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Vilem Flusser’s work is still rather obscure in English language academic circles. Only a handful of major works from the media philosopher have been translated from his native German or adopted Portugese, and even that was only in the past two decades, well after his death in a car accident in 1991. While teaching MFA students, I found Flusser’s The Shape of Things, a collection of essays on design, to be extremely helpful when seeking to define some basic terms (for instance, the word “design” itself). But in my own work considering our technologically mediated world, I found 1983’s Towards of Philosophy of Photography a critical read.



“The founding practice of conspiratorial thinking” writes Kathleen Stewart, “is the search for the missing plot.” When some piece of information is missing in our lives, whether it is the conversion ratio of cups to ounces or who shot JFK, there’s a good chance we’ll open up a browser window. And while most of us agree that there are eight ounces to every cup, far fewer (like, only 39 percent) think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Many who study the subject point to the mediation of the killing –The Zapruder film, the televised interviews and discussions about the assassination afterward—as one of the key elements of the conspiracy theory’s success. One might conclude that mediation and documentation cannot help but provide a fertile ground for conspiracy theory building.

Stewart goes so far as to say “The internet was made for conspiracy theory: it is a conspiracy theory: one thing leads to another, always another link leading you deeper into no thing, no place…” Just like a conspiracy theory you never get to the end of the Internet. Both are constantly unfolding with new information or a new arrangement of old facts. It is no surprise then, that with the ever-increasing saturation of our lives with digital networks that we are also awash in grotesque amalgamations of half-facts about vaccines, terrorist attacks, the birth and death of presidents, and the health of the planet. And, as the recently leaked documents about Facebook’s news operations demonstrate, it takes regular intervention to keep a network focused on professional reporting. Attention and truth-seeking are two very different animals.

The Internet might be a conspiracy theory but given the kind, size, and diversity of today’s conspiracy theories it is also worth asking a follow-up question: what is the Internet a conspiracy about? Is it a theory about the sinister inclinations of a powerful cabal? Or is it a derogatory tale about a scapegoated minority? Can it be both or neither? Stewart was writing in 1999, before the web got Social so she could not have known about the way 9/11 conspiracies flourished on the web and she may not have suspected our presidential candidates would make frequent use of conspiratorial content to drum up popular support. Someone else writing in 1999 got it right though. That someone was Joe Menosky and he wrote one of the best episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. Season 6, Episode 9 titled The Voyager Conspiracy. more...

Note: This article touches on slut shaming, body shaming, homophobia, and ableism.

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I love swearing. It’s a weekly miracle that my essays don’t include “totally fucked” or “fucked up and bullshit” in every paragraph. If I were reborn as a linguist, I would study swearing and cursing. I watch documentaries about cursing, I play a lot of Cards Against Humanity, and this interview with Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing is my favorite episode of Slate’s just-nerdy-enough podcast Lexicon Valley. If you’ve been in the audience when I give a presentation, you probably (despite my efforts to the contrary) heard me swear five or six times. I would hate to live in a world without swearing because it would be fucking dull. Unfortunately, my (and most English-speaking people) love of swearing comes into direct contradiction with inclusionary social politics. I need a new arsenal of swear words that punch up and tear down destructive stereotypes. Every time I swear, I want to be totally confident that I’m offending the right people. more...

put down the mcdonalds
Submitted by Reddit User JackInov

I don’t recommend doing it, but if you search for “Charles Ramsey” on Reddit, something predictably disturbing happens. First, you’ll notice that the most results come from /r/funny, the subreddit devoted to memes, puns, photobombs, and a whole bunch of sexist shit. Charles Ramsey, in case you don’t know, is the Good Samaritan that responded to calls for help by Amanda Berry- a woman that had been held captive for 10 years in a Cleveland basement, along with Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The jokes on Reddit are largely at the expense of Ramsey, poking fun at his reaction to a police siren or his reference to eating ribs and McDonalds. As Aisha Harris (@craftingmystyle) said on Slate: “It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform.” more...


It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. more...

Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.


Image from Youth Vector
Image from Youth Vector

The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture.  As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.”  Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. more...

Reason #15,926 I love the Internet: it allows us to bypass our insane leaders

— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle published an op-ed in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times’ Sunday Review that decries our collective move from “conversation” to “connection.” Its the same argument she made in her latest book Alone Together, and has roots in her previous books Life on the Screen and Second Self. Her argument is straightforward and can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Our world has more “technology” in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.
  • We use this technology to structure/control/select the kinds of conversations we have with certain people.
  • These communication technologies compete with “the world around us” in a zero-sum game for our attention.
  • We are substituting “real conversations” with shallower, “dumbed-down” connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities.

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.  more...

Michael Rogers, Republican Congressional Representative of Michigan's 8th district and sponsor of CISPA

House representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced a bill back in November called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523) or CISPA. It has since been referred to and reported by the appropriate committees. Since then, according to Representative Rogers’ own web site, over 100 members of congress have already announced their support for the bill:

The 105 co-sponsors of the bill include 10 committee chairmen.  Additionally, a wide range of major industry and cyber associations, such as Facebook, Microsoft, the US Chamber Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Internet Security Alliance, TechAmerica, and many others have sent letters of support for the bill.  A list of major industry and association supporters can be found at

Unlike SOPA and PIPA, CISPA is all about collecting and sharing “cyber threat intelligence” and has less to do with copyright infringement concerns. This bill does not directly threaten the business interests of web companies, which means we should not expect their help in fighting the bill. In fact Facebook, IBM, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft (among others) have already sent letters in support. more...

You may have heard some of the exciting feline technology news coming out of SXSW this year. If not, check this out!

The video above displays three early “cat games” released by Friskies brand cat food at SXSW 2011, which included “Cat Fishing,” “Tasty Treasures Hunt,” and “Party Mix”. However, at this year’s SXSW Interactive they unveiled an all new cat game titled “You vs. Cat.” This game will allow for humans to play their companion animals for the first time. Because the earlier apps were designed simply for cats, people could not play alongside them. The result is a lot videos of confused cats slapping and rubbing on iPad screens.

The “You vs. Cat” application allows you to play a simple game on your iPad with your feline friend by lobbing virtual objects at your cat’s “goal” across the iPad screen. more...

[SPOILER ALERT: details about the first episode of Sherlock“A Study In Pink” are discussed below. The ending is not totally given away, but major story details are revealed.]

A few weeks ago, I challenged Kurt Anderson’s claim that cultural progress and innovation had stagnated in the last twenty years. Anderson, I contend, has ignored new mediums (the Internet), re-invented genres (hip-hop, electronic music), and new cultural stereotypes (geek chic, hipsters). But what ties all of these things together is the central thesis that consumer technologies are just as much cultural artifact as clothes or music. No where is this more obvious and brilliantly executed than in BBC One’s updated interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Set in present day London, “Sherlock” is a reinterpretation of the most famous Holmes mysteries and does an excellent job of translating the Victorian source material into a modern drama. That translation includes dress, idiomatic expressions, and vehicles- but it also includes cell phones, restrictions on smoking, and the War on Terror. Sherlock is a uniquely 21st century show that could not have taken place in the early 2000s or the 90s. more...