kitty cat

Last month, Instagram decided to introduce “Stories“. Admittedly a copy of Snapchat’s Stories, Instagram writes:

With Instagram Stories, you don’t have to worry about overposting. Instead, you can share as much as you want throughout the day — with as much creativity as you want. […]

Instagram has always been a place to share the moments you want to remember. Now you can share your highlights and everything in between, too.

This signals two things to me:

1) The curation rhetoric of Instagram as a regulated repository with optimum posting times and frequencies to maximize viewer perception is being acknowledged. Instagram wants us to break out of this normative practice popularized by its top Influencer Instagrammers so that more content will be shared more frequently.

2) The curation rhetoric of Instagram as a highlight reel for only one’s “best images” is being acknowledged. Instagram wants us to contentdump on its platform instead of cross-platforming (over to Snapchat!) to post our mass of “non-Insta worthy” frivolous content.

I have some thoughts.

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thoughtsandprayers

A terror attack takes place.
A large protest breaks out.
A natural disaster occurs.
A prominent public figure dies.

In the earliest minutes, while news networks are scrambling to give the event a name, vernacular users on Instagram offer a flurry of hashtagged tributes with text post prayers, stock photography, and artful homages.

Soon, a primary hashtag and emblem for the event emerges: The yellow umbrella for #OccupyCentral, the Monumen Nasional for #KamiTidakTakut, the Eiffel Tower for #PorteOuverte, silhouettes of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew for #PrayForLKY.

Yet, alongside these consolations are Instagram users who attempt to appropriate the attention current of these trending channels for self-publicity, flooding dedicated hashtags with scarcely relevant selfies, outfit of the day shots, wares for sale, and redirected links.

How do we make sense of this?

It’s been an agonising series of weeks after a string of grievous events in various parts of the world. I have been tracing vernacular responses to global grieving events on Instagram since 2014, and some of the case studies are archived here.

However, of late, global tributes on trending hashtags have been featuring a more prominent disdain for, rejection of, and critique on public grieving in memes and “thoughts & prayers” en masse.

In this post, I trace the various global grieving hashtags on Instagram and mull over the presentation of grief in public digital spaces.

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African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.
African Burial Ground Monument with Office Building Reflection.

Towards the beginning of Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo sits with Kublai Khan and tries to describe the city of Zaira. To do this, Marco Polo could trace the city as it exists in that moment, noting its geometries and materials. But, such a description “would be the same as telling (Kublai) nothing.” Marco Polo explains, “The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet.” This same city exists by a different name in Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. It’s protagonist, Julius, wanders through New York City, mapping his world in terms reminiscent of Marco Polo’s. One day, Julius happens upon the African Burial Ground National Monument. Here, in the heart of downtown Manhattan, Julius measures the distance between his place and the events of its past: “It was here, on the outskirts of the city at the time, north of Wall Street and so outside civilization as it was then defined, that blacks were allowed to bury their dead. Then the dead returned when, in 1991, construction of a building on Broadway and Duane brought human remains to the surface.” The lamppost and the hanged usurper, the federal buildings and the buried enslaved: these are the relationships, obscured and rarely recoverable though they are, on which our cities stand. more...

Image Credit Miguel Noriega
Image Credit Miguel Noriega

Two weeks ago Zel McCarthy published a story in Thump about a mysterious infographic that’s been making the rounds lately. The infographic purports to show which drugs are popular at various music festivals by scraping Instagram for references to different drugs. Anyone that knows a thing or two about research design would already raise an eyebrow but it gets worse. According to McCarthy:

this intentionally-opaque study was conducted and assembled by a Florida-based content marketing agency Fractl, which works regularly with DrugAbuse.com. While at first glance the site appears to be a credible resource for those struggling with addiction and abuse issues, it’s actually a redirect for for-profit rehab and addiction centers, mainly ones that bankrolls the site.

To help dig deep into the issues of research design, online performativity, and substance use I sat down over Skype with Ingmar Gorman, a clinical psychologist at the New School for Social Research who was quoted in the Thump article saying that this “study” was not only poorly constructed, it was also indicative of an archaic, “moralistic approach” to substance abuse research. What follows is edited to make us both sound more articulate. You can listen to the whole interview (warts and all), using the SoundCloud embed at the end of the interview. The recording, along with the sound of a computer fan and me saying “uhh” a lot, also includes something I’ll call “bonus content” about a study that used the Watson supercomputer to tell if someone was on psychedelics. Enjoy. more...

antigone-july2013There’s a song from the musical Avenue Q that famously proclaims, “The Internet is For Porn”—but really, anyone who’s been paying attention to the post-“Web 2.0” era knows that isn’t true.

These days, the Internet is for cats.

Furthermore, I propose this corollary: Smartphones are for documenting cats. Whether through T. gondii or through their unrivaled documentability, cats actually rule the world. Cat people know this, and anyone who’s ever spent time with cats knows that cats know this. Rewrite the song: The Internet is For Cats.

My cat, however, is not a fan of the Internet. more...


“Reach out and touch someone” is an old telephone ad slogan; even regular old telephony is a medium for social interaction.

Over on Vice Motherboard, Michael Byrne recently wrote about his desire for “an Instagram of sound.” He says

What I want is a place to hear things that people record in the spaces around them. This seems reasonable to me: An app with just one button to record and another to share. I’d have fewer “friends” than on Instagram, in the realm of sound, but there would surely be some. And some who use the app would be pushed to find better and more interesting sounds, and to appreciate those sounds in new and different ways.

There are already such apps–Audioboo is the one I use (there are plenty of others, as summarized here). Audioboo is a social network for sound-sharing; people follow me on Audioboo, but I’ve also linked my account to Twitter so I can also tweet sound clips and share with my twitter followers, just like I would with Instagram (if, that is, I used Instagram with any regularity). I wish it was as popular as Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine…but it’s not.

I don’t think this relative lack of popularity is primarily due to the fact that, as Byrne argues, we’re trained to use vision as our dominant sense. Certainly that’s part of it, but that’s not the only (and perhaps not even the primary) reason. I think sound recording is a different medium than both photography and even Vine’s short-attention-span videography, and that maybe this medium isn’t as well-suited as photography and videography are to the kinds of tasks we generally want to accomplish on social media. So, the controlling factor here is social media, not auditory or visual content–they’re just means to the end of social mediation.

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People coming out of their homes and into the streets to particpate in #duranadam or #standingman. Photo by @myriamonde and h/t to @zeynep
People coming out of their homes and into the streets to particpate in #duranadam or #standingman. Photo by @myriamonde and h/t to @zeynep

In Taksim Square, at around 8PM local time, a man started standing near Gezi park facing the Atatürk Cultural Center. According to CNN –and more importantly Andy Carvin (@acarvin) and Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) — the man is believed to be Erdem Gündüz, a well known Turkish performance artist who has inspired a performative internet meme that has already made it around the globe. (There’s a nice Storify here. Thanks to @samar_ismail for putting it on my radar.) Gündüz and his supporters were removed by police after an 8 hour stand-off (in multiple senses of the term) but now that small act has gone viral and spread well beyond Taksim Square. The idea is simple: a photo, usually taken from behind demonstrates that person’s solidarity with those hurt or killed by Turkish police actions in the past month, and the increasingly repressive policies of that country’s government in the last few years. On twitter, the hashtag #duranadam (“duran adam” is “the standing man” in Turkish) quickly spilled over the borders of Turkey and has been translated to #standingman as more people in North America and Western Europe start to stand in solidarity with those in Taksim. #standingman is an overtly political meme because, unlike other performative memes like #planking, #owing, or even #eastwooding, it is meant to demonstrate a belonging to a cause. more...

Over the weekend, I noticed that Facebook hashtags are now linked. “What!? When did this happen??” I quickly asked my network.

 hashtag

 

This simple shift opens avenues for  deeper discussions about the social media ecology of which I wrote a few weeks back. In particular, it shows the relational nature of the ecological system, and the back and forth multiply influential relationship between humans and technologies, all of which shape each other in a multiplicity of ways.

By social media ecology I refer to all of the media on and through which users are Social (in the capital “S,” linked and connected sense of the word introduced by Whitney Erin Boesel and Nathan Jurgenson). As social media increasingly integrates into the flow and logic of everyday life, users draw on a variety of digital tools to meet a diverse set of needs. The social media ecology refers to the set of tools users draw on, and the ways in which these tools, and their users,  are connected and/or compartmentalized. more...

via https://twitter.com/mattdpearce/status/331096177393160193
image via https://twitter.com/mattdpearce/status/331096177393160193

I’m fascinated by the cover of yesterday’s Sunday New York Times. Fixated on the image of Boston Marathon suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was momentarily unable to notice the words surrounding it. I was a little stunned, then angry, then captivated. The image, not just the Instagrammed selfie of Dzhokhar, but this photo within the culturally significant New York Times front page, is endlessly sociologically fascinating.

For some, this cover provokes anger more...

“I’m so thankful the internet was not in wide use when I was in high school”, this article begins, a common refrain among people who grew up without social media sites from Friendster to Facebook, Photobucket to Instagram. Even those using email, chatrooms, Livejournal, multiplayer games and the like did not have the full-on use-your-real-name-ultra-public Facebook-like experience.

Behind many of the “thank God I didn’t have Facebook back then!” statements is the worry that a less-refined past-self would be exposed to current, different, perhaps hipper or more professional networks. Silly music tastes, less-informed political statements, embarrassing photos of the 15-year-old you: digital dirt from long ago would threaten to debase today’s impeccably curated identity project. The discomfort of having past indiscretions in the full light of the present generates the knee-jerk thankfulness of not having high-school digital dirt to manage. The sentiment is almost common enough to be a truism within some groups, but I wonder if we should continue saying it so nonchalantly?

“Glad we didn’t have Facebook then!” isn’t always wrong, but the statement makes at least two very arguable suppositions and it also carries the implicit belief that identity-change is something that should be hidden, reinforcing the stigma that generates the phrase to begin with. more...