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

Chris Baraniuk, who writes one of my favorite blogs, the Machine Starts, is experiencing the current riots in London first hand (they’ve spread to other cites). His account of both the rioting mobs of destruction as well as those mobs trying to clean up the aftermath imply the ever complex pathways in which what I have called “augmented reality” takes form. [I lay out the idea here, and expand on it here]

We are witnessing both the destructive and the constructive “mobs” taking form as “augmented” entities. The rioters emerged in physical space and likely used digital communications to better organize. The “riot cleanup” response came at augmentation from the reverse path, organizing digitally to come together and clean up physical space. Both “mobs” flow quite naturally back and forth across atoms and bits creating an overall situation where, as what so often occurs, the on and offline merge together into an augmented experience.

The rioting mob first realized itself in physical meat-space Read More »

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

The recent and popular Hipstamatic war photos depict contemporary soldiers, battlefields and civilian turmoil as reminiscent of wars long since passed. War photos move us by depicting human drama taken to its extreme, and these images, shot with a smartphone and “filtered” to look old, create a sense of simulated nostalgia, further tugging at our collective heart strings. And I think that these photos reveal much more.

Hipstamatic war photographs ran on the front page of the New York Times [the full set] last November, and, of course, fake-vintage photos of everyday life are filling our Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter streams. I recently analyzed this trend ina long essay called The Faux-Vintage Photo, which is generating a terrific response. I argue that we like faux-vintage photographs because they provide a “nostalgia for the present”; our lives in the present can be seen as like the past: more important and real in a grasp for authenticity.

If faux-vintage photography is rooted in authenticity, then what is more real than war? If the proliferation of Hipstamatic photographs has anything to do with a reaction to our increasingly plastic, simulated, Disneyfied and McDonaldized worlds, then what is more gritty than Afghanistan in conflict? In a moment where there is a shortage of and a demand for authenticity (the gentrification of inner-cities, “decay porn” and so on), war may serve as the last and perhaps ultimate bastion of authenticity. However, as I will argue below, war itself is in a crisis of authenticity, creating rich potential for its faux-vintage documentation. Read More »

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

I have been thinking through ideas on this blog for my dissertation project about how we document ourselves on social media. I recently posted some thoughts on rethinking privacy and publicity and I posted an earlier long essay on the rise of faux-vintage Hipstamatic and Instagram photos. There, I discussed the “camera eye” as a metaphor for how we are being trained to view our present as always its potential documentation in the form of a tweet, photo, status update, etc. (what I call “documentary vision”). The photographer knows well that after taking many pictures one’s eye becomes like the viewfinder: always viewing the world through the logic of the camera mechanism via framing, lighting, depth of field, focus, movement and so on. Even without the camera in hand the world becomes transformed into the status of the potential-photograph. And with social media we have become like the photographer: our brains always looking for moments where the ephemeral blur of lived experience might best be translated into its documented form.

I would like to expand on this point by going back a little further in the history of documentation technologies to the 17th century Claude glass (pictured above) to provide insight into how we position ourselves to the world around us in the age of social media. Read More »

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

PJ Rey and I have been following the 2012 presidential campaign on this blog with social media in mind. We watch as President Obama and the republican contenders try to look social-media-y to garner dollars and votes. However, the social media use has thus far been more astroturfing than grassroots. There have been more social media photo-opts to appear tech-savvy than using the web to fundamentally make politics something that grows from the bottom-up. Presidential politics remain far more like Britannica than Wikipedia.

But this might all change, at least according to Thomas Friedman yesterday in the New York Times. He describes Americans Elect, a non-profit attempting to build an entire presidential campaign from the ground up. This might be our first glimpse of an open and social presidential web-based campaign. From their website,

Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process. We’re using the Internet to give every single voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012. The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.

Read More »


This Toyota commercial is narrated by a young woman who gets her parents on Facebook because they supposedly are not social enough. While she scoffs at how relatively few “friends” her parents have, the parents are shown to be out living by mountain-biking some decidedly offline trails. The daughter remains confidently transfixed and anchored to the digital world of her laptop screen.

I spend lots of time on this blog pointing out what I call “digital dualism,” the fallacy of viewing the physical and digital as seperate worlds (think The Matrix). Instead, the position myself and others on this blog favor is what we call “augmented reality,” the realization that our world is one where atoms and bits come together. Read more about this idea if you want.

Enter Toyota. They are playing off the pesky social media misnomer that people are using Facebook instead of doing things offline. Research consistently disproves this zero-sum/one-or-the-other fallacy by demonstrating Read More »

Chris Baraniuk wrote an interesting piece at the blog The Machine Starts a few hours ago and I wanted to offer a comment. I agree with much of the analysis about so-called “Facebook Narcissim,” but what I find particularly interesting is how one fundamental assumption –the existence of a true self– drastically alters the conclusions we might draw.

Baraniuk discusses how social media sites, like Facebook, are designed to promote more sharing through creating a generally positive vibe. Indeed, Facebook has stated explicitly that they do not have a “dislike” button because they want the site to be a fun place to hangout. In addition to the positively-biased valence, Facebook makes calculable social interaction which also serves to create an atmosphere that values and encourages more sharing. For the site more sharing means more profits. And for the user more sharing about our lives creates an inward-gaze that could be described as narcissism.

Lasch’s famous study of The Culture of Narcissism argued that Read More »

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part I is found here.A barrage of media stories are professing the “Death of Anonymity,” the “End of Forgetting” and an “Era of Omniscience.” They are screaming a sensationalism that is part of the larger project to drum up fear about how “public” we are when using social media. While there are indeed risks involved with using social media, these articles engage in a risky hyperbole that I will try to counter-balance here.

Part I of this essay rethought claims of hyper-publicity by theoretically reorienting the concept of publicity itself. Using theorists like Bataille and Baudrillard, I argue that being public is not the end of privacy but instead has everything to do with it. Social media is more like a fan dance: a game of reveal and conceal. Today, I will further take to task our collective tendency to overstate publicity in the age of social media. Sensationalizing the risks of “living in public” perpetuates the stigma around an imperfect social media presence, intensifying the very risk we hope to avoid. But first, let’s look at examples of this sensationalism.

I. Media Sensationalism
Pointing out the dangers of living public online is an important task, but sensationalizing this risk is all too common. Indeed, the media has a long history of sensationalizing all sorts of risks, creating fear to drum up ratings, sales, clicks and page-views. From sexting to cyberbullying to the loss of “deep” learning, political activism, and “real” social connections, I’ve written many times about how the media has found social media to be a particularly fertile space to exploit fear for profit. Read More »

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part II will argue that the media also overstate how public we have become, sensationalizing the issue to the point that the stigma associated with online imperfections erodes more slowly. It is no stretch to claim that we have become more public with social media. By “public” I mean that we are posting (1) more pieces information about ourselves online in (2) new ways (see the Zuckerberg Law of Information sharing), and are doing so more (3) honestly than ever before. We are connected to the web more often, especially given the rise of smart phones, and new layers of information are being invented, such as “checking in” geographically. And gone are the days when you could be anyone you want to be online; today we know that online activities are augmented by the physical world. People are mostly using their real names on Facebook and nearly everything one does there has everything to do with the offline world.

But we are not as public as this suggests. We need a balance to this so-called triumph of publicity and death of anonymity (as the New York Times and Zygmunt Bauman recently declared). “Publicity” on social media needs to be understood fundamentally as an act rife also with its conceptual opposite: creativity and concealment. And I am not talking just about those who use false identities on blogs (see Amina) and pseudonyms on Facebook, those with super-strict privacy settings or those who only post a selective part of their multiple identities (though, I am talking about these folks, too).  My point applies to even the biggest oversharers who intimately document their lives in granular detail.

I’ll describe below how each instance of sharing online is done so creatively instead of as simple truth-telling, but will start first by discussing how each new piece of information effectively conceals as much as it reveals. Read More »

Today, Google announced a new service called “Google+” that explicitly attempts to replicate offline social norms onto an online platform. Besides the conceptual consistency between this goal and the concept of “augmented reality” that I write about so often, I also find the timing of the announcement interesting.

When Eric Schmidt was CEO of Google, I critiqued his statement that having multiple identities online shows “a lack of integrity.” Schmidt stepped down in April of this year and less than two months later Google announces Google+ (which is an umbrella term for a whole host of services centered on better replicating physical world social norms in a digital social media environment).

The service is brand new and invite-only so we can only speculate at this point what it will actually provide. However, the announcement of Google+ on the company’s official blog provides some interesting statements about privacy. The post is an implicit retraction of Schmidt’s insensitive statements and perhaps a lesson-learned from Google’s Buzz debacle that angered and even endangered many of its users. Further, much of the post is also a direct attack on the Facebook platform and its inability to reflect offline social norms that long-since predate the Web (e.g., the platform’s often incorrect usage of the term “friend”). Some quotes from the Google blog: Read More »

The PEW Research Center just released new findings based on a representative sample of Americans on “Social networking sites and our lives.” Let’s focus on a conclusion that speaks directly to the foundation of this blog: that our social media networks are dominated by physical-world connections and our face-to-face socialization is increasingly influenced by what happens on social media.

Movies like The Social Network, books like Turkle’s Alone Together and television shows like South Park (especially this episode) just love the supposed irony of social media being at once about accumulating lots of “friends” while at the same time creating a loss of “real”, deep, human connection. They, and so many others, suffer from the fallacy I like to call “digital dualism.” There are too many posts on this blog combating the digital dualism propagated by these people who don’t use/understand social media to even link to all of them all here.

 

Further, Read More »