Google Earth software [creates] a more realistic world that blurs the line between virtual life and reality and helps make the program look more like a variation of the Star Trek Holodeck.


It is long established that digital identity is a highly fluid concept. Since the earliest days of public engagement with the Internet, this has been a feature of the discourse: the realm of the virtual allows one to construct identity from the ground up, to assume a kind of control over self-presentation not possible in the realm of the flesh, to be or to seem to be anyone, anything, anywhere.

In practice, of course, this is clearly not the case–or not the whole case. Virtuality affords people a kind of power in the construction of the digital body that they do not have with their actual body. But when one presents the self online, they most often present that self in settings and contexts that other people have constructed. This is one place where problems with the presentation of the digital body tend to arise. When one plays in someone else’s garden, one might be expected to play by their rules. This is generally well and good, but things turn problematic when the “rules” involve the imposition of categories or identities that people may not accept.

This issue recently came to a head regarding deviantART’s “gender” field in its user profile. The trouble in question started when a user who identified as “neutrois” took issue with the fact that the choices in the field were restricted to male and female–there had been an “unspecified” option, but for unclear reasons it had been removed, forcing users to choose between only the two. There followed a number of exchanges with deviantART support personnel. These got rather heated, and it became clear that there was significant confusion on deviantART’s part regarding the difference between sex and gender (which amounts to the difference between genitalia and identity). In the end, though an “other” option was added, most people following the exchanges felt that it was not a satisfactory solution. more...

The premise of this blog is that technology is fundamental to our selves, lives and all of reality. And this point is best exemplified by Facebook. The site’s founder and CEO is TIME magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year. Is this the correct choice? Perhaps Julian Assange? Donna Haraway, anyone?

“African-American and Latino adults in the US who use the internet are twice as likely as whites to use the website Twitter.” [Note: it might be best to strike the words “the website” from that sentence since many access the service using other sites and mobile applications.]

Via the BBC.

Many worry about the immortality of our behavior on social network sites like Facebook. Regrettable behaviors can become Facebook Skeletons in your digital closet. However, I have argued before that what is equally true is that our online presence is extremely ephemeral. Status updates speed by, perhaps delighting us in the moment, but are quickly forgotton. The innundation of photographs of yourself and others is so heavy that particular moments often become lost in the flow. Our digital content may live forever, but it does so in relative obscurity. Just try searching for that witty status update your friend made on Facebook last month. It is this ephemerality of our online social lives that makes this art/design project by Siavosh Zabeti so interesting. When our Facebook lives are placed in a book, our socialization grasps at the tactile permanence of the physical.

When Facebook becomes a book from Siavosh Zabeti on Vimeo.

If books like this became popular, would we create our Facebook presence any differently given this new, more physical medium? more...

We frequently discuss how young people (i.e., “digital natives”) use technology on the Cyborgology blog.  Today, I have compiled and interesting graph illustrating the age at which today’s minors got their first cell phone.

More data  on this topic is available at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey discuss their take on WikiLeaks, net neutrality, and other issue surrounding the free flow of information on the Internet. The complete interview is now streaming.

Zygmunt Bauman has famously conceptualized modern society as increasingly “liquid.” Information, objects, people and even places can more easily flow around time and space. Old “solid” structures are melting away in favor of faster and more nimble fluids. I’ve previously described how capitalism in the West has become more liquid by moving out of “solid” brick-and-mortar factories making “heavy” manufacturing goods and into a lighter, perhaps even “weightless,” form of capitalism surrounding informational products. The point of this post is that as information becomes increasingly liquid, it leaks.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of this. Note that the logo is literally a liquid world. While the leaking of classified documents is not new (think: the Pentagon Papers), the magnitude of what is being released is unprecedented. The leaked war-logs from Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be shocking. The most current leaks surround US diplomacy. We learned that the Saudi’s favored bombing Iran, China seems to be turning on North Korea, the Pentagon targeted refugee camps for bombing and so on. And none of this would have happened without the great liquefiers: digitality and Internet. more...

The way in which information is shared in the digital age is headlining the news around many different issues. WikiLeaks is distributing thousands of classified State Department documents; the FFC Chairman is attempting to preserve net neutrality (i.e., the dictum that Internet service providers cannot limit the rate that users access different kinds of legal content); Facebook users are sharing more and more private details of their lives online.  Arguably, the same cultural debate is playing out in all of these cases: Is society best served when all information is free, or are we better off if some information remains private?

Silicon Valley has become a magnet for evangelists of the “information wants to be free” movement, what has come to be known as “cyberlibertarianism.”  Supporters often argue that the free flow of information is fundamental to democracy.  This is, in fact, the justification behind WikiLeaks’ distribution of confidential, proprietary, or otherwise secret information.

However, it is important to note that many of the most high-profile supporters of a transparent society, where information is free, are Internet companies, like Facebook and Google, that seek profit by collecting and sharing information about their users. Alternatively, companies who would benefit from restricting the flow of information (ISPs like, Comcast and Verizon) tend to oppose the principle that information should be free.

Cyberlibertarianism has range of other critics.  Clearly, the government has argued that state interests are threatened by the leaking of information. On a more micro level, many sociologists (including the authors of this post) are concerned that the pressure to constantly share more, and more personal information can be detrimental to individual users of Google, Facebook, and other social-networking sites. more...

In the social sciences, we often hear about, talk about, and preach about the relationship between theory and methods. Here, I present a poignant example their interconnectedness.

In a recent post, I argued that the accomplishment of authenticity in a cyborg era is particularly difficult. Drawing on Goffman, Turkle, and others, I argued that we live in a time of constant documentation, exposing the identity work that is supposed to remain hidden in the so-called “back stage.” I purported that our online and offline selves are not only mutually influential, but that we also engage in preemptive behavior in order to accurately present our ideal selves through multiple mediums.

Overall my theoretical point is this: As social actors we expect authenticity in others, and in ourselves. In a time of constant documentation, our online personas become our reflections, and they must not only be ideal, but also truthful. As such, we do not document falsehoods, but preemptively create documentable situations in an effort to present a self that is simultaneously ideal and authentic.

Here is the methodological conundrum: If the constructed nature of selves and identities must remain hidden not only from others, but also from ourselves, then how can we get people to talk about the labor involved in the identity construction process? In other words, how do we support the theoretical assertion? more...