Monthly Archives: June 2009

our digital culture of narcissism

by nathan jurgenson

Web_2_imageFor many (especially youths and young adults), attempting to quit or never start Facebook is a difficult challenge. We are compelled to document ourselves and our lives online partly because services like Facebook have many benefits, such as keeping up with friends, scheduling gatherings (e.g., protests) and so on. Additionally, and to the point of this post, the digital documentation of ourselves also means that we exist. There is a common adage that if something is not on Google, it does not exist. As the world is increasingly digital, this becomes increasingly true. Especially for individuals. One adolescent told her mother, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.”

Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism argues that we are increasingly afraid of being nothing or unimportant so we develop narcissistic impulses to become real. The explosion of new ways to document ourselves online allows new outlets for importance, existence and perhaps even immortality that living only in the material world does not permit. The simple logic is that increased digital documentation of ourselves means increased digital existence. More than just social networking sites, we document ourselves on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and even increasingly with services that track, geographically, where one is at all times, often via one’s smart phone (e.g., Loopt, Fire Eagle, Google Latitude, etc).

So what?

Neon_Internet_Cafe_open_24_hoursIn this world where we can document our lives endlessly, we might become fixated on our every behavior. How it will appear to others, how it will help us with our jobs, friends, relationships, etc. Simply, self-presentation is a strategic game. Erving Goffman discussed this using a dramaturgical model where we are like actors on a stage performing ourselves. The new technologies described here mean that more and more areas of our life become part of this perforce because new parts of our lives are now able to be documented (e.g., our every-moment geographic locations). More and more areas of our life are lived subservient to the performance and identity we want to convey.

In this way, a hyper-fixatedness on our own subjectivity to create its own digital simulation (e.g., Facebook) can, to some degree, dictate how we live, becoming like characters on a “reality” show always performing for the camera, seduced by the importance and immortality that digital existence promises. ~nathan

square-eye32 Where Are You? Show ‘Em With Google Latitude

square-eye32 £1.99 - small The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

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Cultural Politics and The Politics of Culture

Ac_marblesThe British and Greek negotiations over the ownership of art pieces from the Parthenon (also known as the Elgin Marbles) illustrates the interconnection of culture and politics.  Claims of authenticity, rightful ownership, display and the handling of artistic pieces are always essentially political.  Ministers of Culture are appointed by heads of state, certain kinds of art are recognized as “national treasures” while others are banned or ignored for subversive contents.  The recent dispute (see article below) over the Elgin Marbles are ultimately questions of history and politics rather than artistic preservation and authenticity.

By framing the argument in terms of national pride and original ownership, the Greek government is articulating a conflation of Greek culture with modern nation-state boundaries.  Against this, the British are challenging the parameters of an imperialist past with a cosmopolitan sense of artistic authenticity.  While both sides present compelling arguments, the heart of the matter remains firmly rooted in the complicated intersections of politics and culture.

Perhaps one of the most influential theorists of this intersection, Walter Benjamin’s work in the Frankfurt School provocatively questions the role of politics in questions of authenticity, ownership, and visual experience.  Does the reproduction of the Elgin Marbles challenge the authenticity of their Greek history?  Or, is the art itself secondary to more nuanced questions of national sovereignty, politics, and legality?  In the end we must remind ourselves that questions of art and culture are always already political.

Square-eye

NY Times article: The Elgin Marbles

Square-eye Blackwell Companion to Art Theory

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Over Exposure

Pornography and censorship in China

by christinablunt

Guess_on_China's_Great_Firewall_MechanismLast Friday the Chinese government tightened its censorship of the internet search engine, Google. The website has been facing criticism from the state-supported internet watchdog, “China’s Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre” (CIIIRC), for ‘disseminating pornographic and vulgar information.’ This is only the latest in a series of actions taken by the Chinese to restrict access to information via the internet. As of July 1 every  P.C.s sold in the country will be fitted with filtering software. Some claim that the software, called “Green-Dam Youth Escort,” would censor all content deemed politically unacceptable, not just pornography. These actions are part of China’s campaign to control the “large volume of foreign internet pornographic information [that] has entered [their] borders.”

China is, of course, not the first country to censor the content its citizens consume, and it certainly wont be the last. One must consider both the nature of the perceived threat and what the state stands to gain by stifling it. The perception of the government is that unmitigated popular culture is dangerous or subversive. Thus, popular culture enters the realm of the political.

The politics of popular culture is most commonly viewed through the lens of content that is meant to inspire political action. This, however, is only one dimension of the influence of the political on culture and of culture on the political. In “The Politics of Popular Culture,” John Street explains that popular culture is political simply by the state intervening in its production and distribution, most commonly through censorship, whether overt or otherwise. Street goes on to explain that the dichotomy established between ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘censorship’ is a false one.

Censorship has the potential to be political because of its attempts to weigh the freedoms that some content can restrict. The censorship of sex specifically, as in the example of China, may involve the denial of sexual identity. Some feminist theorists, such as Dworkin and MacKinnon, assert that the “censorship of pornography is justified because pornographic representations harm women, denying them their identity and their freedom.”

The censorship of popular culture is political in these three ways: the content being limited, the censorer, and the implications of these restrictions for freedom and identity. To what extent these controls on culture and consumption matter, however, depend not upon the politics of the state but the politics of identity; how culture animates thoughts. Identity is the subject of culture’s politics. Control over its formation is control over the populace.

square-eye Read the article on the BBC

square-eye Read “The Politics of Popular Culture” at Blackwell Reference Online

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Space: Capitalism’s Final Frontier?

YouTube Preview Imageby NickieWild

On June 19th, a groundbreaking ceremony in the town of Upham, New Mexico was held for the world’s first commercial spaceport, “Spaceport America.” British company Virgin Galactic received $200 million in taxpayer incentives to fund the project that will take space tourists on a short flight above the atmosphere for $200,000 dollars. The ceremony included actors dressed as Spanish Conquistadors, who once explored and conquered in the area, symbolic of the link between trailblazers of the past and future. However, this representation may have been more telling than was intended. The Conquistadors, hailed by history as great explorers, were more motivated by financial gain than lofty goals of discovery.

Some citizens have criticized the use of taxpayer money to fund this project. While it may pump some money into the local economy (there will be hangar space for rent and satellite launching capabilities), a Marxist interpretation would call for greater focus on the benefits Virgin Galactic may receive while placing almost half the financial risk upon the people. Peter Dickens writes that the only way for Capitalism to continue expanding is to seek new places to extend its reach; the era of commercialized space may have officially begun.

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“The Cosmos as Capitalism’s Outside” by Peter Dickens


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Hurdles to Public Healthcare

by bmckernan

A recent NY Times poll found that the overwhelming majority of respondents (72%) support a government administered public healthcare program. In addition, the poll found wide support for the government initiative amongst both Democrats and Republicans. As the NY Times article on the poll’s results rightfully points out, this is not the first time in recent American history when the majority of the public has been in favor for a universal healthcare program, as President Clinton was originally elected into office in 1992 after campaigning heavily for such measures. However, despite the initial support for a universal plan at the beginning of his tenure in office, ultimately President Clinton was unsuccessful in passing the appropriate legislation. While certainly President Obama’s administration will be grappling with many different concerns compared to President Clinton’s administration, it may be helpful to re-examine what many scholars consider to be the mistakes of President Clinton’s original attempts to pass a universal plan.

(more…)

Raising Awareness About the Plight of Refugees

Refugee Campby smteixeirapoit

Today, communities celebrate World Refugee Day. Worldwide, communities hope to raise awareness about the plight of refugees.

In “Refugees”, Steve Loyal explains that refugees are people who escape their country of origin because of persecution or fear of persecution. After refugees flee to neighboring countries, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees interviews them and determines whether they meet the criteria for refugees. If the High Commissioner classifies them as refugees, then they are allowed to remain in the neighboring country, usually in refugee camps. Many refugees reside in refugee camps for long periods of time.

Coinciding with World Refugee Day, Medecins Sans Frontieres releases a statement on the Rohingya people. Many Rohingyas were persecuted by Burma’s military government. Over the past twenty years, about twenty-five thousand Rohingyas escaped Burma and settled in a makeshift refugee camp in Bangladesh. Since this makeshift refugee camp is not officially recognized by the High Commissioner, Bangladesh’s government does not welcome the refugees and encourages them to return to Burma. Medecins Sans Frontieres criticizes the forcible displacement of the Rohingyas, who are an extremely vulnerable group.

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Square-eye “Refugees” By Steve Loyal

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Interconnectivity and Social Implications of Smartphones

by socanonymous

The ability to be constantly connected to the internet and e-mail via Smartphone has tremendous implications. For one, people can be in constant communication regardless of geographic proximity, not only through basic conversations, but also through the sharing of data and information (i.e. sending data files or links to news stories). We have also seen the qualitative shifts including the increased amount of participation we now have in contributing to ‘current events’ (i.e. twitter). The increasingly widespread adoption of Smartphone use by personal consumers also carries and shifts social norms.

There is an increasing expectation of always being “connected”. The immediacy of response time to e-mail messages relays information about a person’s etiquette. As psychology professor David E. Meyer notes, if one does not respond within a couple of hours, “it is assumed that you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.” The impact of these views can be interesting for sociologists to study since we know that not everyone has equal access to the internet or Smartphone’s. The desire for high productivity in many market sectors for example, may require that successful candidates be in tune with this new culture of connectivity. Failing to adapt to this culture may leave some at a disadvantage.

Regardless of these potential social implications, it is becoming more evident that there is a blurring of lines between the social and technological world.

Sent from my Blackberry

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Square-eye priceSocial Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society

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facebook, the transumer and liquid capitalism

by nathan jurgenson

Zygmunt_Bauman_by_KubikDuring this “great recession” capitalism might become lighter and more liquid while older and more solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially an economic “reboot,” similar to Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”, both having received recent attention.

The transumer (video) is, in part, one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. Zipcar, Netflix and others mentioned articulate that for many, especially the young and/or wealthy, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves and in our attics, instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of “virtual goods” -digital commodities such as gifts on Facebook or weapons on World of Warcraft. Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products such as software, which is, opposed to heavier items such as automobiles, more changeable and disposable. The proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

facebookGoing further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued at $10billion because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Is it the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case? ~nathan

square-eye32 Virtual Goods May Be a Blip

square-eye32 £1.99 - small The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

By nathan jurgenson

In light of the current “great recession” one might argue that capitalism needs to become lighter and more liquid while old solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially a “reboot” of the economy, ala Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmund Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of two recent New York Times articles highlighting the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”.

The transumer is one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. ZipCar, Netflix and others mentioned in the article articulate that for many, especially younger folks, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people one once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves or in our attics, but is instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of virtual goods, that is, digital commodities such as… Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products (software, as opposed to automobiles, is more changeable and disposable), and the proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

Going further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening, towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued in the billions of dollars because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Therefore it might be the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case. ~nathan

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The Paradox of Visas and the American Dream

USA_VisaThe playing out of class bias in the national debate over immigration  reveals the paradoxical nature  of the American Dream and the ways in which it is invoked.  Recent media coverage of the legal obstacles to obtain H1-B visas for highly skilled workers (see article below) highlights the class component of immigration.  On the one side we have educated immigrants singing the praises of the American Dream, of the opportunities which drew them to this country.  On the other hand we have the discourse of exceptionalism  surrounding such visa requests.  Couched in terms of the promise such excellent workers hold and the assets they will be to the United States, ultimately this is about hand-picking future American citizens based on racial, ethnic, and class criterion.  Does anyone mention the incredible contributions (possible and future) that working class Mexicans make?  In essence, we can not draw on notions of an American Dream to simultaneously encourage exceptionalism and deny entrance to those who have the most to gain from such ideology.  Veit Bader’s work on the ethics of immigration offers important insights into these contradictions that lie at the heart of immigration debates.  Framed within the context of normative criterion of citizenship, belonging, and universal rights, Bader offers important insights into the philosophical dilemmas that ultimately anchor issues of immigration, migration, and citizenship.

Square-eye NY Times

Square-eye price Bader

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Iran's Purchase Power

450px-Bandar_Anzali_(Iran)_Fish_Market

by christinablunt

Iran will elect its next president on June 12 and while the rest of the world may be watching to see how the result might impact human rights within Iran as well as Iran’s aggressive foreign policy and nuclear program, Iranians, like most other global citizens, have the economy on the top of their agenda. A great debate has ensnared the candidates, including current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though the dispute continues, the divisions are clear; Ahmadinejad and his supporters maintain that Iran is weathering the global economic crisis beautifully while all three of his opponents insist that inflation and unemployment are hurtling out of control. Despite the accusation that President Ahmadinejad is quite simply lying, the discrepancies appear to stem predominantly from creative statistical interpretation.

Regardless of the numerical truth, whatever it may be (IMF interpretations tend to lean closer to Ahmadinejad’s detractors), one thing remains certain- in a neo-liberal age that emphasizes the separation between state and market, it will be economics and politics on the mind of many voters. In “Markets and States,” Colin Crouch explains that the state and market are uniquely distinguishable social institutions due to the clarity of their abstract ends- power and wealth, respectively. However, this distinction has, historically, been unable to preclude them from, at best, a tenuous entanglement. The precise goal of each lead to a natural separation in their disciplines- economics and political science- but Crouch points to the residual effect as the domain of sociology. It is the relation of social actors toward the market that will dictate how they will participate in the election.

square-eyeRead the article in the New York Times

square-eyeRead “Markets and States” at Blackwell Reference Online

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