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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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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 »

Zizek writes this week in Inside Higher Ed about how cloud computing is a space dominated by two or three companies (read: Apple and Google). He states,

“cloud computing offers individual users an unprecedented wealth of choice — but is this freedom of choice not sustained by the initial choice of a provider, in respect to which we have less and less freedom? Partisans of openness like to criticize China for its attempt to control internet access — but are we not all becoming involved in something comparable, insofar as our “cloud” functions in a way not dissimilar to the Chinese state?”

Is a computing market dominated by a few private companies really similar to the “Great Firewall” (officially, the “Golden Shield”) of China?

I’m a fan of artists using Google Earth or Street View images, such as Jon Rafman’s compelling Street View images or Google’s Street Art View. Here, check out Clement Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth, Bridges” project. Google Earth renders bridges quite imperfectly, and when these images are shown together, they remind us that Google’s project is not a pure and perfect digital simulation of our world, but, instead, the creation of something new. Something that can be judged aesthetically on its own standards even if they are created as, to quote the artist, “the result of algorithmic processes and not of human aesthetic decision making.”

As readers of this blog know well, this new creation born out of the intersection of the physical and digital is what we refer to as “augmented reality.” Sometimes augmented reality is the reality we always find ourselves in: physical, but always and increasingly influenced by digitality. Sometimes this augmented reality is a collection of imperfectly rendered bridges. For me, Valla’s art provocatively reinforces this important theoretical conceptualization.

More augmented reality art: Augmented EcologiesSiavosh Zabeti’s Facebook book; Michael Tompert’s photography of destroyed Apple products; Aram Bartholl’s embedding USB sticks into public spaces. And all of Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth, Bridges” are found here.

Jeff Jarvis wrote a critique of having multiple identities on social media (find the post on his blog – though, I found it via Owni.eu). While acknowledging that anonymity has enabled WikiLeaks or protestors of repressive regimes, he finds little utility for not being honest on social media about yourself. Jarvis argues against having multiple identities, e.g., one Twitter account for work and another for friends or a real Facebook for one group and a fakebook (a Facebook profile with a false name) for another.

Jarvis argues that the problems associated with presenting yourself in front of multiple groups of people (say, your mother, boss, best friend, recent fling, etc) will fade away under a state of “mutually assured humiliation.” Since we will all have the embarrassment of presenting a self to multiple groups, we all will forgive each other so that others will return the same favor to us. Ultimately, “the best solution”, Jarvis argues, “is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk to your shrink.” This is reminiscent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who stated “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” or current Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that the problems associated with displaying a single self in front of multiple populations is not “mutually” the same at all. Just as WikiLeaks or protestors often use anonymity to counter repressive and/or powerful regimes, we know that anonymity is also used by the most vulnerable and least powerful on the personal level as well. Jarvis misses the important variables of power and inequalities in his analysis.

Having a stigmatized and not always accepted identity can bring much conflict Read More »

I am a big fan of Marshall McLuhan and think he is due for a well-timed comeback in this the year of his centennial. I posted this great Playboy interview a while back and am now fixated with a new website called McLuhan Speaks. This site archives short video clips of our media prophet in action.

Click the images below to watch some of my favorite short clips from the site.

Here, and ever ahead of his time, McLuhan describes how we will become obsessed with surveilling each other, something that social media often exemplifies.

Read More »

You probably have heard about Facebook Places, a feature that brings the site up to speed with other location-sharing services like Foursquare and Gowalla that allow users to document where they are, as well as potentially who they are with and other comments about that location.

The term “augmented reality” is often used to describe the layering of digital information onto the physical world [examples of where it is now, and where it might be going]. However, I have argued that augmented reality can also refer to our digital profiles becoming increasingly implicated with the material world. If the early days of the web were about going online as anyone you wanted to be, today, our Facebook profiles are more anchored in the reality of those we know in the physical world -and now are further enmeshed with physicality given these new location-based services.

New technologies –most prominently the sensor-packed smartphonemake possible our cyborg-like lives in an increasingly augmented reality [theorist Donna Haraway is especially important here]. More than just the augmentation of our digital profiles with physical-world information, we should also think about the ways in which digital documentation impacts our everyday, offline lives. With documentation in mind, do we alter our behaviors? Is it possible that we might experience a place differently when we are documenting it using a service like Facebook Places? Might we even change what place we go to? Or asked differently, to what degree can the tail of digital documentation come to wag the dog of lived experience? ~nathan

The New York Times recently ran a story about how “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” It describes a digital age in which our careless mass exhibitionism creates digital documents that will live on forever. The article is chock full of scary stories about how ill-advised status updates can ruin your future life.

These sorts of scare-tactic stories serve a purpose: they provide caution and give pause regarding how we craft our digital personas. Those most vulnerable should be especially careful (e.g., a closeted teen with bigoted parents; a woman with an abusive ex-husband). But after that pause, let’s get more realistic by critiquing the sensationalism on the part of the Times article by acknowledging that, with some common sense, the risks for most of us are actually quite small.

1-Digital Content Lives Forever in Obscurity

The premise of the article is that what is posted online can potentially live on forever. True, but the reality is that the vast majority of digital content we create will be seen by virtually no one. Sometimes I think these worries stem from a vain fantasy that everything we type will reach the eyes of the whole world for all time. Sorry, but your YouTube video probably isn’t going viral and few people will likely read this post.

What interests me about digital content is that it is on the one hand potentially immortal and on the other exceedingly ephemeral. In fact, it is precisely digital content’s immortality that guarantees the very flood of data that makes any one bit exceedingly ephemeral, washed away in the deluge of user-generated banality. Jean Baudrillard taught us that too much knowledge is actually no knowledge at all because the information becomes unusable in its abundance. This is what millions of people tweeting away is: an inundation of data, most of which will never be read by many and will probably be of little consequence [edit for clarification: I like Twitter].

If anything, one problem with social networking applications like Facebook or Twitter is that they do a poor job of archiving and making searchable specific past content. A quick glace on Facebook reveals that I cannot search my friend’s history of status updates. Looking at my Twitter stream, I cannot even find my oldest tweets. My digital content may live forever, but it does so in relative obscurity.

2-Flaws are Forgivable, Perfection is Not

The article draws from a quote about how the immortality of digital content…

“…will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them” […] “without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking.”

I disagree. As we increasingly live our lives online, always index-able, it should be expected that many of us will have some digital dirt on our hands. Instead of this idea that we won’t be able to forgive each other for not being perfect, new realities will change our expectations. I suspect being an imperfect human being will be just as forgivable as it always has.

In fact, it very well might be the too-perfect profile that is unforgivable. As any politician knows, you cannot look too clean and sterile; else you come off as phony. A too-polished and perfect profile is increasingly a sign that you are not living with technology and making it part of your life -and thus seem a bit technologically illiterate. The overly-manicured profile screams that you are not out there using social media tools to their full potential.

In conclusion, use scare-tactic articles like the one being commented on here to remind you that what you say indeed might come back to haunt you. But do not go overboard worrying and cleaning your digital presence. Yes, riding your bike or eating chicken might get you killed (potholes and salmonella scare me more than Googling my name), but we are willing to take these risks because they are exceedingly small. Be smart, don’t post about your boss, but, in any case, the vast majority of people posting status updates about their job today will not get fired tomorrow. ~nathan

by nathanjurgenson

My previous post centered on the implications of Google’s dominance in internet search. However, subsequent major news provides the possibility of a major restructuring of the internet search market. It also has implications on how “flat” and “open” the web really is.

One of the basic things all users of the internet do is search. Search is what makes the abundance of information usable. We assume that our search engine has access to the relevant information on the web. Most of us simply use Google to do this. These last two statements are impacted by recent news that Microsoft and Newscorp are in talks to have Newscorp’s online content (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Times of London, The Sun in Britain, etc.) removed from Google and be hosted exclusively on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

The magnitude of this news becomes clear given some of the possible implications:

1-While Google can well-afford to purchase exclusive content of its own, the very possibility of users having to go to different search engines for different types of searches so drastically changes the face of search that Google’s dominance could be unsettled. Will the users that so far have used Google out of habit continue to do so when they have to think about what engine to use depending on what they are searching for?

2-We may see a search engine arms race, where different engines gobble up different content, spreading information all around and making it far less usable for the rest of us. This creation of barriers to information and access is opposed to Friedman’s “flat world” hypothesis or the idea that “information wants to be free” (hypotheses that sociologists should be skeptical of in the first place). Whether this deal between Microsoft and Newscorp happens or not, we should remember that interested parties want information to remain expensive. ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

500px-Google_wordmark.svgFollowing PJ Rey’s excellent summary of the Internet as Playground and Factory yesterday, I offer a few additional observations from the conference this past weekend, focusing on Web 2.0 capitalism, and Google as the primary target. The roughly 100 presenters were not joined by Google, as the company said that the conference content seemed “slightly anti-capitalist.” Much of the content, indeed, took the corporate ownership of our productive labor online to task.

A common theme was how to discuss Marx’s Labor Theory of Value with respect to Web 2.0. Clearly, companies are exploiting our free labor, but they do not have to coerce us. Julian Kucklich argued that we now have exploitation without alienation. That is, our unpaid labor is used for corporate surveillance and profit, even if the labor is not alienating or “foreign to ourselves.” Simply, we like using Facebook, Twitter and so on. However, Kucklich further argues that we are taught to think Facebook is fun, that companies use the “ideology of play” to seduce us into producing (or better, prosuming). Martin Roberts, in, ironically, perhaps the conference’s most entertaining presentation, also took to task the culture of “fun”, arguing that we have been trained to see our work as “fun”, making us more productive for the capitalist system. Christian Fuchs most forcefully argued for a communist Internet, stating that exploitation on Web 2.0 is infinite because users are not being paid material wages. A good Marxian, he downplayed the importance of immaterial value gained through sites like Facebook because we live in a capitalism system based on the material. And Ulises Mejias takes Web 2.0 to task for the creation of corporate Monopsonies, where we have seen Facebook, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, Google and so on become corporate titans of Web 2.0 capitalism. He argues that using these corporate Monopsonies is dangerous and irresponsible, calling for open-source and public versions of these types of services.

Thus, it is clear to see why Google was reluctant to join this conference. Frank Pasquale forcefully called on Google to be more transparent. Given what was discussed above, as well as Google’s central status in our day-to-day knowledge-seeking life, Pasquale leaves us with questions to ponder: should its page-rank algorithm be public? Should Google be allowed to up-rank or down-rank links based their relationship to the company? Should Google be able to simply remove pages from its listings? Should Google be forced to let us know when they do these things? ~nathan

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