It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. (more…)
Facebook and Twitter, like any other form of communication, can be used to forge solidarity. As philosopher Richard Rorty reminds us in Method, Social Science, and Social Hope, one of the boundless powers of the humanities and of storytelling—novels, journalism, ethnographies, photography, documentaries—is to grow our imaginations so that the norms which would exclude foreigners, or the poor, or minorities, are replaced with a solidarity against suffering. In stories like Native Son, The Diary of Anne Frank and Brokeback Mountain,the cruelties of those who are not familiar to us are described in astonishing, bright detail. The humans who populate Dirty Pretty Things, Sin Nombre and How to Survive A Plague become less distant, more familiar. Through imagination, their suffering becomes ours. In many instances, networked media facilitate this kind of sensitivity building, this form of democratic attunement. But under the ceaseless pressure of shareability and virality, tragedy on social media often resembles disaster porn: a ghastly vine, a sappy post, attention seeking hashtags, confusing the spread of symbolic images for enduring political achievement.
That grief is best endured in groups was not lost on those involved in the Boston Marathon or to those who experienced it through networked media. (more…)
One of the aspects of techno-social life that I’ll be looking at closely in my forthcoming book Superconnected: The Internet and Techno-Social Life is the reality of the online experience. To explore this issue in the classroom, I invited Nathan Jurgenson of this blog to tweet “live” with my “Mediated Communication in Society” class, billing him as a special guest speaker tweeter! Here I describe what I did, why I did it, how I did it — and what happened, much of it unexpected, as a result. (more…)
Little known fact: I profoundly dislike going to events longer than four or five hours entirely by myself. Though I enjoy my own company, and have a visceral need for regular time alone, one thing I really do not enjoy (understatement) is awkwardly standing alone in a crowd of complete strangers who are having conversations. This doesn’t stop me from going to all sorts of things by myself, as I have an even stronger dislike of missing out on events that seem interesting, exciting, or useful to me. But as someone who falls somewhere between “awkward at” and “terrified of” approaching people she doesn’t yet know, there’s a certain level of OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD involved each time I have to contemplate keeping myself socially occupied for longer than an average night of rock shows.
How do I deal with this? Put simply: Twitter. (more…)
Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Mind wandering to extreme and alarming places. No, this is not a horror movie or a bad dissertation dream. This is Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
FOMO is a colloquial phrase to describe the anxiety people feel in light of constant streams of information. Not only are broadcast news cycles 24 hours, but so too are social news streams. All day, at all times, the Facebook and Twitter tickers move forward, populated by people, information, and interaction. These streams go on with or without us. It is impossible to keep up. And yet, widespread access through home computers, work computers, smart phones and tablets tempt many of us to try, often wavering between frenzied efforts stay afloat, and resolutions to let the digital world spin without us, determinately avoiding connected devices with clenched jaws, white knuckles, deep breaths, and quick sideways glances full of both longing and animosity. (more…)
Many have linked political conservatism with “the authoritarian personality,” which, in part, involves the willingness to view power structures as legitimate, less reluctance to submit to those in authority over you, and an increased tendency to exercise authority over the less powerful. Social media is often seen as counter-authoritarian, however, we also have good evidence that the Web in general, and social media in particular, also replicates existing power structures.
With these different concerns in mind, we might wonder if those with different political orientations use social media for politics in different ways. More specifically, are those on the right, even in a social media environment that permits more expression, voice, and creativity, more likely to submit and follow? Theodore Adorno, pictured above and pioneered work in this line of thought, I think, would predict that Republicans would be more passive, more likely to listen and restate, whereas those on the left would be a bit more likely to create new content.
I post these very brief thoughts (certainly much more would be needed to substantiate the sweeping claims I just made above; this is only a short blog post!) because The Pew Internet in American Life Project just today released some new findings on Social Media and Political Engagement [pdf]. Here are most of the findings: (more…)
Willingness to overpay for an overhyped experience
The shot of Jager is dropped into a glass of Red Bull and chugged until all evidence disappears down the throats of the youthful.
Felix Baumgartner jumps higher and faster than anyone ever before. Image c/o AP
As I (and a record 8 million other live Youtube viewers) witnessed Felix Baumgartner jump from a floating platform 128,000 feet in the air, I could not help but think about those little red bulls on his helmet. Red Bull, the ubiquitous energy drink and funder of all things Extreme™, had branded nothing less than a moment in human history. A monumental achievement brought to you by a peddler of a sugary drink that has fueled some of the worst decisions in the world [NSFW]. There was a day when the United States government was in the business of dazzling humanity with its feats of technological superiority and raw tenacity. For three years we were landing on the moon almost every six months. We made it look easy. Baumgartner’s jump is truly incredible, but it also makes me a little angry. I am tempted to bemoan the fall of civic life and the rise of corporate-sponsored spectacle, but ultimately I cannot find a moral handhold. Do I want an arms race or consumer capitalism to fund the greatest technological achievements of my lifetime? (more…)
Presidential debates might be the single political event where Marshall McLuhan’s infamous phrase “the medium is the message” rings most true. Candidates know well that content takes the back seat, perhaps even stuffed in the trunk, during these hyper-performative news events. The video above of McLuhan on the Today show analyzing a Ford-Carter debate from 1976 is well worth a watch. The professor’s points still ring provocative this morning after the first Obama-Romney debate of 2012; a debate that treated the Twitter-prosumer as a television-consumer and thoroughly failed the social medium. (more…)
The video above is a “funny” take on the role of Twitter in our everyday lives from this past summer (I think). I know, who cares about celebrities and nothing is less funny than explaining why something is funny. But because the video isn’t really that funny to begin with, we’ve nothing to lose by quickly hitting on some of the points it makes. Humor is a decent barometer for shared cultural understanding for just about everything, indeed, often a better measure than the op-eds and blog posts we usually discuss in the quasi-academic-blogosphere. Those who made this video themselves are trying to tap into mainstream frustrations with smartphones and social media and their increasingly central role in many of our lives. So let’s look at the three main themes being poked at here, and I’m going to do my best to keep this short by linking out to where I’ve made these arguments before.
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.