Archive for September, 2011

Theory Meets Art: What Apple has to Hide

Pear Tree in a Walled Garden by Samuel Palmer, c. 1829

While our collective imagination has been gripped with the images of downtrodden folks in other parts of the world uprising in seemingly spontaneous acts of defiance, here at home, we late industrial consumers continue doing what we do best: passively and uncritically absorbing whatever is in front of us. In our zeal to dive into the next hot thing that the market offers us, we seldom have occasion to question what is absent—what is quietly being denied us—and what social costs are obscured by the price tag of a commodity.

Apple is an interesting contradiction in consumer society because, on the hand, it seems endlessly capable of producing new devices that we never knew we needed; yet, when we pick them up, they seem almost magical, enabling us to do things we hardly imagined—or, rather, to consume things in ways we never imagined. In light of its continual innovation and its capacity to generate “cool,” Apple is often seen as progressive organization. On the other hand, Apple is notorious for placing authoritarian controls on its products. As the old quip goes: “Linux is great at letting you do what you want to do (if you are willing to stare for hours at line code), Apple is great at letting you do what they want you do, and Windows is great at crashing.” Of even greater concern, Apple remorselessly outsources it labor to China’s most offensive factories, some of which recently received attention because they had to install nets around the buildings to end a spate of highly-public suicides.

Two recent artworks highlight the underside of Apple’s pristine white carapace. Continue reading

Critical Theory: Useful Distinction or Unconscious Smugness?

On September 18th, 2011, Barry Wellman, the early and rather prescient scholar of the Internet, posed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question to the Communication and Information Technology Section of the American Sociology Association (CITASA): “‘Critical’ – aren’t we all?” This post was precipitated by a call for papers for special issue of tripleC entitled Marx is Back: The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today (no affiliation with the author). Specifically, the call invited papers that address (my emphasis):

what it means to ask Marx’s questions in 21st century informational capitalism, how Marxian theory can be used for critically analyzing and transforming media and communication today, and what the implications of the revival of the interest in Marx are for the field of Media and Communication Studies.

Shortly after it was sent, Wellman responded to the call, saying:

Not meant personally, but the use of the word “critical” by a subset of scholars always bothers me as leading to unconscious smugness? If I’m “critical”, your lot isn’t? Who, except flacks and twerps, isn’t critical? Can we criticize the criticalists?

This sparked a debate over the utility and appropriateness of the phrase “critical theory.” Critics of the phrase raise the following objections: Continue reading

A New Paradigm of Leaking: Anonymous’ “Delicious Data”

The Anonymous Twitter Feed Announcing the NATO Breach

On July 21st, 2011, Anonymous—the 4chan-associated hacker collective with a cyber-libertarian bent—announced that they had breached NATO’s secure database and retrieved roughly a gigabyte of restricted data. To verify their claim, Anonymous posted a “NATO restricted” document to Twitter. Interestingly, Anonymous has been very cautious in leaking the documents it has obtained, publicly declaring that it would be “irresponsible” to publish most of it. Much of what has be published is “Redacted, for sanity.” Continue reading

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