Le Corbusier's La Ville Radieuse
Le Corbusier’s La Ville Radieuse

The motor has killed the great city. The motor must save the great city.”

-Le Corbusier, 1924.


In the fast and shallow anxiety around driverless cars, there isn’t a lot of attention being paid to what driving in cities itself will become, and not just for drivers (of any kind of car) but also for pedestrians, governments, regulators and the law. This post is about the ‘relative geographies’ being produced by driverless cars, drones and big data technologies. Another way to think about this may be: what is the city when it is made for autonomous vehicles with artificial intelligence? more...

The Storming of the Bastille
The Storming of the Bastille

Why don’t we ever talk about taking over social media companies? We will boycott them, demand transparency measures, and even build entire alternative networks based on volunteer labor but no one ever seems to consider taking all the servers and data sets away from the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world and putting it all in the hands of the users. Even if a company was doing a bang-up job making their products easier to use, freer from harassment, and more productive in creating a better society, there’s still something fundamentally creepy about users having no democratic control over such an important aspect of their lives. Why is there no insistence that such important technologies have democratic accountability? Why are we so reticent to demand direct control over the digital aspects of our lives? more...

Photo by Bill Ohl
Photo by Bill Ohl

There has been a lot of talk about magic lately in critical, cultural and technological spaces; what it does, who it is for, and who are the ones to control or enact it. As a way of unpacking a few elements of this thinking, this essay follows on from the conversations that Tobias Revell and I, and a whole host of great participants had at Haunted Machines, a conference as part of FutureEverything 2015 which examined the proliferation of magical narratives in technology. With our speakers we discussed where these stories and mythologies reveal our anxieties around technology, who are the ones casting the spells, and where – if possible – these narratives can be applied in useful ways.

As an ex-literature student, I’m quite interested in ghost stories as analogy, because they can reveal, or be an interesting way of exploring, these anxieties; where the voices in the static are coming from, where the pipes are creaking, and what they tell us about what our technology is doing or can potentially do to us.

I’m going to use a load of slightly ham-fisted contemporary narratives to signpost the anxieties that come out of two personal and increasingly algorithmically mediated spaces: the social network and in the home. Where does the role of narrative in magic, the supernatural, and the unknown allow us to get a better grasp of technology’s power over us?  Where are the uncertain terrains of our technologies creating the capacity for hauntings, and where can techniques used to imagine future scenarios better equip us for the ghosts to come? When we think of a haunting, we think of the unseen forces acting upon our domestic space, and when considering technology, a reappropriation of Clarke’s third law that Tobias Revell summoned with his work on Haunted Machines can apply– Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. But where else are we haunted? more...

Scientific Dualism

In a recent post for Cyborgology, I attempted to both refine the concept of digital dualism and explain its connection to the set of arguments that constitute conservative thought. With respect to the former, I argued that “digital dualism” should refer strictly to those instances where a person attempts to establish a normatively-charged ontology based upon some technological category. Thus, a digital dualist might first posit that the world is divided between the “real” and the “virtual” (or perhaps the “offline” and the “online”) and then imbue these categories with normative value by judging the former to be superior to the latter (or vice versa). more...

police-drone-graffitiAs drones become increasingly autonomous, there is growing concern that they lack some fundamentally “human” capacity to make good judgment calls. In the penultimate episode of this season’s Castle (yes, the Nathan Fillion-staring cheez-fest that is nominally a cop procedural)–titled “The Human Factor” (S5 E23)–addresses just this concern. In it, a bureaucrat explains how a human operator was able to trust his gut and, unlike the drone protocols the US military would have otherwise used, distinguish a car full of newlyweds from a car full of (suspected) insurgents. Somehow the human operator had the common sense that a drone, locked into the black and white world of binary code, lacked. This scene thus suggests that the “human factor” is that ineffable je ne sais quois that prevents us humans from making tragically misinformed judgment calls. more...

Facebook just enabled its new Graph Search for my profile and I wanted to share some initial reactions (beyond the 140 character variety). Facebook’s new search function allows users to mine their Facebook accounts for things like: “Friends that like eggs” or “Photos of me and my friends who live near Chuck E. Cheese’s. ” The suggested search function is pretty prominent, which serves the double role of telling you what is searchable and how to phrase your search.  More than anything else, Graph Search is a stark reminder of how much information you and your friends have given to Facebook. More importantly however, it marks a significant change in how Facebook users see each other and themselves in relation to their data.. You no longer see information through people; you start to see people as affiliated with certain topics or artifacts. Graph Search is like looking at your augmented life from some floating point above the Earth. more...


Two weeks ago, I talked about the tension between empowerment and dependence in light of pervasive technological advancement in general, and its application to the body in particular. To briefly summarize, I argued that new technologies simultaneously empower us to take control over our own bodies—through bio-tracking, geographically unconstrained community support, and access to information—while embedding us in a relationship of dependence with the biomedical institution. We regain authority over bodily meanings, while relinquishing authority over bodily treatment. Taking the case of contested illness, I explained this complex relationship as a function of resources. To define embodied experiences biomedically is to actively place the body at the mercy of medical authorities whose techniques and serums remain inaccessible the subject, while opening access to insurance coverage, treatment protocols, and legal protections.

This trade-off, however (like all trade-offs), is not purely material. Rather, the empowerment-dependence tension, and the related earnestness of patient-consumers to embed themselves within the biomedical institution, has a strong social psychological component—namely, the reduction of moral stigmatization. more...

TtW12 twitter backchannel
The TtW12 Twitter back channel. Photo by Rob Wanenchak

Theorizing the Web 2012 was great. Everyone involved did a bang-up job. I certainly learned more in a single day than I usually do at weekend-long establishment conferences. I have said a lot about conferences (here, here, and here) as have fellow cyborgologists (Sarah, Nathan, and PJ). All of these posts have a common thread: academia is changing, but conferences seem out of date in some way. They are needlessly insular, they rely on hefty attendance fees that are increasingly cost-prohibitive,  and they rarely take advantage of social media in any meaningful way. The relative obduracy of conference styles come into high relief once they are compared to the massive changes to institutional knowledge production. Universities have adopted many of the managerial practices of private companies. They are also acting more like profit-seeking enterprises: putting massive resources into patenting offices and business incubators, hiring less tenure-track teaching staff, and employing armies of professionalized managers that run everything from information technology services to athletic facilities. Conferences, on the other hand, have seen few innovations beyond what I call Tote Bag Praxis.  more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration. To the questions posed in the title of the panel “Whose Knowledge?  Whose Web?”, the answer has too often, and too simplistically, been “everyone’s.”  Among Web 2.0’s most strident enthusiasts, the rise of user-generated content is heralded as the reclaiming of knowledge production from entrenched institutions, allowing a brave new world of pluralist democracy to find expression online.  These digital evangelists speak of the emancipatory promise of the Internet in language usually reserved for that of markets.  In both cases, the prescription is the same: progress is a matter of access.  Hence, the “digital divide” has become a discussion about disparities in connectivity rather than one about the expressions and reproductions of social inequalities online.

This panel, featuring work by Emily Lawrence, Piergiorgio Degli Esposti & Roberta Paltrinieri, Andrew Famiglietti, and Martin Irvine*, problematizes the rosy picture of a digital public sphere in two critical ways.  The first problem is empirical: as Web 2.0 enters its second decade, how does its track record compare to its promise of producing pluralist knowledges?  The second is theoretical: are offline social inequalities merely mapped onto new digital platforms, or do social formations in digital space create new forms of discrimination?  Papers in this session examine how publics are formed online and what are their affinities, criteria for belonging, and methods of exclusivity.

Join us this Saturday at 2:30-4:00 for discussion—come as meat to Room B of the Theorizing the Web conference or watch via livestream and tweet your questions.

*Note: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, Martin Irvine will not be able to attend the conference.

[Paper titles and abstracts after the jump.] more...

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

As Theorizing the Web 2012 approaches, I think it’s worthwhile to consider what the conference itself really means. I mean, yes, clearly it means awesome panels and a fabulous keynote and free pizza, as well as a chance for us to hang out with cool people who we really like. But I think TtW, in both its current incarnation and in the ideals that originally drove its creation, says some important things about conferences as spaces for the production and examination of knowledge.

PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson, our intrepid chairs, originally characterized Theorizing the Web as “the conference that we would all ideally want to attend”; clearly, then, there are some things about the conferences that we often find ourselves attending that we wanted to avoid. Last year David Banks highlighted some of these points in his piece on TtW2011’s reflexive nature;

Personally, I am tired of visiting a corporate hotel, adding another tote bag to my collection, and rushing from tablecloth-clad conference rooms to bad catered dinners, so I can make it to a plenary talk about the politics of the discipline. That needs to be over, or academia will stagnate in a pool of its own hypocrisy. Its time for the academic conference to take a reflexive turn. We need to practice what we preach.

What I see driving TtW is more than just putting together a conference that’s fun for all of us. It’s about opening up spaces for the production of knowledge. It’s about making all of this stuff more accessible by being more reflexive about both design and content.