Posts Tagged ‘ sociology ’

Equipment: Why You Can’t Convince a Cyborg She’s a Cyborg

Everybody knows the story: Computers—which, a half century ago, were expensive, room-hogging behemoths—have developed into a broad range of portable devices that we now rely on constantly throughout the day. Futurist Ray Kurzweil famously observed:

progress in information technology is exponential, not linear. My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT. And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.

Beyond advances in miniaturization and processing, computers have become more versatile and, most importantly, more accessible. In the early days of computing, mainframes were owned and controlled by various public and private institutions (e.g., the US Census Bureau drove the development of punch card readers from the 1890s onward). When universities began to develop and house mainframes, users had to submit proposals to justify their access to the machine. They were given a short period in which to complete their task, then the machine was turned over to the next person. In short, computers were scarce, so access was limited. Continue reading

Frictionless Sharing and the Digital Paparazzi

(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)

(Co-Authored by Nathan Jurgenson)

Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval. Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.

Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.

Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model 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

Cyborgs and the Augmented Reality they Inhabit

The Cyborgology Blog has recently hosted much discussion on the topic of augmented reality (i.e., the co-constitution of online and offline, digital and physical). A few threads to follow as background are:

Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality by Nathan Jurgenson

Virtual, Mediated, and Augmented Reality by PJ Rey

why i don’t like “augmented reality” by Sang-Hyoun Pahk

Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality by Nathan Jurgenson

I’d like to extend this discussion by clarifying the relationship between augmented reality and the namesake of the Cyborgology blog (i.e, the cyborg). The two concepts are intimately connected. Continue reading

Dear Media: Bullying is Never Just “Cyber”

The term “cyberbullying” is frequently used to describe hurtful behaviors occurring via communication technologies. But why distinguish “cyber” bullying from other forms of bullying? Perhaps it is partly because, when thinking of bullying, we tend to envision physical violence, something impossible to accomplish over the Web. Perhaps it is because the Web allows for new and vastly different forms of communication, necessitating new terminologies. Indeed, social media, mobile phones, and other recent technologies have created new ways for bullying to occur. For instance, the anonymity one has on Formspring has certainly contributed to a groundswell of hurtful behaviors on that site. Moreover, bullying can now occur at virtually any time and in any place (with Internet access).

However, as danah boyd has previously pointed out, the term “cyberbullying” is quite loaded because it tends to be used in a way that seems to diminish the significance of an act of bullying. Yet, bullying is bullying, whether it occurs in a school, park, bus, or on the Web. (A rough definition of bullying for our purposes here: the repeated use of hurtful behaviors, such as, but not limited to, insults, rumors, threats, intimidation, coercion, exclusion, physical violence, or vandalism.)

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OkCupid Grants Special Privileges to Attractive Users

Before you ask: I did not make this picture up. It is a screenshot taken directly from my email. And, yeah, this is probably a bit of inexcusable narcissism.

I, like millions of other Americans (OkCupid has 500,000 active users, eHarmony has had more than 20 million registered users in its history, and Match.com sees more than 20,000 users register each day), have turned to the enigmatic world of online dating. Being a less than affluent Ph.D. student, I naturally turned to the free option: OkCupid.

What has struck me most about online dating is the penchant these sites have for quantifying everything. The latest, and perhaps, creepiest, instance of quantification is OkCupid’s announcement that is has developed an algorithm to determine other users’ subjective experience of your attractiveness. The following is an excerpt from the email I received:

We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid’s most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you’d like to know.

How can we say this with confidence? We’ve tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people’s reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver.

Continue reading

Public Sociology vs the Anger Industry (or Why Lying Makes Michael Savage Richer)

Radio(Reposted from Sociology Lens)

Cast deep in recession and with unprecedented political polarization inside the halls of government, it’s no shock that the American public is angry. Perhaps, this frustration is merely a byproduct of legislative and discursive gridlock. Perhaps, however, this anger is better understood as the cause of such gridlock. But if this anger is the cause and not merely a reaction to the current political situation, we must ask: Where has all this anger come from? Has this recession really made life so miserable, or is something other than the economic well-being of the average American to blame? Does someone stand to gain from all this anger? Perhaps that someone (or, better, that institution) recognizes its own interest in the promotion of generic anger and is attempting to capitalize on it.

Mainstream media has become an anger industry. I’m speaking, primarily, of the cable news revolution as well as the explosion of conservative talk radio in recent decades; however, other media have trended in this direction as well. We’ve all heard the trope “if it bleeds it leads.” Media personalities have realized that anger can be more profitably harnessed if they’re the ones doing the stabbing. The way anger has become rationalized and manipulated by the media is not altogether different from the realization that wrestling was more profitable when it was staged and professionalized. Yet, while professional wrestlers still have to be athletic, contemporary “journalists” no longer need to be well-researched. Pundits only need to be provocative. Each news cycle has become simple and formulaic: select an issue regardless of scope or public significance, arbitrarily take sides, fight, rinse, repeat.

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