White student union1

This is the year of #BlackLivesMatter. In response, it is also becoming the year of White Supremacy. It’s not that Black Lives didn’t matter before, nor that Whiteness didn’t reign supreme. Rather, dramatic and highly publicized incidents of violence against Black citizens by those charged with protecting them have created a cultural dynamic in which the value of Black Lives and the respondent assertion of White Supremacy, have reached a point of articulation.

When you clean house, the roaches emerge. As a nation, we are cleaning house, finding and scrubbing out the blaring and hidden spots of racism, many of which have seeped deep into the layers of our social fabric. A White Supremacist presence is therefore unsurprising. The Supremacists wriggle out in defense of their comfortable home that the elbow grease of mobilization threatens to upend. They are gross but expected. However, their pervasiveness and seeming capacity to garner sympathy, is less expected. more...

hyperauthenticity

Authenticity is a tricky animal, and social media complicate the matter. Authenticity is that which seems natural, uncalculated, indifferent to external forces or popular opinion. This sits in tension with the performativity of everyday life, in which people follow social scripts and social decorum, strive to be likeable—or at least interesting—and constantly negotiate the expectations of ever expanding networks. The problem of performance is therefore to pull it off as though unperformed. The nature of social media, with its built-in pauses and editing tools, throw the semblance of authenticity into a harsh light. Hence, the widespread social panics about a society whose inhabitants are disconnected from each other and disconnected from their “true selves.”

For political campaigns, the problem of authenticity is especially sharp. Politicians are brands, but brands that have to make themselves relatable on a very human level. This involves intense engagement with all forms of available media, from phone calls, to newspaper ads and editorials, to talk show appearances, television interviews and now, a social media presence. The addition of social media, along with the larger culture of personalization it has helped usher in, means that political performances must include regular backstage access. Media consumers expect politicians to be celebrities, expect celebrities to be reality stars, and expect reality stars to approximate ordinary people, but with an extra dab of panache. The authentic politician, then, must be untouchable and accessible, exquisite and mundane, polished yet unrehearsed. Over the last couple of elections, social media has been the primary platform for political authenticity. Candidates give voters access to themselves as humans—not just candidates—but work to do so in a way that makes them optimally electable. It’s a lot of work to be so meticulously authentic. more...

Zombie cyborg
Image credit

The New York Times editors, as Claude Fisher wrote yesterday, “have their meme and they will ride it hard.” That meme is Sherry Turkle, the MIT psychologist that has built a cottage industry (a far away disconnected cottage on the shores of Cape Cod no doubt) around pathologizing the bad feelings people get when everyone around them are on their phones. Fisher does a really supurb job of laying out what is wrong with this latest round of Turkle fanfare so you should go read his piece on his blog, but I want to draw out and add to one point that he makes about the “death of conversation” being an evergreen topic for decades.

I have an article coming out in First Monday in about a month but there is a section that I want to quote from just because I think it is especially relevant to this issue of conversation, attention, and their vulnerability to new technologies. The article argues that online/offline states should be seen as social relationships among groups and not the binary states of an individual. To that point I show how cultural, political, and economic reactions to railroad lines mirror the experiences we have with the Internet today. What follows is a small section about what sorts of social and cultural effects were attributed to railroads: more...

Contradiction

Last week I wrote about the curious case of traditional love narratives in the face of online dating. In short, the profiled format, pay structure, and overall bureaucracy of online dating throws into stark relief the constructed belief in a fateful meeting of souls. And yet, the narrative persists. Here’s a brief snippet:

…[T]he landscape has drastically changed but the narrative, not so much. The maintenance of romantic love as a cultural construct, personal striving, and affective embodied response to courtship rituals speaks to the resiliency of normative culture and its instantiation through human action. Even as we transact and negotiate romantic relationships; even as we agree upon terms; even as we screen partners and subject ourselves to screening; we nonetheless speak of butterflies and hope for magic.

In the case of love and online dating, the narrative is both highlighted and strengthened through its empirical contradiction.

This idea sparked an interesting conversation among the Cyborgology team about how this principle—constitution through contradiction—is theoretically useful in understanding the relationship between technologies and culture. Technologies reflect cultural realities, but can also expose the constructed nature of these realities, threatening their taken-for-granted logic and concomitant guidance over behavior and interaction. In the face of such a threat, however, the logics remain, and even strengthen. more...

tldr self1

The What-Would-I-Say App, (#wwis) created by HackPrinceton, has garnered widespread popularity. The app basically amalgamates your Facebook posts, rearranges them, and computes a best guess at what you, the Facebook user, would say. According the app’s creators, here’s how it works: more...

 

Over the last couple of weeks, a YouTube video (above) of New York artist Richard Renaldi has continued to populate my Facebook News Feed. Renaldi’s project Touching Strangers is such that he positions strangers together in an intimate poses and photographs them. Despite lack of prior contact, these photographs depict what look to be quite sincere expressions of emotion. Moreover, the subjects interviewed in the video say that they feel some sort of connection towards those with whom they posed. This is certainly moving, admittedly interesting, but as a trained social psychologist, not very surprising. It does, however, offer interesting implications for people’s oft-spouted rants against in-authenticity and identity work on social media.

Let me begin by discussing the sociology of the work. I will them move on the implications for authenticity in light of new technologies. more...


Image from the Israel Defense Force Flickr account.

Don’t tell the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that sharing videos from your Twitter account is ineffectual. They will point to their two-hundred thousand twitter followers that have generated 35 million views on their official Youtube account. They will extoll the virtues of a ruthlessly efficient and effective ad campaign that invites participation without the young Israeli even knowing they are engaged in two wars: a war of flesh as well as a war of mind. Granted, the IDF is no Justin Beiber, but it is hard to deny the impact of the IDF’s 30-person social networking team. The IDF’s social media savvy has not gone unnoticed. Technology and business publications have been more than happy to publish uncritical, lengthy interviews of top officials. This meta-propaganda usually begins by noting that Pillar of Defense was first announced through Twitter. The conversation will then turn to their complete arsenal: (TumblrFlickrFacebook, Pintrest, and even Google+) before commenting on their brief tweet confrontations with Hamas. All of this happens almost apolitically. Every news pieces calls it propaganda, and yet it still has a powerful aesthetic and rhetorical effect. Social media is the Abrams tank of propaganda. Messages must navigate the harsh terrains of corporate and government-owned mass media and arrive safely in the minds of citizens. Unedited, unfiltered, pure. Social media can trample news cycles, navigate the minefields of editorial desks, and maintain total media superiority in the vacuum of Western under-reporting.  more...


c/o Facebook.com/Help “Where do my promoted posts show up on Facebook? What do they look like?”

 

Social media blurs private and public, production and consumption, play and work, physical and digital. There. I just saved myself about 500 words worth of work.

Now with this blurring framework in mind, let us take a look at Facebook’s newest feature:  Pay-to-Promote posts. more...

PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.

While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. more...

This is the complete version of a previously posted two-part essay. Part one is here; part two is here.


Photo by Matthew Christopher

Objects have lives. They are witness to things. –This American Life, “The House on Loon Lake”

Atlantic Cities’ feature on the psychology of “ruin porn” is worth a look–in part because it’s interesting in itself, in part because it features some wonderful images, and in part because it has a great deal to do with both a piece I posted previously on Michael Chrisman’s photograph of a year and with the essay that piece referenced, Nathan Jurgenson’s take on the phenomenon of faux-vintage photography.

All of these pieces are, to a greater or lesser extent, oriented around a singular idea: atemporality – that the intermeshing and interweaving of the physical and digital causes us not only to experience both of those categories differently, but to perceive time itself differently; that for most of us, time is no longer a linear experience (assuming it ever was). Technology changes our remembrance of the past, our experience of the present, and our imagination of the future by blurring the lines between the three categories, and introducing different forms of understanding and meaning-making to all three – We remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past. The phenomenon of “ruin porn” is uniquely suited to call attention to our increasingly atemporal existence, and to outline some of the specific ways in which it manifests itself.

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