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Tag Archives: theory

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 »

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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 »

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 »

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 »

There is an important space between old and new media. This is the grey area between (1) the top-down gatekeeping of old media that separates producers and consumers of content and (2) the bottom-up nature of new, social media where producers and consumers come from the same pool (i.e., they are prosumers).

And in the middle are projects like Global Voices, what might be called curatorial media: where content is produced by the many in a social way from the bottom-up and is then mediated, filtered or curated by some old-media-like gatekeeper.

The current protests in Syria can serve as an important example of how curatorial media works. Especially because foreign journalists have been banned from the country, creating a dearth of information for old media. Alternatively, Read More »

This post originally appeared on the Cyborgology blog. Find it here

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). From May 10-12, 2011, I posted a three part essay. This post combines all three together.
Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic
Part II: Grasping for Authenticity
Part III: Nostalgia for the Present

a recent snowstorm in DC: taken with Instagram and reblogged by NPR on Tumblr

Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic

This past winter, during an especially large snowfall, my Facebook and Twitter streams became inundated with grainy photos that shared a similarity beyond depicting massive amounts of snow: many of them appeared to have been taken on cheap Polaroid or perhaps a film cameras 60 years prior. However, the photos were all taken recently using a popular set of new smartphone applications like Hipstamatic or Instagram. The photos (like the one above) immediately caused a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of authenticity that digital photos posted on social media often lack. Indeed, there has been a recent explosion of retro/vintage photos. Those smartphone apps have made it so one no longer needs the ravages of time or to learn Photoshop skills to post a nicely aged photograph.

In this essay, I hope to show how faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. The faux-vintage photo, while getting a lot of attention in this essay, is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past. But we have a ways to go before I can elaborate on that point. Some technological background is in order. Read More »

Yesterday, Sang-Hyoun Pahk delivered a critique of the usage of the term augmented reality on this blog. First, thank you, criticism of this term is especially important for me (and others) because augmented reality is the fundamental unit of analysis about which I seek to describe. A quick catch-up: I initially laid out the idea of augmented reality here; expounded on its opposite, what I call digital dualism, here; and fellow Cyborgology editor PJ takes on the terms here. PJ Rey and I use the term augmented reality on this blog to describe the digital and physical worlds not as separate but instead as highly enmeshed together. And Sang is pushing us to further elaborate on what this all means.

I’ll tackle Sang’s second critique first because I think it is most important. The confusion comes from how two points hang together: (1) the digital and physical have enmeshed and (2) the digital and physical have important differences. Sang seems to be arguing that we cannot have it both ways, but I have and will continue maintain that we can.

Sang takes issue with PJ and I’s statements that the offline and online are mutually constitutive, which seems to “abolish the difference” between the two. I actually think we all agree here and perhaps PJ and I could have been clearer: the two are mutually constitutive, just not fully mutually constitutive. Let me offer new wording: atoms and bits have different properties, influence each other, and together create reality. Read More »

Zygmunt Bauman (pictured above) provides a famous liquidity metaphor that I find infinitely useful for thinking about the Internet. My previous post on Wikileaks and our Liquid Modernity outlins how the Internet and digitality are making information more fluid, nimble and difficult to contain. Using the liquidity metaphor, I argue that WikiLeaks is an example of increasingly liquid and leak-able information.

I further argue that “heavy” structures need to become more porous; that is, allow for some amount of liquidity in order to withstand the torrent of contemporary fluidity. Julian Assange argued that his WikiLeaks project will cause governments to become more secretive, or, using Bauman’s metaphor, those structures become more solid and thus become washed away by seeming out of date to current, more liquid, realities. I believe we saw a scenario just like this play out in Egypt. 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 »

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 »