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Tag Archives: power

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

While tech-writers often act as if the Web is something out there away from society, we all know (and they do too) that technology is always embedded in social structures, power, domination and inequalities. And the words we choose to talk about tech, while seemingly innocuous, betray some pretty heavy political predispositions.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story looking at a “new digital divide” where “poorer” folks aren’t using the web in a “meaningful” way but instead are “wasting time” on social media. I was reminded of how Facebook users looked down on MySpace users a few years ago or the current racist rhetoric surrounding iPhone versus Android mobile phone users. Technology is often an excuse to reify the fallacy that those less privledged are an other, different, less capable and less human.

Whenever someone declares what Internet-use is “meaningful” versus a “waste” we must be critical: who is making the claim? who benefits from these too-commonly constructed hierarchies? And here, as usual, we are dealing with a hierarchical framework created by privileged folks for everyone else to placed within. Read More »

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

I like Ellen DeGeneres. Lots of people respect what she does and she has a reputation of treating people right. However, I was surprised when I came across a clip from her popular daytime television show where she unsuspectingly broadcasts compromising Facebook photos of random audience members, a sketch I saw for the first time yesterday, and there seems to be at least a few more of these on YouTube.

I get it, it’s a gag on context collapse: photos taken in and for one time and place are dislocated onto broadcast television, to unexpected and hilarious results. Cute. However, the reality of this is not so funny, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show should know better.

The problem here is that Ellen is setting a precedent that it is okay and fun to share each others information to a larger audience than was initially intended; that blasting compromising photos from someone’s Facebook profile to other audiences, large or small, is a funny joke. For many, it isn’t.

Ellen’s lighthearted joke takes the form of much modern bullying; especially what is often called “cyberbullying” Read More »

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 »

See my article at Salon about Chomsky and Twitter.

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.

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 »

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 »

Twitter users, likely from outside of China itself, are calling for people to “stroll” in Chinese public areas. The strolling protestors are not to carry signs or yell slogans, but instead to blend in with regular foot traffic. Chinese officials will not be able to identify protestors who themselves can safely blend in anonymity. [Edit for clarity: the idea is that foot traffic will increase in the announced area, but officials won’t know which are the protesters.]

This tactic is reminiscent of those French Situationist strategies of May ’68 to create chaos and disorder (note that strolling is akin to, but not exactly the same as, DeBord’s practice of “the derive“). The calls to “stroll” have had impact in China with the government shutting down public spaces and popular hangouts. Even a busy McDonald’s was closed. These gatherings announced over Twitter have been highly attended by many officials, police and media, but, importantly, not by many protestors themselves.

This is slacktivism at its best. If this slacker activism is often defined by Read More »

George Washington University students have taken action against sexual assault on their campus, and, interestingly, are using the social media site Formspring. Several student organizations have banded together to create the “3000 campaign” (which makes reference to the estimated number of GW students who will experience sexual asaault). The campaign adeptly uses Formspring to allow students to anonymously report sexual assaults. The Formspring page is here. See DC sex and gender columnist Amanda Hess’ excellent coverage of this story here and here.

Cyborgology editors PJ Rey and I have made the point before that social media is often painted as dangerous without looking to the new ways in which it provides support. Yes, bullying occurs on Facebook, but we can also think about how social media has been leveraged to provide social support, for instance, with Dan Savage’s YouTube-based It Gets Better Campaign. I also recently discussed Egypt’s Harassmap, which helps women organize over social media to fight harassment. The site that has been arguably most notorious in the recent fervor over cyber-bullying is Formspring.me (for those who do not know, users on this site answer questions often asked anonymously). The site is connected with a suicide and researcher danah boyd has stated that, Read More »

The rant that anything digital is inherently shallow, most famously put forth in popular books such as “The Shallows” and “Cult of the Amateur,” becomes quite predictable. Even the underlying theme of The Social Network movie was that technology trades the depth of reality for the shallowness of virtuality. I have asserted that claims about what is more “deep” and “real” are claims to truth and thus claims to power. This was true when this New York Times panel discussion on digital books made constant reference to the death of depth and is still true in the face of new claims regarding the rise of texting, chatting and messaging using social media.

Just as others lamented about the loss in depth when moving from the physical to the digital word, others are now claiming the loss of depth when moving from email to more instant forms of communication. E-etiquette writer Judith Kallos claims that because the norms surrounding new instant forms of communication do not adhere as strictly to grammatical rules, the writing is inherently “less deep.” She states that

We’re going down a road where we’re losing our skills to communicate with the written word

and elsewhere in the article another concludes that

the art of language, the beauty of language, is being lost.

There is much to critique here. Equating “depth” to grammatical rules privileges those with more formal education with the satisfaction of also being “deeper.” Depth is not lost in abbreviations just as it is not contained in spelling or punctuation. Instant streams of communication pinging back and forth have the potential to be rich with deep, meaningful content. Read More »