The Tower of David (Image Source)
The Tower of David (Image Source)

I was scrolling through Tumblr the other morning (like I do) when I came across “the world’s tallest slum.” Located in downtown Caracas, an unfinished 45-story skyscraper that was supposed to host Venezuela’s business elite is now home to an estimated 3,000 squatters. The “Tower of David” (named after finance tycoon that started and abandoned the project) is now owned by the state but there are no government-provided utilities. The building is, in essence, not much more than an immense concrete frame, upon which the residents have begun to build a community. They pool money to pay for building security, there are bodegas on every floor, and water and electricity reach as high as the 22nd floor. This is no small feat of engineering or human organization, but it isn’t comfortable living either. I don’t think it would be romanticizing the living conditions of these people to say that they (and no one else) have made something that is both modest and remarkable for themselves. Abandoned by both private industry and the government, some people pooled their limited resources and made their lives a little more livable.  Zulma Bolivar, a Caracas City planning official in an interview with the New York Times described the situation in one sentence: “This tower is a perfect example of anarchy.” 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...

The result of a Google Image search for “High Tech” What the hell could this possibly mean? Image c/o Small Business Trends

If you live in the United States and have been adjacent to something with the news on it, you have probably heard of the “Fiscal Cliff.” The fiscal cliff refers to several major tax breaks and earned benefit compensation programs that were set to expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress raised the debt ceiling. One of the few good things to come out of this manufactured crisis was some excellent reporting on the power of metaphor in politics. The ability to spur action and drive public opinion while offering next-to-no information demonstrates the awesome power of metaphors. Most people did not know why we were falling off the cliff, what the cliff was made of, or what the consequences for falling would be. Slate’s Lexicon Valley covered this phenomenon in an episode last month titled  “Good is Up.” Co-hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield dissected the cliff metaphor using the classic book, Metaphors We Live By (1980) by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Vuolo and Garfield note, “‘Success is rising’ and ‘failing is falling.’ Lakoff believes these primal, spatial metaphors form what he calls a ‘neural cascade’ that he says is ‘so tightly integrated and so natural that we barely notice them, if we notice them at all.'” In short, we might not understand what goes into creating or averting the fiscal cliff, but we know it should be avoided. Going down is bad, and staying up is good. The episode got me thinking about similar spatial metaphors and the work they do in our augmented society. One of the more ubiquitous metaphors is “high tech.” Is high tech “good” technology? Or is it high in the same way the Anglican Church uses the word; steeped in conservative traditions and formal code?  more...

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is the sponsor of the "Research Works Act"

It seems as though Congress, having grown tired of pissing off large swaths of the country, are now opting to write bills that anger a very particular group of people. Almost a month ago, on December 16, 2011, California Republican Congressman Darrel Issa introduced the “Research Works Act” which would kill government-assisted open-access journals. As PJ said before, journals (especially the closed private ones) are the dinosaurs of academia and as Patricia Hill Collins later noted, more...

Finals are a stressful time for students, as numerous deadlines—often requiring the accumulation of a semester’s worth of work—converge into one terrifying week. Pajamas stay on. Coffee gets brewed. Some thrive.  Some sink. And a few, in a panic, copy/paste something directly from Wikipedia.

From the instructor side, finals are also stressful, but in a different way. Not only do we have to rush through stacks of papers, inputting senior grades in time for graduation, but we have to do so with the knowledge that this is the moment of truth—the moment where we find out how effective we have been all semester (if effective at all). Like our students, this process can bring  moments of great triumph, such as grading a perfect test or reading a profound paper—one that perhaps even teaches us something. It can also bring defeat, where we must acknowledge that some students never truly engaged with the material. And finally, it brings sleepless nights (and probably an indignant Facebook status update) as we inevitably find the direct Wikipedia quote copied, pasted, and sometimes linked in a final paper. more...

This brief essay attempts to link two conceptualizations of the important relationship of the on and offline. I will connect (1) my argument that we should abandon the digital dualist assumption that the on and offline are separate in favor of the view that they enmesh into an augmented reality and (2) the problematic view that the Internet transcends social structures to produce something “objective” (or “flat” to use Thomas Friedman’s term).

Instead, recognizing that code has always been embedded in social structures allows persistent inequalities enacted in the name of computational objectivity to be identified (e.g., the hidden hierarchies of Wikipedia, the hidden profit-motive behind open-source, the hidden gendered standpoint of computer code, and so on). I will argue that the fallacy of web objectivity is driven fundamentally by digital dualism, providing further evidence that this dualism is at once conceptually false, and, most importantly, morally problematic. Simply, this specific form of digital dualism perpetuates structural inequalities by masking their very existence. more...

Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, wrote a wonderful piece on the rise of a new geek anti-intellectualism. The essay sparked much discussion and Sanger has done a terrific job responding to comments and even offering a thoughtful follow-up piece. However, I would like to write a short critique on a couple of points that have yet to be addressed.

Larry Sanger

First, I have to mention that contemporary anti-intellectualism was really my first academic interest, spurred in 2000 when I heard that Al Gore lost debates to George W. Bush because Gore “sounded too smart.” Hyper-focused on epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) at the time, it was learning about the differences between Wikipedia co-founders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales that first got me interested in technology as a topic of research. Sanger, himself having an epistemology background, wanted Wikipedia to have a component of expertism on the site. When that was rejected he left and started the Citizendium project. At war are two epistemologies: one based in populism and the other expertism (though, this conceptualization is far too simplistic, it will have to do for this short post). more...

by Space Invaders

Last week, fellow editor Nathan Jurgenson made a post entitled “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality” with a call for more concept work surrounding this topic.  I hope to make a contribution to that effort by discussion three competing theoretical paradigms of Internet research.  These three distinct perspectives perceive the Internet as either virtual reality, mediated reality, or augmented reality.  I argue (in the spirit of Saussure) that these three perspectives are only fully comprehensible defined in relation to one another.

Let’s start with the definition of “augmented reality” found in Wikipedia, society’s great font of prosumptive wisdom:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or a [sic… I fixed it] indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real-world with a simulated one.

This is an unsatisfying definition.  While it does contrast augment reality and mediated reality to virtual reality (mediated and augmented reality describe relationships between the online and offline worlds, while virtual reality describes their separation), it (self-admittedly) fails to distinguish between mediated and augmented reality.  As presented in this definition, mediated and augmented reality are basically synonyms.


Founder Jimmy Wales celebrating Wikipedia’s 10th birthday. The site gets 400,000,000 per month.

The debate over the extent to which the design and infrastructure of the Web privileges certain demographic groups is not new, but, nevertheless, continues to be important.  Perhaps, most attention has been given to the way traditional gender hierarchies are reproduced by the masculine infrastructure of the Web.  Cyborgology editor Nathan Jurgenson, for example, has previously covered the Wikipedia’s bias toward masculine language.  Saskia Sassen warns “it may be naïve to overestimate the emancipatory power of cyberspace in terms of its capacity to neutralize gender distinctions.”

In an NPR interview this week, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales addressed the masculine bias of Wikipedia:

“The average age [of Wikipedia users] is around 26,” Wales says. “We’re about 85 percent male, which is something we’d like to change in the future. We think that’s because of our tech-geek roots.”

While the organization’s acknowledgment that the gender disparity on Wikipedia is promising, Wales seems to address the need for making the site more inclusive to women only from a marketing perspective.  Sociologically speaking, there is a far more important reason to attract women to Wikipedia.  Feminist sociologists have long argued the the types of knowledges that men and women produce are fundamentally different (in no small part due to their distinct social experiences).   As Wikipedia is increasingly accepted as the primary source of collected human wisdom, it is important to ask whose voices are being left out, and as such, what ways of thinking are absent in the conversation.  For Wikipedia, design and accessibility are not merely questions of customer service, but, in fact, have profound epistemological implications.