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Tag Archives: media

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

Crowds in Times Square waving at themselves on the big screen. Photos in this post by nathan jurgenson.

Something interesting has been happening in Times Square this summer. As has been occurring for a century, the crowds gather with necks perched upward looking at all the famously illuminated billboards. But now there is a new type of buzz in the crowd: they stand together facing the same direction, cameras held high and their hands waving even higher. They are not just watching celebrities or models in this the most expensive ad-space in the world; today, they are watching themselves on the big screen.

This is all part of a new billboard for the company Forever 21 currently in use in Times Square in the heart of New York City. It struck me that this billboard is nothing short of a consumer-capitalism-happening, and started snapping photos and thinking about what this all might mean. Read More »

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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 »

The 2012 presidential race is beginning to take shape, and it is interesting to see how social media is being differently used by candidates. Obama kicked off his re-election campaign on YouTube and is at Facebook today with Zuckerberg to do a Facebook-style town-hall Q&A. Mitt Romney (R-MA) annouced his presidential bid on Twitter and Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) announced on Facebook and even created a Foursquare-style gaming layer where supporters earn points for participating in his campaign. I’ll be analyzing how social media is used throughout the 2012 cycle, but I’d like to start all of this with the question: who will be our first social media president?

FDR became the radio president with his famous “fireside chats” and JFK the television president with his image-centered debates with Nixon. Many consider Obama the first social media president due to his massive fund raising and organizing efforts during the 2008 campaign using the web (though, Howard Dean was there four years earlier – remember his use of meetup.org). However, now that Obama has been in office for more than two years, has he really used the social web effectively in interesting new ways? The New York Times states that Obama treats the Internet like a “television without knobs,” using it primarily to simply upload videos for us to consume. Obama-as-president has thus far been a Web 1.0 leader instead of embracing the Web 2.0 ethic of users collaboratively and socially creating content.

To put it another way, go to Obama’s Twitter account and ask yourself if he is really using the medium in an effective way? It is clearly 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 »

I dropped in on artist Jonathan Monaghan‘s studio to discuss his art and how it relates to technology and our contemporary world.

The impetus for my animation “Life Tastes Good” was seeing different depictions of polar bears on television. If they are selling soda, they are having a great time, if they are illustrating climate change, they are dying slow painful deaths. I decided to mix this disparate imagery into a new schizophrenic reality using the same 3d animation tools as those Coke commercials. These alternate digital realities I create in my work are both familiar and alien; playing with our desires, dreams and anxiety.

Jonathan Monaghan’s work is art in the age of hyperreality. Baudrillard offered hyperreality as a bloated, obese and dying environment liquidated of meaning, and here we see the simulated polar bear literally expiring on the screen. Monaghan has turned the simulated polar bear against itself by reintroducing it to the real. Read More »

As media became truly massive in the middle of the 20th century, many theorists discussed the degree to which individuals are powerless -e.g., McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message.” In the last decades, the pendulum of dystopian versus utopian thinking about technology has swung far into the other direction. Now, we hear much about the power of the individual, how “information wants to be free” and, opposed to powerful media structures, how the world has become “flat.” The story is that the top-down Internet was “1.0” and now we have a user-generated “Web 2.0”. The numbering suggests the linear march of increasing democratization and decreasing corporate control.

The pendulum has swung too far.

I have tried to argue elsewhere (here and here and here) that Web 1.0 and 2.0 both exist today, sometimes in conflict, other times facilitating each other. On this blog, I have noted that sometimes “information wants to be expensive” and how the iPad marks a return to the top-down as opposed to the bottom up. Zeynep Tufekci and I have a paper under (single blind) review that discusses the iPad as the return of old media and consumer society by way of Apple’s Disney-like closed system.

Steven Johnson recently wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times titled “Rethinking the Gospel of the Web” that makes a similar argument. He portrays Apple’s closed system as incredibly innovative, stating that “sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

Opposed to the current orgy of writing about the powerful agent/consumer, Free, democratization, revolutionary potential, flat worlds and so on, let’s remember how structures and top-down corporate control remain important.

  • access is still unequal
  • how people use the web is unequal, something I’ve discussed as the post-structural digital divide
  • the “revolutions” of Wikipedia or open source are basically knowledge or software being produced by a few white men to now being produced by a few more white men (revolutionary this is not)

This world is not flat, and if the success of Apple is any indication, it is not getting any flatter. ~nathan