Tag Archives: science/technology: internet

Social Networking and the National Movement to “Know Your IX”

I absolutely love this photograph of a collage on the wall of an activist in the rather new national movement to hold colleges and universities accountable for sexual assault.  Referencing Title IX and the “bigger picture,” it documents cross-college efforts to use the amendment to ensure that sex crimes on campuses don’t interfere with women’s rights to equal access to education.

1

What is exciting is that this is a national movement. The many college names pinned to the board are just some of the schools that have filed, are filing, or will file Title IX complaints with the Office for Civil Rights. “Oxy” is my school.

I’ve been somewhat involved with Oxy’s role in this movement — the credit goes to Drs. Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks and the dozens of survivors who, as part of the coalition, have publicly and confidentially shared their stories — but I’ve had the pleasure of talking to journalists about our case.  Regarding the national movement, they often ask me “Why now?”

Why Now?

This is a tough question to answer and, first and foremost, credit goes to the extraordinary people at the center of this fight, such as Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, Dana Bolger, and Alexandra Brodsky at Know Your IX.  As Margaret Mead famously said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Screenshot_2

Importantly, though, the efforts of this small group have been greatly enhanced by the internet and, specifically, social networking sites.  Students (and sometimes faculty, staff, and administrators) are no longer confronting these issues alone.  They are reaching out across campuses and talking with each other; they are teaching each other how to file federal complaints; they are building and sharing templates; they are sharing stories of institutional foot dragging and spin and developing effective resistance and protest strategies.

For example, Annie Clark, who filed federal complaints against the University of North Carolina, helped Profs. Dirks and Heldman at Occidental College file their complaints: “Over the past few months,” she writes:

I have spent countless hours with them on Skype and the phone in order to share information and help the[m] write their complaints. Yet, six months ago, I had never even heard of Occidental College — and many of the 37 women there who filed had not yet heard about Title IX protection against gender discrimination beyond athletics.

These coalitions are creating both activist networks and fast friends. This is a picture of students at Swarthmore (Swat) showing their love for students at Occidental (Oxy). Both campuses filed Title IX complaints on the same day:

1

As Prof. Dirks explains, this collaboration is a big deal:

[L]earning the stories of other survivors who are actively pushing their colleges and universities to create safe and equitable learning environments has opened the floodgates of what students now feel empowered to do.

This is all possible, of course, because the internet is still at least a somewhat democratized technology. You and I are equals on the internet, at least in principle.  So we all have the opportunity to produce content.  In contrast, other forms of media — TV, radio, movies, magazines, books — typically offer us only the opportunity to consume.

The activists in this movement have a platform and a megaphone, then, metaphorically speaking.  The technology — and our regulation of it in ways that preserve its democratic nature — is helping enable this movement.  Just as the TV made a huge difference in shifting popular opinion about the Civil Rights Movement.  Accordingly, we need to remember this when corporations fight to own and control the internet and its distribution.  For reasons like this one, we should be fighting back with the goal of making the internet a public utility.  Democracy depends on it.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday Fun: 1967 Futurists Imagine the 21st Century

Screenshot_1In this charming minute-and-a-half, Walter Cronkite demos the home office of 2001, as envisioned in 1967.  Amazingly, reality seems to have far outpaced their imagination!

I love the first line, by the way: “This is where a man might spend most of his time in the home of the 21st century.”  Apparently professional futurists in 1967 couldn’t imagine women working!

Via Cyborgology.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Reconnecting with Waste through Social Media

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

Humans produce waste. A lot of waste—much of which comes from our very bodies. Indeed, the average American produces 7 pounds of organic waste per day, largely made up of feces and urine. Cities have to somehow manage this waste, manage these now expelled parts of human bodies, manage that which we produce, drop, leave, and conscientiously ignore. Such management is typically engaged by an underclass of workers, the sanitation department, waste management employees, septic cleaners. When all goes well, waste remains invisible. Unsmelled. Unseen. Silently moved through underground systems and channeled out in ambiguous ways. This is a process to which most producers of bodily waste remain blissfully ignorant.

Sometimes, however, this waste management becomes a problem, and when it does, our expelled and forgotten matter spills back up into human view, reconnecting humans with the ways in which their own bodies must be managed through external structures; reminding humans of the dirty reality of organic embodiment. Such is the case in the New York City sewer system. High water levels, coupled with high waste levels, can lead to sewer overflows, flushing raw human waste into the city’s waterways — including the East River and the Hudson. Nothing reminds humans of their own embodiment like literal consumption of expelled matter. Nothing reconnects humans to an otherwise hidden process than their own shit floating down the river.

A recent solution to this problem of waste re-emergence comes from an unlikely place: social media. Leif Percifield recently introduced a social media tool called DontFlushMe, which allows New Yorkers to keep track of water levels and make waste management decisions accordingly — that is, decisions about whether or not to flush. The system works through sensors within the sewers, which notify users of high water levels via text message, Twitter, a call-in number, or by a website. When water levels get too high, users will ostensibly “let it mellow,” reducing the influx of waste into the sewer systems, and preserving the waterways.

The role of social media here is particularly interesting. Here we have a social tool, a communication medium necessarily removed from the body and physicality, working to reconnect the user to hir body, and reconnect the body to the architectures and structures in which it dwells. This form of mediated communication thins the mediating line between personal actions and public good, between expelling and consuming, between individuals and infrastructures. This tool makes invisible processes visible, and turns everyone into stewards of the shared land.

Such reconnection — between humans and their bodies; between individuals and infrastructures — is facilitated by a tool so often accused of causing disembodiment and disconnection. Social media republicizes and disseminates responsibility for that which was previously relegated out of sight, smell, and mind. This “new” technology, ironically, brings us back to an earlier time of chamber pots and smelly streets, in which bodily awareness was a communal necessity.

*Special thanks to James Chouinard for bringing this social media tool to my attention, and for sharing his vast knowledge on the Sociology of Dirt.

 ————————-

Jenny Davis is a postdoctoral researcher in the social psychology lab at Texas A&M University. Follow Jenny on twitter @Jup83.

Battle in the Dark: Syria’s Communication Blackout

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

On Thursday Syria’s internet was shut down.

This is a serious situation with literal life and death implications.  Much of this story has yet to play out. Right now, I want to take a moment to explore one aspect of what this all means. Namely, I want to explore the question: why did the internet shut off now? To do so, I turn to Derrick Bell’s interest convergence theory.

Derrick Bell’s theory of interest convergence is a canonical statement on race relations. Bell famously argues that whites promote racial justice only when doing so converges with their own interests. The key example is the 1954 Brown V. Board of Education case, in which racial integration in schools served the larger U.S. message within the Cold War of human rights, freedom, and equality.

Although many scholars critique the strong version of Bell’s argument for its failure to incorporate agency among blacks, the root of the argument is quite useful in explaining power relations. In short, interest convergence theory tells us that the will of the powerful wades towards the direction of self-interest. When these interests converge with those of the less powerful, the less powerful are better able to achieve their will.

To a degree, I think this framework helps us understand the decision of the Syrian government to shut down communication channels. Syrian rebels utilized digital communication channels to both organize among themselves, and share their experiences — often in real time — with the outside world. This was instrumental in their cause both on the ground and internationally. The real question then, is why did the government maintain these channels for so long? This question is particularly blaring in light of extreme government atrocities, including mass killings of innocent citizens — including children. Moreover, why did the government decide to cut off these channels now?

Internet and communication blackouts are not unique among the Arab uprisings. Egypt and Libyan governments both shut down communication during their respective battles. The Syrian government, however, is unique in its deft use of digital technologies to quash protests, locate dissidents, and suppress the movement. In short, the interests of the powerful (i.e. the government) converged with the less powerful (i.e. the rebels). In addition to appearing somehow less oppressive to the international community, we see here a possible reason for maintaining Internet capabilities despite their strategic importance in the rebel movement.

However, we may speculate that the costs got too high for the government. We may speculate that in light a persistent rebel force, culminating in massive protests in Damascus — so large that the major airport had to be shut down — it no longer served governmental interests to maintain digital connectivity. The interests of the powerful and the less powerful no longer converged.

Certainly, there are other factors in play. This is a minuscule fraction of the story. With that said, this framework suggests that perhaps today’s act by the Syrian government was one of desperation. They were forced to give up a key oppressive resource (digital communication capabilities). This resource was no longer adequately effective for keep the uprising at bay. Now, they must all battle in the dark.

—————————

Jenny Davis is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University, where she studies the intersection of culture and identity. You can follow her twitter feed at @Jup83.

Social Media and the Fight over Urban Outfitters’ Appropriation of Native American Cultures

Yesterday Native Appropriations featured a presentation about Urban Outfitters, cultural appropriation in fashion, and the struggle to get the clothing chain to stop labeling clothing as “Navajo.” The presentation is great both for explaining this particular case — which included the Navajo nation sending a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Urban Outfitters stop using the term Navajo in its marketing — and also because it shows how one particular story spread through social media, which increasingly have the ability to bring mainstream media attention to stories that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

Performance Art in the Age of the Internet

Hennessy Youngman is one of things-on-the-internetz that validates the entire enterprise. In the fast and fascinating 10 minute clip here, Youngman traces the history of performance art, linking it to Occupy and our contemporary engagement with the internet. Oh, and totally worth watching to the end.

(Hennessy, if you’re reading, I was the one that tweeted at you to do a video about The Levitated Mass.  Nobody could do it quite like you! PS – whisky is my drink too.)

Also from Hennessy Youngman:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy Africans and Smiling Indians

Dominant groups have the power to control representations of less-powerful groups.  They exert an out-of-proportion influence on their cultural portrayals.

We’ve previously featured objections to simplistic portrayals of the enormous continent of Africa, especially as a place that is primitive and hopelessly burdened by death, disease, poverty, corruption, and other problems.  Chimamanda Adichie, for example, objects to the “single story of Africa” and Binyavanga Wainaina tell us how not to write about Africa.  Elsewhere, we’ve illustrated how the bustling city of Nairobi is portrayed as a savanna with giraffes and elephants.

An organization called Mama Hope, sent in by Jennifer C., seeks to challenge this perception.  They want the world to think of Africa as a place of hope and possibility.  To this end, Mama Hope is producing videos that “…feature the shared traits that make us all human— the dancing, the singing, the laughter…”  They look like this:

The effort reminds me of the “Smiling Indians” and “More Than That” videos, sent in by Katrin and Anna W.  The first addressed the stereotype of the “stoic Indian,” while the second is designed to counterbalance the common portrayal of reservations as miserable places full of one-dimensional hopeless people (something we are certainly sometimes guilty of).

Smiling Indians:

More Than That…:

These videos are examples of the way that the democratizing power of new technologies (both the internet in general and the relatively easy ability to take video and edit) are offering marginalized peoples an opportunity to contest representations by dominant groups.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Are Social Networking Site Users Compassionate?

Cross-posted at Compassionate Societies.

new study from Pew, based upon a large national survey, found that people reported a lot more cruelty and the absence of kindness that many would expect. This implies that social networking sites (SNS) could use a lot more compassion.

Among adults, 85% say that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind. Fewer teens said the same, only 69%.  More, social networking sites contributed to real life problems: including arguments and physical fights with friends, family members, teachers, or co-workers.  In all categories, teens were about twice as likely to report that SNS got them into trouble:

Racial minority populations encountered an even more cruel environment on SNS. Forty-two percent of Black and 33% of Hispanic SNS users said they frequently or sometimes saw language, images, or humor that they found offensive, compared with 22% of White SNS users.

Interestingly, people who used social networking sites on a daily basis were far more likely to report experiencing negative things:

SNS users also reported positive experiences, suggesting that, for many, social networking is a mixed bag of good and bad:

————————

Ron Anderson, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, has written many books and hundreds of articles, mostly on technology. In his retirement, he is doing research and writing on compassion and suffering and maintains the website CompassionateSocieties.org.