Last week Twitter introduced an alert system that they described as “ a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren’t accessible.” The alerts show up on users phones as special push notifications and SMS notifications and are marked with an orange bell in your feed. At first blush it seems like a great idea but, given that I’m writing this during yet another government “shutdown”, are governments and NGOs really the only organizations that should get access to this useful service? What can activists do to push back? (more…)
As Edward Snowden settles into his new life in Russia, and Facebook inc. faces accusations of providing information to government officials about protesters in Turkey, issues of privacy are on the lips, minds, and newsfeeds of many global citizens.
Citizens sit with the uncomfortable and now undeniable reality that we are being watched. That our own governments, in many cases, are doing the watching. And that the economic, social, and interactive structures makes this kind of surveillance largely impossible to avoid.
I have noticed an interesting trend as people work through what many view as an unfortunate inevitability of pervasive surveillance: the use of play as a form of resistance. To be sure, PJ Rey (@pjrey) is our resident Play Theory expert here at Cyborgology. I am an admitted novice to this line of theory. As such, I hope that those with greater expertise than I will supplement my wide-eyed sociological noticings with established or developing social theorists and their theories. (more…)
During the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (#ASA13) in New York this last week, I was reminded of the post that I wrote last year before #ASA2012 in which I encouraged tweeting academics to reach out to non-tweeting academics to bridge the gap between those who participate on the conference hashtags at ASA and those who don’t. Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) followed up with a post titled, “Twitter isn’t a Backchannel,” in which he made the point that the term “backchannel” perpetuates digital dualist ideas of what does and doesn’t count as “real” participation at a conference:
There is no “backchannel”, there is no more or less “real” way to exist within this atmosphere of information, yet we continue to hear that the Twitter distraction whisks people away from the “real” conference in favor of something separate and “virtual.” Each time we say “real” or “IRL” (“in real life”) to mean offline, we reify the digital dualist myth of a separate digital layer “out there” in some ‘cyber’ space. And when we call Twitter a “backchannel” to mean a separate conversation, running tangent to the offline conference in some space behind precious face-to-face exchanges, we continue to support this digital dualism. The implicit, and incorrect, assumption is that the on and offline are zero-sum, that being offline means being not online, and vice versa.
In the comments, I agreed that Nathan had a point: “backchannel” really isn’t a great term for what we-who-livetweet do when we tweet at a conference. But what, I asked, should we call this activity? (more…)
The sneakers that inspired my first username (Image credit: my dad)
Ever since it and I first became acquainted, I have been the sort of person who goes by strange made-up names on the Internet. That “ever since” is a long one, too: It begins in the fall of 1995, when my classmates and I returned to school to find not only that the dark room full of DOS machines had been swapped out for a bright room full of Windows boxes with Internet access, but also that we now had email accounts—something most of us didn’t have at home.
To our mostly pre-digital teenaged selves, email was clearly the Best. Thing. Ever.
My friends and I spent all of our free periods in the computer lab emailing each other, even though we went to a small school and so all saw each other every single weekday. We passed silly forwards around (like “100 Things to Do in An Elevator”), and had group conversations, and had long one-on-one conversations as well—often conversations that, for a whole range of reasons, would never have happened through in-person interaction. I spent some of the most intense, exciting hours of that school year in the computer lab, engaged with those machines (and through them, my friends) as if they were lifelines. (more…)
Not gonna show images of #Trayvonning.
Note: This article discusses virulent racism and white privilege. However, every effort has been made to not post or link to the images discussed below.
At first, I didn’t want to write about the privileged little shits who, sometime around May of last year, got it in their heads that it would be funny to lay facedown on the floor with some skittles and tea and call it #trayvonning. The Zimmerman verdict brought the disgusting meme back into timelines and news cycles, so I feel obliged to make short mention of it. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to write a post for just about every other (1, 2, 3) performative internet meme without mentioning this disgusting bit of racism. #Trayvonning shows up on the usual platforms –Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—albeit I don’t see as much #Trayvonning as I did #standingman or even #eastwooding in its heyday. There are no dedicated web sites to #Trayvonning (although I haven’t checked Stormfront), nor have I ever seen the hashtag reach trending status. If there’s any silver lining to this story it’s the fact that I encountered many more people deriding the meme, than participating in it. (more…)
One problem with taking social problems and re-framing them as individual responsibility is that it ends up blaming victims instead of pressuring root causes. This mentality creates a temptation to, for example, respond to the NSA scandal involving the government tapping into Internet traffic with something like, “well stop posting your whole life on Facebook, then”. Or less glib is the point raised many times this month that the habit of constant self-documentation on social media has made possible a state of ubiquitous government surveillance. The brutality of spying is made both possible and normal by the reality of digital exhibitionism. How can the level of government spying be so shocking in a world where people live-tweet their dinner? Perhaps we should stop digitally funneling so much of our lives through Gmail now that the level of surveillance is becoming clearer. Sasha Weiss writes in The New Yorker that, (more…)
Over the weekend, I noticed that Facebook hashtags are now linked. “What!? When did this happen??” I quickly asked my network.
This simple shift opens avenues for deeper discussions about the social media ecology of which I wrote a few weeks back. In particular, it shows the relational nature of the ecological system, and the back and forth multiply influential relationship between humans and technologies, all of which shape each other in a multiplicity of ways.
By social media ecology I refer to all of the media on and through which users are Social (in the capital “S,” linked and connected sense of the word introduced by Whitney Erin Boesel and Nathan Jurgenson). As social media increasingly integrates into the flow and logic of everyday life, users draw on a variety of digital tools to meet a diverse set of needs. The social media ecology refers to the set of tools users draw on, and the ways in which these tools, and their users, are connected and/or compartmentalized. (more…)
Earlier this month Geoffrey Miller (@matingmind), the now infamous professor of evolutionary psychology, punched out a really awful tweet. He said this:
His message is blaringly ironic, coming from a man who clearly lacked the willpower to think through the statement before making it public #truth. Although he later deleted the tweet, his followers had already created screen captures and sent the image into a spiraling journey of virality.
I don’t want to spend my post today harping on Miller’s particular indiscretion. Others have been busy doing just that, quite eloquently, for the past week and a half. Instead, I want to talk about Fatness as a moral stigma, and the ways in which Miller’s tweet first, exposed the moral nature of body size and in turn, offered Fat Activists an opportunity to publicly reject Fatness as a marker of immorality. This was facilitated, I argue, by the affordances of new technologies coupled with determined and conscientious social actors. (more…)
Over the past few months there’s been a lot of hoopla around the “mass exodus” of teens from Facebook, with particular reference to Facebook’s decreasing cache of cool. Despite several refutations to the mass-exodus hypothesis, people—academics and non-academics alike— still ask me all the time: “So Jenny, what’s up with all the kids leaving Facebook? I hear it’s not cool anymore.”
Now let me be clear; I am not cool. I hold no pretense of being cool, and hence have no business making any sort of objective hipness-rating on anything. Seriously. I just used the word “hip.” I am, however, a social scientist, and I want to take a moment to talk about some data—an area in which I am qualified. (more…)
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…)