Category: digital

  • Initial thoughts on libraries, time, digital things, and oracle bones

    Disclaimer(s): I have a lot to read and a lot to learn. I am not with my books so I don’t have citations on hand. Like most digital things i write/share, these are just draft thoughts…

    While media studies and cultural studies tend to focus on time together and distance as important points to begin theoretical engagements, my first impression of being in a library is that is a place that does not. Rather than grappling with the effects of time and ruminating on coevalness, the goal of the library is preservation. The notion that “new and cutting edge research”, with lots of citations and impact is key is no longer at play. Instead, a first conversation with a preservationist was about a single object existing in the year 2073. The implied thought was, and forever more after that or for generations to come. I was also able to watch the care that goes into to book restoration, treating it as a precious object that must somehow endure across time.

    My initial thought is digital work goes against the central goal of the library. It’s ephemeral nature leaves it probe to disappearance and decontexualization. Though I generally don’t say it explicitly most of my research, writing and work is focused on how do we create spaces of knowledge production with digital tools given the risk that comes from decontexualization and context collapse. This moment of “Fake News” is just as likely to occur as an amazing discovery that previous assumptions didn’t take into account an object that has been digitized by an archive that previously was mostly out of reach. Likewise, when people engage in digital spaces they are risking themselves to various types of exposure and surveillance.

    But this moment I am obsessed with an object..

    Columbia has Oracle bones. They were digitized in 3D and are available online but require a special viewer. You can see pictures at

    And wikipedia has a thing on them too:

    I am probably fetishizing presence and coevalness. However, as far as how I move through the world, I tend to think that each moment is its own thing and the places and things we are together with are as meaningful as we allow them to be. I was with the Oracle Bones. This thing that was once part of a living create, that then was taken by another human 3000 years ago and written on because it had a divine destiny existed with me for a moment in time, in all of its fragility from 3000 years of existence. Unlike a museum, in a library there is no glass. There is you and the object of curiosity. These moments take my breath away. I have them with digital discovery too, but mainly with photographs. Perhaps it is just me being attached to those human connections that are able to exist across time. I feel a similar way when I encounter a well read older book. Let me stop this tangent…

    The temporality of the digital can never capture the fragility of physical objects. This is something I am always thinking about because we experience the digital as a non physical thing, ignoring that even the digital is composed of many objects that will also deteriorate and disappear over time. It also contains its own obsolescence. Digital things are, by the nature of how we use remediated digital content, designed to exist on a screen or server or other object designed to display the digital object temporarily before the screen, action, etc disappears or moves on to the next thing. For me, rather than being a tool of in perpetuity the digital, then, is something that adds time to the physical objects it remediates. It is capable of allowing new lines of inquiry because it allows place and time to lose their importance. The digital allows for collaboration more easily and across borders. Finally it increases the time a person is has to examine the digital analog object in new digitally enabled ways to create new knowledge.

    Remediation and its implications are so important, especially in terms of being able to understand digital time for me. I think this is where the disconnect that I have to suture in my work exists. Libraries are about linear time in a very meaningful way. A thing existed, and it should exist forward in time as it is. The digital, as a medium that only ever remediates and often reduces fidelity, is about time that is more cyclical and sometimes circular. It is about creation with built in destruction and disappearance. If a digital thing is to exist in linear time it must be redone as technologies evolve or the aesthetic qualities or even the ability to access things as they were disappears. In addition to this, the forgotten encounter with a digital object is are revisited or stored in cache, algorithms, and browsing histories by machines. But these digital objects add time to the physical objects.

    Despite all of this, digital objects reduce the natural decay that is part of physical existence. The oracle bones, fragile and more broken than when they were first used after 3000 years, have a new life as digital objects. There is knowledge and deep engagement that is not time or place dependant. And they can sit in their boxes in climate controlled rooms, only to come out by request, and even then only for a moment. But these moments allow for a connection to knowledge and experience across time, and serve as a reminder that even if there is a digital switch that could be turned off tomorrow objects endure, just as we humans do thus far.

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  • Rethinking Trauma and Crisis in the Digital Age (to revisit maybe later)

    This piece on public shaming and digital trauma Caitlin White has my head spinning which is bad because I have too much work to do today so I can’t properly sit with it. So, here is my thought:

    The digital world increases the velocity of trauma turning it into crisis more quickly by not allowing individuals distance from the event. However, the crisis rarely occurs at scale, instead staying at the level of the individual.

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  • Drones are for boys: Gender and popular surveillance culture

    I am slated to teach Introduction to new media again (very happy about that). In this course I try to have a signature project for the students that is relevant to their life or the current socio- cultural, political, and historical context. Last time, all of my students were seniors so they did a “master of your own domain” project. This semester, I am planning on some how getting a video capable drone and having the students push the drone to its creative limits through making experimental digital shorts, with the backdrop of learning about the current political and legal, commercial interest etc. conversations around drones.

    So… I sent an email to a few drone companies asking if they have any form of educational discount as I will more than likely end up having to purchase the drone myself for use in the classroom, especially if I can’t find an adequate discount. One company replied, not only not answering my question (they suggested a different model), but they started the email to me with “Dear Sir“.


    It wasn’t an auto email. Someone replied and called me a sir. I think there are two reasons for this. Someone sees teaching fellow/professor and assumes male… (and I guess Jade is sort of unisex, but I’ve never met a man named Elizabeth) and drones seem to be for boys and men… specifically middle aged white men with a good amount of disposable income. Now, I am not saying they are the only ones who use drones for fun. However, I spent almost all of Saturday and half of Sunday watching people’s drone videos and tips, and comparisons, etc (I should probably be ashamed of the amount of hours I spent (seriously, it was more than 15)… and none of the people coming from the US did not fit that demographic. It was a bit shocking. I didn’t expect it to be so homogenous. So, I feel even more determined to have my class use a drone for the purpose of a creative intervention. The demographics of my University and the major means our courses tend to have more women than men. I want them to make videos and share them.

    Boys grow up and get remote control toys like airplane and cars. I guess girls are supposed to get easy bake ovens and baby dolls. Boys grow into men and the toys are upgraded to drones. Girls become mothers and get the kitchen. That is what this is feeling like.
    When girls are depicted as doing surveillance it is almost always to show they are crazy and unhinged. There are a few things where women get to be spies or thieves too with special gadgets, etc, but the popular trope of the snooping girlfriend or wife seems to be dominant and pretty well accepted. When are doing surveillance they are generally super cool spies, action heroes, military (or related career) men, or hobbyist with a bunch of disposable income and time. I was one of those little girls that loved cooking, but on a stove… and even more than cooking loved my chemistry set and my race track. I always wanted remote control vehicles instead of the barbies and baby dolls i would get. The barbies lost their heads, and the dolls were never touched. I longed to see commercials as a kid that showed that things like hotwheels were for me too so when I told my family and other kdis that I wanted boy toys it would be normal. This is part of the reason the lack of representation of girl droners out in the world populating the YouTubes was so… epically sad for me. That this seems to be so culturally ingrained, and from a young age makes me sad too. But it seems to be our popular surveillance culture. I desperately want drones to be for girls too though.

    Anyway, if anyone out there in the silence of the internet has suggestions for affordable video capable drones, please send them. I’m thinking that all the companies will say no about educational discounts right now (and all of them might call me a sir), but… I will find a way to make this happen.

    Also, if there are any amazing girl droners or research out there and on gender demographics and/or the culture of drone hobbyists (did a search and found nothing), that would be awesome too.

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  • “Hottentot” bodies, disorganized thoughts

    I saw something the other day. On the Hottentot Venus wikipedia page, there was a copy of an advertisement, not well sourced. I was looking into the often told story of fashion being influenced by the Khoikhoi body type. Namely the bustle, that thing that protrudes at the back of dresses from the 1800s, when it came into fashion. Are you lost yet? It gets worse. Apparently there was another famous “hottentot” who was around at the same time as  Saartjie Baartman. But, her body wasn’t treated the same, or maybe she lived a long and happy life, or something… her name has disappeared, but I found a reference to her existence somewhere in the archives and went on a hunt for her name and lost the original reference in the process but learned a lot more on the other side. And, as an aside, “hottentots” were shown for a really long time. I have a hard time with all the ones we forget for how strong the memory of Saartjie Baartman is… but I understand. I really, truly, understand.  It is why I can’t bring myself to post the very old pictures of the cast of her body that was in the Jardins, even though I know where that photo lives digitally. It hurts to see. But, there were more. And they displayed the men and children too. Here are some albums from the 1884 international exposition in Paris (I don’t remember there being images of the children here): f1 My relationship with these images is complicated. I will be addressing it in my dissertation (and I addressed part of it in my article). I mean, that part is basically written… the nuts and bolts of it is this though is, often people chose to go to these expositions. We cannot know why. But, often times, these images that come from these awful practices are the only reflections we see of bodies that look like ours in the historical photographic archive. And if we can step out of the colonial framing for a moment, and look again, maybe we’ll see something else. Maybe we’ll even find a name. For instance, the woman on the right in this series of photos is named Bebye Rooi.The names of the other two have been lost to history. I know her name because of the amazing work of Deborah WIllis and Carla Williams, who use one of the photos from this series in their book “The Black Female Body: A Photographic History”.


    Anyway, in the midst of my research I found plays that talk about the Hottentot Venus and how in love with her body people were from 1814. I read the play linked below about a man who is so enamored with the idea of Venus Hottentot that he refuses to marry his cousin. She meets a man who tells her how popular the body shape is in Paris. All the women are buying clothes and house coats that allow them to have a body in her shape. She buys one of these outfits. Her cousin immediately falls in love with her, and when the real Venus Hottentot arrives he accuses her of being an impostor.

    I found a single reference to the “tournure hottentote” (hottentot bustle) in my initial French search. It was in a digest of court cases. The story is actually a little bit funny. A wife told her husband she was pregnant for the fourth time. He kicked her out of the house and sent her to the hospital and told her not to return home if she brought home another girl (they had three girls already). Well, luck would have it that she had a girl. And he didn’t let her come back. So with the help of a friend who had a key and had a neighbor who was on her side, when he was away she would have the neighbor go to the house and get her stuff, including a pot. The neighbor put the pot under her dress as he ran into her during one of these find and retrieve runs, in the back. He was very angry about the pot and said she looked ridiculous, with that pot giving her a “tournure hottentote” (you can read all about it here: Since my French search was turning up nothing, and I’d fallen down a black hole of research for the night on this weird historical representation

    This one was a bit painful because the idea of the body had gone from beautiful but grotesque (I think we understand grotesque but beautiful things) to monstrous… and it becomes monstrous at the time those three beautiful women above were in paris as well as the others in that album possibly. Anyway, after the French search I moved on to research in English. I found tons of photos American Bustles that mimic the shape, so I’m wondering if it was more an american fashion thing (will need to find a fashion scholar to ask). But something else happened… I looked up “hottentot bustle” and learned that it is medical short hand for Steatopygia, the medical term for having a completely natural body shape. The shape is described as having a backside that looks like it belongs to a wholey different body. But.. these women, men and children existed and exist. That’s why I think these photos are important.

    and it hurts that this is the medical terminology.  That is from 1994, so 20 years ago. So I did another scholar search and found medical references as recently as 2011 that call it the hottentot bustle.. and I learned that hottentot apron is the shorthand for elongated labia, or Hypertrophy of the labia minora, because that is something that was also common amongst the tribe. Another “medical condition” to describe perfectly normal bodies. That term also has an article from the 2010s, but I didn’t bookmark it and don’t care to look for it right now. So… a search for a name and a fashion reference (which yes, i found some in Vaudeville, but have not yet found a hard link to it changing fashion), led to finding out a bunch of other disturbing stuff. But it’s the stuff that makes me think it’s important that we see the image above for what it is, and for what it could be. I write about image 3 in my dissertation (if you click through on the image you can see a bigger version). The women are linked, they are embodied, and they are there. For some they might be an oddity, but for someone like me, and many others, it is one of the few occasions I see my body reflected back historically. And, despite the circumstance, their heads are high. They aren’t some marvel of modern medicine. They are just there. And they are beautiful. And I am thankful that I know they existed, even though I will only ever know the name of one. I never did find the name of the other famous “hottentot” from the early 1800s… she’s lost to a few historical footnotes.

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  • My First Twitter Bot: @FanonInFrench


    Yesterday I finally managed to successfully create a twitter bot. Thanks go out to the amazing twitter community that made this possible, namely @samplereality who provided me with the easiest bot creator I’ve found to date… and I say easiest because I managed to get it to work in less than 30 minutes, once I realized I’d been forgetting to authenticate. The tutorial he suggested that worked can be found here:

    I think it might be something I use in my classes too, just need to come up with the broader framework and theoretical engagement. I know it’s there, but I’m stuck on the “OMG this is so friggin cool” moment still.

    Why this bot?

    Because why not? No. That isn’t the reason. I’ve been vocal of the years about how horrid that American translations of Fanon’s works are, partially because of the time they were translated in and the political situation on the ground here. But, it can be translated better, in bits and pieces, by a bot and a platform. You see, twitter has integrated bing translate. So if you click on a tweet, you have an option to translate it, and the translations so far have been pretty good. So, gift to anyone who is interested.

    The other reason I made this bot is… I like have random bits of Fanon show up in my own twitter timeline. So, as a result, we now have @FanonInFrench putting the quotes out there as they were originally written, because.. I think that’s important.

    The one thing about the amazing simple bot creator that I used is, there’s a limit to the text archive. Which is fine. It means that I have to form a schedule of when and what to update. But, I think that’s good to. It’s like a half bot bot. Or I’m part bot. Or, it’s a cyborg bot. Right now I’m trying to determine if text will be updated weekly on Friday, or bi-weekly. Given my character, I imagine it will be updated once a week.

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  • Panopticology, or why I get to be a know it all (especially about coffee)

    So… I have a phone. A smart one. I call it my information calculator for shits and giggles, but really, that is what it is. My relationship to information, like many people have said over and over again, has totally changed because if I get interested in something and I have just my phone with me… boom, in less than 5 minutes I can know more than I ever wanted to know… which is partially how I because I an amateur coffee roasting expert, complete with my own in office coffee bar (because I have 9 to 5 job and have made myself entitled to a certain level of quality from my coffee) for my personal use (and those who come over for a cup when I’m brewing) in my office. And if you think I’m kidding, here is picture proof, taken by my dear friend when she came to visit me at my office.

    But I think this is where internet culture seems to be going. I think I’ve thought the expertise thing for a long time. It goes along with self-branding, and that role self-branding and popularity play in social media. It’s very, intense, and confusing. Or not really. I guess I should say, as a child of the half offline half online generation of teenagers, I find it weird. And I’m not a teenager anymore. I’m someone who is studying digital culture because I’m deeply interested in the ways we turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into culture (and the implications of all that). It’s sort of what I’m writing my dissertation on. I think the coffee thing is a part of that too. I’ve decided to be a coffee snoob (it’s like a n00b coffee snob), but it’s personal. I won’t judge you for your coffee drinking decisions but I might encourage you to try a nice single origin roast from Yemen because it’s fantastic. Or the blend of Panama Esmerelda Gesha with Ethiopia Deri Kochowa roasted just past new England and rested for 24 hours…. because omg it’s so flowery and perfect. For things like this, the panoptic gaze of the internet seems fine, except for I think we think we’re seeing something that we aren’t. It’s like this:



    We think we are moving, like in picture at the top of the article, but what we actually see is this static world of non-movement. So I made this tweet to describe it, that I’m going to embed rather than rewrite because I can:

    I think this was spurred on by two things I’m seeing in the internet circles I run in… there’s lots of talk on surveillance happening, and lots of talk about colonization, post-coloniality, and (my heart baby) decolonization… but I’m not seeing a lot of cross over, and I find that weird. Maybe a little confusing too… because colonization was always about controlling from some central source of power, have overseers, etc, out. And it was always about, even when that central power was invisible, making sure that those subjected to the power of whoever/whatever had control felt that control psychically. So… to me, and this is a thread through most of my work too, if I am being completely honest, which, since I said I’m a know it all I am, almost everything is about the methods of control, power, and relations that were set up through all the various types of colonization throughout history… and I take the history waaaay back… like.. empires and stuff. It’s just the human pattern. Technology, and seeing humans as technology for use outside of war settings changed it drastically…

    So… what does this have to do with anything? Nothing really, other than I think many of us, myself included, are stuck in these suspended animations where we think we are making movement, but we’re really just on a spinning disk with a set sequence. I think that is what many of the reactions to recent social injustices have looked like. I think that is what the conversation around prison culture looks like. I think that is what the surveillance conversation is looking like. And I think that is what many of the attempts to break open the post-colonial into the decolonial are doing…

    and that just brought something together for me. So now I will shamelessly self plug my article again. If you read from page 12, the section that is all performance studies titled: “Re/bound/ed: Mapping trauma and crisis”. I think we don’t realize how much we close off conversations, and how stuck we are. I used to think it was an echo-chamber but there’s too much movement for that. It is definitely more like a Phenakistoscope. A flat disk surrounded by dark edges where we focus on the parts we can see moving and take it for the whole… because that is our experience. The crappy thing about the internet information over-underload is that we assume we are getting a panoptic gaze of things, forgetting that the content we see still started with people. Even the bots. The underlying part is still human, and our experience, because… death. it limited.

    So… not sure if there is a solution other than to keep googling. And talking. And searching. And finding things like coffee to be the places you decide to enter the oblivion of the internet-panoptic.

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  • Digital Media Saturation & Knowledge Creation (or a trick of the light)

    “Official culture still strives to force the new media to do the work of the old media. But the horseless carriage did not do the work of the horse; it abolished the horse and did what the horse could never do. Horses are fine. So are books.” – Marshall McLuhan

    The other day I picked up a book and tried to look through it. I didn’t flip through the pages or turn the book over, I simply held it in my hands and brought it closer to my face to see if anything became clearer is the distance between my eyes and the thing in my hand diminished. Much to my dismay, rather than anything contained within the book becoming clearer, I found all I was doing was make the world around me darker. The contained universe of the book is fascinating because it is something we are, for the most part culturally literate in. It contains its own beginning and end and the mind of its creator. It can fit in the palm of our hands. Because most of us have had experiences where we had to write something but couldn’t find the words to fill in the space, we understand the labor that goes into the task of its creation. Because we can hold in our hands and take time to look through it, because even when it is not in our hands it doesn’t change, the book becomes its own standard. And it is the standard we have for where knowledge worth knowing is contained. The book is the prism we use to understand knowledge. The book seems to be the model we’re building from to determine what knowledge online should look like. Me writing this is no exception. There is a slight difference I’d like to call attention to though by asking a question:


    What color is the sky?

    I recently asked this question during my session at DML, with a different image of a blue sky, text in blue. There was no response. I had to ask twice, and everyone said blue. It was the only answer that was logical given the givens of the image and the cultural understanding we have of the color of the sky. I have to confess I spent a good portion of my life thinking the sky was blue as well, until I listened to an episode of the podcast radiolab called “Colors”.

    It is an fantastic episode. I highly suggest anyone who has time listen to the whole thing. There is a section in the podcast titled “Why Isn’t the Sky Blue?” that brought me to using the question about the sky to understand the digital as a space of knowledge production and what I like to call knowledge-play that. The piece explains that the sky has not always been blue because across cultures, blue is the last color humans learn to recognize. The sky, without the cultural knowledge of blue then is something without color. But, because we have blue, the sky is blue.

    What I think is fascinating about this is even with blue, the sky we experience is capable of being so many more colors within the limited range of colors we can see (another topic explored in the podcast). It is many colors we can’t see as well. But cultural we know for certain that the sky is, in fact, blue.

    2014-03-09 08.53.14 pm

    I googled “the definition of saturation” so you don’t have to. It makes one of those wonderful little google boxes pop up that contains a bunch of information including the definition of saturation that is important to my thinking here:

    (esp. in photography) the intensity of a color, expressed as the degree to which it differs from white.

    My chapter in Field Note’s for the 21st Century is titled “The Medium is Light”. It is freely available on the HASTAC website and Rap Genius You can see the condensed video version created as part of an assignment give to me and my co-authors from Omar Daouk

    What is the 21st Century Medium? from Duke 21C on Vimeo.

    a video exploring aspects of digital media through McLuhan’s the Medium is the Massage and the Medium is the Message.

    Since writing the book, and I more thoughts on the important for understanding light and why McLuhan’s statement that “light is pure information” is so important in this moment as we still try to figure out how the digital can be used to create a classroom without walls. I’ve already pointed to the problem of using the book as the prism for knowledge in the digital age, and provided some other things from McLuhan that show that this conversation is not a new one. What is new though is how light based electronic media have become as discussed in the chapter and video linked to above. I am a bit obsessed with backlit screens and fibre optic cables because they are our primary information sources now:

    The information me we see is reflections of information that is projected and I think that is a theoretical explosion (and I sort of love thought explosions because they lead to the creation of new worlds).

    If we go back to the episode of radiolab, it starts with a story of Newton trying to figure out if the color was in the prism or if it was in the light. You should listen to the podcast to hear the cultural beliefs and how he eventually figured out the prism (It worth the time!). We cultural know how prisms work. And we can use it as a metaphor, as I did when I started. The book is the prism we have for knowledge. Our devices, computers, smart phones, tablets, phablets, etc. are the prisms we use to filter and render digital data and information. Prism has a specific cultural relevance with regards to digital information given the revelations from the summer. I don’t think that is a coincidence. What my message is with all of this, especially with regards to understanding knowledge in our current information age is that, we have to think of how playful light can be. There is something from the book that I think translates very well to light. A book is like a shadow, it blocks out a lot of stuff so you get a silhouette of relevant information. Right now,
    when we think of the light of the internet it is like the light of the sun, blinding if you look directly into it, but helpful and necessary to live in a world where data and information are currency.

    I recently went to a Ken Wissoker talk at Duke University. He was speaking about the (academic) book. He said it is no longer the place to create new information because the information is already on the internet. The more interesting books will come up with new ways of interpreting or putting the information together. So what is the role of the digital then? I think it is to make shadow puppets. When we use it as a flashlight, like I’ve tried to do with this post, where we highlight, play with, bring together, and make move information that’s relevant to the thing we are trying to understand, if we learn to apply filters, and change the data we are rendering with our electronic devices into meaningful bits of media that resemble media from the past, we might just figure out the color(s) of the digital information age. I hope that it doesn’t end up being like the sky, stuck in a single hue, but instead it is a dynamic ever-shifting gradient that pushes the limits of our perceptions and understanding.

    all photos from pixabay
    find out more about the panel at DML 2014

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  • The “Social” of Big Data or There Once was a “cat”

    So…. This past weekend I had what is known as a sleep fail, and decided to work on stuff I’d been putting off doing because … that’s what we do. In the midst of it all, twitter, through Kate Crawford, brought a story that appeared on the register about Googles computer becoming smart on their own, and I thought it as perfect. The title was “

    If this doesn’t terrify you… Google’s computers OUTWIT their humans‘Deep learning’ clusters crack coding problems their top engineers can’t

    One of the things I’ve been trying to think through over the past three months? is how the social exists, intertwines, or matters in big data. Here are some draft thoughts… still working through it.

    Begin Draft Thoughts

    The biggest myth I’ve identified to date in trying to understand how we can move from Big Data to individuals is that there is no social in big data. There are things that happen in Big Data that have strong effects on the spaces we conceive of as being social (the area of most interest for me being the ethical/legal space), but big data inherently reduces the actions that my ethnomethodological heart would call individuals to neutral points on a graph or system that is interlinked with other points that might be individuals, objects, or things, as organized by some algorithmic system that was original programmed based on programs of other people to output information that can be read by whatever needs to read it to begin another action. The reason I say “read by a whatever” is because the reader might or might not end up being a human. A good portion of the reading that is done is done by other machines and algorithms, and endless loop of finding meaning and actions in the patterns or behaviour of programmed points. This becomes even more interesting because the most successful instance to date of a machine learning reading big data came from Google. The model they used for that machine was the human brain, and of course, one of the first things their neural network learned to do was recognize cats.

    Only, it didn’t actually learn to recognize “cats”. I learned that there was a connection between this phenomenon of grouping pixels together in a specific way that became a pattern of unknown name for the human machine that was only recognized as “cat” when a human reader took the information the machine had compiled, looked at the pattern image the machine had created and recognized it as “cat”. Up until that moment, the machine had simply algorithmically found a pattern in the noise of the data. “The Social” we find in big data is like the Google cat, only even more imaginary, inasmuch as there is no algorithm that can output “the social” as “the social” is something we define in our scholarly pursuits to understand the phenomena that occur in patterned sets amongst individual actors linked together by contingent circumstances defined for the purpose of our scholarly projects.

    With Big Data, researchers try to show through the occurrence of patterns that emerge in conditions that have been set on multiple levels show that there is some hidden universal truth through which we can “make economic, social, technical, and legal claims”. Even more than the links within the structured data environments being false, the idea that anything that can be gotten from these new sources of big data, especially those favored by social scientists, as the name of the genre reads as though it was created for them, social media is an imagined social. When we begin to look at use statistics and demographic information from Social Media Sites (SMS) such as twitter and Facebook, we can clearly see how, even though the data they have is big, and the algorithms they have are massive, the percentage of global populations than use these sites regularly is relatively small, and relatively homogenous when it comes to things such as age, or education level, geographic hotspots etc. leaving the individual data plots as relatively uninteresting shapes that move in ebbs and flows. The ebbs and flows end up being the interesting part of the pseudo-social interactions of big data. And even these are colored and shaped by programming written by an individual who expected to see certain types of movement within the big data as it was put through an algorithm that turned it into understandable information, individuals who are increasingly being pushed to create outputs that are more visually pleasing in lieu of conducting a deeper analysis of the data and its implications.

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  • books & big data & my human dilemma

    I have a dilemma. The part of me that was trained as a social scientist is intrigued by big data while the part of me that is trained as a critical humanist is screaming “where are the humans!?” There is this whole beautiful book The Human Faces of Big Data that says it tackles the subject, but it is… weird. It is all weird right now. So I thought I might share a few more thoughts on the limits I’m seeing with big data as a concept. I suppose I should be up front and acknowledge that I never could quite catch the post-human bandwagon. I have no burning desire to merge with the machine anymore than I already have. In fact, I am quite happy with my life as a cyborg. That being said, we are being compiled as unique data sets in this new world of big data… Only I’m not sure how new it is.

    Big Data and the Book

    One of the earlier modes of downloading large amounts of data, that also captured spirits of  the human behind its creation (basically the beta release of post humanism) is the book. Books record of complex thoughts into a physicality corpus that was smaller than its creator yet captured thoughts in a transferable way, copy able way, reproduceable way… And had many of the same ownership problems we are seeing now with digital media, but also personal data… Here is why I can’t buy in to post humanism as it is being imagined in my little world of media & technology studies, would you ever look at a book and think “that’s a human”?  As in books, it seems there are no humans in big data. I’ve been searching for a bit and the human hasn’t revealed itself. It seems the human is only the start place and the end place for the machines to communicate, create machine readable knowledge, make decisions, and then predict the next action of the unique data set (individual actor, item or thing).

    Big Data is Predictive Future Time

    I think the scale of big data (omfg Zettabytes!) and the relationship to time are the biggest change. While books are always already a recording of past thoughts, big data is mobilized toward the future. While books are designed to influence current thought and possibly shape the future, the focus seems to be more on the past informing the now. Big Data with its focus on pattern recognition, prediction, and visualization of this information in artistic and abstract yet understandable terms seems to exist in what I am thinking is a concept of time that is always already grounded in the future. Big Data has limited value to the past, in as much as yes it helps us understand the past but isn’t mobilizable in a meaningful way unless we can some how use it to say something about the to come…

    This is the central problem to me I think. When we don’t allow the “now” to exist… and I feel like big data moves so quickly, and there is so much of it that there is never a “now”, we don’t allow a space for human experience.  And while I love patterns, and I am fine with them existing, the space of experience is where humans create meaning out of this finite thing we call life. When we move towards understanding everything as a bit of data in a large data stream that can tell us something about the future, we erase the human, inherently.  And because we erase the human, the ethical components of big data are hard to place, because there are no bodies in data. We see the result of this when we look at the current actions that have come to light of the US Government, recent ebbs and flows of various exchanges that are now run by computers, my favorite big data story ever of Target contacting the pregnant teenager before she had the chance to tell her family, etc.

    I know that there is work being done on biases in big data, which is awesome. I think in addition to that, we need to start asking where the human in big data is too. The concept of big data makes it easy to sort of lose the human in the stream… but we have countless examples to show that when it moves to places of power (government, target, financial markets, MOOCs!, etc), it is mobilized to discern the difference in individuals and individual items against the aggregate… and when this happens there are real world effects that happen to actual human bodies.

    So yes. Actual humans and big data… where’s the conversation?

    As an aside on the future of the book

    Since I’ve been speaking with people over the years on the future of the book in the digital world, I’m beginning to wonder if the problem is that we are “out of time” when we try to translate the form. While books are always the past, digital data is always about the future at this point, because we are sort of big data now. As such, I feel like perhaps to get a digital “book” project would need to be incomplete, to be completed/expanded at a later time by multiple anonymous people outside of the original creator.

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  • Second Iteration: A letter to Fanon & McLuhan

    Department Colloquium is over.   I had some nice questions on why I chose to do a letter and some good feedback on some areas to expand/move forward.  The act of putting the first first draft online was good. I thought it might be nice to share how it evolved since people were kind enough to read the first iteration and send me feedback.

    The Talk

    For the past few years anytime I’ve read McLuhan it has been while I am in the process of reading Fanon.  As a result, their words swirl together in my head as though they are in conversation.  While the most common link take McLuhan and Fanon together because McLuhan samples A Dying Colonialism in War and Peace in the Global Village, I am making another connection today. Arun Saldanha briefly touched on this connection in the 2010 article “Skin, affect, aggregation: Guattarian variations on Fanon”, but I am pushing it further as I move towards developing a way to understand the intersection of race, media, and technology, especially as we trace the evolution of this intersection to its present moment of the Digital.

    The piece I am sharing with you today is a thought experiment.  It is influenced by D. Soyini Madison’s Performing theory/embodied writing. It’s playing with McLuhan’s method of writing as though making a collage, and it’s answering Fanon’s call in The Wretched of the Earth, to use imagination to create a new now.  My new now speaks with the both McLuhan and Fanon through the “Playboy Interview” and the introduction of Black Skins, White Masks.

    My hope with this piece, tentatively titled “A Letter to Frantz and Marshall”, is that it can eventually move into a larger project that might or might not be a dissertation chapter examining the role of fibre optic cables, light as pure information, and the “net of colonization” to examine how the digital creates a reparative space where we as a society can create explosions that allow us to imagine the body and the human in a new light.

    Please note, for the purposes of this piece I will be speaking with both men on a first name basis. Frantz is Frantz Fanon and Marshall is Marshall McLuhan.

    === A Letter to Fanon and McLuhan===

    Dear Frantz  & Marshall,

    I know the two of you never officially met, except for that brief instance where Frantz’s words become yours in War and Peace in the Global Village Marshall.  You are meeting now though, in my head, and I am attempting to move that meeting to an external data storage device as words on a virtual page, that will eventually move to ink on paper.

    Marshall, you said something along the lines of technology is the extension of the human body  in the Medium is the Massage. The entirety of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man also explores this relationship.  When I think of this idea in relation to your reflections in “the Playboy Interview”, reflections that lead you to saying black bodies are left outside of technology, I can’t help but smile a little as I remember Fanon’s point in Black Skin, White Masks.  The Black man is not fully human.  It seems that what you are speaking towards when you speak of the issues of the Black man (and the Indian to a lesser extent) Marshall, are the societal effects of the technologically extension of a Human body that is assumed to be less than Human.  This seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a bit of a circle because the black man/person being less than human is directly linked to their inability to be seen as fully connected to and through technology.

    Frantz, you said something that I am finding myself seeing true about the Human experience, what and who is human is determined by the negation of the black man.  If media technologies are all just an extension of the human body, and that which in fact makes us fully human and connected, returning us to the global village without margins or centers, then it stands to reason that to understand the Human we must also understand the relationship between the black man and technology.  It is the relationship defined by a technological lack that will show us the blind spots in our Utopian vision.

    If we look at technology as the extension of man, it seems we must begin to see slaves as the foundational technology of not just the United States, but the West as a whole as connected through the Atlantic slave trade.  If we understand that these bodies were seen as a lack due to their distance from the technologies of the West we can see that they are not human bodies but are rather  a media technology like any other media technology.  It becomes easier for Black bodies to be subsumed into a system of commerce.  As media technology they served as an extension of the body of their owners, increasing the size, scale and pace of agriculture in a plantation economy as machines in the garden.  Their bodies, not their humanity, made them central to the process of taming the frontier and cultivating the new world towards a European vision.  Their bodies allowed for time and capital to grow at a new pace, across more space in ways not seen before the Atlantic slave trade became a well-oiled machine, delivering raw technology for hundreds of years.  If we extend this beyond the Atlantic slave trade to include the colonization of Africa in the 1800s, Jim Crow in the United States, and Apartheid in South Africa, the timeline is even longer. When we look at the issues of Neo-colonialism, the continued territory, protectorate, or militarily occupied status of many formerly colonized African states, as well as the penal labor system that is currently growing in the United States, we might even say that the black body as part of the industrial machine never ended. It is important to note though that black bodies are no longer the only bodies that make up this labor technoloy. That is, however, a separate conversation.

    Both of you think an over extension of the body through technology leads to psychosis.  The psychosis is predicated on a loss of self in relation to the body. Technology is to be built upon, extended, evolved and, subsumed.  For the black man the extension is based on an over association with the White Man. If we are thinking through this with the parameters Marshall laid out coupled with the history of Black slaves as technology, the extension you are illustrating Frantz shows a moment of technology becoming sentient, believing itself to be too Human.

    The difference seems to be, if I understand you both correctly, that the causes and results of the manifestation of the psychosis differs from the White man to the black man.  The black man’s psychosis is in the realization that he can never be as human as the white man in his quest for more and more technology even as the white man tells the black man to try and catch up.  The rhetoric we continue to hear today around digital divide constructs the black man this way.  The white man though, in a need to assert his own humanity and recreate centuries of social structuring is compelled to increase the distance between him and those bodies he imagines as closer to raw technology. The White man overextends himself in this quest, losing sight of his body, becoming post-human.  In his post-humanity he removes the capability of seeing the Black man as human, even as he, the white man, longs to go back to an imagined before time, a time where he too was Human.  The psychoses of the white man comes from the Black mans closeness to his body.  His inability to be extended keeps him closer to the human than the flight away that is occurring in the White post-humanism movement. A second layer of psychosis for the white man comes from watching the Black man work through his own psychosis, a psychosis characterized by a compulsion to emulate the White Man in an attempt to be recognized as Human, without access to the technological tools required to do so.  No matter how hard a black man tries to reach the world of the white man, his almost human hands can never touch it.

    Attempting to understand this psychosis is why I am writing both of you. I think both of you are hinting towards a level of consciousness that is innate to humanity that the black man has better access to perhaps because he hasn’t extended his body outward through technology as much as the white man (his extension, while outward facing, is more internal).  Despite the internal nature of this extension, the message received through technological mediation outside of the body causes misunderstanding that blinds and alienates the Black Man from this other level of consciousness because for the black man to have the realization that he can access it on a total scale would be an annihilation of the current social order.
    Marshall, you said,

    “The cultural aggression of white America against Negroes and Indians is not based on skin color and belief in racial superiority, whatever ideological clothing may be used to rationalize it, but on the white man’s inchoate awareness that the Negro and Indian — as men with deep roots in the resonating echo chamber of the discontinuous, interrelated tribal world — are actually psychically and socially superior to the fragmented, alienated and dissociated man of Western civilization,”

    Are you not speaking directly to Frantz and his beliefs that that it is the mistake of the black man to not already realize he is the defining instance of humanness and humanity, for it is he who has access to the zone of non-being. I think, Frantz, you can clarify this for me.  You said,

    Running the risk of angering my black brothers, I shall say that the Black is not a man.

    There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinary sterile and arid region, and incline stripped bare of every essential from which a genuine new departure can emerge. In most cases the black man cannot take advantage of this descent into a veritable hell.

    Man is not only the potential for self-consciousness or negation. If it be true that consciousness is transcendental, we must also realize that this transcendence is obsessed with the issue of love and understanding.  Man is a “yes” resonating from cosmic harmonies. Uprooted, dispersed, dazed, and doomed to watch as the truths he has elaborated vanish one by one, he must stop projecting his antinomy into the world” (xii).

    While you started with the transcendental consciousness, Marshall, it is where you ended your interview:

    “I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and man himself will become an organic art form.”

    Both of you see this movement towards the transcendental starting with the tribal, or black man.  And both of you see the inevitable violence the path of technology leads us on if we continue to see certain Humans as wretched and others as technologically superior.  As long as superiority is understood by the ability of a group of Humans to master, contain and control the messages of the mediums, and make them obsolete we will never break society of our racially based psychoses. (As an aside, if we see the black slave as pure technology, and technologies as building on top of each other making previous versions obsolete, the black and Indian man never had a chance.)  When I read these lines,

    “The one inexorable consequence of any identity quest generated by environmental upheaval is tremendous violence. This violence has traditionally been directed at the tribal man who challenged visual-mechanical culture, as with the genocide against the Indian and the institutionalized dehumanization of the Negro”.

    I am not sure who I am reading until I remind myself that Marshall, you were more interested in the Indian.  Had it been you Frantz, I think you would have said Arab.  Marshall, You spoke of the real possibility of the negro being exterminated through, something that I think can be softly confirmed if we look at statistics showing various ways people are moved from society, through imprisonment, literacy, or lack of access to the tools and technologies needed to be fully Human.  As though you saw this on the horizon as well, Frantz, you had already written a response, a call, and a reminder:

    I ask that I be taken into consideration on the basis of my desire. I am not only here-now, locked in thinghood. I desire somewhere else and something else. I demand that an account be taken of my contradictory activity insofar as I pursue something other than life, insofar as I am fighting for the birth of a human world, in other words, a world of reciprocal recognitions. He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me. In a fierce struggle I am willing to feel the shudder of death, the irreversible extinction, but also the possibility of impossibility (193).

    Where do we go from here though?

    I am thinking the three of us can push this a little bit further.  If we acknowledge that the black body represents pure technology, and technology is simply a way that we extend our own human bodies, and the medium that we use for this extension has its own message, then I think we can say the medium that represents humanity is the black man. Just as the light is pure information, to understand how we have come to define the human, especially as we try to understand the human through media technology, we must first understand the relation of humanity and humanness to the black body, the body that I think became a cyborg long ago.

    The next step for me is to expand this conversation and explore it through the role of black women, looking specifically at society’s current cause of psychosis and division, Digital Media.



    Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. Grove press, 1994.

    Fanon, Frantz. The wretched of the earth. Grove Press, 2005.

    Hayles, N. Katherine. How we became posthuman: Virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

    Madison, D. Soyini. “Performing theory/embodied writing.” Text and Performance Quarterly 19, no. 2 (1999): 107-124.

    Marx, Leo. The machine in the garden: Technology and the pastoral ideal in America. Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.

    McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore. The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books, 1967.

    McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press, 1994.

    McLuhan, Marshall, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. War and peace in the global village. McGraw-Hill, 1968.

    Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter Chow-White, eds. Race after the Internet. Routledge, 2012.

    Norden, Eric. “The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan.” Playboy Magazine(1969).

    Saldanha, Arun. “Skin, affect, aggregation: Guattarian variations on Fanon.”Environment and planning. A 42, no. 10 (2010): 2410.



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  • #Duke21C, McLuhan, AFK, & Life Before the www.

    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.

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  • Digital Imagination


    I am doing that reading thing that I do. I finally accepted that I am okay engaging with Psycho-analysis. I just can’t work with Lacan. It doesn’t work for my thinking. I’ve read a few things that have allowed this to be okay. Currently I am reading Kelly Oliver’s The Colonization of Psychic Space. It has been fantastic for me. It let me know that my thinking was on the write track and gave me many tools, quotes, and citations to explain why so much of the theoretical canon does not work for my project. So, as I speak into the abyss of the digital, I really want to say think you to Kelly Oliver for writing this book.

    One of the things that I am loving is she does such a wonderful deep engagement with Fanon. When I took my Fanon course, and wrote my paper, it was all about getting out of the net of colonization that he speaks about and creating new worlds by taking what exists and imagining it differently.

    So when I got to this part on page 42?

    If the true revolution is one of imagination, it requires not only the creation of positive values for those abjected by dominant culture but also the revaluation of values such that the very structure of valuation is opened up for transformation. It requires throwing off not only Marx’s imaginary chains but also chains that bind the imaginary and thereby restrict psychic space.

    There was a audible yes said and then some frantic typing.

    But what does this have to do with Digital Media?

    I’ve been thinking through my project and imagination in terms of Performance Studies. That seems like a natural fit. When I read this, it hit me that it is just as valid in terms of engagement with Media Studies as well. The Digital is a realm that allows us to actively engage in imagination towards world making. By being able to pick and choose what we see, what we share, what we put together, we create worlds that encapsulate both alienation and community/communal-ness, while at the same time, directly engaging what Western epistemology has deemed the ultimate form of meaning making (and world making), the Archive. The role of the curator has been expanded. Rather than having a lead curator, there are always multiple curators, putting things together and taking things apart in ways that were not possible before. The level at which this happens goes out of the past realms of possibility (in terms of pace, size, and scale). That isn’t to say new media of the past didn’t change things in similar ways (see the electronic age happened). The Digital is different though. The element of imagination is built into the scripts. While other forms of media engage imagination, I’m thinking especially video games, the biggest difference I see in previous media is that script has a set ending. While technically digital media runs on scripted programs, the script tends to be open ended. It is really a space where the user is asked to imagine the possibilities and make what they will/want. When we couple digital media with social media, we are asked to imagine the possibilities in a way that changes the world we live in, not just the world on the screen, with people we have the possibility of speaking with instead of just speaking to or about. Depending on how we use these tools, the ability to imagine different types of social engagement and create the networks that enable those engagements with the click of a send/post button and the proper hashtag or keyword in miliseconds seems pretty revolutionary to me. And that is awesome.

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  • Performative Limits of Digitization

    Image from
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    I came across a book.  I’ve since played with the book, looked through it, learned about it, and digitally cut bits and pieces of it up and put them back together again as collages.  I realized in speaking to others about this book, that if this book was digitized in its entirety, if in the digital format it could still be recognized as a book, or, as individual photographs, it would lose too much.  We would lose too much.

    The book is The Secret Museum of Anthropology (The Secret Museum).  It was a privately printed book created by the American Anthropological Association in the 1930s.  It is authorless and not officially recorded (the inside cover says “privately printed”).  There are no marks on it indicating it was ever catalogued.  It never received wide circulation, something that is built into its design as a privately published book.  Despite being in an area with a plethora of Universities, there is no library around here that has it.   But I do.  I was able to purchase a used copy online.  I know had I found this book in a library, my thoughts on it might be a little bit different.  I did not though. Acquiring the book was unique experience in and of itself that helped me frame where my thoughts are headed.  Thumbing through the book changed some of my thoughts on digitization.

    The book is a collection of photographs that were pirated from a German book titled Das weib bei den naturvolkern : eine kulturgeschichte der primitiven frau (Primitiven frau), published in 1928.  The rough translation from Google Translate is “The female in aboriginal peoples: a cultural history of the primitive woman”.   Primitiven frau was digitized and is available through the Internet Archive project. The feeling of the two books, even as they contain the same photographs is completely different.  The Secret Museum is a carefully edited version of the Primitiven frau, with the photographs chosen for their erotic nature.  This editorial liberty limits the ability to look at the book as though it is an anthropological work rather than a pornographic one.  That doesn’t mean whoever was responsible for putting this private collection together didn’t try to play as though it were real scientific anthropology.  The part of the book I present/perform is the part that does just that.  Part of the interactive installation piece I created is a video which can be seen below.  It features a series of simple line drawings from the middle of The Secret Museum that attempt to catalog and number different types of breasts found in the photographs of the women whose photographs grace the pages of the book:

    When I first received The Secret Museum, the image of the “different types of female breasts and nipple formations” made me laugh, not because it was funny, but because it made me say “of course”.  The display of these breasts was the sole purpose of this book.  Once I confirmed the source of the photographs, Ferdinand Freiherr von Reitzenstein, and looked up his books only to find that Primitiven frau,  the book that contained these photographs originally was digitized, I was shocked.  I saw flesh and bones and words instead of just flesh and crude drawings of flesh.  In fact, there are more pages of words in Primitiven frau than there are of photographs and x-rays.  The drawing included in The Secret Museum, appears on page 61 of Primitiven frau in a section that is 17 pages of analysis where breasts are discussed.

    Entwicklung und Grundformen der weiblichen Brust
    Entwicklung und Grundformen der weiblichen Brust (Development and basic forms of the female breast.), Primitiven frau, p. 61

    Instead of seeing this drawing as a numbered series that reduces the women in the book to only the drawings themselves, they exist in a larger context.  While the context is problematic, at best, we are able to see the intent of Ferdinand Freiherr von Reitzenstein.  Rather than simply creating a book of pornographic imagery, he did attempt to create an anthropological work on “primitive women”.  Furthermore, though they are few, in addition to the photographs of nude and partially nude women Primitiven frau contains drawings of jewelry and women participating various acts, and other cultural items, such as songs with music and lyrics.  There is even a photograph with fully clothed women. Additionally, the book contains an index.  The Secret Museum renders the women anonymous in a way that they can never be confronted as though they existed.  The index in Primitiven frau prevents this from happening, because at the very least, we know where the women we are seeing existed. Despite the problematic nature of the book, it has a wealth of information to offer us, even as we look to day in the post-post colonial age.

    If The Secret Museum were to be digitized, we would lose the covertness of its creation.  For me, that is the most important thing the book has to offer.  The seediness of its production and purpose would be lost if the book was publicly and freely accessible.  The act of having to search for the book, and find a “deal” on it, or having the book presented with the caveat that it is rare and was never published for a wide audience, the ability to touch and feel the book, to smell and see the pages and random ink colors, creates a performative experience with the book that digitization does not have.  Making the book digital would erase so much of what this book does. It would allow us to lose the idea that the original audience that this book was designed for will remain forever hidden.  Further, the ability to see the physical product against the digital version of what it was pirated from, on a screen where we can see page upon page of text, creates an interesting conversation around what happens when we lose text.  I think seeing the physical book coupled with the digital text truly illustrates some of the issues digitization causes for certain artifacts.

    It isn’t that I don’t want people to see The Secret Museum.  To the contrary, the more people who can experience the book, the better we can understand, especially in the academy, whose bodies our disciplines were built upon and to what ends.  It’s just that I want people to do more than see the book. I want them to experience the book.  When looking through the screen at a digital version of a book, or a photo, I find it is too easy to forget that we are seeing something real that existed in a larger context that affected and affects different people differently.  To lose the bodies first through a photograph and then through the digitization of a book we lose too much. The material experience of a book that can be taken out of a little bag, the method I choose to unveil the book in my installation performance, takes away the ability to show and remember how easily books like this were, and continue to be, hidden.  I fear that in this digital culture of openness and access we forget that even today, there is so much that remains out of reach.

    I would like to stress that I do not think the limits of digitization are a bad thing.  In fact, I think they are wonderful things that open up new possibilities. The Digital’s tendency to reduce the experience of certain things is the space where I like to play.  It is the space that is inherently made of breaks and new paths, breaks and paths that I am exploring in my own dissertation work. Because this is the space of my work though, I think it is important to realize and remember that there are places where digitization cannot translate, where the losses created by access and openess are too great.

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  • Trigger Warning Project / Playing with @mozilla Popcorn Maker

    It’s been about a month since I made my initial post on the Trigger Warning that appeared on Sociological Images.  Since then, they’ve posted another post with the exact same trigger warning and issue.  It has been very generative for me to experience this.  I am working through what it means to face oppression the way that we do.  I think I am almost comfortable with my thoughts on it, which is good because I have a final presentation/performance thing for my last performance studies course ever on December 7th and that is what I wrote/am writing on.  This is what I’ve come up with so far (aka iteration/draft 1) for my digital installation:

    I might play with it a bit more… I might even try to play with popcorn.js, but I am happy with where it is.  Popcorn Maker was easy to use.  Working through this  allowed me to let go of that second post.  I think I don’t need to comment on it. But I will add it to the list of things that make me shake my head and push me to do my project.

    * * *

  • Digital Methods & Digital Humanists

    I am having a thought that I could not formulate into 140 characters so on the blog it goes. I am wondering if any graduate programs making digital methods part of their core curriculum? I ask this because I am seeing so many people reluctant to use the title digital humanist for themselves. While this makes me sad, I get it. I think most people are, at the very least, (digital) humanists for the most part. We all interact with the Digital in our research. We use library websites and digital versions of articles all the time. I can’t think of the last time someone used a typewriter or a non-digital tool to write a paper. Wait. That’s a lie. It was middle school. Many of us are finding our way on to social networking sites where we connect with other people in our disciplines and talk shop, again, digital. We use digital tools to help us organize and analyze our information and/or data. The Digital is just a part of our life. Apart from those places that are completely cut off from access, (look at me avoid saying digital divide!), we live in a more and more digital world.

    But people with humanistic approaches are scared to call themselves digital humanists. Grad students who have found a community online to discuss and work through the central problems of their work are scared of labeling themselves as digital humanists. I don’t know what to make of this.

    My observation is that we are at a shifting point. More and more job postings show a realization that it is important to have people who explicitly do digital work. When I first entered my program 2 years ago, most of my coursework (not all), still looked at the primacy of the paper as end all be all and didn’t understand or even attempt to engage digital work. I decided to enroll in two classes this semester. For one, all the writing is done on a class blog. In the other, we have a course social networking microsite on We share all of our written work with each other, post links and additional readings of interest, and sort of create a digital community. We are approaching our work with a digital methodology. It is being made as we go along. I am okay with this, sort of. No one is explicitly pointing out that this is Digital Methods! There is no conversation going on about the benefits and drawbacks to the format. As a result, there is limited guidance as well.

    While I am a fan of the “choose your own adventure” format, a big fan actually, I wish that, across disciplines, there was a requirement for a digital methods course, where, once students knew their projects well enough to articulate primary questions, they began exploring ways to articulate, engage, and create secondary questions through the digital. The other part I want/need/hope for is discussion around theorizing and citing the digital work that is done, both as final produced scholarship & the labor of creating said scholarship. A lot of the conversations I see people having, from facebook, to twitter, to tumblr, are so amazingly generative, thought out and engaging. But then we go back to the books to see what we can find to support what we’ve already worked out. This is great… but I wish it wasn’t necessary.

    I guess what all this is trying to say is, I wish that we looked at Digital Humanities and the Digital Humanist not as a product, but as critical method of engagement, one that we are all engaging in, and one that we all examined as part of working through our projects.

    * * *

  • Trigger Warning: On a Photograph and a Blog Post

    Carl Hagenbeck
    Carl Hagenbeck

    In attempting to understand the origins of racism, it is important to avoid removing it to a historical past or displacing its sources onto the oppressed.  Any investigation or representations of [otherness], then, must take a critical look at Euro-American whiteness to understand the construction of race as a category.  As critic Coco Fusco has insisted, “To ignore white ethnicity is to reduce its hegemony by nautrualizing it”

    Brian Wallis, Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerrotypes, in “Only Skin Deep”, p. 179

    In the original quote, “otherness” was “african-american blackness”, but as we move out towards Euro-American ideals of seeing “types”, it becomes the other.  This is post is a reaction to a recent post that was featured on Sociological Images, Human Zoos at the Turn of the 20th Century.  The post featured this mans quotes and appeared to be in response to a Speigel Online article on remains being returned home.  The article featured a small photogallery.  Instead of using the image of the man behind the terror/horror, the only images that accompanied the article, and article that led with the trigger warning on the image above, only featured images of the “victims”, not the man.  I think the trigger warning should sit with the man holding the gun.  If we are going to face it, we should see the proper faces of the violence. Not the metaphorical remains of their inhumane actions. That strips those people and their descendants of their humanity, over, and over, and over again.  The new term I learned this weekend from my psychoanalysis reading was “soul murder”.  I’m starting to think that is what the displacement of oppression does.

    The image above is my attempt at properly facing the trigger warning, because he was not one of the ones who stayed so behind the scenes of the people and the photographs that we do not have his name or quotes or (hi)story, and because his name is still spoken, anytime someone wants to go to his zoo, the one that bears his name.

    * * *

  • My Temporal Configuration

    Currently reading Cruising Utopia, The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz (Ha! he has a wikipedia page). It made me think of the image Your fictions become history (a current side obsession).  It is reminding me that I have a very specific temporal position I work from.  I think that it is something I need to… not get over… but be mindful of as I approach people working in different temporal frameworks.  How/where we see the importance of time changing so much about how we approach the world. Truly.  Also, I feel really dirty for having a temporal framework.

    My Basic Temporal Configuration

    Untitled (Your fictions become history), 1983
    Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your fictions become history), 1983
    photograph and type on paper
    9 5/8 x 6 1/4 inches (24.4 x 15.9 cm

    I believe the now is transient at best.

    (really, it is fleeting.)

    I believe the past is about the future.

    (as such, we create both the past and the future)

    I believe that this means that the past is the key to the future.

    (and the now is a combination of both the past and the future)

    I believe memory is how we remember the past.

    (it is also the key to how we imagine the future)

    I believe that what we remember is faulty.

    (and the past determines how we fill in the gaps in the future)

    I believe the Digital fundamentally changes how we conceptualize & interact with Memory.

    (and this is a big part of what I’m exploring in my dissertation)



    * * *

  • #Twittergate, Citationality, and the Future of Academe

    If I think that History & the Digital in a Post September 11th World, mean that history is no longer history as such due to the proliferation of new handheld media devices and social media and the pace and type of information exchange, it stands to reason that I’d also believe this has huge ramifications for the future of the Academy.  Surprise! I totally do.  I spent the first year of my PhD program trying to figure out how I imagined my work and my teaching in this new future.  This was part of what I played with as a participant of Future Class, and experience I documented with an online field journal.  And then I had to clamp down and work on my primary PhD project, teaching, etc, expanding how I was thinking through these things along the way.

    And then, #Twittergate 2012: The etiquette (and ethic) of live-tweeting a conference or lecture happened.  Tressie McMillan-Cottom wrote up one of her fabulous blog posts on it. And I was left with my question.  What does all this say about the future of Academe?


    The two biggest changes that I feel we need to come to terms with in academe are the following:

    1. the changes in information access (the towers have been digitized and are slowly falling down)
    2. Ciatationality/Iterability (oh humanism, how you haunt me)

    The ways people access our academic work, and the things they choose to cite are different now than they used to be. This means that citations are no longer just things that happen in papers. They happen in and from blog posts and social media.  They are formatted to fit the medium where they appear. If you are giving a talk at a conference or a lecture, and someone tweets something from you, having disclosed their location (at your talk, usually done once with tweets following), and given an conference or lecture an appropriate #hashtag, I have a very hard time seeing how this is not a citation for the twitter age. The ability for others to then retweet (RT) or modifytweet (MT) with the username of the original tweeter just becomes the iterability of the ideas you are sharing.

    The thing about this digital and the current situation that the Academy finds itself in is we no longer have years and years to make our arguments, formulate our ideas, practice them with a select group of people, write them out, have them edited and reviewed and modified and then sent to the public.  Things have changed, especially in terms of how people interact with information.  A majority of the people I interact with (mainly my students) do more reading on their smartphone and computer screens than they do from books. Just like with Journalism and History, they are used to being able to have a question, google it, and have it instantaneously.  As a result, things get old really fast, especially if the interactive practice of questions and response, or response and modification aren’t built in to the format. If we are not up for real time feedback on our work, being questioned, or having people outside the room know our thoughts and ideas when this dialogue (and the writing sharing of it) is at least 50% of our job? I don’t want to sound fatalistic, but… I’m scared we are going to keep failing, especially in areas like the Humanities.

    The ability of the greater public to latch on to our work and feed it is what, I think, makes the humanities and social sciences such a fun place to play. But we have to be willing to let go of some control and let ideas do that thing that ideas do: grow. Twitter is a great tool for that.  And I still maintain that, if you are giving a talk that people find important, interesting, problematic, or challenging enough to tweet, that means your work is doing what it should supposed to do.  Generating more thoughts, ideas and questions.  Or maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t want to have the final say in the work I am doing. Instead, I truly do want to see it grow.

    * * *

  • The Whisper Room #tweetasound

    The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a Whispering Gallery. It is a 40 foot long sroom covered in metal. The thing is, when you stand at one end, you can whisper the quietest whisper you can manage, and the person at the other end can HEAR you as though you were speaking right into their ear. That moment when you realize that your little voice has made it to the other side, because the other side replies and you experience what happened to them when they heard your whisper, is a moment of glee. And then you keep doing it until other people show up because even though you may have heard that voice before, you know get to hear it as breath, a whisper, loud and clear. Digital media, for me is like that whisper. There is loud talking about what it means to be black and what it means to be a black woman and what the black experience is supposed to feel like, look like, sound like, taste like, etc. that we have a hard time letting it just be. When I say be, I mean it in terms of being a state of becoming.

    Ghana 1881/1895
    Ghana 1881/1895

    Digital media is the place where I can’t see the other side of the whisper room, but I know it is there. I hear the whispers that make their way to me, across time and space, through cables (as light, yay fiber optics!). Digital media is the space where I can find a photograph and post it with the whisper “did you know she was this beautiful?” and I can hear back “she really is”. And while yes, she might be and/or represent all those things that define the black experience, in fact, I may be even placing her as “the Black Woman” at that moment of whisper, we are allowed to just see her and see that yes, she was, is, and will always be beautiful. And we are allowed to see her and say yes, she is and will always be, like me.

    I go into my project knowing it is not a critical mass project. However, I know how whispers affect feeling and how seeing affects world making. My only hope is that by sharing these photographs of women who were here before us, I help keep their images in mind. Having that image creates a new world. This is, of course, the moment when things move from media to performance.

    * * *

  • Design Jam Chapel Hill

    The first International Design Jam is now over.  I served as the Mozilla Champion/Organizer/Facilitator for Design Jam Chapel Hill. 

    We were sponsored by Mozilla Labs (of course as this is part of the concept series) and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC Chapel Hill.

    All in all, the event was very successful.  The three things I heard the most from attendees were:

    • “I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve put in if not a lot more”
    • “I’m having a lot of fun!”
    • “This has really changed how I think of group work”

    Unfortunately, as is often the case with free events, some of the people who registered didn’t show up.  We had space for 32, at our high had a registration number of 28 ended up with  ~20 registrations once cancellations came in, and 15 people showed up, 1 of whom was a walk-in that I had extended an invitation to.  So, small group.  I’m not sure how to combat this phenomenon.  I had the same experience with THATCamp RTP.  In the end it was a really good size though.  I put  people into three groups of 5.  Each group had a smart room with projectors, Internet access, etc (something that wouldn’t have been possible had we had more).  Needless to day, all things have their blessings.

    As an organizer I was forced to be in on the outside looking in.  I spent a little bit of time with each group usually listening, occasionally speaking.  Two of the three groups were so in to their design that there really wasn’t room for late/outside contributions.  Our mentor, Joyce Rudinsky, had the same experience as she moved from team to team.  This was a good thing.  They all produced some pretty amazing stuff, that they have posted (and are continuing to post) to the wiki.

    In terms of things that were successful, my top 3 things that went well were:

    • Teams of 5 (seemed like just the right number)
    • Lunch (we were able to provide it, and people socialized the entire time and got to know each other)
    • Spaces/Stationary (it seemed like people had access to everything they needed so they were okay “locking” themselves in their rooms.)

    Three things that could have been a bit better:

    • A bit more time to plan (we were constrained based on space availability)
    • Finding ways to get broader outreach (We had a good group, but would have loved a little bit more diversity)
    • More structured input points (I think if the teams knew at point x someone will stop by and critique it would have been easier)

    All in all though, the event was a great success. If anyone is interested in seeing what we did, please check out the wiki!

    If you want to contact individual teams, they should be adding their info to the wiki if it isn’t already there. 

    I am looking forward to seeing what the other Design Jams come up with.


    * * *

  • DML 2011, Cool Stuff & My Stuff

    I totally survived.  In fact, I kind of sort of had an amazing time.  By far though, the most amazing for me thing was the Echo Park Film Center:

    I first saw them at the Mozilla Science Fair, on Thursday night, the night I arrived, and was exhausted (the super shuttle took 2 hours!!!).  I also presented at the Science Fair on Future class (more on that later), and was put next to this table with tons of DVDs, prop films, buttons, and two super charismatic guys (I wish I had taken a picture.  I’m sure someone did, and I’ll find them and add them later).

    Anyway, Out the Window consists of many film and media centers that are doing outreach to marginalized youth.  It gives them a space to create, express themselves, explore etc.  They brought a group of kids that had participated in the various programs to speak during their panel, well, really during the question and answer session.  They were AMAZING!!! All of them said that they were empowered, and all of them, without prompting, explained their experience as a chance ot think critically.  I LOVED it.  So I had to ask a question, that is related to my research interests of course.  I asked them if participating in these groups, and learning how to and actually creating these alternate narratives and representations of themselves and their neighborhoods and communities had changed how they view their communities, neighborhoods and how their role in them.  One kid stood up.  He was latino, tall, lanky with long hair and a red ski cap on.  His name was Walter.  Let me tell you, Walter blew us ALL away.

    He talked about how all the representations he’s ever seen were made by people who had the money to control all the messaging that gets out on a massive scale, and all that messaging made people like him and from his neighborhood seem bad, less than and not worthy.  But the project had allow him to see what he can do, and explore the rest of LA and see what it was like, and he was just like everyone.  His participation made him feel empowered, and let him think critically about the situation and it allows him to show it for what it was.. and you could just feel the love and empowerment and it was seriously, tears.  I talked to other people and they had the exact same experience.  Just phenomenal and mind blowing.

    The best part of all of this is of course that there is a big blue bus called the film mobile that has been gutted and turned in to a mobile cinema and production studio and it will be coming to North Carolina over the summer.  I am SOOOOO there.

    Even cooler, I got a couple of the DVDs of things the kids have made and I’m planning on sharing them with some of my classes and of course, guarding them as the sacred items they are for years to come.

    Then there was the DML Showcase, which was amazing! I will have to write more about that later (probably with video), but it was soooo inspiring.

    On to what I did

    SCIENCE FAIR: Future Class

    So, there was a Mozilla Science fair at DML2011.  I exhibited as Future Class.  I had my drumbeat site up and explained that my role in the class was to see how digital media could be used in ethnographic projects.  The best comment was “isn’t that just a blog?” my response was of course, yes, and I explained that the purpose was to show a quick and easy way to create a discursive space where you field site can visibly say yay or nay to your observations. Even if it is just a blog, most people aren’t allowing for that type of exchange yet and blogs are easy and simple.

    I also had a very small activity.  I explained that future class was about thinking in the digital age and exploring what that means and what the challenges are in the university setting.  It was a project based tutorial for the most part, but we also had to determine what needed to be different than the traditional classroom experience.  I had tons of post its and pens and let people cover the table with words, sentences and paragraphs of what they needed to be changed.  Almost everything centered around assessment and community/engagement.  There were also quite a few on media.

    A Taste of Mozilla Drumbeat: Storming the Classroom Grading and Community

    The next thing I did was have a workshop session at the drumbeat workshopping session.  The purpose of this was to create a foundational idea of what we want grades to do so people could then move on to brainstorming tools and methods to get them to where they needed to be.  I had the smallest group but we had a wonderful time.  I brought a ton of markers and a roll of paper and we created a “cloud” of thoughts (there were 4 of us), first on what was bad about how grading currently works, then what was good about how grading currently worked and finally on what are wishless was for how grading should work in the future.  Everything ended up being that grading needs to be a community driven type of thing that allows for continuous feedback rather than relying on test that are incapable or measuring what people actually learn.  Oh, and collectives.  Classroom spaces need to be more community driven.  I think the paper we had ended up being at least 14 feet. We taped it up on the wall.  Even though we were few, we did something big, literally.

    PANEL: New Collectives HASTAC Scholars as a Case Study

    The last thing I did was a panel with Cathy Davidson, Fiona Barnett and Dixie Ching, on the HASTAC Scholars.  I showed a short film (final edited forth coming) and share a website:

    The other three women on the panel? Simply amazing. I continue to be humbled to be sitting with these people.

    I also shared my big revelation from DML2011.

    ACADEMICS are just HACKERS and REMIXERS and FORKERS of KNOWLEDGE! By that I mean, what is a dissertation or a thesis other than taking the existing body of knowledges, mixing them, remixing them, forking them, modifying them, changing them, breaking them and coming up with something new and then publishing them?  We just do it on paper (and that is starting to change slowly but surely).

    I don’t know why it took me so long to come to that realization.  When I think about academic work like that though, it makes me super happy.

    So, all in all… wonderful amazing trip.  There are so many people out there doing amazing work, and being around them is simply inspring.  I’ve got to do more. I just have to.


    * * *

  • Playing with Forms: Drumbeat Part 2

    Jade Did Drumbeat: A Field Journal

    It’s Interactive & Ethnographic

    That is part 2.  Here is the explanation.
    So, I was sent to Drumbeat as a scholar. I was told I needed to document the Drumbeat experience as part of my scholarship. I needed a form to make sure I had a focus and didn’t produce something meaningless. Currently, I’m enrolled in a performance ethnography class. I needed a field site.  I wanted to make Future Class my field site.  Once I got approval from all parties involved, it was a go.

    One of the requirements of my ethnography class was to keep a field journal. It didn’t need to be shared, but it needed to be done. I have tons of google docs of random notes organized by date.  I also wanted to have some kind of public web documentation.  As I started noticing themes popping up, I thought: self, why not make your field journal into a website.  So I turned my Wordrpress install into a multisite install and made a Drumbeat blog.

    As things and themes started popping up, I started adding draft pages to the blog with notes of what my observations were as well as the occasional quote and link.  I also started looking for a theme that would not create a normal blog hierarchy and would also be able to incorporate video and imagery in a way that made sense.  I went through two themes, and the second one was a keeper (the designer is linked in the footer of the field journal).

    Post Drumbeat, I finished interviewing and started turning my notes in to something coherent and organizing thoughts around my notes, observations and themes I saw bubbling up in in Future Class.  I was thinking of it as sort of a practice not just in creating a field journal, but in creating some semblance of a non-linear story around Future Class that would be useful not just for me, if I had to write an analytical paper around our activity, but also for anyone who was curious about future class, who we are, what we were doing, and our issues and successes.

    I don’t like the distancing that happens a lot of times in traditional ethnographic work.  Performance Ethnography tries to minimize that distance.  I think using the digital minimizes it even more.

    The members of Future Class saw the site before anyone else.  They were able to give me feedback, let me know if they were uncomfortable with anything, give me their gut reactions etc.  They had the freedom to do that publicly in the form of comments (I even encouraged them to use the comment space for that if they had any).  I love that.  It is so amazing that the digital allows that type of dialogue to exist very early on in a project.  It also means that my field journal is a living document, subject to changes, addendum, additions etc.

    While this field journal obviously does not capture all of my field notes, or even all of my video footage, it is representative of the things that were important from my point of view at this time.  If feedback dictates, the members of my field site other than myself also found it to be an honest and accurate representation.  I hope that it allows outside visitors to get an accurate glimpse of Future Class.

    * * *

  • Mozilla Drumbeat: Learning, Freedom and the Web

    Last week, from Wednesday to Friday I was in Barcelona, Spain for the first Mozilla Drumbeat festival on Learning, Freedom and the Web.  I was there as part of the HASTAC Storming the Academy tent and as a student.  I didn’t get to wander too much, but that is okay.  I am using the Storming the Academy tent as a field site for an ethnography project so it makes sense.

    It is also so interesting to hear what people are saying.  I went to drumbeat with one question:  “How do you imagine the involvement of tradition forms of Higher Education in the future of Freedom, Learning and the Web?”  I actually had responses from everyone I spoke with other than “but how are we going to credential” which is not something that has happened yet in academic settings.  Most people there were in agreement that the approach to learning and spaces of learning needs to be more holistic.  However, people were still unwilling to completely let go of some of the ideals of industrialized education.  They are just re-imagining them and making them more flexible.  I would have to do more reflecting and exploring to determine if I think that is a good thing or a bad thing.

    Things that were great:

    • Gunner, quite possibly the best facilitator ever
    • The quality of everything
    • Conversations
    • Technology
    • Variety of people there

    Things that could have been better:

    • More local involvement (I am still not clear how locals are kept out of a conversation on the city as a classroom)
    • Volunteers to translate so participation is more open
    • Finding a means to encourage exploration
    • Putting people/tents closer together
    • Drink/Snack Stations (coffee, water, fruit, crackers throughout the event)
    • Longer time for sessions

    So, on to the points that I am trained to observe that were reproduced (as is normal and also abnormal) at the event.  There was a very clear lack of diversity.  In terms of people of color there were a few of us.  I believe there was one other black American female and one European African female (she was amazing.  Her name was Nadia, and her project makes my heart sing.  It is called the Prototype Project, and yes, you should check it out).  There was also at least one black American male from, from Chicago, a Saffa… and… I might have missed some people.  There were some asian males, from all over, meaning US and UK asian ;0), but not as many as one often sees at big tech events.  I also came in to contact with one asian female from the states.  So that was interesting.

    Now on to the abnormal/positive observation: THERE WERE SO MANY FRIGGIN’ AMAZING WOMEN at the event.  I didn’t realize, though I’m sure I’ve seen it before, that Mitchell Baker, the Chair of Mozilla Foundation, is a woman.  And she was just one of too many to name who were in attendance.  She and Cathy, the prof from the Duke class I was there with, gave the keynotes.  That was super empowering.  Also, even though they didn’t speak about it openly, the people who were interested in using digital media and the open source culture for advocacy were there, and we found each other.  That was a wonderful thing.

    New Things I learned about that I am now all about from Drumbeat:
    (there was so much stuff I missed and didn’t get to play with though.  I am so sad about that.  Even the things mentioned above I only saw briefly.)

    So, I will go in to more detail about what I observed/did/the point was for me in the digital performance ethnography thing I am in the process of working on.  I will post and update and link from this blog once it is ready (hopefully by the end of this crazy month).

    I am hoping I get invited back to next year’s event and that next year is in Amsterdam… but Amsterdam is just a personal preference.

    * * *

  • Thoughts on Being Black Online

    This is more of a stream of consciousness post while I try to figure things out.  At some point I hope to do more research on the issues at hand write something a bit more coherent.

    It all started with the Article on Gizmodo, Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (And Why You Should, Too)

    It rubbed me the wrong way.  People who were offended by this had a very hard time articulating why they were offended.  The easiest term to come up with is “racist”.  Though it does come across that way I am fairly sure it wasn’t intentional.  What it did bring up were issues of privilege,the gaze and the black female body.

    The fact that there are so many black people shouldn’t be shocking, but the privilege aspects means that when people think of digital media outlets, especially mainstream ones, black people aren’t the first users that come to mind for a majority of people (for better or for worse).  The worst part is, all the black people I know read Gizmodo.  But, our readership is apparently invisible.

    Another privledged issue was this idea of “picking” a black person after searching for one.  From the article “So I picked out my new friend and started to pay attention.”  It is a terminology issue. Most people follow people on twitter because they have tweets that are of interest to them. They follow said person.  The picking a random black female to follow, even subconsciously, can’t help but hearken back to the days of slave auctions.  Which brings us to the gaze.

    Regarding the Gaze, the sexualization of her body in the title alone, added to the use of the term “stalking” and in the parenthesis addendum at the end of the article after stating she was charming and attractive was very… of putting:

    “You can start simply, like I did, by finding someone charming and attractive. (I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy looking at the sexy pictures she puts up when she’s flirting with guys online.) “

    It implies that despite anything else she may bring to the table, in the end, just as in the beginning, the most important qualities she could have as a black female deserving his interest (and she is the first one on twitter who ever did), is her sexuality.  And it isn’t an interactive sexuality.  It is again controlled by his gaze over her body as though she were on display.

    So, this made me think about my biggest question in terms of my research, “what does it mean to be black online?”

    This article would lead me to believe that for some people being black online means that a (black) person gets denied part of their humanity and becomes first and foremost black.  A (black) person exists to be observed as though they were an exhibit of the viewers notion of blackness.   This very much reminds me of human zoos of yesteryear (and today in some places, though they are now “cultural centers”).  I think it will be a very interesting place to possibly take my research.

    To be black means to be invisible until sought and to be sought to fill a need of someone that is not part of your social group by choice.  (I say by choice because if someone is on twitter or reading gizmodo and in to tech or an all around ‘dork’, they were part of the author’s social group.  The author made them “other”.)  The reason I found this so disturbing is the distancing that was done by the author.  The user he was following never had the capability of becoming just another twitter user.  The only reason the person was worth following was their blackness.  This means that, regardless to what the person was tweeting, all of their tweets were seen as representative and inseparable from their blackness further continuing the dynamic of privilege that exist for the author of the piece.

    * * *

  • Spontaneous collaborations

    Digital media is an ideal tool to facilitate spontaneous collaborations. The internet instantaneously connects people with various skills, knowledge and perspectives all interested in similar discourses. Though people have always had means to find one and other, in the past, it was not as easy as typing something in to Google or catching the right re-tweet or sending a message through a contact page. Digital media has created a space where collaborations can be spontaneous and where it can be acted on immediately. Of course, spontaneous collaborations isn’t a term I created. I grabbed it from the quote below:

    “I’m intrigued by spontaneous collaborations. Of course, HASTAC has coined the term “collaboration by difference” to mark a particular kind of collaboration that can happen online, where the partners may not share disciplines, resources, spaces, backgrounds, or levels of official credentialing and authority (yes! a doctoral student shall lead us!), but do share a desire to read a certain goal, even if all parties are aware that the goal itself may morph as it develops collaboratively.”


    I am in love with the idea of spontaneous collaborations in spaces of knowledge. In case I haven’t made it clear before, let me say it explicitly; in my opinion, knowledge created and stuck in a vacuum loses some of its worth. Digital media is a space for vetting ideas, conversing about them. It is a place where we get to step outside of the vacuum we often put ourselves in as we research. I know that at times it might be scary to let ideas have a life of their own, especially in a space without many controls. However, watching ideas grow organically and finding people that can show you different perspectives is worth it.

    So, my goal is to continue to create and facilitate spontaneous collaborations whenever I have the opportunity to do so. I admit, it is a highly selfish goal as I simply want to be a part of these spaces. However, I hope that others who are involved in them will find them just as beneficial as I do.

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  • Collaborative History

    In my experience growing up and in grad school, history always seemed to be a one sided conversation the historian had with their theoretical approach to the history at hand. While this is useful in many ways, and extremely interesting, it seems overly… untouchable by the masses. If our life is based on memories then history is kind of the life of humanity. The thing that excited me the most about the use of digital media in academia is collaborative history projects. The idea of history being digital and accessible and living is very seductive. Plus, if history is kind of the life of humanity, the more people involved in its construction the better. To this end, come the fall semester I hope to be involved in 1-2 digitization projects and I hope to be able to find a way to make them collaborative and open. I would very much love to get people involved in the creation and memorialization of history that hitorically weren’t allowed to contribute.

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