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Tag Archives: sociology

Protesters charge their mobile phones in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

In my previous post on “Digital Dualism Versus Augmented Reality,” I lay out two competing views for conceptualizing digital and material realities. Some view the physical and digital as (1) separate, akin to the film The Matrix, or (2) as an augmented reality where atoms and bits are increasingly imploding into each other.

I prefer the latter, and want to apply this augmented paradigm to the revolutions occurring in the Arab world that have been taking place this winter as well as the subsequent debate over the causes. I, like many others, am equally frustrated by those who give either all or none of the credit for these uprisings to social media tools and argue instead that what is occuring is an augmented revolution.

On one side there are those that promoted the phrase “Twitter revolution” during Read More »

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The power of social media to burrow dramatically into our everyday lives as well as the near ubiquity of new technologies such as mobile phones has forced us all to conceptualize the digital and the physical; the on- and off-line.

And some have a bias to see the digital and the physical as separate; what I am calling digital dualism. Digital dualists believe that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real.” This bias motivates many of the critiques of sites like Facebook and the rest of the social web and I fundamentally think this digital dualism is a fallacy. Instead, I want to argue that the digital and physical are increasingly meshed, and want to call this opposite perspective that implodes atoms and bits rather than holding them conceptually separate augmented reality.

In a 2009 post titled “Towards Theorizing An Augmented Reality,” I discussed geo-tagging (think Foursquare or Facebook Places), street view, face recognition, the Wii controller and the fact that sites like Facebook both impact and are impacted by the physical world to argue that “digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other.” This is opposed to the outdated notion that the Internet is like the Matrix, where there is a “real” (Zion) that you leave when you enter the virtual space (the Matrix).

I have used this perspective of augmentation to critque dualism when I see it. For instance, 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 »


Here, Amber Case states something commonly repeated on this blog: we are all cyborgs. As such, she calls herself a cyborg anthropologist, similar to how we conceive of the study of technology and society as Cyborgology (perhaps without such strict disciplinary terms – but that is another discussion).

However, there is much disagreement between Case’s usage of the term and how I (and others) on this blog define a cyborg.

First, Case argues in the video above that the human cyborg is a recent invention. A product of new technologies that compress our mental capacities over time and space. On this blog, however, we tend to use the term much more broadly. For instance, one fundamental technology that structures other technologies built upon it is language. Post-structuralist thinking has long taught us about the power of language to drive what and how people think, how selves are formed, how power is enacted, and so on. Other technologies, such as spatial organization (think the architectural technologies of the amphitheater or panoptic prison) have profound impact on the mental processes of humans. The human mind has never been independent of technology, and, as such, we have always been cyborgs.

My second disagreement surrounds Case’s argument that Read More »

Last week, I posted a review of the film Tron: Legacy (2010) on this blog. This week I have a review of Ondi Timoner‘s wonderful 2009 documentary We Live in Public. This review is found in the latest issue of one of my favorite journals, Surveillance and Society.

The issue is here. Free .pdf download of the review here.

I explore theoretical connections between the movie and the rise of social network sites such as Facebook. I look at privacy, publicity, surveillance and our increasingly augmented reality. Many of the points are elaborations of topics posted by myself and others on this blog. It is particularly exciting to see these theoretical ideas travel so smoothly across mediums such as film, radio, the blogosphere and academic journals.

Yes, even a CGI-filled big-budget glowing Disney spectacle can provide opportunity for theorization. Of the recent Internet-themed blockbusters – namely, Avatar (2009); The Social Network (2010) – Tron: Legacy (2010) best captures the essence of this blog: that the digital and the physical are enmeshed together into an augmented reality.

This seems surprising given that the film is fundamentally about a separate digital world. Indeed, the first Tron (1982) is all about strict a physical-digital dualism and the sequel plays on the same theme: physical person gets trapped in a digital world and attempts to escape. However, Tron: Legacy explores the overlapping of the physical and digital. The story goes that Flynn, the hero from the 1982 film, develops a digital world that does not have the imperfections of its physical counterpart. His grand vision was to gloriously move humanity online. Simultaneously, the beings in the digital world wanted to export their perfection out of the digital world and to colonize the offline world, removing all of its imperfections (that is, us). Flynn comes to realize that enforced perfection (read: Nazism) is unwanted. Instead of a highly controlled and orderly universe, what has to be appreciated is what emerges out of chaos. And it is here that the film makes at least two theoretical statements that are well ahead of most movies and popular conceptions of the digital.

First is the tension between Read More »

While many write about the various ways that the Internet makes us less safe, namely cyberbullying or being attacked by someone you met on Craigslist, it is also important to look at the new possibilities the web creates to ease suffering occurring in the physical world. When the Cyborgology editors recently spoke to WYPR about cyberbullying, we also discussed cybersupport, as is the case of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better YouTube project. The folks at WYPR also pointed us to another interesting example, the Egypt-based Harassmap created by a group of volunteer techno-activists. According to this report [.pdf], 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of female travelers to this country report being harassed. Given the very limited legal recourse for women in Egypt, this online tool is one way to provide voice to the vulnerable.

The map above is a screen-shot from the Harassmp site. Women in Cairo can report incidences of sexual harassment from their mobile phones via text message. The incident that occurred in the physical world is then digitized as a plot on the map using the phone’s GPS. This provides the masses a reality now augmented with a digital layer that seeks to “act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem.” The story of social media is not just how it harms people, but also how it helps.

View the map here. More information here (scroll down for English).

While many write about the various ways that the Internet makes us less safe, namely cyberbullying or being attacked by someone you met on Craigslist, it is also important to look at the new possibilities the web creates to ease suffering occurring in the physical world. When the Cyborgology editors recently spoke to WYPR about cyberbullying, we also discussed cybersupport, as is the case of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better YouTube project. The folks at WYPR also pointed us to another interesting example, the Egypt-based Harassmap created by a group of volunteer techno-activists. According to this report [.pdf], 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of female travelers to this country report being harassed. Given the very limited legal recourse for women in Egypt, this online tool is one way to provide voice to the vulnerable.

The map above is a screen-shot from the Harassmp site. Women in Cairo can report incidences of sexual harassment from their mobile phones via text message. The incident that occurred in the physical world is then digitized as a plot on the map using the phone’s GPS. This provides the masses a reality now augmented with a digital layer that seeks to “act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem.” The story of social media is not just how it harms people, but also how it helps.

View the map here. More information here (scroll down for English).

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 »

Many worry about the immortality of our behavior on social network sites like Facebook. Regrettable behaviors can become Facebook Skeletons in your digital closet. However, I have argued before that what is equally true is that our online presence is extremely ephemeral. Status updates speed by, perhaps delighting us in the moment, but are quickly forgotton. The innundation of photographs of yourself and others is so heavy that particular moments often become lost in the flow. Our digital content may live forever, but it does so in relative obscurity. Just try searching for that witty status update your friend made on Facebook last month. It is this ephemerality of our online social lives that makes this art/design project by Siavosh Zabeti so interesting. When our Facebook lives are placed in a book, our socialization grasps at the tactile permanence of the physical.

When Facebook becomes a book from Siavosh Zabeti on Vimeo.

If books like this became popular, would we create our Facebook presence any differently given this new, more physical medium? Read More »