Stephen Tippins in the American Conservative takes the Facebook/social media critique in the direction of “gender performance” in a way I hadn’t ever heard before:

Of particular concern for conservatives in the onslaught of social technology is its effect on masculinity; for modern man is not man in any real sense of the word. He is gender neutral and void of all chivalrous notions, save for vestiges in door-holding and table manners.

Tippins’ main point seems to be that Facebook encourages a weak, banal form of social connection that is characterized by inane gossip and narcissistic examinations of the self and others. He lays this at the feet of the feminist movement:

The feminist movement was consummated at least two generations ago, but the aggression continues. Eventually, the post-feminist woman, believing that she epitomizes equality and choice, will assimilate all men into her collective, until we all resemble either the metrosexual…. or the spineless runts that these women dominate at home.

The problematic feminist critique aside (you can just as easily say that women have been made “masculine” by the feminist movement if you wanted to go down the essentialist road), the implication is that being “networked” on Facebook or other forms of social media is akin to “being assimilated…into her collective.” A “real man” is not able to be captured by the network, but stands apart from it (see John Gault in the Fountainhead).

While I disagree with the author’s reduction of the possible ways of “being a man” to an essentialist choice between either John Wayne or a spineless runt, I’m intrigued by this idea of Facebook as being inherently feminist). Social Bakers has a great run down on gender differences in Facebook use. They find that there are more women than men on Facebook:

but more importantly women post more and disclose more about themselves:

According to feminist standpoint theory, women disclose more on Facebook because of different “cognitive styles” that result from the different “standpoints” of men and women in a patriarchal society.

The masculine cognitive style is abstract, theoretical, disembodied, emotionally detached, analytical, deductive, quantitative, atomistic, and oriented toward values of control or domination. The feminine cognitive style is concrete, practical, embodied, emotionally engaged, synthetic, intuitive, qualitative, relational, and oriented toward values of care.

If Facebook is about disclosure and connection with intimate and semi-intimate others, then it would seem to be more appealing to those who care about and are able to cultivate relationships (e.g. those who can “emotionally engage” and are “embodied” and “oriented towards values of care”). I haven’t thought about it too deeply, but I’d suggest that if the outcome of men joining Facebook is to have them adopt more “feminine qualities” then that’s all the better for society (trust me, there are still plenty of models of hypermasculinity out there for anyone who wants to find them). Personally, I think we’d be better off with more “integrated” men and women that cultivated the virtuous qualities of both the “masculine” and the “feminine.”

I’d really be interested in what others think about this.

I confess. I am a Googlephile. Right now on my desktop, I have Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs and Google Calendar open in separate tabs on my Chrome browser.

I know that every keystroke inputted into Google is saved and stored. For now, it’s all rather innocuous. Mostly work e-mails, calendar entries of kids parties and dentist appointments, etc. Rather than be worried about this, I’m willingly participating in Google’s effort to learn even more about me. I have an Android phone that tracks my whereabouts, lets me check e-mail, rss feeds, calendar etc.

But link what Google knows about me to what Google knows about you and what it seeks to know about the world and you have a massive project. As Daniel Soar points out in the London Review of Books, Google’s efforts at rolling out new ways to create data is creating an increasingly smarter, more intiutive, perhaps essential, information behemoth:

Google is getting cleverer precisely because it is so big. If it’s cut down to size then what will happen to everything it knows? That’s the conundrum. It’s clearly wrong for all the information in all the world’s books to be in the sole possession of a single company. It’s clearly not ideal that only one company in the world can, with increasing accuracy, translate text between 506 different pairs of languages. On the other hand, if Google doesn’t do these things, who will?

The broader question about Google is whether private surveilance is inherently less nefarious and intrusive than state-based public surveilance? After all, Google doesn’t have an army. In addition, Google still needs to respond to customer demands. Last year, Google acquiecsed to the German public’s privacy concerns by allowing users to “opt out” their home addresses of it’s street view application.

The bigger issues comes from Government seeking access to Google’s repository of data. The public and the private are then in danger of becoming blurred. Google makes it’s interaction with government agencies public via it’s transparency report. But what happens when the state, with its monopoly of force, wants access to Google’s data?

I’m 42 and an Internet scholar. I feel like the oldest of fogies when I begin talking to young people about how “the Internet is changing everything.” Yesterday I felt a hind of old timer solidarity listending to a podcast converstaion between two of my favorite comedians. Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show on WFMU (my favorite podcast) was a guest on comedian Mark Maron’s WTF show (my other favorite podcast) and the conversation turned to the Internet. I’m paraphrasing here a bit:

Scharpling: It is a very bad thing to have a 4(?) on your age… you’ve seen three lifetimes worth of changes in 20 years, and it’s the wrong 20 years to grow up in….

Maron: The world was analog and now it’s digital

Scharpling: a kid whose growing up with these things now, it just informs the world and that’s it. You can’t be 20 and writing a letter to somebody and then 20 years later the whole world is turned upside down…

Maron: now there’s 100 letters you have to process every day. Part of your daily routine is like half a year!

The truth is that the information deluge they discuss is the tip of the iceberg. Take the idea of the social graph, or a global mapping of relationships. In Internet terms, a map of relationships is invaluable for targeting advertising. The Pinboard blog has a perfect description of it:

Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

Here’s how Facebook intends to use the social graph…

Zuckerberg imagines Facebook as, eventually, a layer underneath almost every electronic device. You’ll turn on your TV, and you’ll see that fourteen of your Facebook friends are watching “Entourage,” and that your parents taped “60 Minutes” for you. You’ll buy a brand-new phone, and you’ll just enter your credentials. All your friends—and perhaps directions to all the places you and they have visited recently—will be right there.

For a 40 something like me, this is jarring. The amount of data collected on me through my Internet activity gets process through my formative experiences. For for today’s students, this is water to fish. This example creeps me out:

Austrian law student Max Schrems, because European law states that citizens can do this, requested all the data Facebook had about him. He got back a CD with 1,222 PDF files

I don’t know if it creeps out 20 somethings. I’m not even sure if it should?

Last night’s debate in Arizona made me particularly sad because rather than celebrate the fact that the viewers got a pretty interesting and involved conversation about how the legislative process works, the media has to frame it in terms of a sporting event and talk about how Romney pained Santorum as an “insider” for defending earmarks. It’s particularly maddening to me that we can’t just sit back and let perceptions of the event unfold without injecting a baked-in-the-cake narrative about who “got punked.” What I like about Santorum is that he’s pretty up front about what it means to be a US Senator. The “I took one for the team” rationale for his No Child Left Behind vote should be seen as a politician being honest about what it means to pass legislation in a two party system with multiple checks. We are so ridiculously removed from what public life actually is that a Senator doing what a Senator is supposed to do is seen as duplicitous. The only Senator that can win the presidency seems to be one that has no interest in working with their party or engaging in the earmark process, in other words an awful Senator.

In some ways, it makes me wish we could create an alternative universe where we’d have five candidates running. You seem to have three distinct clusters of voters. Traditional fiscally conservative, mainstream, establishment Republicans who like the cut of Mitt Romney’s jib, evangelicals who are converging around Rick Santorum and libertarians who like Ron Paul’s endearing looniness. You could break up the Democratic party into at least two clusters. A communitarian who believes that government has a role to play in both social and economic life and a progressive that might want government to reduce inequality but wants government out of the bedroom. What would a debate look like with those five….. Paul, Romney, Santorum, Obama and Russ Feingold? As it is, you have to feel for libertarians and evangelicals. The ways the system is set up, they are unlikely to be able to vote for “their guy” come November. They’ll have to vote for the guy who isn’t the guy they hate.

As of the 2010 Census, Latinos represent 17 percent of the US population, but are woefully underrepresented in traditional forms of political participation like voting and making campaign contributions. The Pew Hispanic center reports that while Latinos represented 21% of all eleigible voters in 2010, they accounted for only 6.6% of midterm election voters.

One area where Latinos are more likely to participate when compared to non-Latino whites is in outsider forms of participation like protest activity. This form of activity became synonymous with Latino political participation during the 2006 Grand Marcha where 500,000 protesters packed streets to protest immigration bills. A 2006 CIRCLE study finds that Latino youth, while not engaged in formal types of participation were much more likely to report having engaged in a protest:

Although young Latinos are generally not as engaged as other racial/ethnic
groups, 25% said that they had participated in a protest—more than twice the
proportion of any other racial/ethnic group.

By comparison, only 11% of all youth surveyed had reported taking part in a protest. The accounts for why Latinos protest more than other groups vary but a main causal fator is the lack of access to formal political channels, particularly for non-citizens and undocumented immigrants. Lisa Martinez (2008) points out that Latinos are less likely to engage in protest activity when they live in places with high numbers of elected officials. Is the increase in Latino political engagement via protest simply the result of demographic realities (e.g. residents can’t vote) or is it a leading indicator of an overall dissatisfaction with politics?

Pew has some useful data on trends in US Internet and technology use. As of the middle of last year, significant age, class and education gaps persisted in Internet use. By far the largest of these gaps were generational and education related. While 94% of 18-29 year olds accessed the Intenet, only 41% of over 65 year olds did. Similarly, almost all college graduates (94%) accessed the Internet while only 43% without a high school diploma did the same.

But notably absent is a pronounced gap in Internet access by race and ethnicity. While some differences in Internet access exist, they are small in comparison to age, class and education gaps. This is particularly true when you look at cell phone adoption rates. By the end of 2011, 87% of Americans surveyed by Pew had a cell phone.

Jamilah King has an outstanding piece up on Colorlines that highlights a less talked about digital divide:

Nearly a fifth—18 percent—of African American wireless subscribers use only their cell phones to get online, as do 16 percent of Latinos. Just 10 percent of whites say the same. While 33 percent of white subscribers use their cell phones to surf the Internet, 51 percent of Latinos and 46 percent of African Americans do.

In fact, Blacks and Latinos on average use their phones for a much broader set of tasks than Whites.

King notes that the increased use of smart phones to access the Internet on the part of Black and Latino users is largely about affordability. But while a smartphone is cheaper than a computer, King notes that wireless providers are much less regulated than their broadband counterparts to whom strict net neutrality rules apply. While broadband carriers are limited in their ability to restrict content, wireless providers can more easily block content. As an example:

Verizon customers, for instance, learned the hard way in 2007 that they’re not in control of the content on their cell phones. NARAL Pro-Choice America, like many political candidates and advocacy groups, decided that year that text messaging was an effective tool to communicate with people who care about abortion rights. But Verizon disagreed—and decided its users wouldn’t receive NARAL’s texts. The company said that it had the right to block what it deemed “controversial or unsavory” messages.

“Our internal policy is in fact neutral on the position,” Verizon spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson told The New York Times, in a rather confusing bit of Big Brother speak. “It is the topic itself [abortion] that has been on our list.”

This reality begs Douglass Rushkoff’s question — “do we want a real Internet”? and its analogue question “do we want a real democracy”? The answer may ultimately be no, we’re cool. But for the most marginalized in society, a controlled Internet can help cultivate voice and forge connections to challenge authority and centralized control. But if the less well off are restricted in what they can access, then their democratic power is reduced.


JD Hildebrant in SD Times makes the case that piracy is actually good for content providers because it serves as a “try before you buy” mechanism.   While that may or may not be true because you can’t prove a counterfactual, the ethical question remains.. “why shouldn’t content creators be compensated for their work?”  Don’t those who produce content and those who provide content have a right to monetize the web?

Critics of SOPA point to the real danger that companies could be liberal with their efforts to “take down” sites that might be violating copyright and as a result unduly dampen the exercise of free speech on the web.  The basis of the on-line protests against SOPA and PIPA was rooted largely in the belief that shutting down sites like PirateBay and BitTorrent were akin to a prior-restraint free speech violation.   An interesting study by the Oxford Internet Institute finds an emerging global internet culture that increasingly sees Internet access as a fundamental right:

But the problem arises when you define “data” as “speech.”  Indeed, most data is speech.  But just like in the US where we have tiered level of speech protection (e.g. commercial speech has less protection than political speech), it would seem fair to suggest that content creators have a right to fully monetize their product.  This is the basis of liberal capitalism.  If you create a good, you should be entitled to be compensated for your labor.  But because the Internet is oblivious to the type of data being disseminated, treating data as speech becomes a challenging nut to crack.  It is preferable to an alternative view of data as product or data as commerce.

I’m teaching Internet and Politics for the first time since 2009.  When I taught the course then, I was filled with optimism about the transformational potential of the Web.  I assigned folks like Henry Jekins, Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler, each in their own way preaching a gospel of societal salvation through the web (or at least a possibility of it), be it through convergence culture, free culture, or the networked information economy.  But in 2012, this approach to teaching the course seems naively quaint.  It’s not as if these authors were oblivious to the dangers of rationalization and centralization of the web, but each framed control over the Web as an open question.  It seems much less of that to me…. Maybe that’s why Lawrence Lessig has moved on to study money in politics.

In his 2010 book, The Master Switch, Tim Wu captures the sense that the open Web is your father’s web, or at least your older brother’s web:

Without exception, the brave new technologies of the twentieth century—free use of which was originally encouraged, for the sake of further invention and individual expression—eventually evolved into privately controlled industrial behemoths, the “old media” giants of the twenty-first,through which the flow and nature of content would be strictly controlled for reasons of commerce.

Not that there’s anything wrong with commerce.  But as Jaron Lanier skillfully points out, who makes money off of the Internet anymore?

Every few decades, a new communications technology appears, bright with promise and possibility. It inspires a generation to dream of a better society,new forms of expression, alternative types of journalism. Yet each newtechnology eventually reveals its flaws, kinks, and limitations. For consumers,the technical novelty can wear thin, giving way to various kinds of dissatisfaction with the quality of content (which may tend toward the chaotic and the vulgar) and the reliability or security of service. From industry’s perspective, the invention may inspire other dissatisfactions: a threat to the revenues of existing information channels that the new technology makes less essential, if not obsolete; a difficulty commoditizing (i.e., making a salable product out of) the technology’s potential; or too much variation in standards or  protocols of use to allow one to market a high quality product that will answer the consumers’ dissatisfactions.

Who remembers the unpredictable “chaotic and vulgar” look of MySpace

compare that to the predictable clean look of Facebook:

Tell me if I (and Tim Wu) are being too cynical here? Is it Facebook’s fault if it just had a better design aesthetic than MySpace? So people want predictability, so what? Technology can’t change human behavior?

I encourage you all to read Evegny Morozov’s brilliant article in the New York Times Sunday Review.  In it, he laments the loss of the cyberflaneur, a brilliant term for one who “strolls” through cyberspace the way a 19th century flaneur would:

leisurely stroll through its (Paris’) streets and especially its arcades — those stylish, lively and bustling rows of shops covered by glass roofs — to cultivate what Honoré de Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye.”

The changes to the Web in the last decade have made “strolling” obsolete. To put it in more Weberian terms, the Web has been rationalized.  Here’s is a particularly thoughtful passage:

Transcending its original playful identity, it’s no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone “surfs” the Web anymore. The popularity of the “app paradigm,” whereby dedicated mobile and tablet applications help us accomplish what we want without ever opening the browser or visiting the rest of the Internet, has made cyberflânerie less likely.

He saves most of his scorn for Facebook.

Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible — solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking — is under assault by that company. And it’s not just any company: with 845 million active users worldwide, where Facebook goes, arguably, so goes the Internet.

A critique I build on in my upcoming book, Facebook Democracy.  In it, I explore the importance of mystery and detachment from the self to democratic civic life.  I’m particularly struck by this passage in Morozov’s essay:

“The art that the flâneur masters is that of seeing without being caught looking,”

Applied to politics, this translates to a citizen that observes, listens and reads the cacophony of political voices before they jump in.  But Facebook culture, I think, makes that role more difficult to put into practice.  The result is either complete detachment from politics, or a political certainty that equates to having a Jim Rome style “take” of political events.  Neither seems like a good model for democratic citizenship.

This video of a parent unloading a clip in his daughter’s laptop in response to an angry post has gone viral and judging by the comments (on Facebook ironically enough) the video has touched a nerve.

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This performance highlights a nagging sense among many parents that we have lost our way as a culture (and that social media is somehow responsible).  It in essence is tapping into a fantasy we have as parents that if we just practiced “tough love” and didn’t “spare the rod,” all would be fine.  Our children wouldn’t use Facebook and we would have proper, obedient, technology free children.  But the reality is that “tough love” won’t stop teens from wanting to have a separate space from parents.  I agree with the general sentiment many of the commenters posted regarding setting boundaries, but shooting a laptop isn’t teaching a lesson, it’s venting.   In my view, discipline has to come from a position of detached, dispassionate calm.  If discipline comes from anger, its hard to separate out what is in the best interest of your child and what’s just you “blowing off steam.”  If you watch this video, you can’t help but be struck by how much “venting” is going on as he is shooting his daughter’s laptop.  I’ve been angry like that before… there’s a lot of pain and disappointment underneath the bravado.

The main problem is that Facebook creates a “separate space” from parents where their content is recorded for posterity.  If the daughter could have vented without a digital transcript, the parent’s would have been none the wiser and the world would have been spared an ugly viral video.  This is the challenging and frustrating thing about our age — we’re not changing our core emotional make-ups, we’re losing discretion and discernment as to when we should express emotions.