forgotten. This anxiety is amplified by the online/offline connectedness, through which invisibility online can lead to neglect offline (personally and professionally). FOMO and FOBM speak to the difficulty of deleting social media accounts, the discomfort of a dead cell/laptop/tablet battery, and the drive to livetweet, status update, tag oneself in pictures, and be physically present for tagable photo-ops.
Soon after posting my piece on Cyborgology, I read Tiana Bucher’s article in New Media & Society about Facebook algorithms and the fear of invisibility. Bucher’s work offers a useful theoretical frame (Foucault’s Panoptican) for FOBM, and an equally good (if not better) term for the phenomena (fear of invisibility). In what follows, I describe Bucher’s piece and its utilization. I then offer critiques of her work. In this way, I hope to further the theoretical substance of FOBM, framing it with the tools suggested by Bucher, and refining it through juxtaposition to Bucher’s arguments. (more…)
“Those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves.”
“Power to the imagination.”
“I don’t like to write on walls.”
-Graffiti in May of 1968 Paris, France.
I was gonna write something about how I appreciate Procatinator more than everyone else, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Not today anyway. Remember when the United States had this popular uprising and everyone was talking about it and the political establishment was actually afraid of what it could accomplish? When hundreds of thousands of Americans were exposed to political organizing and direct action for the first time? That started a year ago today, and while the summer did not see massive protests, the Fall promises a new start. A resurgence built upon… arbitrary calendar dates, I suppose. Truthfully, I see no reason why Zuccotti park should be re-occupied, nor should anyone feel the need to act out of a fear of “losing momentum.” Momentum is important for steering large ships, but direct action is all about swimming against the tide. Anarchist movements (and Occupy undeniably fits this category) are by their very definition: voluntary, small, functional, and temporary. We don’t need another occupation of Zuccotti Park. We need something new. (more…)
The cognitive linguist George Lakoff wants liberals to stop thinking like enlightenment scholars and start thinking about appeals to the “cognitive unconscious.” He asks that progressives “embrace a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partially universal. A New Enlightenment would not abandon reason, but rather understand that we are using real reason– embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporation emotion, structured by frames and metaphors anad images and symbols, with conscious though shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to the conscious.” That quote comes from his 2008 book The Political Mind and –regardless of your political affiliation– it is certainly worth a read. Others appeal to your “embodied reason” all the time and, when they do it right, their conclusions just feel right. This is how, according to Lakoff, Republicans are so good at getting Americans to vote against their interests. Appeal to one’s sense of self-preservation, individuality, and fear of change and you have a voter that is willing to cut their own Medicare funding. I generally agree with Lakoff’s conclusions, but I do not think Republicans are the masters of this art. Internet pirates, the likes of Kim Dotcom, Gottfrid “Anakata” Svartholm, and even Julian Assange, state their cases and appeal directly to our cognitive unconsciouses better than any neocon ever could. (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…)
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…)
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.
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.