web 2.0

The semantics of Silicon Valley Capitalism are precise, measured, and designed to undermine preexisting definitions of the things such capitalists seek to exploit. It is no coincidence that digital connections are often called “friends,” even though the terms “friend” and “Facebook friend” have very different meanings. And then there is “social,” a Silicon Valley shorthand term for “sharing digital information” that bears little resemblance to the word “social” as we’ve traditionally used it. From “Living Social” to “making music social,” “social media” companies use friendly old words to spin new modes of interaction into concepts more comfortable and familiar. It is easier to swallow massive changes to interpersonal norms, expectations, and behaviors when such shifts are repackaged and presented as the delightful idea of being “social” with “friends.”

But is this “social” so social? Yes and no and not quite. To elaborate, we propose a distinction: “Social” versus “social,” in which the capital-S “Social” refers not to the conventional notion of social but specifically to Silicon-Valley-Social. The point is, simply, that when Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say “social,” they mean only a specific slice of human sociality. 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.

Experiencing global events through social media has become increasingly common. For those in the West, the uprisings over the past few years in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere were especially striking because social media filled an information void created by the lack of traditional journalists to cover the dramatic events. By simply following a hashtag on Twitter, we tuned into those on the scene, shouting messages of revolution, hope, despair, carnage, persistence, misinformation, debate, sadness, terror, shock, togetherness; text and photos bring us seemingly closer to the events themselves.

But of course the Twitter medium is not neutral. It has shaped what we see and what we do not. Where is the truth in all of this? The intersection of knowledge, power, struggle and the radically new and transformative power of social media begs for intense theorizing. How we conceptualize, understand, define and talk about this new reality lays the path forward to better utilizing social media for journalistic and political purposes.

This is why the keynote for Theorizing the Web 2012 conference (College Park, MD, April 14th) features Andy Carvin (NPR News) and Zeynep Tufekci (UNC) in conversation. Carvin (@acarvin) has become well known for his innovative use of Twitter as a journalistic tool. Tufekci (@techsoc) has emerged as one of the strongest academic voices on social movements and social media and brings a theoretical lens to help us understand this new reality. Together, insights will be made that have impact beyond just journalism but to all researchers of technology as well as those outside of academic circles.

Who is Andy Carvin; and What Do We Call Him?

Without a deep background in professional journalism, Carvin’s actual title at NPR is “Senior Strategist.” However,  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...

On constructing a lesson plan to teach Pinterest and feminism

I teach sociology; usually theoretical and centered on identity. I pepper in examples from social media to illustrate these issues because it is what I know and tends to stimulate class discussion. It struck me while reading arguments about Pinterest that we can use this “new thing” social media site to demonstrate some of the debates about women, technology and feminist theory.

We can view Pinterest from “dominance feminist” and “difference feminist” perspectives to both highlight this major division within feminist theory as well as frame the debate about Pinterest itself. Secondly, the story being told about Pinterest in general demonstrates the “othering” of women. Last, I’d like to ask for more examples to improve this as a lesson plan to teach technology and feminist theories. I should also state out front that what is missing in this analysis is much of any consideration to the problematic male-female binary or an intersectional approach to discussing women and Pinterest while also taking into account race, class, sexual orientation, ability and the whole spectrum of issues necessary to do this topic justice.

“What’s a Pinterest?”

Before we begin, let me very briefly explain what Pinterest is [or read a better summary here]. Likely, more...

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.


On this blog we often talk about the role of the prosumer, or actors that are both producers and consumers and that serve to muddy the longstanding distinction between production and consumption. For example, Jenny Davis and Nathan Jurgenson wrote on prosuming identity online, and how Web 2.0 technologies (especially social media) have allowed for the creation of new identities like transability and asexuality. Similarly, Nathan Jurgenson has written extensively on how social media has contributed to the “participatory, prosumer, dissent” of the Occupy Movement, playing into the much larger atmosphere of augmented dissent that has gripped the Middle East and other parts of the globe for some time now. And finally, Jenny Davis and I have written on the “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” Chrome Application, which allows users to genderswap the content they read on the internet.

Occupy DC encapsulates our "atmosphere of augmented dissent." Photo by Nathan Jurgenson.

Each of these examples reveals the tight association between social media and prosumption. That is, social media has greatly expanded the role of the prosumer in contemporary (augmented) society. This is because the individual voice is amplified through the digital networks of Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. Just as the Arab Spring and Occupy have changed the conversation regarding participatory democracy, prosumers are continually reworking culture through the creation of memes, identities, and new online content, blurring the distinction between the production and consumption of cultural forms. A great example of the prosumption of culture is fanfiction.

And this brings me to Star Wars. Finally.

This feature-length fanfilm titled “Star Wars Uncut” is a shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, produced entirely from 15 second film clips sent in by fans. Casey Pugh, a 26-year-old web developer from Brooklyn created the film after posting on his blog asking for submissions. These fans each prosume Star Wars as both a brand and a cultural artefact (Bruns 2007) when they rework iconic scenes with a “twist,” allowing for the expression of new cultural forms and greater participatory expression from the larger Star Wars fan community.

The film, which won the 2010 Emmy for Interactive Media, is also an example of what Nathan Jurgenson has called “curatorial media”, where old media forms (eg: print newspapers) are augmented by new crowdsourcing capabilities of social media. The film above is an example of curatorial media because centralized gatekeepers (ie: Casey Pugh himself) selected which film clips to include. He then edited the film shot for shot, splicing together disparate scenes produced by widely different fans around the globe. I myself watched the first 45 minutes of it, mostly because I was curious and also because I was a huge Star Wars nerd as a kid.

Darth Vader and her stormtroopers.

Although the film clips can be a little jarring at times (especially when jumping from live action to crudely animated MS Paint images and back in a matter of a few seconds), it does serve as a humorous reworking of an extant cultural forms. That is, many film clips reveal anachronistic revisions to the actual film.For example, the entrance of Darth Vader onto the rebel starship (arguably one of the most iconic scenes in the original film), has been replaced by an all female squad or storm troopers, Vader himself briefly appears as a female.

Throughout the film we get several more examples of this sort of literary prosumption (Olin-Scheller and Wikstrom 2010), bolstering my claims that social media and Web 2.0 have allowed for an effervescence of collective cultural production and consumption. Fanfiction has long used extant cultural forms for the creation of new cultural forms, the homoerotic revision of Spock and Kirk’s relationship on Star Trek as but one iconic example.

Homoerotic tension between Kirk and Spock has been a treasure trove for fan fiction revisionism.

Although this film is not the first of its kind, it is a great example of participatory filmmaking. As new technologies continue to incorporate more and more social media capabilities (cell phones, tablets, etc), it is likely that we will see increasingly utility of the term “prosumer.”

A few of us here at Cyborgology have a running joke going about #HipsterStudies, so I thought I would compile a couple comics that likewise intellectualize this subcultural movement. The first, sent in by reader Letta Wren Page, is a comic by Dustin Glick:

Dustin Glick's "Theory of Hipster Relativity"

This image does a great job illustrating the inherent relativity of the hipster label. That is, as a largely pejorative label, one can only be deemed a hipster by comparison. Much like Thornton (1996) discovered in her study of UK youth raves, where club kids used pejorative labels to denote the bounds of group membership, the hipster as label serves to undermine attempts to mimic subcultural forms (and hence, it serves as a way to deny these actors any semblance of subcultural capital). more...

“Jailbreak the patriarchy!” is a new Chrome extension from Danielle Sucher. The neat little project allows you to reframe the information you encounter on the internet by switching the gender of the content presented. The extension basically replaces instances of man with woman, he with she, and various other nouns and pronouns with their gendered equivalent (although it doesn’t always retain proper grammar). As Sucher herself states:

Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: “he loved his mother very much” would read as “she loved her father very much”, “the patriarchy also hurts men” would read as “the matriarchy also hurts women”, that sort of thing.

This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!


Manic Pixie Dreamgirls in Hollywood Films

A couple weeks back I posted about Steven Greenstreet’s video titled “The Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall St,” linking it to an emerging media trope called the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.” The phrase, coined by Nathan Rabin in his review of the 2005 film Elizabethtown, has quickly become a powerful reminder of the androcentric manner in which female characters are so often constructed in media texts.

I also connected the media trope to an emerging cultural stereotype about progressive young women. I argued that the manic pixie dreamgirl trope is largely a stereotype about young, progressive, non-conformist women who speak out of turn, defy normative conventions in self-presentation and behavior, and largely serve as “inspiration” for (white) male leads to step forward and grab life by the horns, assuming their rightful place as heirs to power. more...

all photos in this post by nathan jurgenson

The role of new, social media in the Occupy protests near Wall Street, around the country and even around the globe is something I’ve written about before. I spent some time at Occupy Wall Street last week and talked to many folks there about technology. The story that emerged is much more complicated than expected. OWS has a more complicated, perhaps even “ironic” relationship with technology than I previous thought and that is often portrayed in the news and in everyday discussions.

It is easy to think of the Occupy protests as a bunch of young people who all blindly utilize Facebook, Twitter, SMS, digital photography and so on. And this is partially true. However, (1) not everyone at Occupy Wall Street is young; and (2), the role of technology is certainly not centered on the new, the high-tech or social media. At OWS, there is a focus on retro and analogue technologies; moving past a cultural fixation on the high-tech, OWS has opened a space for the low-tech.

What I want to think about there is the general Occupy Wall Street culture that has mixed-feelings about new technologies, even electricity itself. I will give examples of the embracing of retro-technology at OWS and consider three overlapping explanations for why this might be the case. I will also make use of some photographs I took while there. more...