The author's home antenna
The author’s home antenna

I moved to rural Kansas a over a year ago. I live beyond Lawrence city limits, on the outskirts of Stull (where local legend places one of the gateways to hell), and 50 minutes driving to the nearest Google Fiber connection. It’s a liminal space in terms of broadband connection – the fastest network in the country is being built in the neighboring metropolitan area but when I talked to my neighbors about internet service providers in our area, they were confused by my quest for speeds higher than 1mbps. As this collection of essays on “small town internet” suggests, there’s an awareness that internet in rural, small town, and “remote” places exists, but we need to understand more about how digital connection is incorporated (or not) into small town and rural life: how it’s used, and what it feels like to use it.

One of my ongoing projects involves researching digital divides and digital inclusion efforts in Kansas City. The arrival of Google Fiber in Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO has provided increased momentum and renewed impetus for recognition of digital divides based on cost, access, education and computer literacy, relevance, mobility, and more discussion and visibility for organizations and activists hoping to alleviate some of these divides and emphasize internet access as a utility. I’ve argued that by reading digital media in relationship to experiences of “place,” we gain a more holistic and nuanced understanding of digital media use and non-use, processes and decisions around implementation and adoption, and our relationships to digital artifacts and infrastructures. In other words, one’s location and sense of place become important factors in shaping practices, decisions, and experiences of digital infrastructure and digital media.

The irony is not lost on me that while studying digital divides in a metropolitan area, I had chosen to live in a location with its own, unique series of inequities in terms of internet connection. These inequities have nothing to do with socio-economic instability or lack of digital literacy, as I had funds and willingness to pay a significant amount for internet service (comparable to the prices charged by urban-based, corporate ISPs), and everything to do with the fact that I lived in an area that felt as if it had been forgotten or intentionally bypassed by the internet service providers (ISPs) I had come to know living in other US cities and towns. more...


Imagine you live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdevelopment that is only accessible by a single gate that leads out to a large, high-speed arterial road.  Your friends, your job, your kids’ school are all outside of this development which means life is lived through and on the road that connects your subdevelopment to the rest of the world. Now imagine that, without warning or any kind of democratic process, the company that maintains that road (private companies are subcontracted to do regular maintenance on public roads all the time) decides to add trees on either side of the road to reduce car speed. It’s a relatively benign design intervention and it works. In fact the trees work so well that the company’s engineers publish in a few journals which directly benefits the company financially, through prominence within the truly boring world of road maintenance. When the residents get wind of this experiment, and demand to know why they weren’t even notified, the owner of the road maintenance company says, “if you don’t like it use a different road.” That mind-bending response actually makes more sense than what has been coming out of OKCupid and Facebook these last few weeks. more...

Nothing like a nice post-gentrification stoll!

As if we needed more examples to demonstrate that ‘the digital’ & ‘the physical’ are part of the same larger world, it seems there’s no end to the applicability of demographic metaphors to trends in social media. I wrote about and “white flight” from Facebook and Twitter last month, so you can imagine how my head broke on Monday when I first heard about “New MySpace.” My first question—after, “wait, what?”—was, “Is this like when the white people start moving back into urban cores to live in pricey loft conversions?”

I didn’t do a detailed overview of danah boyd’s (@zephoria) work on MySpace, Facebook, and white flight last time, so I start with that below (though I recommend that anyone interested in this topic check out boyd’s very readable chapter in Race After the Internet, which you can download here [pdf]). I then look at some of the coverage of New MySpace this week to make the argument that there are some strong parallels between the site’s impending “makeover” and the “urban renewal” efforts sometimes called gentrification or regentrification.


PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.

While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. more...

This is the first part of a two-part essay; the full version of the essay — both parts — can be found here.

Photo by Matthew Christopher

Atlantic Cities’ feature on the psychology of “ruin porn” is worth a look–in part because it’s interesting in itself, in part because  it features some wonderful images, and in part because it has a great deal to do with both a piece I posted last week on Michael Chrisman’s photograph of a year and with the essay that piece referenced, Nathan Jurgenson’s take on the phenomenon of faux-vintage photography.

All of these pieces are, to a greater or lesser extent, oriented around a singular idea: atemporality – that the intermeshing and interweaving of the physical and digital causes us not only to experience both of those categories differently, but to perceive time itself differently; that for most of us, time is no longer a linear experience (assuming it ever was). Technology changes our remembrance of the past, our experience of the present, and our imagination of the future by blurring the lines between the three categories, and introducing different forms of understanding and meaning-making to all three – We remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past. The phenomenon of “ruin porn” is uniquely suited to call attention to our increasingly atemporal existence, and to outline some of the specific ways in which it  manifests itself.


On this blog we talk a lot about “augmented reality,” or how the digital and the material are increasingly mutually constitutive. As an example of this concept, I bring you the following development: Britain’s ‘Safe Text’ Street.

Brick Lane is the first ever "Safe Text" street, complete with padded lampposts to prevent injuries.


The difficulties we face in getting a wifi signal underneath these trees, tells us something important about our relationship to technology.

Commentary about the Internet and the various communication services it provides, regularly fall into utopian or distopian visions of radically new worlds. The utopias tell of a future in which we are all continually connected in a seamless egalitarian web of techno-democracy. The distopian warnings describe overstimulated zombies shuffling from computer screen to smartphone, hermetically sealed in the echo chamber of their choosing. These predictions are equally unlikely to occur any time in the near future, and for one simple reason- Its really hard (and expensive) to get a stable internet connection in a park. more...

This is the first of a two-part series dedicated to answering the question “Do we need a new World’s Fair?” It is an honest question that I do not have an answer to. What I aim to do here is share my thoughts on the subject and present historical data on what these sorts of events have done in the past. In the first part, I explore what previous World Fairs have accomplished and what we must certainly avoid. The second part will investigate what a new 21st century fair might look like, and how it would help our economy. Part 2 is here.

electrical building
By Charles S. Graham (1852–1911). Printed by Winters Art Litho. Co. (Public domain c/o Wikipedia.)

A “World Fair” is first and foremost, a grand gesture. They are typically months if not a few years long. Think of them as temporary theme parks, or the the olympics of technological innovation. They are extravagant, optimistic, and brash. But let’s be clear here. All of the World Fairs held in Paris, Chicago, New York, and Seattle had sections that are deeply troubling. The 19th century fairs had human zoos and “freak shows.” The 20th century fairs were, in many ways, launchpads for the corporate take-over of the public realm and the plundering of the very cities that hosted them (more on that later). But that does not mean the form is totally useless or inherently bad. In fact, a new American World Fair might be just what we need. more...


Kevin Lynch's Original Study (Copyright MIT Press 1960)

In 1960 an architect by the name of Kevin Lynch embarked on a fascinating three-city study of how urban dwellers keep mental pictures of their hometowns. He and his team identified five “elements” of the city: 1) paths, 2) edges, 3) nodes, 4) districts, and 5) landmarks. These five components constitute most of the ways individuals think about and navigate their city. As smartphones become more and more ubiquitous, the way we navigate cities has changed. We have GPS devices, interactive maps, social networking applications that tell us where our friends are and where they like to go for pizza. The city exists in physical space, it exists in our minds, and now it exists in the digital “cloud.” How does this new layer of bits effect the way our cities look, act, and feel?

I want to briefly discuss the five elements before conjecturing how access to information changes what these elements look like and how we organize the city in our heads. Paths can be more...

This is the fourth panel spotlight for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference on April 9th. I’ll have the pleasure of presiding over a panel that focuses on how mobile web platforms are augmenting the world of bricks and flesh. Much more than an ethnography of Foursquare, this panel will explore our changing relationships to space and place, and the new ways public and private spaces are opening up as a result of this new augmented reality.

Presider: david a. banks

PJ and Nathan have done an excellent job on this blog of  articulating social media’s role in times of revolution, but this panel seeks to understand social media’s roll in a variety of instances. We will explore the cultural contexts that Social Networking Services (SNS) operate within, and what this does for old and new associations with (and within) place and society. From San Francisco hipsters to Chinese political activists, and from your local Starbucks, to the Second Life, social media is changing how we interact with our cities and our fellow citizens.

If anything unites these four panelists, it is their balanced perspective on the roll of digital media. Its easy to essentialize mobile computing platforms, or mistake computer mediated communication as anti-social. Without essentializing the technology, or romanticizing the past, these authors provide a balanced critique of what is happening in our cities and online. Read the four abstracts after the break  to learn more: