Thiel - Girard

During the week of July 12, 2004, a group of scholars gathered at Stanford University, as one participant reported, “to discuss current affairs in a leisurely way with [Stanford emeritus professor] René Girard.” The proceedings were later published as the book Politics and Apocalypse. At first glance, the symposium resembled many others held at American universities in the early 2000s: the talks proceeded from the premise that “the events of Sept. 11, 2001 demand a reexamination of the foundations of modern politics.” The speakers enlisted various theoretical perspectives to facilitate that reexamination, with a focus on how the religious concept of apocalypse might illuminate the secular crisis of the post-9/11 world.

As one examines the list of participants, one name stands out: Peter Thiel, not, like the rest, a university professor, but (at the time) the President of Clarium Capital. In 2011, the New Yorker called Thiel “the world’s most successful technology investor”; he has also been described, admiringly, as a “philosopher-CEO.” More recently, Thiel has been at the center of a media firestorm for his role in bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which outed Thiel as gay in 2007 and whose journalists he has described as “terrorists.” He has also garnered some headlines for standing as a delegate for Donald Trump, whose strongman populism seems an odd fit for Thiel’s highbrow libertarianism; he recently reinforced his support for Trump with a speech at the Republican National Convention. Both episodes reflect Thiel’s longstanding conviction that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs should use their wealth to exercise power and reshape society. But to what ends? Thiel’s participation in the 2004 Stanford symposium offers some clues.    more...

This is part two of an essay on René Girard’s influence on Peter Thiel. Part one ran last week and you can read it here

In my previous post, I examined social theorist René Girard’s influence on tech investor Peter Thiel. Previous observers have picked up on Thiel’s remark that Girard’s mimetic theory helped him identify the promise of social media, but they have left out a crucial dimension of Girard’s thought: mimetic violence, also a central preoccupation for Thiel. In what follows, I will make the case that Thiel invested in and promoted Facebook not simply because Girard’s theories led him to foresee the future profitability of the company, but because he saw social media as a mechanism for the containment and channeling of mimetic violence in the face of an ineffectual state. Facebook, then, was not simply a prescient and well-rewarded investment for Thiel, but a political act closely connected to other well-known actions, from founding the national security-oriented startup Palantir Technologies to suing Gawker and supporting Trump.


Editors Note: This is based on a presentation at the upcoming  Theorizing the Web 2015 conferenceIt will be part of the Protocol Me Maybe panel. 


I’ve been researching hacking for a little while, and it occurred to me that I was focusing on a yet unnamed hacking subgenre. I’ve come to call this subgenre “interface hacks.” Interface hack refers to any use of web interface that upends user expectations and challenges assumptions about the creative and structural limitations of the Internet. An interface hack must have a technical component; in other words, its creator must employ either a minimal amount of code or demonstrate working knowledge of web technologies otherwise. By virtue of the fact they use interface, each hack has aesthetic properties; hacks on web infrastructure do not fall in this category unless they have a component that impacts the page design.

One of the most notable interface hacks is the “loading” icon promoted by organizations including Demand Progress and Fight for the Future in September 2014. This work was created to call attention to the cause of net neutrality: it made it appear as though the website on which it was displayed was loading, even after that was obviously not the case. It would seem to visitors that the icon was there in error; this confusion encouraged clicks on the image, which linked to a separate web page featuring content on the importance of net neutrality. To display the icon, website administrators inserted a snippet of JavaScript — provided free online by Fight for the Future — into their site’s source code. A more lighthearted interface hack is the “Adult Cat Finder,” a work that satirizes pornographic advertising in the form of a pop-up window that lets users know they’re “never more than one click away from chatting with a hot, local cat;” the piece includes a looping image of a Persian cat in front of a computer and scrolling chatroom-style text simply reading “meow.” The links to these, and other interface hacks, are included at the end of this post. more...

Photo by David Shankbone, September 30th, NYC

Two days ago, Nathan Jurgenson wrote on what has become one of the central questions around Occupy Wall Street: Now that the encampments are closing up and the winter is coming on, can Occupy survive? The crucial point that Nathan makes is that we need to think about Occupy not just in terms of space but in terms of time – that permanence has been a part of what’s given the movement so much symbolic and discursive power. Nathan brings up an additional point, to which I want to respond here: that the role of physical permanence that the encampments represented was powerful because it resulted in a form of cognitive permanence in the minds of everyone who saw them (and heard them; the auditory side of Occupy is also vital to pay close attention to).

While I clearly agree with Nathan that the physical permanence that tents represent has been what’s given Occupy a lot of its power, I think we can glean enough evidence from how things have proceeded so far to at least make an educated guess at an answer to his question. For me, the answer is yes: I expect that Occupy will survive the winter and emerge in spring, albeit – like a bear emerging from hibernation – perhaps in somewhat of a different shape. There are several reasons why I come down on this side of things.


Bloggers here at Cyborgology have explored the internet meme in interesting ways. Most notably, David Banks analyzed the performative meme, arguing for its function in cultural cohesion, and P J Rey delineated the political and strategic role of internet memes in the #OWS movement. Here, I wish to take a step back, and deconstruct the very structure of the internet meme, exploring what the internet meme is and what it does. Specifically, I argue that the internet meme is the predominant (and logical) form of myth in an augmented society, and that it both reflects and shapes cultural realities.

To make this argument, I must first put forth definitions of both myth and meme. more...

I wanted the photo above to be an example of the new so-called “living pictures” that have garnered much recent attention. However, Lytro has not provided proper embedding code so I can only post this screenshot of a living photo. I highly recommend clicking on the photo or clicking here before reading along.

Update: the code now works, so before reading on, click the photo above. Click around various parts of the image and watch the focus change.

Okay, by now you have experienced a living photo. You see it, but you can also make it come alive; touch it, change the focus, reorient what is seen and focused on. Some might even argue that you get to decide the meaning of the story the image tells. This post asks: what would it mean if we start posting living pictures across social media? Might it change how we take photos? How might we differently interact with social media photography when we can manipulate the faces of our friends and engage with the images in a new way?

It has been my contention that photography can teach us quite a bit about social media. Not just because there are so many photos online but because photography serves as a familiar and grounding reference point to the newness of social media. Photography situates the novel and sometimes disorienting ways we are documenting ourselves online with a technology that did the same offline more than a century ago.

I have written about Susan Sontag’s description of photographers being always at once poets and scribes when taking photos to describe how we create our social media profiles in a similar way. I have used the concept of the “camera eye” photographers develop to discuss how social media has imbued us with a similar “documentary vision.” I also described how the explosion of faux-vintage photos taken with Hipstamatic and Instagram serve as a powerful example of how social media has trained us to be nostalgic for the present in a grasp at authenticity.

Here, I want to discuss what many are calling “revolutionary” and the next “big thing” in photography: the so-called living pictures linked to above developed by the Lytro company that have just entered the consumer market with cameras shipping early next year.

Lytro “Living Picture” Technology

This is not an essay so much about the technology but instead the implications of more...