nathan jurgenson


Last week, The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries (@adrjeffries) asked a really provocative titular question: “If you back a Kickstarter Project that sells for $2 billion, do you deserve to get rich?” After interviewing venture capitalists and the like she concludes that the answer isn’t even “no” it’s “that’s ridiculous.” After speaking to Spark Capital’s Mo Koyfman Jeffries writes, “Oculus raised money on Kickstarter because it wanted to see if people wanted and would buy the product, and whether developers wanted it and would build games for it. The wildly successful campaign validated that premise, and made it much easier for Oculus to raise money from venture capitalists.”

Kickstarter’s biggest innovation is its ability to cut two time-consuming tasks –market research and startup funds– down to a 90 day fundraising window. Companies that choose to use Kickstarter usually aren’t ready to offer equity because that comes after the two steps that Kickstarter is so useful in accelerating. Or, perhaps more honestly, companies opt to use Kickstarter precisely because they want to avoid selling off shares of their company as much as possible. Jeffries gives us a good financial and legal (juridical, if we want to be Foucauldian about it) but that seems like a wholly unfulfilling argument for someone who spent $25 on an Oculus-branded t-shirt. Let’s forget for a moment about what’s legal and normal –those things are rarely moral or fair– and start to compare what happens on Kickstarter to similar (and much older) social arrangements. To start, let’s go way back to the early 1990s. more...

no-girls-signIf you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology, chances are good that you caught the most recent “brouLOL” (yes, that’s like a 21st century brouhaha) over digital dualism and augmented reality. If you’re a careful reader of Cyborgology, chances are good you also caught (at least) one glaring omission in much of the writing featured in this wave of commentary. What was missing?

Ladies, gentlemen, and cyborgs, allow me to (re)introduce you to Jenny Davis (@Jup83) and Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry)—oh yeah, and my name’s Whitney Erin Boesel (I’m @phenatypical). None of us identify as men, and all of us have written about digital dualism. In fact, you may have seen our work referenced recently under some collective noms de plume: “the other digital dualism denialists,” “others on this blog,” “others,” “other Cyborgologists,” “other regular contributors,” etc. If you’re a crotchety sociologist with a penchant for picking apart language (ahem: guilty), it doesn’t get much better than this. During the conversation earlier this month, the named and cited Cyborgologists were (almost) always men—while Jenny, Sarah, and I were referenced obliquely (at best) in an unnamed “other” category. more...

I hear there are people out there (though I’ve never been acquainted with one, so far as I know) who really believe high school was the best period of their lives. It’s a privilege to say so, but this position remains unfathomable to me. This isn’t to say I haven’t developed a retroactive appreciation for certain aspects of my teenage life; in high school I had no overhead, all of my income was discretionary, necessities (and sometimes luxuries) were provided for me, and activities like singing, debating, working on theatrical productions, shooting photography, and writing/editing for the school newspaper (awww, analogue blogging!) were considered “productive” uses of my time, all of which add up to a pretty cushy existence. Material and structural privilege can’t necessarily buy happiness, however, and it’s an understatement when I say that I’m presently happy to have left the affective experience of my teenage years in the past.

Recently, my Internet neighborhood has been revisiting high school through the lens of ‘What if we’d had Facebook Back In The Day?’ On Monday, Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) wrote about why we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the Facebooklessness of our adolescence; yesterday, Rob Horning (@marginalutility) posted his well-considered response. Below I consider both pieces, and add my own thoughts about the hypothetical intersections of present day Facebook and the pre-Facebook past. All three of us examine identity and “digital dirt,” but where Jurgenson considers embarrassment and stigma, and Horning considers context and narrative control, I consider temporality and affective experience. more...

Obama Victory Speech at the Romney Headquarters. Image c/o White People Mourning Romney

In the aftermath of what both sides agree was the most substanceless presidential election in our nation’s history, some variation of the phrase “post-truth politics” has begun haunting the pages of op-eds and news show roundtables (Seriously, its everywhere. Here’s the first five that I found: one, two, three, four, five.).  To say that we live in an age of “post-truth politics” isn’t totally inaccurate, nor is it unworthy of the attention it is getting, but the discussion has yet to truly wrestle with the characeristics of commodified information. Information can be true, and it can be false, but how that information is disseminated, used, and ignored is what truly matters. Information doesn’t (just) want to be free, it also wants to be exploited. more...

Last week, in response to Jurgenson’s earlier typology of dualist theorizing,  I typologized empirical/experiential reality upon a porous continuum between pure digital dualism and pure integration. Each of these poles represents a problematic and unrealistic ideal type. The intervening categories, however, represent theorizable empirical situations. In an effort to explicitly link my argument to Jurgenson’s,  I labeled these intervening categories using the language of his typology. Jurgenson critiqued this linguistic choice, and I agree.  Having driven home the connection, and diagnosed the “slipperiness” of theory that Jurgenson decried,  I now re-work the language of my typology to more precisely represent the meaning behind each categorical type. Although the adjustments are slight (I change only two words–but very important ones), the meaning is far more lucid. Below is the original post, with my typological categories reworked linguistically. Changes are indicated by red text. Further suggestions/critiques are welcome. 






Last week, Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) further delineated his theory of digital dualism, laying out a typology of dualist theoretical tendencies in relation to the “augmented” perspective. In this post, he critiques existing theorists/scholars/technology analysts not only for being dualist, but also for shifting sloppily and often indiscriminately between levels of dualism. Here, I want to diagnose the problem of slippery theorizing and emphasize the importance of a flexible perspective. I begin with an overview of Jurgenson’s typology. more...

I’ve been thinking on and off since mid-summer about a hole I’ve identified in our collective theorizing of augmented reality. To illustrate it, imagine the following conversation:

Digital Dualist: ‘Online’ and ‘offline’ are two distinct, separate worlds!
Me: That’s not true. ‘Online’ and ‘offline’ are part of the same augmented reality.
Digital Dualist: Are you saying that ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are the same thing?
Me: No, of course not. Atoms and bits have different properties, but both are still part of the same world.
Digital Dualist: So ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are different, but not different worlds?
Me: Correct.
Digital Dualist: But if they’re not different worlds, then what kind of different thing are they?

I don’t know about you, but this is where I get stuck.


What Facebook knows about you, via the Spectacular Optical tumblr (click for more images)

Rob Horning has been working on the topic of the “Data Self.” His project has a close parallel to my own work and after reading his latest post, I’d like to jump in and offer a conceptual distinction for thinking about the intersection of the online/data/Profile and the offline/Person.

The problem is that our online presence is too often seen as only the byproduct of our offline selves. Sometimes we talk about the way online profiles are passive reflections of who we are and what we do and other times we acknowledge our profiles are also partly performative adjustments to the “reality” of the person. However, in all the discussion of individuals creating this content what is often neglected is how the individual, in all of their offline experience, behavior and existence, is simultaneously being created by this very online data. We cannot describe how a person creates their Profile without always acknowledging how the Profile creates the person.


Or: Intellectual Accessibility by Availability and Design

As a sociology graduate student, I sometimes feel like Simmel’s “stranger,” close enough to academia to observe, but distant enough to retain an outside perspective. Like many graduate students staring down a possible academic career-path, I’m a bit terrified at the elephant in the room: is what academics do really important? are they relevant? does it matter?

Who reads a sociology journal? As my former theory teacher Chet Meeks once posed to my first social theory course,  how many people look to sociology journals to learn anything about anything? While the occasional sociologist is quoted in the New York Times or appears on CNN, the influence these experts have is vanishingly small. I do not know as much about other disciplines, but the point for most of the social sciences and humanities is that, in my opinion, expert knowledge is largely going to waste.

And to echo folks like Steven Sideman or danah boyd, we have an obligation to change this; academics have a responsibility to make their work relevant for the society they exist within.

The good news is that the tools to counter this deficiency in academic relevance are here for the taking. Now we need the culture of academia to catch up. Simply, to become more relevant academics need to make their ideas more accessible.

There are two different, yet equally important, ways in which academics need to make their ideas accessible:

(1) accessible by availability: ideas should not be locked behind paywalls

(2) accessible by design: ideas should be expressed in ways that are interesting, readable and engaging

To become publicly relevant, academics must make their ideas available to and articulated for the public. more...

For nearly two centuries, the term “production” has conjured an image of a worker physically laboring in the factory. Arguably, this image has been supplanted, in recent decades, by office worker typing away on a keyboard; however, both images share certain commonalities. Office work and factory work are both conspicuous—i.e., the worker sees what she is making, be it a physical object or a document. Office work and factory work are also active—i.e., they require the workers’ energy and attention and come at the expense of other possible activities.

The nature of production has undergone a radical change in a ballooning sector of the economy. The paradigmatic images of active workers producing conspicuous objects in the factory and the office have been replaced by the image of Facebook users, leisurely interacting with one another. But before we delve into this new form of productivity we must take a moment to define production itself.

Following Marx, we can say that any activity that results in the creation of value is production of one sort or another. Labor is a form of production specific to humans because human are capable of imagination and intentionality. more...