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Sherry Turkle has been very successful lately. She is still touring the country giving high-profile talks and her best-selling books are assigned in college classrooms all across the country. The quotes on her books’ dustjackets are from respected authors and thinkers. She is a senior faculty member at an elite east coast university. She is by all accounts someone with an ostensibly left-of-center perspective that is popular while still pushing audiences to consider the ramifications of their actions. Turkle, through her critical analysis of social media and portable digital devices, wants people to think twice about the unintended consequences of their actions; how individual choices often aggregate into undesirable interpersonal dynamics. This is important work worthy of public debate but, precisely because it is so important, it is worth asking who benefits from Turkle’s particular brand of mindfulness.

Critiques of Turkle are too few, but the ones that exist are spot on. Focusing on individuals’ technology use, according to Nathan Jurgenson, not only turns the subjects of Turkle’s analysis into broken subhumans, it also gives the reader the opportunity to feel superior simply by fretting over when and how a device comes out of their pocket. Her work also misses, according to Zeynep Tufeci and Alexandra Samuel all the ways social media is a way of reclaiming some form of sociality in a world dominated by televisions, the suburbs, long work hours, and life circumstances that geographically separate us. Taken together we might understand the shortcomings of Turkle’s work as primarily one of digital dualism, i.e. that she considers non-mediated, in-person interaction as inherently more real or authentic compared to anything done through digital networks. What has been left unsaid, and what I want to focus on here, is how Turkle contradicts herself and, in so doing, reveals a bias toward authority and socially conservative political institutions. Turkle selectively deploys her analysis in such a way that traditional sources of authority are left unchallenged. more...

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As a rule, parents tend to experience concern about their children’s wellbeing. With all of the decisions that parents have to make, I imagine it’s near impossible not to worry that you are making the wrong ones, with consequences that may not reveal themselves for years to come. I’m that way with my dogs, and I feel confident the anxiety is more pressing with tiny human people. This is why recommendations from professional organizations are so important.  They offer the comfort of a guiding word, based presumably in expertise, to help parents make the best decisions possible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is one such organization, and they have some things to say about children and screen time. However, what they have to say about children and screen time will be revised in the next year, and no doubt, many parents will listen intently. NPR interviewed David Hill, chairman of the AAP Council on Communications and Media and a member of the AAP Children, Adolescents and Media Leadership Working Group. Although Hill did not reveal what the new recommendations would advise, the way he talked about the relationship between screens and kids did reveal a lot about the logic that drives recommendations.  The logic that Hill’s interview revealed made clear, once again, the need for theory to inform practice. More specifically, those who make practical recommendations about technology should consult with technology theorists. more...

Both are technology books that came out in 2015, and John Durham Peters’ The Marvelous Clouds is perhaps the best counterpoint, or antidote, to Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation. Turkle is the avatar of digital dualism, seeing a real world that is natural versus technology that is inhuman and added on. Peters instead puts forward a view of media and technology as part of the environment, and the environment as inherently technological and itself a type of media. Peters doesn’t think of only one all-encompassing environment but of many elements, be they water or language or fire or digitality. Each is its own intersecting environment. Whether you like to think of digitality as part of one world or infinity worlds is an improvement over the digital dualist mistake of seeing two. more...

Autonomous Intelligence

The International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCIA15) met last week in Buenos Aires. AI has long captured the public imagination, and researchers are making fast advances. Conferences like IJCIA15 have high stakes, as “smart” machines become increasingly integrated into personal and public life. Because of these high stakes, it is important that we remain precise in our discourse and thought surrounding these technologies. In an effort towards precision, I offer simple, corrective point: intelligence is never artificial.

Machine intelligence, like human intelligence, is quite real. That machine intelligence processes through hardware and code has no bearing on its authenticity. The machine does not pretend to learn, it really learns, it actually gets smarter, and it does so through interactions with the environment. Ya know, just like people. more...

At the end of a press conference in January, Microsoft announced HoloLens, its vision for the future of computing.

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The device, which Microsoft classifies as an augmented reality (AR) headset, incorporates a compilation of sensors, surround speakers, and a transparent visor to project holograms onto the wearer’s environment, a sensory middle ground between Google Glass and virtual reality (VR) headsets like Oculus Rift. Augmented and virtual reality headsets, like most technology saddled with transforming our world, reframe our expectations in order to sell back to us our present as an aspirational, near-future fantasy. According to Microsoft’s teaser site, HoloLens “blends” the digital and “reality” by “pulling it out of a screen” and placing it “in our world” as “real 3D” holograms. Implicit in this narrative is that experience as mediated with digital screens has not already permeated reality, a possibility the tech industry casts perpetually into the future tense: “where our digital lives would seamlessly connect with real life.” more...

Waggle

(Image from the People’s Climate March Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/peoplesclimatemarch)

When it comes to data analysis, sometimes non-findings speak louder than findings. Particularly when non-findings shine a light on questions that aren’t being asked.

 On 21 September 2014, UMd Professor of Sociology Dana R. Fisher took a small army of friends and graduate students to New York City to survey demonstrators at The People’s Climate March (PCM). The PCM survey is part of a longer thread of Dr. Fisher’s research, which surveys protestors to get a better understanding of who protests, how they are mobilized, and how their participation in protests relates to other forms of civic engagement they may partake in. Nate Silver’s data-nerd playground FiveThirtyEight.com sent a film crew to follow us to make a short documentary of our experience. The doc is part of their series The Collectors, a look at how scientists can apply rigorous research methods to a variety of unique settings outside of the laboratory.

The PCM’s greatest appeal—the thing that got us all up before dawn on a Sunday to take a bus from DC to Manhattan—was the sheer volume of potential data it made available to us. While more conservative estimates put the number of demonstrators at around 100,000, PCM organizers themselves suggest that it was closer to four times that. In any case, 350.org, who planned the march in collaboration with a long list of partner organizations, trumpeted the event as the “largest climate march in history.” By all accounts, they were right; the PCM was the brightest star in a constellation of nearly 2,600 simultaneous climate protests happening all over the world that day.

This thing was big, it was global, and it mobilized a lot of people.

Part of 350.org’s plan was to arrange protesters into neat blocks, according to where they fit along a spectrum of participant identities and organizational affiliations. Their hope was to organize participants into city-block-sized sections that would each represent a single unified ideological or social position. The map below details what these blocks were supposed to look like, and who was supposed to fill them during the assembly period before the march began. more...

woods

Latest in the arsenal of moralpanic studies of digital technologies is a recent article published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, written by psychologists and education scholars from UCLA.  The piece, entitled: “Five Days at Education Camp without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Nonverbal Emotion Cues,” announces the study’s ultimate thesis: engagement with digital technologies diminishes face-to-face social skills. Unsurprisingly, the article and its’ findings have been making the rounds on mainstream media outlets over the past week. Here is the abstract: more...

UCSB

How does one begin a blog post about a profoundly tragic event? With shock? Only, I’m not shocked. With anger? I am angry, but starting there doesn’t feel right. Empathy, I think, is how I have to start.  I can only imagine the pain and fear of the people of Isla Vista, and honestly can’t imagine the depth of pain felt by those who lost family members and loved ones in Friday’s shooting.

As we all fumble through this event—which feels like yet another blow in a terrible but patterned chain of violent events—I believe many of us can’t help but wonder: how did this happen? How does it keep happening?

As with all things, the “how” is a complex question, one for which complete answers are largely impossible.  In this case, however, I can identify two key interlocking factors: digital dualism and misogynistic culture. more...

The Planned Headquarters of Apple Inc.
The Planned Headquarters of Apple Inc.

The year is 1959 and a very powerful modern art aficionado is sharing a limousine with Princess  Beatrix of the Netherlands. The man is supposed to be showing off the splendor of the capital of what was once —so optimistically— called New Amsterdam. His orchestrated car trip is not going quite as he had hoped and instead of zipping past “The Gut” and dwelling on the stately early 19th century mansions on Central and Clinton Avenues, Beatrix is devastated by the utter poverty that has come to define the very center of this capitol city now called Albany, New York. The art aficionado, unfortunately for him, cannot blame some far away disconnected bureaucrat or corrupt politician for what they are seeing because he is the governor of this powerful Empire State and he has done little to elevate the suffering of his subjects. He resolves, after that fateful car trip, to devote the same kind of passion he has for modern art to this seat of government. Governor Rockefeller will make this city into a piece of art worthy of his own collection. more...


Nic Endo, noise musician and member of Atari Teenage Riot

Over on Sounding Out, Primus Luta has finished the third installment (which I’ll refer to as LEP) in a superb series of posts on live electronic music performance. The aim of the series is to develop a “usable aesthetic language” to describe live electronic performance. In this post I want to summarize some of Luta’s argument–which is fascinating–and then push his project past his stated philosophical limitations. Even though Luta’s aesthetic language is still strongly indebted to modernist values and ideas (like “agency” and “virtuosity”), can we push his analysis beyond the frame of modernist aesthetics? Can live electronic music performance help us think about what an object-oriented aesthetics or a compositionist aesthetics might entail? From these perspectives, which aren’t very interested in subject-centered values like agency and virtuosity, what values and ideals would we use to evaluate electronic music?

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