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This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

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, Read More »

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This was originally posted at Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

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.

Read More »

This was originally posted at Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

screenshot of a living photo - click to view it come "alive"

I wanted the photo above to be an example of the new so-called “living pictures” that have garnered much recent attention. However, Lytro has not provided proper embedding code so I can only post this screenshot of a living photo. I highly recommend clicking on the photo or clicking here before reading along.

Okay, by now you have experienced a living photo. You see it, but you can also make it come alive; touch it, change the focus, reorient what is seen and focused on. Some might even argue that you get to decide the meaning of the story the image tells. This post asks: what would it mean if we start posting living pictures across social media? Might it change how we take photos? How might we differently interact with social media photography when we can manipulate the faces of our friends and engage with the images in a new way?

It has been my contention that photography can teach us quite a bit about social media. Not just because there are so many photos online but because photography serves as a familiar and grounding reference point to the newness of social media. Photography situates the novel and sometimes disorienting ways we are documenting ourselves online with a technology that did the same offline more than a century ago.

I have written about Susan Sontag’s description of photographers being always at once poets and scribes when taking photos to describe how we create our social media profiles in a similar way. I have used the concept of the “camera eye” photographers develop to discuss how social media has imbued us with a similar “documentary vision.” I also described how the explosion of faux-vintage photos taken with Hipstamatic and Instagram serve as a powerful example of how social media has trained us to be nostalgic for the present in a grasp at authenticity.

Here, I want to discuss what many are calling “revolutionary” and the next “big thing” in photography: the so-called living pictures linked to above developed by the Lytro company that have just entered the consumer market with cameras shipping early next year.

Lytro “Living Picture” Technology

This is not an essay so much about the technology but instead the implications of Read More »

This is co-authored with PJ Rey and was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

We begin with the assumption that social media expands the opportunity to capture/document/record ourselves and others and therefore has developed in us a sort-of “documentary vision” whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document. How might my current experience look as a photograph, tweet, or status update? Here, we would like to expand by thinking about what objective reality produces this type of subjective experience. Indeed, we are increasingly breathing an atmosphere of ambient documentation that is more and more likely to capture our thoughts and behaviors.

As this blog often points out, we are increasingly living our lives at the intersection of atoms and bits. Identities, friendships, conversations and a whole range of experience form an augmented reality where each is simultaneously shaped by physical presence and digital information. Information traveling on the backs of bits moves quickly and easily; anchor it to atoms and it is relatively slow and costly. In an augmented reality, information flows back and forth across physicality and digitality, deftly evading spatial and temporal obstacles that otherwise accompany physical presence.

When Egyptians dramatically occupied the physical space of Tahrir Square this past January Read More »

This is co-authored with PJ Rey and was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)

Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval.  Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.

Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.

Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

I should really post a review of this coffee shop. Maybe on Yelp. I could snap a photo of the cool little setup I have going here or tweet about the funny laptop rules at this place. Or I can get meta and type a Facebook update about how I am currently blogging about all of these possibilities to document my experience. While contemplating all of this, Spotify, a music-listening service, published the song I just listened to on Facebook.

Let’s reflect briefly on how we document experience. The first examples I just gave might be called “active sharing” whereas that last example, the Spotify one, highlights how self-documentation is also increasingly passive. And I think this furthers what I call “documentary vision”: the habit of experiencing more and more of life with the awareness of its document-potential.

Much has been made of so-called “frictionless sharing,” the new Facebook feature that automatically publishes updates from partnered sites and services. Sync Facebook with Spotify or the Wall Street Journal and what you listen to or read will be passively published on the new Facebook live-ticker.

This more passive sharing furthers an already established trend: we are increasingly living life under the logic of the Facebook mechanism. Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

So many conversations that inform the content on this blog happen elsewhere, especially on Twitter. We’re going to better integrate Twitter and the Cybogology blog which will involve posting some of our personal tweets as well as conversations and debates with others here on the blog.

This past week I found a Noam Chomsky interview on a local “scene” blog here in DC. It was posted about seven months ago. In the interview, Chomsky talks about digital communication technologies and goes the route that so many older intellectuals do: electronic communications, be it texting, the internet or social media, are inherently “shallow.”

Here is the conversation on Twitter followed by a little more analysis that didn’t quite fit into 140 characters. Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

laptops at the #occupy protests

Mass collective action is in the air, on the ground, on the web; indeed, there exists today an atmosphere conducive for revolutions, flash mobs, protests, uprisings, riots, and any other way humans coalesce physically and digitally to change the normal operation of society. [Photos of protests around the globe from just the past 30 days].

Some gatherings have clear goals (e.g., ousting Mubarak), however. there is also the sense that massive gatherings are increasingly inevitable today even when a reason for them is not explicit (e.g., the ongoing debate over the reasons for the UK Riots or the current #occupy protests). For some this is terrifying and for others it is exhilarating. And still others might think I am greatly overstating the amount of protest actually happening. True, we do not yet know if this second decade of the 21st Century will come to be known for massive uprisings. But if it is, I think it will have much to do with social media effectively allowing for the merging of atoms and bits, of the on and offline; linking the potential of occupying physical space with the ability of social media to provide the average person with information and an audience.

For example, the current #occupy protests across the United States Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology and is co-authored with Jenny Davis – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

Can an identity have a homepage?

Many have long argued that identity is the result of both  (1) performative work on the part of the individual as well as (2) the influence of society with all of its history, structures, institutions, norms and so on. We do not produce our identities in a vacuum, they are influenced by society. And we do not blindly consume our identities from the options given to us; humans are complex beings who creatively tweak, mix and remix to achieve something always unique. Not just producers or consumers,  it is best to think of ourselves as identity prosumers. Here, we will show how this process is made most explicit when identities are prosumed through social media technologies. Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

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. Read More »