I’m sure no harm was meant, bit, as someone who feels with my stomach brain before my head brain I must confess, I literally became ill… And that is the story of why I was late for work.

I recently went to a talk by Tristan Harris on Ethics for designers that centered around empowering design. Honestly, I left a little confused because ethics and empowerment were defined by value driven design, and I’ve seen that go very very wrong before. And we just don’t know what we are blind to or what is feeding our values… unless we do. Value driven design: when your values are to silence voices like mine,what are we to do? When you values seek to silence, castrate and disempower voices like mine. Where do we stand? Based on he numbers there aren’t even people behind the silicon walls to speak up and say, “hey, am I not supposed to have a voice in this space?” which I guess is, in a way saying, “yes, you don’t have a *real* voice in this place”.

You see, in its past life twitter was the back channel if the world. While evey other place was selling hearts and thumbs up, twitter had its stars that metaphorically served as a way to shine light in well… Everything, as stars do. The good. The bad. The ugly. The funny. The political and apolitical…it was not uncommon to see something bubble up from years ago, suddenly started by someone o say “hey, saw this. It meant something”.

But now that somethings gone. On twitter, a social space with limited capabilities all you can do is like. And your past stars are now likes. And that really, truly makes me ill. But this is what we value. The feel good, the world covered in hearts. Hey, did you know I ♥♥♥♥ you?

Here is a short list of things I’ve inadvertently liked now:

  • Police Brutality
  • A Bunch of Recipes
  • The Fukushima Disaster
  • Photos of people’s kids
  • The Deaths of Countless Black men, women, and Children
  • Relationship milestones of others
  • Familial deaths
  • YouTube Videos
  • All sorts of prison stuff
  • Cookies
  • Refugee children drowning

And if you haven’t read it yet, read Tressie’s Medium post on this from moons ago: https://medium.com/message/faves-71b8fc71659e

This has been a strange year for me and theorists. Allan Sekula passed in August (and if you haven’t read it, you should read the Body and the Archive. It offers a wonderful frame for media studies/photographic culture). And then I learned yesterday on Twitter that José Esteban Muñoz passed away. I learned about it as Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven came on an internet radio station, followed by Perry Como’s Magic Moments (Above). The music seemed fitting for how I remember the experience of reading Muñoz and how I was feeling touched by nostalgia while understanding that this is someone who I hoped to meet some day in the flesh, that I will only ever know through the text and other people’s stories.  I was working on the first chapter of my dissertation as I was reading Cruising Utopia with a group of Performance Studies people. We had different reactions to the book. It gave me the language to explain what I was looking for in that moment: Utopia. It felt like home. Here is what I wrote, a bit of my dissertation, in that moment… more than a year ago now I think. For it to make sense i should probably share the popcorn project that is part of the longer dissertation section this is excerpted from. on Trigger Warnings and Facing Oppression. This is the chapter that lays the frame for why I choose the site I do to start exploring ownership (of things, history, digital artifacts, hosted material), collectivity versus community online, digital movement, and the specific affordances of the digital medium that allows.


If the original purpose for so many of these images was to show how inhuman these women were, then seeing these pictures today as solely remnants of a negative past means we have not left the dialectic created by colonization’s desire to occupy not just the present, but the past and the future. Diaspora does not occupy just an imagined national space, it is a mode of being in the world defined by fleeting things like epidermal schemas, collective memory and history. Similarly, colonization is not just an actual state of being, it is a state of mind and of consciousness. The idea of a colonized brain, one steeped in values that see the West as central, either as the beacon of progress or the enemy, is not a brain that can break out of the net colonization. To look at the photographs and simply see a photograph of a woman, and accept her beauty, her being, her humanity, is a new level of consciousness.  “At every meeting the brain multiplies the association of ideas and the eye discovers a wider human panorama” (Wretched 136).

“A chaque réunion, le cerveau multiplie ses voies d’association, l’oeil découvre un panorama de plus en plus humanisé” (Damne 131).

If, as the women in the picture is met, the viewer does not see the “wider human panorama”, if the viewer fails to experience humanity expanded, then they remain stuck in a veritable hell, the “hostile, oppressive and aggressive” world that will keep them trapped for as long as they are willing to stay. Unable to understand the true potential of a Diasporic approach of recognition as a way to expand the collective definition of humanity and the human, and to instead see all that which is and was out of her control. To see only the western baggage that existed to create the photograph, is to see the weakness in the net of colonization and not break through. It is simply a photograph of “her”.

‘Dirty nègre!’ or simply ‘Look! A nègre!’

I came into this world anxious to uncover the meaning of things, my soul desirous to be at the origin of the world, and here I am an object among other objects.

Locked in this suffocating reification, I appealed to the Other so that his liberating gaze gliding over my body suddenly smoothed of rough edges, would give me back the lightness of being I thought I had lost, and taking me out of the world put me back in the world.  But just as I get to the other slope I stumble, and the Other fixes me with his gaze, his gestures and attitude, the same way you fix a preparation with a dye.  I lose my temper, demand an explanation… Nothing doing.  I explode.  Here are the fragments put together by another me (BS 89).

« Sale nègre ! » ou simplement : « Tiens, un nègre ! »

J’arrivais dans le monde, soucieux de faire lever un sens aux choses, mon âme pleine du désir d’être à l’origine du monde, et voici que je me découvrais objet au milieu d’autres objets.

Enfermé dans cette objectivité écrasante, j’implorai autrui. Son regard libérateur, glissant sur mon corps devenu soudain nul d’aspérités, me rend une légèreté que je croyais perdue et, m’absentant du monde, me rend au monde. Mais là-bas, juste à contre-pente, je bute, et l’autre, par gestes, attitudes, regards, me fixe, dans le sens où l’on fixe une préparation par un colorant. Je m’emportai exigeai une explication… Rien n’y fit. J’explosai, Voici les menus morceaux par un autre moi réunis” (PN 88).


At the beginning of starting this project, I assumed it was something that would speak to people on different levels.  When I thought of who it would affect, I knew, instinctively for me, the investment I imagined was with and for black women, and black people as a whole.  As I have moved through the work of Fanon, I realized that this was very short-sighted of me.  Just as liberating the women in these photographs from being just remnants of colonization or bad times for black folk around the globe helps change how we think of our own humanity, others can be affected by these photographs in similar ways. This re-imagining of a collective past, a new history, where we all existed in the same way, simply as people, transforms the fact that these women existed. We see them now, and it is liberator for everyone for us as seers and she as object who is now recognized as a woman.  We exist because she existed before us. She existed before us, because we see her now.

The people’s encounter with this new song of heroic deeds brings an urgent breath of excitement, arouses forgotten muscular tension and develops the imagination.  Every time the storyteller narrates a new episode, the public is treated to a real invocation.  The existence of a new type of man is revealed to the public.  The present is no longer turned inward but channeled in every direction.  The storyteller once again gives free rein to his imagination, innovates, and turns creator.  It even happens that unlikely characters for such a transformation, social misfits such as outlaws or drifters, are rediscovered and rehabilitated.  Close attention should be paid to the emergence of the imagination and the inventiveness of songs and folk tales in a colonized country.  The storyteller responds to the expectations of the people by trial and error and searches for new models, national models, apparently on his own, but in fact with the support of his audience.  Comedy and farce disappear or else lose their appeal.  As for drama, it is no longer the domain of the intellectual’s tormented conscience.  No longer characterized by despair and revolt, it has become the people’s daily lot, it has become a part of an action in the making or already in progress (Wretched 175).

Le contact du peuple avec la geste nouvelle suscite un nouveau rythme respiratoire, des tensions musculaires oubliées et développe l’imagination. Chaque fois que le conteur expose devant son public un épisode nouveau, on assiste à une réelle invocation. Il est révélé au public l’existence d’un nouveau type d’homme. Le présent n’est plus fermé sur lui-même mais écartelé. Le conteur redonne liberté à son imagination, innove, fait oeuvre créatrice. Il arrive même que des figures mal préparées à cette transmutation, bandits de grands chemins ou vagabonds plus ou moins asociaux, soient reprises et remodelées. Il faut suivre pas à pas dans un pays colonisé l’émergence de l’imagination, de la création dans les chansons et dans les récits épiques populaires. Le conteur répond par approximations successives à l’attente du peuple et chemine, apparemment solitaire, mais en réalité soutenu par l’assistance, à la recherche de modèles nouveaux, de modèles nationaux. La comédie et la farce disparaissent ou perdent leur attrait. Quant à la dramatisation, elle ne se situe plus au niveau de la conscience en crise de l’intellectuel. En perdant ses caractères de désespoir et de révolte, elle est

devenue le lot commun du peuple, elle des devenue partie d’une action en préparation ou déjà en cours (Damne 170).

Perhaps, for me, part of this project is chasing Utopia.  Rather than seeing Utopia as a mystical place that exists just beyond the horizon, instead, Utopia is the space where these women exist.  Utopia, for me, is the place where black women, instead of being seen as “damned” or “wretched”, are seen as full beings, capable of living, loving, feeling, touching. It is also the space where black women can be loved, felt, and touched.  It is the place where we realize that being “damned” or “wretched” is part of the universal human condition and to script black women as we do limits the potential of the Whole.  This move towards utopia requires changing the lens we use when examining historic oppression and crisis.

I am chasing a Utopia where we see the right faces.  Where our bodies are not grotesque, where our bodies are not the markers or racism and enslavement, they are simply our bodies.  Instead, as the picture of Heilani shows so poetically and painfully well, we see where the real discomfort should be aimed, even if it is always just out of focus, we recognize it when we see it because we feel it.  Rather than scripting these photographs as soul murder, I want to rescript them as remnants of lives lived, of a past that has always belonged to all of us, not the select few who were gifted with the ability to write History.  Additionally, I want to show that Black women have always been.

We can begin to break away from linear/straight time and open up the temporal possibilities while at the same time removing the constrains of space. In doing this we allow these women to offer a different kind of nourishment.  Rather than limiting Heilani and the negresse d’Adana to the hungers they satiated as though that is all that ever was to their life, we allow our knowledge of their existence to nourish how they face the past.  We acknowledge the scripting that took place on their bodies and say this is not all they were and it is not all they shall ever be.  They, and all the black women of the past re-present so much more as their experience are written on our collective bodies, be we witnesses, bystanders, or heirs of their experience.  Rather than losing these women to the historical narrative, we are in a position to restore their humanity and ours simply by seeing them and their infinite beauty.

As I work through this chasing of Utopia, I hope to explore it by looking at the movement of the photographs as seen through the digital traces (She is Light), what this project offers to the field of critical memory studies especially as it intersects with the digital (She Looks so Familiar), and explore what all of this might mean for performing the digital archive and the performance of digital photography (She Affects Every Thing Digitally).  As I work through these areas, I will be taking detours to explore individual photographs and imagine them in play.

Over the past two days I’ve seen many people in a circular conversation asking why the conversation on MOOCs has taken over the discussion and innovation talk happening around open education. I have a short response I’d like to share.

Would you ever call a computer the internet? or the internet twitter or Facebook? This seems to be one of the big mistakes we’ve made in ensuring we are discussing all aspects of what we are calling MOOCs. Similarly, the things we are talking about for the most part, namely MOOC companies, are not “education”, or “learning”. They tools that help navigate exclusive educational content at best. For this reason, with the summer project I am currently working on during my internship I am referring to the big companies as Massive Open Online Courserware (MOOCw), so I don’t get stuck in the conversation around education and learning. Those two things are very hard to critique socially. Here is my first draft attempt to explain this from the first draft of the paper I’m currently working on on the topic:

There is an issue when attempting to describe MOOCs. “MOOCs” signifies the entire environment. While the acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses, the courseware providers factor heavily into how MOOCs are discussed and conceptualized across various spaces.[…] Rather than using the term MOOCs I will refer to them as MOOCw (Massive Open Online Courseware). This differentiation is important because the lack of specificity in what we are speaking about means many conversations happening related to MOOCs and MOOCw tend to speak around each other and inevitably end up only interrogating what we see as the most important stake in all of this: higher education.

The social configuration uses learning and education as a point of convergence or a nodal point (not sure which one is more appropriate yet) so we absolutely cannot lose the conversation that is happening about what all this means for higher education and learning. I think it would be really useful though to shift part of the conversation on MOOCs toward the media-technology/social media intersection part of MOOCw though because the interesting part to all of this is for me, and hopefully for many the media-technology theorist out there watching what is happening, is the new social configuration this well funded attempt at the digitization of learning/education and our big data fetish is creating. The way MOOCw platforms are imagining and building their technologies to operate is something we should be questioning, especially given the strange press/news stories (that more often than not feel like advertorials or press releases) we’ve been seeing for well over a year now. The culmination of these stories to date is a Guardian piece that came out on Saturday, “

Online universities: it’s time for teachers to join the revolution” penned by Anant Agarwal, founder of edX that had the following text as a subtitle to the subtitle  “Moocs, the new model of university education, have no race, colour, sex or wealth barriers, and can be accessed at a click”. The initial reason I was interested in MOOCs is because the way they were being discussed felt like the digital divide was being rearticulated and reinforced with how MOOCw companies were imagining the future of education. This story sort of confirms that. History of media-technologies should show that it is impossible to divorce our interactions with these “tools” from our larger social context. As society continues to be stratified on class, economic, and geographical lines, more and more of us are going to be on the wrong side of the divide, and MOOCw companies seem to be setting themselves up socially and politically to be the most viable solution to alleviate education problems by pretending that isn’t happening. And by offering the world access to elite American education. Who can critique that?

I asked a question yesterday on twitter. It was a serious question with no real responses. “How honest and open are we allowed to be on twitter again? I forgot.”

The pattern I am seeing is that on Social Network Sites there is a limit to how open and honest you should be, and it is based on a slippage. Social Network Sites, especially open ones like twitter, are constructed as spaces that belong to both personal and professional networks. While technically it is possible to have both professional and personal profiles on these sites, just like in real life there is always slippage. We become friends with people we work with, and we refer friends to places where we work. So… managing a Social Network Sites as a personal brand extension just seems like more work than most of us can manage. We still have to police ourselves though.

Even if these spaces are personal because we are broadcasting to so many people, we might not want to share so many personal somewhat private details. It seems that since every interaction on social media has the potential to lead to some type of material gain, we err on the side of making it more professional. As an example, it was tweeted out that I would be joining Microsoft Research over the summer as a Summer Intern. I purposely end my twitter profile description with “mom” so that people know parenting is an okay topic for discussion. That didn’t stop it from feeling like an awkward exchange on twitter. Amongst the congratulations I had a question about organizing family life around this, specifically, what was I going to do with my kids. It was immediately followed by an apology. This made me sad because personally and professionally, these are the types of questions that help us determine what we are capable of doing. Despite the need to deal with family planning, being “academic” online is seen as somehow separate from being a parent, child, aunt, uncle, etc of people who might need you in one capacity or another. I’m not so sure that I would go as far as to call it a failure, but it was disheartening.

Blogs are different than twitter and other social media sites.

I see so many blogs with taglines that have the word “musings” in them. Unless we have a large blog following we know that what we write here is speaking into the air. We know it is a reflection space where we can say things that are too big for social media. We often use them for things that are more immediate.

Wherein I take advantage of the ability to be overly personal on a blog. AKA the backstory.

I asked the question yesterday about what is too much to share on twitter from a hospital room. Wednesday I called my grandmother and an hour later I’d purchased a ticket to her house for 6 days and 5 nights. On day 4 I took her to the hospital for an outpatient exam and then they had to keep her. My grandmother isn’t what you would call “comforting”, so instead of freaking out about the probable diagnosis and prognosis we sat around and talked about the normal stuff we talk about. I was freaking out a bit but couldn’t express this. I wanted to tweet some of the things I couldn’t speak out loud. I see tweets as stream of consciousness/inner thoughts. But it seems like sharing of the types of things I was thinking/feeling would have probably been very weird, maybe even bad. So I didn’t. I can write what happened here though. I think part of it is because the design of blogs and blog rituals assume:

1. Though there is a social component to blogs that is not their primary purpose 2. Most people who read a blog post will not leave a comment 3. What we write on blogs is not as likely to be re-broadcasted 4. If things get out of hand they can be deleted/moderated/hidden 5. The identity of a blog is easier to manage than social media.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the blogs are safe spaces. They do seem like a space where it is safer to be the “you” you are or want to be in a way that is meaningful. Because of the limited audience many of blogs have, we are free to experiment, overshare, and test in these environments in a way that does not have to be super polished. Likewise, if a blog needs to be super professional, it is easy enough to make sure that everything posted falls within the intended purpose of the blog. The advance control over the presentation (in terms of theme, layout, domain, etc) makes me feel that blogs are unlimited structured possibility. They kind of roll into that “create your own adventure” mode. If it isn’t clear yet, that’s my favorite place to play.

So this is my musing on life branding, and life branding failure, and social media, and blogs.

Two Articles I found on the topic of managing social media:

So Much Noise: Are Academics being Over-Branded? – http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2013/03/so-much-noise/ Being Negative in Social Media is Plain Old Bad Social Business – http://socialmediatoday.com/nealschaffer/823681/being-negative-social-media-plain-old-bad-social-business

I am in a McLuhan-esque mood, which I imagine has something to do with the fact that I am auditing a class on Media History & Theory and week 1 is McLuhan week. I’m also teaching a course on introduction one Media History, Theory, & Criticism and the end of the first week of readings is “The Medium is the Message”. This makes me insanely happy. I am looking forward to speaking about it because I saw the trailer for the Pirate Bay movie (above) and it sort of changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life. Then I went to the #Duke21C class yesterday and Cathy Davidson said something that changed my life, or the way I was thinking about life again. She reminded us that most of our students have never been alive in a world without the internet/world wide web. Whoooooooooosh!

So. I am old, relatively, in that I lived in an ancient world. I understand that it is the result of the last information age and the amount of things that changed with it. I am thankful to have gone through it, and to have the frame of reference that allows me to speak to my students about a time when everyone had to use a calling card or make a collect call at some point. And use a pay phone. And not have social media in the way we think of social media today [side note, when I asked them to rank the most important forms of media from 1-2, most of them had only 1. The Internet, 2. Social Media. In the past news always came out on top.]

I think that, for the people of my generation, the transitional generation (home internet really took off when I was in middle school, so I had the landline version of a social network before I had my award winning geocities site in the 90s), the adjustment of seeing the computer as more than an extension of our hands took a lot of time. We have memories of a life outside of the screen. I am making a guess here, but I am feeling like the thing that made the TPBAFK trailer so “whoa” for me was that they said that the stuff that happens in the computer is real life, so they say they know each other AFK (Away from Keyboard) instead of IRL (In Real Life). They already know each other IRL through the screen! This means, and really this explains so much, that the screen, especially for say, my students who have always had these kind of screens, is no longer a window to an imaginary world. Screens are, instead, just an extension of the whole body/world. Things that happen there are real! It seems we haven’t readily acknowledged this culturally completely just yet.

I mean, I joke about the idea of relationships being “facebook official”, even as I watch relationships develop, evolve, and devolve through facebook status updates. I come across editorial stories from other people weekly that speak about the brother or sister who found out their brother or sister was pregnant or had a baby through a mass social media post, mass texting or a blog post instead of calling on the telephone and how confusing/upsetting the situation was for the receiver of the news. I think it is funny though, that most of us, even those of us old enough to remember a time before the internet, upon receiving good news often post it somewhere rather than individually emailing and calling. It is simply more efficient, and it is where most of our interactions with friends, family, and colleagues are happening anyway. It might not be physical, but it is our world. I think that is where we are with the screens. We are not IRL and online anymore. We’re either At Keyboard or away from keyboard… but even then, we usually have a keyboard in our pockets at this point.

And a lot of times, even when we are in the same room, something that happened in #Duke21C yesterday, we are still At Keyboard, having conversations in the backchannels of our worlds with the people in the room as well as those in the open world of the web.