Still image from a YouTube tutorial on how to build a model Victorian factory in Minecraft

I’m going to sound like a grandpa here –video games are a big gap in my knowledge of digital media—but what the hell is wrong with today’s video games? Seriously, I’d rather get exclusive promotions from gambling, I’m not really talking about getting ripped off by loot boxes, or titles that ship with major bugs left to be squashed. Those are certainly things that keep me away, but what really turns me off is what the games themselves are about. And here, rest assured, I’m not talking about the violence depicted in games which, as many well-regarded studies have definitively shown, don’t cause violence. (Though, that doesn’t stop the fact that I don’t really find photo-realistic war games to be particularly entertaining.) No, I’m just tired of video games feeling like a second job.

I have never felt the desire to play any of the simulator games that are popular today, even Train Simulator 2018 which, objectively, sounds awesome. Ditto for Minecraft, even though I love building things. It all just sounds like chores. I so desperately want to love video games. I own a PlayStation 4 and have about half a dozen games, but they just collect dust on a shelf. I played Skyrim for a long time but that was only after I rage-quit half an hour into the game and then didn’t pick it back up for over a year. Why would I want to collect hundreds of flowers to make a health potion? more...

This post is based on the author’s article in the journal Science as Culture. Full text available here and here

In 2016, Lumos Labs – creators of the popular brain training service Lumosity – settled against charges laid by the FTC, who concluded that the company unjustly ‘preyed on consumers fears …[but] simply did not have the science to back up its ads’. In addition to a substantial fine, the judgment stipulated that – except in light of any rigorously derived scientific findings – Lumos Labs

‘… are permanently restrained and enjoined from making any representation, expressly or by implication [that their product] … improves performance in school, at work … delays or protects against age-related decline in memory or other cognitive function, including mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease…. [or] reduces cognitive impairment caused by health conditions, including Turner syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, or side effects of chemotherapy.’

However, by the time of the settlement, Lumosity’s message was already out. Lumosity boasts ‘85 million registered users worldwide from 182 countries’ and their seductive advertisements were seen by many millions more. Over three billion mini-games have been played on their platform, which – combined with personal data gleaned from their users – makes for an incredibly valuable data set. Lumosity kindled sparks of hope within those who suffered, or feared suffering from the above conditions, or who simply sought to better themselves for contemporary demands. In this way, the brain has become a site of both promise and peril. Today, ever more ethical injunctions are levied through calls for ‘participatory biocitizenship’, the supposed ‘empowerment of the individual, at any age, to self-monitor and self-manage health and wellness’. more...


Jessie Sage is not my legal name. Shocking, right? It is, however, my public identity. At this point, so many of my interactions happen through this name that it often feels more natural to me than my legal one. As someone who works in and covers the adult industry, it is the name under which everything I do related to sex work and sex work advocacy falls: my writing, my podcast, my profiles, my activist work, etc.

There are very obvious reasons for this. Sex work is highly stigmatized. And even for those who have only done legal sex work, like myself, there can still be dire consequences to being connected to the sex industry: from social ostracization, to loss of vanilla jobs, to custody battles, to threats of (or actual) violence.

It is no wonder then that nearly everyone who works in my community works under a pseudonym. In a world in which a Google search that links your name to porn can shut down your bank account or prevent you from crossing international borders, it only makes sense to not link your legal identity to your sex work.

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At the confluence of being chronic meme aficionados, internet research scholars, and educators to cohorts of young people, in 2017 my colleague Kristine Ask and I began a project to consider seriously the types of memes students share online.

Memes have been established as objects that bear meaning beyond mere internet frivolity. Studies in vernacular cultures have framed memes as “the propagation of content items such as jokes, rumours, videos, or websites from one person to others“, and as a form of “pop polyvocality” or “a pop cultural tongue that facilitate[s] the diverse engagement of many voices“. Other studies from media and communications have found that memes are a “shared social phenomenon“, and still others from the socio-cultural perspective have asserted them as a “common instrument for establishing normativity“.

Specifically, we studied the popular Facebook page “Student Problems” on which over 7 million subscribers participate in producing, circulating, gatekeeping, and consuming memes focused on mental health issues, student debt, racism, sexism, and other struggles associated with student life. Aside from the humour proliferate on the Facebook page, the Student Problem brand’s flagship website also dishes out tips via (moderately sincere) Student Guides and an online shop of blatantly self-ironic merchandise, such as a “Cry Cushion” with the inscription “place head and cry”.

Evidently, self-deprecating relatability is the order of the day, in which condescending, pessimistic, and vulnerable displays of student struggles have arisen in opposition to the rise of pristine, prestigious, and celebratory content propagated by social media Influencers and everyday humblebraggers. As vehicles of emotive visual display, Student Problem memes allowed users to build a sense of community, camaraderie, and commiseration, albeit clouded in the language of humour and wit. Although our study also considered findings from a workshop with undergraduate students in two batches, and a media watch of press coverage on student issues over several months across the world, in this post we focus on the content analysis of just the Facebook page and briefly discuss three themes from our sample of 179 memes collected between March and May 2017. more...

“Designing Kai, I was able to anticipate off-topic questions with responses that lightly guide the user back to banking,” Jacqueline Feldman wrote describing her work on the banking chatbot. Feldman’s attempts to discourage certain lines of questioning reflects both the unique affordances bots open up and the resulting difficulties their designers face. While Feldman’s employer gave her leeway to let Kai essentially shrug off odd questions from users until they gave up, she notes “…Alexa and Siri are generalists, set up to be asked anything, which makes defining inappropriate input challenging, I imagine.” If the work of bot/assistant designers entails codifying a brand into an interactive persona, how their creations afford various interactions shape user’s expectations and behavior as much as their conventionally feminine names, voices and marketing as “assistants.”

Affordances form “the dynamic link between subjects and objects within sociotechnical systems,” as Jenny Davis and James Chouinard write in “Theorizing Affordances: From Request to Refuse.” According to the model Davis and Chouinard propose, what an object affords isn’t a simple formula e.g. object + subject = output, but a continuous interrelation of “mechanisms and conditions,” including an object’s feature set, a user’s level of awareness and comfort in utilizing them, and the cultural and institutional influences underlying a user’s perceptions of and interactions with an object. “Centering the how,” rather than the what, this model acknowledges “the variability in the way affordances mediate between features and outcomes.” Although Facebook requires users to pick a gender in order to complete the initial signup process, as one example they cite, users also “may rebuff these demands” through picking a gender they don’t personally identify as. But as Davis and Chouinard argue, affordances work “through gradations” and so demands are just one of the ways objects afford. They can also “requestallow, encourage, discourage, and refuse.” How technologies afford certain interactions clearly affects how we as users use them, but this truth implies another: that how technologies afford our interactions re-defines both object and subject in the process. Sometimes there’s trouble distinguishing even which is which.

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It’s been 7 years since Alone Together (2011) was published. And, here at Cyborgology (which we launched only a few months before the book came out), probably no other publication has received so much of our attention (with the possible exception of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.”

While Turkle’s earlier writings were hopeful, forward-looking provocations about the growing intimacy between humans and machines, Alone Together (as well as Turkle’s more recent Reclaiming Conversation [2015]) struck a completely different tone: a present-focused techno-pessimism. Turkle’s insistence on the intrinsic inferiority of digitally mediated interaction—that it is less real, less human—became a foil for ambivalent, nuanced analysis of technology and society that we sought to provide on this blog. In part, Turkle has become an antagonistic figure because she cherry-picks anecdotes while ignoring more systematic research on the way digital technologies facilitate social support. In part, because she epitomizes a sort of rhetoric about the ontological inferiority of the Web—its lack of realness—that has distracted from important social justice questions about how such technologies reinforce/reproduce existing inequalities and the concrete measure that can be taken to changes this.

In the recent 2017 update of the book. Turkle doubles down, referencing Darwin and embracing evolutionary biology style grand narratives in her new preface. She says, “as we evolved, people were the only other creatures who responded with us with suggestions of empathy.” (I can hear Haraway off in the distance, shouting, “what about dogs?!”) Turkle continues more...

When migrants meet we talk about our visas. You can be a Belgian in New Delhi or a Colombian in New York, but until you get your anchor passport, or a Green/Blue card, something that stabilises your identity in a place that you’ve chosen to live and work in, and that isn’t the poor, boring, violent or corrupt yet always-wonderful place you’re ‘originally from’, you will continue to talk about your right to remain.

We do this because it affects what we can and cannot do to build our lives as workers, survivors, parents and upstanding members of our new societies. Public and social bureaucracies that regulate our right to remain in a place affect our confidence in visible and invisible ways.

Talking about our visas is an extended response to the question: Wie gehts? How’s it going? Yesterday, my answer would have been: Schlimm! Terrible! Because I discovered that my prized freelancer visa is actually not as stable a sign of inclusion as I thought it was. I was reminded that my right to remain and work in Germany is a paper sticker in a passport, and indicative of a particular system of systems related to immigration, not verification of my identity, nor a validation of the hoop-jumping that translates into trust in me.

In this post I put together some reflections from a personal incident as a way to document how notions of identity and trust are being transformed in the context of automated decision-making and financial technologies (fintech). more...

Facebook has had a rough few weeks. Just as the Cambridge Analytica scandal reached fever pitch, revelations about Zuckerberg’s use of self-destructing messages came to the surface. According to TechCrunch, three sources have confirmed that messages from Zuckerberg have been removed from their Facebook inboxes, despite the users’ own messages remaining visible. Facebook responded by explaining that the message-disappearing feature was a security measure put in place after the 2014 Sony hack. The company promptly disabled the feature for Zuckerberg and other executives and promised to integrate the disappearing message feature into the platform interface for all users in the near future.

This quick apology and immediate feature change exemplifies a pattern revealed by Zeynep Tufekci in a NYT opinion piece, in which she describes Facebook’s public relations strategy as a series of public missteps followed by “a few apologies from Mr. Zuckerberg, some earnest-sounding promises to do better, followed by a couple of superficial changes to Facebook that fail to address the underlying structural problems.”

In the case of disappearing messages, Facebook’s response was both fast and shallow. Not only did the company fail to address underlying structural issues, but responded to the wrong issue entirely. Their promise to offer message deletion to all Facebook users treated the problem as one of equity. It presumed that what was wrong with Zuckerberg deleting his own messages from the archive was that others couldn’t do the same. But equity is not what’s at issue. Of course users don’t have the same control over content—or anything else on the Facebook platform—as the CEO. I think most people assume that they are less Facebook-Powerful than Mark Zuckerberg. Rather, what is at issue is a breach of accountability. Or more precisely, the problem with disappearing messages on Facebook is that this violated accountability expectations. more...

Humor is central to internet culture. Through imagery, text, snark and stickers, funny content holds strong cultural currency.  In a competitive attention economy, LOLs are a hot commodity. But just because internet culture values a laugh it doesn’t preclude serious forms of digitally mediated communication nor consideration of consequential subject matter. In contrast, the silly and serious can—and do—imbricate in a single utterance.

The merging of serious and silly becomes abundantly evident in recent big data analyses of political communication on social media. Studies show that parody accounts, memes, gifs and other funny content garner disproportionate attention during political news events. John Hartley refers to this phenomenon as ‘silly citizenship’ while Tim Highfield evokes an ‘irreverent internet’. This silliness and irreverence in digitally mediated politics means that contemporary political discourse employs humor as a participatory norm. What remains unclear, however, is what people are doing with their political humor.  Is humor a vehicle for meaningful political communication, or are politics just raw material for funny content?  My co-authors and I (Tony Love (@tonyplove) and Gemma Killen (@gemkillen)) addressed this question in a paper published last week in New Media & Society. more...

several steeples with different world religion symbols atop each peak with the highest one with the facebook F

Colin Koopman, an associate professor of philosophy and director of new media and culture at the University of Oregon, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times last month that situated the recent Cambridge Analytica debacle within a larger history of data ethics. Such work is crucial because, as Koopman argues, we are increasingly living with the consequences of unaccountable algorithmic decision making in our politics and the fact that “such threats to democracy are now possible is due in part to the fact that our society lacks an information ethics adequate to its deepening dependence on data.” It shouldn’t be a surprise that we are facing massive, unprecedented privacy problems when we let digital technologies far outpace discussions around ethics or care for data. more...