Archive for the ‘ Cyborgology ’ Category

Materiality Matters: Confronting Digital Dualism with a Theory of Co-Affordances

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When someone sends a text to my phone, are they any less responsible for their comments than if they had said the same thing face-to-face? If someone says a photo I post is “unflattering” or “unprofessional,” do I feel like this says something about me as a person? Why has it become so common to equate the unauthorized use of someone else’s Facebook account to the violation experienced during rape, that the term “fraping”* has come into popular usage? These are some of the questions I think that digital dualism prevents us from answering satisfactorily. In framing an alternative to dualist thinking, I argue that it is important to account for people’s changing sense of self (hinted at in the examples above). To do this, we must examine the material conditions of subjectivity, or, put simply, how what we are affects who we are.

Interestingly, my argument that we ought to take serious account of people’s changing sense of self closely aligns me with with Nick Carr’s recent counter to the digital dualism critique. In fact, in re-reading his post, I realize that he is arguing for almost exactly the kind of theoretical frame work that I am working to develop. Continue reading

Theater Review: R.U.X. (Rockwell Universal Sexbots)

R.U.X. (Rockwell Universal Sexbots), written by Maurice Martin and directed by Sun King Davis, was first written and performed as a charity effort to raise money for HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive); it ran as a five-part serial in Arlington’s October 2011 Hope Operas. It was rewritten as a full play for DC’s 2012 Fringe Festival, where it took the award for best comedy. The show just finished up a brief encore at Fall Fringe. While this comedy has already been widely and positively reviewed by DC theater critics, it deserves a piece that engages its rather weighty themes.

The story takes place in near-future America (similar in setting to the spate of early twenty aughts robot films such as Bicentennial Man, A.I., and I, Robot), where anthropomorphic robots have become a common consumer product. Louis Rockwell Jr. (John Tweel) has just been made acting CEO of the Rockwell Universal Carebots company, after his father (Frank Mancino) fell into a coma. Louis Jr. has a new vision that would transition the company away from producing robots designed for childcare and, instead, move it into designing robots for—you guessed it—sex. After rebranding the company “Rockwell Universal Sexbots,” he hires Dr. Callie Veru (Aubri O’Connor), a young and romantically inexperienced software expert to program the robots with the capacity to fulfill human desire. To program robots to respond to human desire, however, the characters must first understand it, and this interrogation of human desire becomes the axis on which the entire plot rotates. Continue reading

Gamification, Playbor & Exploitation

I’m posting to get some feedback on my initial thoughts in preparation for my chapter in a forthcoming gamification reader. I’d appreciated your thoughts and comments here or @pjrey.

My former prof Patricia Hill Collins taught me to begin inquiry into any new phenomenon with a simple question: Who benefits? And this, I am suggesting, is the approach we must take to the Silicon Valley buzzword du jure: “gamification.” Why does this idea now command so much attention that we feel compelled to write a book on it? Does a typical person really find aspects of his or her life becoming more gamelike? And, who is promoting all this talk of gamification, anyway?

It’s telling that conferences like “For the Win: Serious Gamification” or “The Gamification of Everything – convergence conversation” are taking place in business (and not, say, sociology) departments or being run by CEOs and investment consultants. The Gamification Summit invites attendees to “tap into the latest and hottest business trend.” Searching Forbes turns up far more articles (156) discussing gamification than the New York Times (34) or even Wired (45). All this makes TIME contributor Gary Belsky seems a bit behind the time when he predicts “gamification with soon rule the business world.” In short, gamification is promoted and championed—not by game designers, those interested in game studies, sociologists of labor/play, or even computer-human interaction researchers—but by business folks. And, given that the market for videogames is already worth greater than $25 billion, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that business folk are looking for new growth areas in gaming.

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Why Do We Use Spatial Metaphors to Talk about the Web?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately. I even wrote an essay awhile back for The New Inquiry. But, honestly, none of the answers I come up seem complete. I’m posting this as a means of seeking help developing an explanation and to see if anyone knows of people who are taking on this question.

I think question is important because it relates to our “digital dualist” tendency to view the Web as separate from “real life.”

So far, I see three, potentially compatible, explanations: Continue reading

Hipsters and Low-Tech

Hipsters have been much discussed on the Cyborgology blog (see: here, here, here, and here). Cyborgology authors have also talked about the fetishization of low-tech/analog media and devices (see: here and here). As David Paul Strohecker pointed out, these two issue interrelated: “hipsters are at the forefront of movements of nostalgic revivalism.” I want to pick up these threads and add a small observation.

Nathan Jurgenson and I were discussing why low-tech devices have a seductive quality. Consider the popularity of, for example, fixed-gear bicycles or vintage cameras (such as the Kodak Brownie or the Polaroid PX-70). Though I think this phenomenon is probably overdetermined (in the Freudian sense of having multiple sufficient causes), I came up with a theory that seems worth further consideration: namely, that hipsters’ obsession with antique devices reflects a desire to escape the complex and highly-interdependent socio-technical systems that characterize contemporary society and return to time in which technology appeared to be something that humans could master and, thus, use to affirm their individual agency. In short, the fetishization of low-tech is about the illusion of agency; it provides affirmation for the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative to be an individual, to be unique.

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Pittsburgh’s Hostage Crisis, the Police, and the Politics of Social Media

Just as I arrived in Pittsburgh this morning, the city was virtually shut down by a hostage-taking crisis. A man claiming to have a gun and explosives entered a law office with weapons and held a lawyer hostage for several hours. Eventually, the hostage-taker (named Klein Michael Thaxton) surrendered and no one was physically harmed.

This sort of story might not have been of much interest (beyond serving as a local news spectacle) except for one small detail: The perpetrator was using Facebook to provide live updates of the situation.

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Lev Manovich on “The Poetics of Augmented Space”

I’ve recently been auditing a course with Jason Farman on “Space, Place, and Identity in the Digital Age” and he assigned a piece that was so profoundly relevant to this blog that I had to post about it immediately.

Lev Manovich’s 2006 article “The poetics of augmented space” published in Visual Communication (which he had apparently been working on since 2002) is the earliest that I am aware of anyone using the term “augmented reality” in the broader sociological context of social interaction that flows between digital and physical (as opposed to the more limited computer science definition that describes it as merely the overlaying of digital information on the physical environment). Continue reading

The President as a Brand

The New York Times recently published a piece titled “At Times, Obama and His Cyberself Differ on Tactics” that opens with the passage:

For a moment on Friday, the cyber-Barack Obama was perfectly at odds with the flesh-and-blood version… Speaking to 1,400 supporters at a high school… President Obama voiced his familiar lament that “there is so much negativity and so much cynicism” in politics that he could understand if voters tuned out the election. Minutes earlier on Twitter, he had written, “Why Mitt Romney’s end date at his buyout firm matters,” linking to a blog post about the tempest over his Republican challenger’s departure from Bain Capital.

The article doesn’t really offer any deeper analysis of the topic raised in its headline, but the notion of this sort of technologically-mediated, or even, post-human, presidency is so provocative that it’s worth additional reflection. I can’t begin such a reflection, however, without first critiquing some of the vocabulary used in the article. The article contrasts “cyber-Barack Obama” (or Barack Obama’s “cyberself”) with “the flesh-and-blood version.” This problematically implies that there are two Barack Obamas: the real Obama and the Obama out there in cyberspace (cue creepy space music). Of course, once we even state such a claim, it becomes immediately apparent that it has zero face validity. Arguing that the Barack Obama who signs the messages he personally posts to Twitter with the initials “bo” is different than the Barack Obama out there giving the speeches makes about as much sense as arguing that when I call my mom on telephone, I’m talking to a different person than when I drive over for a visit. Continue reading

Teaching Marx and Technology

I’m always on the lookout for work that might be useful in a sociology of technology course. I was re-reading Nick Dyer-Witheford’s (1999) Cyber-Marx and realized that the ‘Marxisms” chapter [.pdf] provides a pretty useful outline of Marxian interpretations of technology that could provide that backbone for a pretty good lesson plan.

Dyer-Witheford (p. 38) opens with the acknowledgement that:

Marx was, like all of us, a multiple. He wrote variously about technology, making statements that cannot all be reconciled one with another—or, at least, that can be reconciled in very different, sometimes radically opposed, ways.

Marx’s varied positions on technology are revealed in some oft-cited passages Continue reading

Notes on Virno, the Multitude, and the Web

Labor and non-labor develop an identical form of productivity, based on the exercise of generic human faculties: language, memory, sociability, ethical and aesthetic inclinations, the capacity for abstraction and learning. From the point of view of “what” is done and “how” it is done, there is no substantial difference between employment and unemployment. It could be said that: unemployment is non-remunerated labor and labor, in turn, is remunerated unemployment. -Virno (Grammar of the Multitude, p. 103)

I’m deep into my second comprehensive exam, so I’m going to self-servingly post some notes on various things I’m reading. (Feedback is most welcome.) Though Paulo Virno only mentions the Web once in In Grammar of the Multitude (p. 43), the four lectures that comprise the book are of deep relevance to the political economy of social media, particularly in situating them in the broader historical trend toward post-Fordist production.

Let’s start by unpacking that phrase “post-Fordism.” Fordism refers to Henry Ford’s innovations in assembly line production in his automotive plants. The assembly line had profound social consequences in that it made the tasks of each worker so repetitive and simplified that anyone could do them. That is to say, the assembly line created a de-skilled workforce. Fordism is also generally linked to Taylorism, which refers to Fredrick Taylor’s attempts to introduce scientific rationality in the workplace through time-and-motion studies and pay-for-performance. Continue reading

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