Search results for digital dualism

Photos by Nathan Jurgenson, taken in Washington, D.C., 17, January 2012.

Malcolm Harris has posted one of the most provocative things I’ve ever read about social media, “Twitterland.” I’d like to point you the story and go through some of the many issues he brings to light. Harris’ story is one of theorizing Twitter and power; it can reinforce existing power imbalances, but, as is the focus here, how it can also be used to upset them.

Digital Dualism
Harris begins by taking on the idea that Twitter is a “tool” or an “instrument”, arguing that, no, Twitter is not a map, but the territory; not the flier but the city itself; hence the title “Twitterland.” However, in nearly the same breath, Harris states he wants to “buck that trend” of “the faulty digital-dualist frame the separates ‘real’ and online life.” As most readers here know, I coined the term digital dualism and provided the definition on this blog and thus have some vested interest in how it is deployed. And Harris’ analysis that follows indeed bucks the dualist trend, even though I would ask for some restating of the more theoretical parts of his argument. I’d like to urge Harris not to claim that Twitter is a new city, but instead focus on how Twitter has become part of the city-fabric of reality itself. more...

CITASA must connect more than technology studies specialists to each other.

The Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association (CITASA) was founded in 1988. Since its inception, the membership has evolved, as have the mission, perspectives, and the empirical world of study.

As a section member, one who just participated in five days of conferencing at the American Sociological Association’s  annual meeting (ASA2012), I am reminded of the need to look critically and reflexively at our social worlds—especially those aspects to which we hold strong attachments. In this vein, I am simultaneously energized about the role of new technologies in social life, and uncertain about the role of a special section dedicated to their study. In short, I am led to the question: Do we need the CITASA section? more...

some of my favorite quotes from what I read this past week on tech&society (note: at a conference this week, so didn’t do as much reading as normal):

“if a “Like” is legally considered something other than communication, digital dualism will more firmly embed itself

even Facebook-hating Redditors make assumptions abt people w/o Facebook accounts

it’s tempting to think of the rover as a bodacious chick on another planet with a rock vaporizing laser on her head

what is really about is that geeks are getting uncomfortable with normal people encroaching on their space”

the shadowy obverse of [Silicon Valley] is the militarized barracks in China

Social networks are just comparison life shopping

what isn’t real about the digital world?

Every moment we are afraid for our privacy, we are thrilled by our celebrity

Mediation presents itself as a friendly tool when in fact it creates distance between us and the ordinary

Bodies and screens, voices and tweets, hallways and backchannels, experiencing the American Sociological Association meetings this weekend in Denver means stepping into an atmosphere oversaturated with information. The bombardment can sometimes be overwhelming, with more sessions than you can attend and more tweets than you can read. This isn’t going to be a post on why we should use Twitter at conferences, Whitney Erin Boesel already did that more diplomaticly than I could pull off. Anyways, framing it as ‘why do we continue to meet face-to-face?’ would be more interesting for me. Instead, I simply want to argue that there will not be separate online and offline conferences happening, that Twitter isn’t a backchannel and the session room isn’t the front. The reality of the conference is always both digital and physical for everyone whether their noses are buried in a screen, sheets of paper, or staring unblinkingly at the podium. more...

A recent marketing campaign from outdoor tool manufacturer Stihl is a classic – and pretty obvious, for regular readers of this blog – example of digital dualism. It’s right there in the tagline: the campaign presents “outside” as more essentially real by contrasting it with elements of online life. It not only draws a distinction between online and offline, it clearly privileges the physical over the digital. And through the presentation of what “outside” is and means, it makes reference to one of the most common tropes of digital dualist discourse: the idea that use of digital technology is inherently solitary, disconnected, and interior, rather than something communal that people carry around with them wherever they go, augmenting their daily lived experience.

But there’s more going on here, and it’s worth paying attention to.



The Sheriff says “Likeing” isn’t speech, but he’ll fire you if you “Like” the wrong thing.


Ann Swidler argues that we operate using complex cultural repertoires. These are the propensities, scripts, frameworks, and logics—the tools with which to navigate everyday life. Our repertoires are vast, and often contradictory—and yet we deftly pull what we need, when we need it, easily ignoring contradictions. She illustrates these practices through narratives of romantic love, in which participants, within the same interview, draw seamlessly on logics of independence (e.g. we are separate people and we need our separate space), intertwinement (e.g. we have grown together over the years, our marriage is a true union of two souls), fate (e.g. we were meant to be) and rationality (e.g. marriage is a product of hard work and sacrifice).

With Swidler’s cultural tool kit as a framework, we can begin to make sense of  the logical gymnastics that enabled a Virginia Sheriff to fire his subordinates for hitting a Facebook “Like” button in support of an opposing candidate and then argue successfully in court that this firing was not a violation of free speech. more...

This is the complete version of a three-part essay that I posted in May, June, and July of this year:
Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy
Part II: Disclosure (Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t)
Part III: Documentary Consciousness

Privacy is not dead, but it does need to change.

Part I: Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy

Last spring at TtW2012, a panel titled “Logging off and Disconnection” considered how and why some people choose to restrict (or even terminate) their participation in digital social life—and in doing so raised the question, is it truly possible to log off? Taken together, the four talks by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), Jessica Roberts (@jessyrob), Laura Portwood-Stacer (@lportwoodstacer), and Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) suggested that, while most people express some degree of ambivalence about social media and other digital social technologies, the majority of digital social technology users find the burdens and anxieties of participating in digital social life to be vastly preferable to the burdens and anxieties that accompany not participating. The implied answer is therefore NO: though whether to use social media and digital social technologies remains a choice (in theory), the choice not to use these technologies is no longer a practicable option for number of people.

In this essay, I first extend the “logging off” argument by considering that it may be technically impossible for anyone, even social media rejecters and abstainers, to disconnect completely from social media and other digital social technologies (to which I will refer throughout simply as ‘digital social technologies’). Consequently, decisions about our presence and participation in digital social life are made not only by us, but also by an expanding network of others. I then examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. Finally, I argue that the reality of inescapable connection and the impossible demands of prevailing privacy discourses have together resulted in what I term documentary consciousness, or the abstracted and internalized reproduction of others’ documentary vision. Documentary consciousness demands impossible disciplinary projects, and as such brings with it a gnawing disquietude; it is not uniformly distributed, but rests most heavily on those for whom (in the words of Foucault) “visibility is a trap.” I close by calling for new ways of thinking about both privacy and autonomy that more accurately reflect the ways power and identity intersect in augmented societies. more...

Two RepRap Machines running during a demonstration at the Technoscience as Activism Conference. Photo Credit under CC Licence: David Banks

The price of 3D printers is plummeting. Like all complicated pieces of technology it is quickly moving from large, confusing, and expensive to small, simple and cheap. This year has been full of consumer-level 3D printers that are cheaper than some professional grade photo printers. Right now, these little things are capable of making plastic do-dads that are, admittedly, of lesser quality than some dollar store toys. But just like a magic trick, you’re not paying for the physical thing, you’re paying for the ability to do the trick. Design an object in a modeling software suite like SketchUp, convert it into some kind of printer-friendly format, and -so long as it is smaller than a bread box and made out of plastic- you can build whatever you want. 3D printers give an individual the ability to transform bits into atoms. In some ways it is a radical democratization of the means of production. For a fraction of the price of a car, someone can gain the ability to fabricate a relatively wide range of material objects. What are the implications for this new ability? What does it say about the relationship of atoms and bits? more...

Discussing the relative strengths and weaknesses of education as it occurs on and offline, in and outside of a classroom, is important. Best pedagogical practices have not yet emerged for courses primarily taught online. What opportunities and pitfalls await both on and offline learning environments? Under ideal circumstances, how might we best integrate face-to-face as well as online tools? In non-ideal teaching situations, how can we make the best of the on/offline arrangement handed to us? All of us teaching, and taking, college courses welcome this discussion. What isn’t helpful is condemning a medium of learning, be it face-to-face or via digital technologies, as less real. Some have begun this conversation by disqualifying interaction mediated by digitality (all interaction is, by the way) as less human, less true and less worthy, obscuring the path forward for the vast majority of future students.

This is exactly the problem with the op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times titled, “The Trouble With Online Education.more...

This image is on the Internet. Whose fault is that? (Is it anyone's fault, per se?)

Last month in Part I (Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy), I used the TtW2012 “Logging Off and Disconnection” panel as a starting point to consider whether it is possible to abstain completely from digital social technologies, and came to the conclusion that the answer is “no.” Rejecting digital social technologies can mean significant losses in social capital; depending on the expectations of the people closest to us, rejecting digital social technologies can mean seeming to reject our loved ones (or “liked ones”) as well. Even if we choose to take those risks, digital social technologies are non-optional systems; we can choose not to use them, but we cannot choose to live in a world where we are not affected by other people’s choices to use digital social technologies.

I used Facebook as an example to show that we are always connected to digital social technologies, whether we are connecting through them or not. Facebook (and other companies) collect what I call second-hand data, or data about people other those from whom the data is collected. This means that whether we leave digital traces is not a decision we can make autonomously, as our friends, acquaintances, and contacts also make these decisions for us. We cannot escape being connected to digital social technologies anymore than we can escape society itself.

This week, I examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control, as something individuals can ‘own’. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. more...