boatySome may label this moment a crisis of democracy, a moment in which the voice of The People lay inert; a moment in which the promise of citizen driven governance, shining so brightly in the glow of digitally connected screens, reveals itself as a farce.

I am talking, of course, about Sir David Attenborough, or more to the point, I am talking about the $300 million British research vessel not called Boaty McBoatface.

The British National Environmental Research Council invited citizens to select the name for their new polar research vessel. It was an opportunity to bring science to the public and involve the public in scientific discovery. Anyone was allowed to submit a name, and everyone voted on their favorites. The name with the most votes was to moniker the craft. Radio personality James Hand proposed the name Boaty McBoatface. Hand’s suggestion was well received, and the citizenry irrefutably selected Boaty for the vessel’s name. Case closed, right? No, the vessel’s name is David… which sound nothing like Boaty and includes zero McFaces.       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...

TargetHeadlineDisclaimer: Nothing I say in this post is new or theoretically novel. The story to which I’ll refer already peaked over the weekend, and what I have to say about it–that trolling is sometimes productive– is a point well made by many others (like on this blog last month by Nathan Jurgenson). But seriously, can we all please just take a moment and bask in appreciation of trolling at its best?

For those who missed it, Target recently announced that they would do away with gender designations for kids toys and bedding. The retailer’s move toward gender neutrality, unsurprisingly, drew ire from bigoted jerks who apparently fear that mixing dolls with trucks will hasten the unraveling of American society (if David Banks can give himself one more calls it as I sees it moment, I can too).

Sensing “comedy gold” Mike Melgaard went to Target’s Facebook page. He quickly created a fake Facebook account under the name “Ask ForHelp” with a red bullseye as the profile picture. Using this account to pose as the voice of Target’s customer service, he then proceeded to respond with sarcastic mockery to customer complaints. And hit gold, Mike did!! For 16 hilarious hours transphobic commenters provided a rich well of comedic fodder. Ultimately, Facebook stopped the fun by removing Melgaard’s Ask ForHelp account. Although Target never officially endorsed Melgaard, they made their support clear in this Facebook post on Thursday evening:  more...

on-every-internetI was working recently on a short essay about net neutrality and, in the process, ended up writing a much longer piece about net neutrality. My aim in writing that longer piece (below) was twofold: I wanted both to demonstrate that net neutrality isn’t too technical and complicated for normal people to understand, and also to trace out how a trio of closely related issues—net neutrality rules, regulatory classifications, and the push to convert all voice traffic to digital—fit together, as well as what their combination might mean for the so-called “open Internet.”

SPOILER: You need to pressure the FCC to adopt strong net neutrality rules, and then you need to do a bunch of other stuff. Net neutrality isn’t enough, and neither Big Telecom nor Big Digital is talking about the pieces that will have the greatest (and most unequal) impact on Internet users.

Without further ado, here’s my attempt at a guided tour through roughly 18 years of Internet-related regulatory history:

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As many of you already know, the third annual Theorizing the Web is fast approaching this March 1st and 2nd. We’ve moved the conference to New York City with help from CUNY’s Just Publics 365 initiative and we’ve also added a Friday event in addition to the main conference on Saturday. [Also, a reminder: the deadline to submit a 500 word abstract is January 6th!]  On Friday, March 1st,  the conference launches with a full slate of invited presentations at the CUNY Graduate Center’s James Gallery followed by an offsite social gathering. more...


Via National Postal Museum

Most Wanted posters, having lost their long standing place at the Post Office, have found a new home on Pinterest. Following the Philadelphia Police Department, police in Pottstown PA, are now electronically pinning  images of those with outstanding arrest warrants. Yes, the same place people exchange recipes and DIY home tips is increasingly also place in which police officers disseminate photographs of felons on the lam (time out: I just got to use the phrase “on the lam” in an academic-ish piece of writing.  *self high-five*).

This use of Pinterest for mugshot dissemination is theoretically interesting in a number of ways. Here, I denote three key interrelated insights: more...

This piece was supposed to be about porn star James Deen.

After reading about Deen here and there and everywhere, I had the idea that perhaps there was something worth writing about. Only the problem was, that the more I watched of his work, the less I had a desire to write about it. Perhaps the point is not Deen himself and how he has been lauded via the wheel of favorable ratings by female audiences online. What needs to be written about is what happens when a woman sits down and engages with sex—specifically, her own, as tied to an exploration of her individual sexuality and liberation therein—via the medium of a computer screen. more...


Via Renesys
http://www.renesys.com/blog/2012/11/syria-off-the-air.shtml

  *12/01/2012: SEE UPDATE BELOW ORIGINAL POST*

Today (Thursday November 29, 2012), Syria’s internet shut down. This is a serious situation with literal life and death implications. We have been following the situation on the Cyborgology Facebook page since the story broke (largely, this consisted of seeing what was going on with Andy Carvin @acarvin). Much of this story has yet to play out, and we will certainly continue to follow/write about it as events progress and we learn more. Right now, I want to take a moment to explore one aspect of what this all means. Namely, I want to explore the question: why did the internet shut off now? To do so, I turn to Derrick Bell’s interest convergence theory. more...

When I first began as a graduate student encountering social media research and blogging my own thoughts, it struck me that most of the conceptual disagreements I had with various arguments stemmed from something more fundamental: the tendency to discuss “the digital” or “the internet” as a new, “virtual”, reality separate from the “physical”, “material”, “real” world. I needed a term to challenge these dualistic suppositions that (I argue) do not align with empirical realities and lived experience. Since coining “digital dualism” on this blog more than a year ago, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. I’m happy that many seem to agree, and am even more excited to continue making the case to those who do not.

The strongest counter-argument has been that a full theory of dualistic versus synthetic models, and which is more correct, has yet to emerge. The success of the critique has so far outpaced its theoretical development, which exists in blog posts and short papers. Point taken. Blogtime runs fast, and rigorous theoretical academic papers happen slow; especially when one is working on a dissertation not about digital dualism. That said, papers are in progress, including ones with exciting co-authors, so the reason I am writing today is to give a first-pass on a framework that, I think, gets at much of the debate about digital dualism. It adds a little detail to “digital dualism versus augmented reality” by proposing “strong” and “mild” versions of each. more...

The theory and policy of Internet connectivity has not kept pace with the increasing diversity of network access. The full variety of access points, social practices, and meaning created by networked individuals has not been critically engaged by most authors.  Jenna Burrell’s new book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafe’s of Urban Ghana is the start of a major corrective in the social sciences’ treatment of the Internet. For “nonelite urban youth” the internet café provides an opportunity to extend one’s social network outside of the zongo (colloquial term for slum) that they grew up in, and gain access to resources and contacts they would otherwise never acquire. A majority of Burrell’s work takes place in these cafés but we are also treated to a discussion of global ewaste streams, international consortiums on the “information society” and the collective reputation and shared meaning of Ghanaians  on the Internet. Burrell provides a broad, but at times penetratingly deep look at the Internet from the margins.  more...