Category: random thoughts

  • Misinformation: The content without a medium?

    The world has officially fried my brain. I don’t have any deep thoughts about technology other than them being tools of war, a war that it feels like the side that wishes for humanity to thrive is desperately losing. The culprit? 


    Just as money is the only medium without content. I am stuck in this feeling that misinformation is its final form that escapes remediation, a content without a medium (though maybe the medium is electronic information until it moves into the mind of individuals). As a result, the end game of mis-information, that which can’t be remediated, is death. What is intellectually fascinating about this, or at least the part that has me deep in my realist headspace, is that misinformation, without a medium to direct it, aims itself in all directions with the death it carries, even to those conveying the message.

    I have no profound thoughts about this, other than, just as with money, there does not seem to be a way to slow this down. Because misinformation is medium agnostic and really takes root in the mind, there are too many tendrils and loose ends to stop it. Each mind it ensnares becomes a new conduit for it to reach a new network or reinforce the beliefs of networks where it is already part of the fact of living. One bit of actual information has an infinite life as a tidbit of misinformation, from the mundane to the catastrophic. We are in a confluence of catastrophe phases with multiple global crises at the critical point of no return. I am too tired to imagine a way out.

    The never ending war is here.

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  • Draft Thoughts on Progress Pains at the end of the Human

    They say that yesterday is gone, but I can still see it on my calendar

    Pascal, the otter from Animal Crossing, today

    ETA: or progress isn’t linear time, it is colonization’s construct of time.


    Everything progresses. Time and progress are interchangeable and only move forward, we say, even as we know there are cultures and histories who have constructs of time that are non-linear. Our inability to “get” this is so strong that even Business Insider did a story with fancy graphics because to explain it with just words is too complicated for something assumed to be fundamental and universal. Western society, and the US, is unable to deal with the reality that progress is a social construct. Like most popular social constructs, it is tied to the ruling class and steeped in their ideologies. It is a newer idea that was contested when it came forward, but, much like empathy, cemented itself as a real thing that naturally happens. The idea of progress, much like technology, pulls with it the ideologies of the past.

    Progress is a form of uncontrolled expansion at all costs (colonial baggage) with no means to mitigate it. It is always out of (our) control. The “righteous” forms progress has taken on are wealth for the few through an ever-expanding economy and technology while many struggle to have enough to live (more colonial baggage). The economy and technology create distance between individuals interpersonally and socially (see us vs them, and the haves and have nots). Technology and wealth obscure reality. How fitting is it, then, that the safest way to connect at the moment is through a technological screen due to a disease that has been allowed to progress unmitigated in any scalable and practical way. And yet, essential workers and those who must work to live without stopping do not have the technological protections that will protect them from SARS-CoV-2’s progression through the country. In fact, progress means that we must encourage its progression if we want this version of society to continue. Children must progress in their attainment of formal education in person, even as it poses a major risk to themselves, the people who would have to support their attendance, and their families. Restaurants and stores must open. If we don’t have enough masks for everyone, we mustn’t make them mandatory. We must all be willing to spend, spend, spend, even if the true cost is the death of ourselves or others.

    In this moment of uncontrolled violent progress of an illness, there is a secondary crisis of progress: racism and the police brutality that keeps it optically central, moral, and righteous component of society. Understanding police as a socio-cultural technology shows that, especially in a narrative of progress, they are the group that exists to kill any person or movement that threatens a person or thing perceived as more valuable domestically. The ability publicly get away with extra-judicial murder (which exists for certain citizens against select groups, not just the police), and the economy are the most valuable things (US) American culture has created.

    This is the world of progress. Move forward at all cost and die by disease or neighbor. One would think that it would be move forward at all cost or there is certain death, but no. When humans are allowed to be inhuman in society for as long as they have been here, death is a gift, a sacrifice, a sacred thing we give to progress to keep ensure its expansion continues to accelerate. The party line that led an election to go back to some imagined great past, where progress didn’t leave everyone behind, just a few, is an acknowledgement that progress causes great harm. But, as is progress’ way, there is no going back once we remove humans from the narrative. Even for those that long for the days where subjugation, where people could be enslaved, and publicly lynched in front of a crowd, cameras and all, with pride are being gutted from the inside out. It is what they wanted without realizing it.

    The world does not have to be this way. We can collectively choose life, and, maybe even each other. We can say it is okay to stop progressing if what progress is carrying forward is not working. It has been heartening to see so many people around the country in the streets marching to do just that. Recognize that I, and my ancestors are part of this story, and our lives matter. Stop killing us. The technology of policing and the scale and extremity of its violent response to peaceful marches correlates with how little our lives are imagined to have value at a societal level versus even the right two breathe. I am hopeful that progress and its failure, how it has left behind the last few generations with nothing to grab on to, to ground themselves, has done the brainwashing that Universities often get blamed for by showing that hard work doesn’t pay off. If you ask to be acknowledged, we will gas you and take out your eyes. Citizens will be allowed to drive their cars into you, and the police will continue to kill without accountability or punishment. And all of these things will happen to you if you are out marching, are in your own home, walking down a street. Anything.

    I wish I could declare progress is dying and we are making a new world, but it is early days. And the exponential progress we are seeing requires those with power to be willing to step away from it and force the work that is its undoing simply by caring for and helping sustain everyone in this moment. For life. For the life of us all. The people are already out on the streets. They are already decrying this moment in their networks. They are already bearing witness to the death progress always carried in the murderous fear that made it de rigueur in (US) American culture and popular imagination. Progress has declared the end of the human. Are we ready to step up and stop it from completing its mission?

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  • draft thought: empathy is the predictive analytics of feelings

    “Empathy in Psychotherapy: A Vital Mechanism? Yes. Therapist’s Conceit? All too Often. By Itself? No.” John Shlien

    Because people love me, they often send me things happening out in the world where people are grappling with this thing we call “empathy” (please continue to do so watching this unfold is helping me think through things).

    Yesterday I was sent the tweet above about a Vice article “The Anatomy of Empathy” which I’d missed where a doctor and a masseuse have what they are calling “mirror-touch synesthesia”. My initial thought: if you are calling it something other than “empathy” why is it being called empathy? My second thought: lolsob.

    Here is a very short story. Once upon a time an amazing mentor asked me what I meant when I said “empathy”. This led me down a reading hole. I read moral philosophy, psychology, neurology, cultural theory, religious studies, decolonial theory, phenomenology, aesthetics, history, etc etc I mean, it was a lot. I read a lot. As far as I could find empathy is made up. The timeline in the article is wrong. It appeared long before 1967. There are a few other things that are inaccurate so I am taking the background portions with a grain of salt. The thing I am thinking about after reading it though is…

    Empathy is predictive analytics for feelings.

    The ability to predict and imagine the current and future state of a person is dependent on the amount of data (towards humanization), the empathizer has.

    I am glad that a doctor and a masseuse are able to feel the body of others more. And it makes sense they would learn to super feel for the other they are caring for. All disciplines seem to agree that whatever empathy may be it is extremely biased and not as altruistic as we imagine it to be, like most technologies (if we choose to see feelings as a technology for navigating/experiencing the world). Given that both of their jobs and their ability to do their job well is dependent on having a deeper understanding of the body, being able to create an image of an empty body in their mind that they feel through seems like an amazing tool for them to be able to predict (by imagining the body of the other as their own) what the best course of treatment will be.

    But why imagination? There is a book, Empathy: A History by Susan Lanzoni that goes into the history of empathy from Germany, imported to the US in the early 1900s, where it percolated having first two meanings and then one as a psychology of the imagination. The story of empathy I find most fascinating has to do with Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, heavily discussed in the article the image comes from. He apparently decided to focus on “empathy” because he had a woman patient who was smart (maybe even smarter than him), and it led to a breakdown of sorts apparently (see page below).

    Anyway, the article is wild. Psychedelics make an appearance too. All that to say, in clinical settings it seems that empathy is always used to predict feelings of the other in some form through mirroring in the mind. The limits of our dataset will limit who we are able or mirror either in emotions or physical feeling. I am always struck by the negative outcomes in healthcare for black women when I think of this because there are two parts to being treated, the provider needs to both be able to mirror your body in their brain to some degree and/or feel that you are worth feeling for in such a way that will lead to treatment.

    Black women often have to establish a relationship with a physician over time before they can be taken seriously as a person, they do not get treatment until they are able to convince the person to take them seriously. There is no predictive apparatus built into western culture that would allow people to feel for and into black women in that way. From personal experience, I can say I was sick for a very long time (more than a decade). When I moved back to the NYC metro area I was able to change all my doctors to women of color. That was the point where I was finally taken seriously and finally had a team of doctors who wanted to figure out what was actually going on, and they did. Was it empathy? Maybe? if you think understanding and feeling for another human as though they are worthy of feeling for and doing so and understanding the implications down the road is empathy. sure.

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  • A very short correction to Decolonization : a very short introduction’s take on Fanon

    I was very excited to finally get my hands on the Decolonization: a very short introduction because I freaking love these short little books. Me being me I did the thing that I always do. I looked for Fanon on the index, and then read so I can figure out if the author and I align politically. On the one page that quotes Fanon it quickly became apparent that we do not. He states, and I quote, “Fanon was clearly wrong: some colonial regimes yielded to their subjects’ demands for independence without being coerced to do so by violence”.  Hashtag sad face.

    Holy bananas. So, yes, the first chapter of Wretched of the Earth is “On Violence”, but right from the get go Fanon places violence in things as banal as changing the name of a social locale or inviting certain people to events. The demand by colonial subjects for independence is an inherently violent act. Its a demand to break, destroy, and imagine something new. But we tend to not talk about the role of imagination in Wretched. If you look at the agenda on any conference engaging with Fanon, his call to violence is often called as a powerful prescription or a failed attempt to understand what it will take to decolonize. When I read Fanon though, I read him through his introductions, endings, and footnotes, the spaces where he often hid his utterances of hope. I cannot say this enough… to read Wretched of the Earth as a standalone book is weird. It is a follow up to Black Skin White Masks and you miss so much if you don’t read them together. Further, in the other books he wrote he comes down harder on what he really thinks fixes things: love and imagination.

    The death of the author is a concept that looms over engagements with critical theory. This in an of itself is a colonial impulse. It is how theorists like Derrida, Althusser, and writers like Camus (all from families who had been in Algeria for centuries/generations), lost their Africaness and how Fanon, a Frenchman (who was stationed in Algeria but born in the old (a slave) colony of Martinique and educated in France) gained his. Fanon was French. The death of the author also allows us to erase the perspective and position that came with Fanon’s profession.

    Fanon was a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, who wrote a thesis (required for his medical degree) working with neurologists and psychiatrist on how culture effects the manifestation of mental illnesses in Lyon. From there he went to a state run hospital in French Algeria (which was a part of France in the same way as Hawaii is to the US) at the end of their designation as département, as they were being decolonized. In this space he saw violence, the kind that is outlined in the BSWM and Wretched. He also knew that, like most psychiatric practices, to heal people would take even more (mental and sometimes self-inflicted/perceived physical) violence, and love, and imagination. To get people to love themselves and to transcend to a place that is not what colonization “says I am” which was the only message they receive is violent. To get the colonizer to acknowledge this? More (psychic) violence.

    At times there will be physical violence, but more often than not, it is mental anguish.  The impulse to latch on to violence reinforces existing stereotypes of the angry black man in Fanon… I think I think it is just a racist reading tbh because even though Fanon starts with “On Violence”, he ends with case notes “Colonial War and Mental Disorders”. Read that… and also read “The North African Syndrome“, a short essay that has an ending that is my reaction when people insist that Fanon was only about physical violence (without love or direction) shared below.

    This means that there is work to be done over there, human work, that is, work which is the meaning of a home. Not that of a room or a barrack building. It means that over the whole territory of the French nation (the metropolis and the French Union), there are tears to be wiped away, inhuman attitudes to be fought, condescending ways of speech to be ruled out, men to be humanized. Your solution, sir? Don't push me too far. Don't force me to tell you what you ought to know, sir. if YOU do not reclaim the man who is before you, how can I assume that you reclaim the man that is in you? If YOU do not want the man who is before you, how can I believe the man that is perhaps in you? If YOU do not demand the man, if YOU do not sacrifice the man that is in you so that the man who is on this earth shall be more than a body, more than a Mohammed, by what conjurer's trick will i have to acquire the certainty that you, too, are worthy of my love?

    There is a violence in recognizing that there is a person that is oppressed, but they are not THE OPPRESSED. We are human. All of us. To acknowledge that when so much is wrapped up in that not being true, or people being less than, or, in this political moment in the country where I live, “animals”, is an act of violence toward the man who defines himself based on dehumanizing others. Fanon was not wrong. His reply to those who question if this is violence, who do not see that this requires a certain type of suffering and anguish, might be this beautiful ending.

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  • 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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  • A Cyborg Manifesto of Black People In Theory

    There is not a theoretical absence of blackness and the black body (both male and female) because they are used as political frame or experience (blackness) or object of study (the black body) by academics who strive to subvert or chip at the hegemonic force known as the canon (which does occasionally release it’s heavy blows on people who attempt to go against it). No, blackness and the black body are not missing. Black people are missing. But blackness as a theoretical frame and the black body as an object are allowed to exist only to be made invisible as they are over theorized and the frame loses its utility or grounding in the reality of the experience of black people. Blackness becomes opaque as find and replace is applied to the experience and the terminology changes: marginalized, at risk, ghetto, urban, people of color, The Other, the cyborg. This find and replace decenters the centrality of the atlantic slave trade and its role in forming the cultural and business practices of the West as they are today.. If this is called into question, especialy within the academy, it is often met with silence, ghettoized, seperated. To make blackness or the black body visible and center those two things while ignoring or disregarding Black people is to perform a violence in the Fanonian sense. It is to imagine and to frame differently to re-remember History towards a different future where I and my children do not exist.

    The absence of black people is painful and obvious, especially as our stories, our history, is used to define relationships with technology. It is a hauntology without a ghost for we (where we is society and culture) deny that ghosts are real. Yet we allow for specters of our continued suffering to hang by black people (though we often say black bodies) to justfy our literal death. I say our because as a Black woman I have skin in the game and I cannot take it off or step away from it. There is something that happens if you have your own skin in the game and you theorize blackness. You feel compelled to re-insert us into the canon, the ether, the world. To affirm our existance, even if it just in the pages of our writing or the images that accompany our work means we have at least one other black person in the room. A familiar. Kin. More often than not the expectation is that we will be able to seperate thoery and blackness. If you, as a black person, plan on fully engaging, you must erase the self. It is not a slow death in the Berlant sense. It is more akin to a slow dying… A slow murder. It is the violence that Fanon recognized always attacking at your core being.

    In 2011 I was enrolled in a core course in the second year of my program. We read “A Cyborg Manifesto”. As is often the case, I was the only black person in the room. I read something different than everyone else based on the discussion. All I could think was, “we use words like cyborg because we don’t have the language to talk about the black experience, more specifically the organizing role chattel slavery, signified by the black body, played and continues to play, in culture and society. Instead of joining the discussion I copied the text into a google doc and did a find and replace… “cyborg” should be “black slave”.

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  • Draft Thoughts on Empathy Gathered from Various Digital Notebooks

    These are most likely incoherent notes (really draft thoughts) that I’ve collected in the various digital spaces I jot down notes to myself collected in one place. I was hoping there was a way to make them make sense but I don’t think there is. The topic is empathy because I personally have a hard time with it and spend a lot of time thinking about it as I try to make sense of how we humans interact in my own head. It often seeps into my work and rants. Please note these are just my thoughts and not a judgment on anyone else. If empathy works for you, keep at it. 

    I sort of understand where you are coming from, but rather than claiming empathy I offer you my solidarity.


    I grew up knowing there were people who would rather see me hanging from a tree in their yard than have me as a guest at their dinner table. Still, I was raised to try to understand and empathize with people despite their hatred, shortcomings, etc. That would somehow make me “better”. I never quite knew what it would do for them, though, or my safety.

    In 4th grade, we read Number the Stars and I became mildly obsessed with understanding what makes something as horrific as the Shoa (Holocaust at the time) happen. By the middle of 6th grade, I wondered why there weren’t as many books on slavery? Why was it that it was so easy for me to get books on the Shoa but there were no resources for me to learn about the holocaust of my own people, even as I knew that there were places I was not welcome, where people would want to hurt me for just being in their neighborhood. Instead of “never forget” for me and my family it was “get over it”. To the credit of the special school where I was a student, instead of Columbus day we had resistance festivals and we watched Mississippi Burning and took a field trip to see Malcolm X at the theatre… festivals and dramatized films circulate differently than books in school and other spaces of knowledge production though.

    By the early/mid-90s as I was going to middle and then high school I’d moved on to reading books on religion and meditation and massively consuming news. There was so much suffering. I tried to empathize with everyone. Rwanda happened and I cried. When Kosovo started something broke. At school, I was still being told by laughing peers how they could never “bring a black person home” lest their dad kill them. I’d overhear jokes where the punchline was the N word. I remember one year in my yearbook a girl’s senior quote was to her boyfriend “I love you [random dude name], my jew basher”. I went to the teachers and the principle, crying out of anger and fear. Every time I was told that “I didn’t understand the context,” or, “I should lighten up because they are just jokes”. But my family passed down the memory of those who would rather see me in a tree than a guest at their dinner table. If they were willing to kill their sons for knowing they spoke to someone like me, what might they do to me for existing? I had nothing left to understand.

    At 16 I no longer had empathy and I started to try and recenter through… whatever I thought meditation was at the time…

    I met a man. He grew up Catholic and always thought he would be a priest. But something happened and he left home at 16 and ended up hiking from central Asia to India. In India, he decided he was not going to be a priest. He changed his name to Ramdas and became a monk. As he grew into an adult he had a hard time making sense of some of the oppression that he saw as part of Hinduism. He spoke to one of his gurus, a seer, who told him he wouldn’t stay a monk and that he would get married and have kids. He laughed. A year later, after almost a decade of being a monk. He became Buddhist and came back to the states and enrolled college. He went through and eventually decided to get a Ph.D. in religion. While finishing his Ph.D. he met the woman who would become his wife. In the future they would have two kids and he would teach where I went to undergrad. Ramdas helped me finish working through how to live in this world with so much pain where, as I told him, “I can’t have empathy for people who would sit there and watch the Rwanda genocide happen and do nothing”.

    I think he laughed at me. That was one of our later conversations. He said, “Just because you think they did nothing doesn’t mean they actually did nothing.” He said that all over there are people who seem like they are bad who are capable of good. We had lots of talks too, about people who truly believe what they are doing is good even if the results are horrific. I remember after taking a course on eastern and western mysticism I was baffled with where I was in terms of really understanding how intertwined good/evil are… and he finally told me to read some things (that are of course now forgotten) on compassionate love… that I short hand to compassion…. Which is bad. I did, and I realized I can love everyone, as a human, and I could want peace for them. But I didn’t and couldn’t understand everyone. And even if someone believes something they are doing is good and just, it isn’t always. I decided that my goal was to be a more compassionate being going through life. It requires letting go of understanding and expectation. But it also leaves openings for connection and recognition. I am awkward and slow to open up to people, but when I do it is intense. We don’t often get to interact without judgment. This is what compassion allows for me.

    Lightly annotated definitions from around the web

    Empathy is not Sympathy! Sympathy isn’t bad if love is centered.

    Early 20th century: from Greek empatheia (from em- in + pathos feeling) translating German Einfühlung.

    I think Einfühlung is really into feeling… which is sort of different? Or one feeling.

    The dictionaries have feelings on it too. Always one sided. Always an “other” or and “object” so I guess empathizing is turning the “other” into an object so I can erase the other and/or strip the other’s agency to make their feelings my own… well, not make them my own, but understand.

    the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
    the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:
    By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
    Simple Definition of empathy
    : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

    Full Definition of empathy
    1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
    2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
    [mass noun] The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

    Sympathy isn’t bad if love is centered.

    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
    verb (used with object)
    Archaic. to compassionate.

    Simple Definition of compassion
    : a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

    Full Definition of compassion
    : sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

    sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
    “the victims should be treated with compassion”
    synonyms: pity, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, care, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity
    “have you no compassion for a fellow human being?”

    BUUUUUUUUT really compassionate love… that is the real goal. I’m not there yet. I try though.

    Approaches to defining Compassionate Love from wikipedia
    According to Underwood’s framework, which has informed a substantial portion of the scientific research, 5 key and defining features of compassionate love include:

    1. Free choice for the other
    2. Some degree of accurate cognitive understanding of the situation, the other, and oneself
    3. Valuing the other at a fundamental level
    4. Openness and receptivity
    5. Response of the heart[5]

    Maybe someday writing…

    speed towards the future or leave it behind

    deep thoughts on the relationship between empathy/oppression. Readings on empathy outside of performance? I’m also thinking of these things wrt to how they relate to identity and lived experience in digital/non-digital/”seen as ‘other’ contexts. and how the version of self that is “other” is different than the not “not” me but are collapsed into one in digital contexts.

    Theoretical Stakes of Empathy and oppression.

    With the rise of digital media, people around the world are more connected than ever before. Forms of transportation such as bicycles, boats, and cars, connected clans and civilizations to those beyond where their eyes could see. Connections led to both cultural gains, and catastrophic losses through war and disease. Electronic media was different. Rather than taking people further than they could see, it made that which is further away suddenly appear in high definition as one in front of many without carrying disease or war. In fact, electronic media allowed for individuals to sit in front of disease and war without risk of being contaminated by the losses and risk they might bring. That does not mean that there was no harm in the images and sounds transported through electronic media. Electronic media in many ways annihilated the need for physical war and disease for the destruction of people. Instead, they could be symbolically destroyed in front of an audience of the world. While there is still physical oppression, electronic media, much like the other shared cultural framings of History and Education, oppresses culture on a psychic level. In our current world dominated by digital media and social networks, where everyone is able to have a voice, rather than using that voice to speak to the universal suffering that characterizes humanity, at this point in history, it is still used consciously and subconsciously as a place to further the little bits of power that alleviate some of the psychic pain of our current human condition.

    And there is always Fanon. The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… or too late. This is empathy for me. It is the never ending distance of your feelings becoming real to me only after they’ve already occurred for you. They are endless misinterpretation and out of timeness with the real. It is Time and the Other. Empathy becomes the inability to recognize the love in yourself in a pursuit that has already failed because the emotions we empathize with are always already the past. If we empathize too soon, we are already too late. We’ve already failed to recognize the human in front of us.

    The oppression of empathy is the call to mutual recognition of the other and a recognition that even I am other for an imagined you that is a reflection of myself. Being empowered is the opposite of oppressed and it is defined by being in a position to continue oppression. Empathy is how we recognize oppression and it is based on the continued alienation of the oppressed in the name of understanding. Empathy, loss, and fear are experienced alone. Even in collective pain, the intensity is individually determined.

    When media, society, and technology theorist Marshall McLuhan coined his famous phrase, “the medium is the message” (1964) he also stated that all technology is an amputation of the human. While McLuhan is often used to explain the role of technology in society, what is missed is that the initial medium for McLuhan is always already the human body and the neural pathways, pathways that pre-exist the electric age, creating meaning through internal electrical impulses that move through the pre-defined pathways of the body that create sensation and meaning. The moment those impulses move outward and try to create meaning or a message, they are already and amputation because all things outside of the body are external even as they represent the individual. Thus, the very act of trying to commune with another human is an act of amputation that we imagine as a cohesive whole through our attempts to empathize and understand. While we get that if someone touches a hot pot they probably experience burning pain (unless their neural pathways are not properly connected, which does happen), and we know that that is an unpleasant experience, we are unable to feel their actual pain. We create a theoretical copy of ourselves to experience the burn of the Other. The medium, the human, is the message of the social imaginary.
    Much like Benedict Anderson’s discussion of European’s “discovering” new worlds in the chapter “Old Language, New Model’s” in Imagine Communities, Machine Learning’s new fascination with big data that is bleeding out to other disciplines is a recreation of things already discovered: In order to commune with others we create large patterns that we then re-create. The most obvious example of this would be language. The new models though favor a more mathematical or scientific mind. Rather than being dependent on having a shared language or experience that can be understood with only a theoretical amputation of the self, these require a complete amputation in the form of thinking machines that run without human presence. Machine learning and the big data it analyzes has been so far removed from a theoretical human medium that when humans are reintroduced to the configuration of information, the human is unable to cognitively make sense of where it came from, thus Google’s learning machines out learning their creators and human monitors. Despite the inability of the human to understand the origins of what the machine is putting out, I would still argue that if we go back to the nodal point of interest, the social and big data, the output is still a creation of the human mind inasmuch as it is recognized as having some meaning of importance, even if it is outpacing the mind that created it in terms of finding connections.

    We can see so much more now than we could in the 90s. We are not better off for it. This is a limit of empathy for me.

    We moved our empathy bias onto big data where there is no room or context for compassion. But big data is an object, so we can empathize.

    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 part of the social (the area of most interest for me being the ethical/legal space). In big data, there are no nodal points, only strings, and vertices. 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 be human. A good portion of the reading of Big Data that is done is done by other machines and algorithms in an endless loop of finding something that resembles meaning (a command) and producing actions based on the meaning, all defined by patterns in the behavior of programmed recognizable points. This is interesting because the most successful instance to date of a machine learning to read big data is from Google. The model being used by the machine was the human brain (which of course is different than the human mind, the mind being where we understand the social, but that is another paper). Naturally, one of the first things their neural network learned to do was recognize cats.

    Only, it didn’t actually learn to recognize “cats”. The machine learned that there was a connection between this phenomenon of grouping pixels together in a specific way that became a pattern of unknown name that was only recognized as “cat” when a human reader took the information the machine had compiled, looked at the pattern of the pixels and recognized a “cat”. Up until that moment, the machine had simply algorithmically found a pattern in the noise of the data and noted that it was a recurring instance. “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”. “ 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.

    Big Data represents a strange occurrence of “homogeneous, empty time” (Anderson 24), a concept he borrowed from Benjamin. Benjamin discusses this term in the context of history being “fulfilled by the here-and-now”. Big Data lacks a here-and-now as it represents an unending displacement and movement. When we don’t allow the “here-and-now” to exist due to the pace, scale, and processing required to make sense of big data, there is never a “now”. Big Data, as it is used, understood, and conceptualized today, does not allow a space for human experience. As a result, it erases any chance for a social experience to come into being within the data. Whereas traditionally the role of social science has been to explain and explore the diversity of human experience, to create meaning out of this finite thing we call life, all big data seems to be able to offer us is the near future, through predictive analytics. 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 inherently human. And because we erase the human, the ethical components of big data are hard to place, because there are no bodies in data. There is no sociality inherent in the data. For all the metaphorical space big data takes up in certain scholarly circles, the data are empty. Yet we still empathize with their findings.

    And today…

    Media does not create empathy. It numbs and reifies existing positions structured by systems of uneven power, Lack/lack, and unfamiliarity. It is also great for propaganda.

    People expected others to vote against Trump because of how he and his supporters spoke about marginalized people. The problem is, if empathy could fix things, marginalization wouldn’t exist so starkly as it does in the first place.

    TO win with logic there has to be a shared emotional foreground. That was never created. Empathy was assumed rather than recognition of common ground being created.

    It is always worse for the next generation in historical traumas because people are reacting to a ghost. The thing from the past, long gone, is no longer fixable, but the damage can never heal. You can never beat a ghost because it is not of this world. It is locked in a foreign past that we grasp for in order to give now meaning. Nostalgia, making things great again, reminds me of McLuhan addendum, the rear view mirror is a different kind of nostalgia. It isn’t about the past, it is about hope for the new future. There are too many people suffering for all to be made well, so let me take care of me and mine. Interesting, but him with them over there. We’ll leave you behind too.

    We cannot continue to sugarcoat the past. It only terrorizes the future.

    Racism and economic slavery are our heritage. Before all else. Everything we are bleeds in relation to that original wound. Even the adopted children, those who came through Ellis island long after the end of slavery had to be indoctrinated into this truth and empathize with the enslavers, trying to make a better life. Even today the ability for people who are being marginalized to empathize with those who continue to carry the burden of slavery, even when their position here marks them as participants in similar suffering,  often fail to empathize those enslaved.  We’ve been pathologized. We should go with what those who are suffering but not as much as us. Others who are suffering assume auto-empathy from us. It is unfair. It is taxing. It kills.

    Today’s interpretation reality seems to be…

    If you want to survive here others must suffer (scarcity?). If you can dehumanize or distances yourself from the suffering you don’t feel it (lack of empathy) so it isn’t real… or, better, those who are suffering have earned it.

    The suffering we endure is of our own design but not really our choice (it’s that inheritance problem). Rather than letting go of the past, we must embrace it. All of it. I approach my ancestors with compassion. And I remember the stories my family always told me about my ancestors. I remember the fears they raised me with and question if I should have given those fears to my children as well. Most of my ancestors never had much to offer because of life conditions but they had hope for the future. For the generation that managed to pull on the chains of oppression to attempt a better life, all they received was a “wish you well”. I wish everyone well in this moment.

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  • race and amputation: Beginning of My Virtual Reality (VR) Theoretical Stake? #ver01


    On Saturday I went to the first Version conference. I went in as my skeptical self and left really amazed at the conversations I was able to listen to from the wonderfully curated panels. I didn’t have any deep thoughts until this morning when my normal train route was not running on my way to work. I’d also forgotten my idevice and headphones so I was reading Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR-Technology (I’ve not finished it yet, but the deep thought came so here it is, jotted down before my next meeting).

    I was very struck by the work of Jacolby Satterwhite. He is using virtual reality to create a world where he is more whole than he can be outside where his myth can be constructed, completed and fully experienced in a way not possible I the real world. In fact, he said as much, vulnerable, on a stage with only a few faces that looked like him in the audience.

    These thoughts are so drafty I can feel the virtual wind on my body

    I am stuck in this place where VR is the broken mirror stage as defined by a footnote in black skin white masks that I can’t cite because the book is at home coupled with the McLuhan idea of amputation, only it is the ultimate amputation. What this has me thinking, or realizing maybe, is perhaps I was so attracted to the theory of Fanon and McLuhan because they are both talking about the same exact thing/experience. Media amputates us from our embodied selves in various was as it extends who we are. When we other stand the body as a medium in and of itself, when the body is stuck in a place of alienation due to a lack of mutual recognition, which is the case for different bodied people, be it because of race, ability, or other things that might present as a visible or aural difference, there is an amputation from the perceived metaphysical (not sure this is the right word, but the basis for all of this is there is no actual self just the perception… oh damnit this is so theory I’m angry) self. Okay, I forgive myself. The way VR is being imagined right now does not give primacy to embodied experiences. It gives primacy to the plaststicty of the brain and the fact that because of the brains plasticity you can fool the body into disembodying itself and attaching to a virtual analog.

    So why race? Well, there is always race. I live in a raced body. Also it is female. I’m a little bit chubby. I feel and experience my inner self and live in a body that is marked and reacted to in particular ways based on things outside of my control that I do not notice until I realize I’m being seen in 3rd person. What the experience of race or marked/unexpected difference highlights, unveils, demystifies is that some of us are never ourselves. We live as a virtual version of who we are because there are things about us that already script how we are read and reacted it. If I am on a train, and people see me all of those markers of difference might or might not make them have thoughts about me that are untrue. Because of the ways I am marked by difference, those thoughts might veer towards negativity (but that is a whole other conversation on perceived mircro-aggressions versus actual ones and the complications of interpreting a space when you are “Other”). So, back to this third person business. Everyone (not everyone but many people) gets mad at me when I use Fanon to speak about existing in 3rds, but I have to because he is the one who is speaking specifically about the broken mirror stage, as mentioned above. The mirror stage, per Fanon, breaks for the black child when the child in pre-adolescence realizes their body, their self is not the one projected by media, history or society.


    The plasticity required to reconcile the self already exists for those bodies marked by difference as they already have to exist in third person when they live in dominant societies. They are at once themselves, the person they project and the person others perceive them to be. We see t his in Mamie (and Kenneth) Clarks doll experiment. The black child, seeing the dolls wants to play with the white dolls. The sadness the child has at having to reconnect with the doll they rejected, the doll they said was bad, shows that for many people, they always already live in a state of detachment from their bodies in a meaningful way because that is where society takes them. When I listened, and reflected on what Satterwhite was saying about having to take in the racism of the live audience and how the virtual him could be layered and contain the mythologies and performance that cannot be done in the real world, even as they were still a representation of himself, unchanged, it was meaningful. For me, the black body is one that is, by society and media and culture, amputated from its own humanity. The mask in Black Skin White Masks is a virtual reality where I realize to the world outside I am a monster (at times). It is one I cannot escape. There are no goggles. It is a light field discussed in terms of color and hues. I am sad that the place of empowerment and humanity is a virtual one… but there is another side to this too.

    I love Fanon because he says that we all experience this world in 3rds, it is just more obvious to those marked as Other in a way that cannot be escaped if they are to move with other humans. For those in groups of privilege that don’t acutely feel the amputation, VR is the tool that takes them to that space through that wonderful plastic brain of theirs. In the Code of Ethical conduct, seeing the virtual body as the real body was seen as being detrimental and something we should worry about the psychological effects of (in the part that I read). And Yes! Yes! Of course!! but what about all the children who go through this micro-psychological change very time they are confronted with their own image. Every time they choose them self (in a doll or other thing) they are briefly experiencing a moment of disembodiment and radical embodiment… and this is fascinating and I’m still trying to figure out how/what I think and feel about this. I guess the question is, is VR different because on chooses to enter that world, but with race (or other marked difference) choice is removed and there is no world without the goggles (except for the electric one)?

    Anyway, to end, because I have another meeting… The danger in VR around bodies and alienation, then, is that those in power and privileged might realize their bodies are meaningless because others have the power to manipulate and define their image (because it is clear that VR is a tool that can radically manipulate those who enter virtual worlds through immersive experiences that cause the body to feel and experience things that are not real outside of the image/sensation created in the mind). In the world of immersive VR that comes as a prepackaged experience the experiencer is at risk of being stuck in the world they entered, unable to change what’s been coded into their lived experience by the machine and the people who control it.

    But hey, this is the world I was born into so…


    /very drafty thoughts.

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  • The Myth of the “Stupid Student”

    This is my first post-PhD semester, and much to my sadness, I will not be teaching students. My new role is in faculty development around media and pedagogy. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic circle of friends who finished with me that beat the odds and found academic positions. As we all explore our new institutions, I think we’ve been dismayed to hear similar things to what we heard in grad school..

    “students are stupid”

    This is one of my pet peeves. In my past life, I would hear colleagues say their students were stupid or dumb or some variation of students not living up to whatever intellectual standard the person leading the class has set as the baseline. I do not believe in stupid students. There are three reasons for this:

    1. Entering a formal learning space as a student is an act of submission and vulnerability. If someone is in a class, they should be there precisely because they do not know something. So, they are ignorant, but not stupid.
    2. Every person that enters a classroom has an effect on that space, and, as such, contributes something to the people they are able to interact with. Encounters in formal learning spaces all have the potential to be learning experiences.
    3. The way we ask students to show proof of proficiency in learning tends to mirror how those of us who are able to teach showed academic and intellectual aptitude. Not everyone is able to think or express themselves in the ways that we request. This is a barrier to seeming smart that is arbitrary but very real.

    An Adolescent and Undergrad Story

    I had my first job when I was in 6th grade and I spent my $100 a week on books. Not fun books though. I had a thing for history and humanity. I spent more time than was probably healthy trying to figure out human morality and reading primary texts of various religions as well as philosophical texts. I also read a lot of books from French enlightenment thinkers, in French, because that is what a teenager does when she is learning French, n’est-ce pas? In addition to all the reading, I was obsessed with the news, probably because I was fascinated by how people framed things because of that morality thing. When I got to undergrad, I was very excited that one of the required classes was a religion course. Religion 150: Introduction to the World’s Major Religions. I took it over a summer while I was fasting for spiritual reasons (yes I was that type of teenager. NO REGRETS!!!). My professor was Ramdas. I really, really loved learning from him. I took as many courses with him as I could. One of his classes changed my life.

    Religion, Politics, and Society

    We had courses that were designated as writing or speaking intensive. Ramdas taught a course on Religion, Politics and Society that was designated as oral intensive. I enrolled. I need to start this part by saying, I was an awful undergrad. If I felt I was not going to get anything from a course I didn’t go. I did the minimal I had to do to keep my GPA high enough so I could graduate. I spent the rest of the time sleeping (because I really liked sleeping as teenager and I excelled at it).

    The first day of class, Ramdas went over a list of topics we would be reading and discussing during the semester. I was disheartened. Abortion? The Death Penalty? Homelessness? I’d already spent so much TIME thinking about these things. My classmates were PHENOMENAL, brilliant, passionate, amazing students to learn and think with. However, I did not know this on day one so, after class, I took my smart ass self up to Ramdas and said “I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things already and I don’t know that I will get anything from the course,” as one does. I am shocked at how patient and open Ramdas was because I would have laughed at me. But, he took me seriously and he said, “You are very smart, and I don’t doubt that you’ve thought about this. But in this class what you will learn is how other people think about things.” It was probably the best class of my undergraduate career. It let me know that even if I am smart, I am really, really, REALLY stupid too. And that is a good thing. 

    “Why do we keep talking about ‘Youth in Asia?’”

    There is a story I share about this course that sort of made what Ramdas meant all sink in. The class was over enrolled. There were 30 people in a class that had 15 spots, but the conversations were fantastic and everyone was always there. We would do our reading that had various points of view from religion, philosophy, politicians, and academics on the topic. We would start the conversation circle with general reflections on what we read. One day we had a very in-depth conversation on the dilemma of youth in Asia. When is suffering too much? Who gets to make a decision about when it will end? How will the family cope with it? I think person X did a better job than person Y explaining why “youth in Asia” is such a difficult topic. And, then there were the people who said, “I’d never really thought about Youth in Asia.” One girl was getting visibly more and more upset and confused. She finally raised her hand and asked “WHY DO WE KEEP TALKING ABOUT YOUTH IN ASIA!? I read something about people dying.” It took a second, but then someone realized she’d never said or heard euthanasia out loud.

    Usually when I tell people this story they laugh, but not in a “a-ha” kind of way. It is more of a, hahaha what an idiot kind of way. That usually makes me sad. For me, it was the moment when I realized how arbitrary a barrier can be. If just not knowing how a word you read is pronounced can make it so you are unable to participate in a conversation in a meaningful way when you have the capacity to do so, imagine the effects of all the other barriers people have. We were a special group where people felt safe being “dumb”. I am not sure that is the case in most classroom environments. It was not the norm in most of mine.

    When we enter the academy we are surrounded by intellectually curious peers who have done reading and writing and reflecting and speaking. They’ve had the privilege to have the time to do so. Not everyone lives that life though, and not everyone wants to (and that is fine). Students not being able or not wanting to do these things doesn’t mean they’re stupid… for me, when I teach, it just means I need to figure out what tools I need to give them so they can teach me that thing that I don’t know as a teacher. I need my students to teach me how they think, which is why I created an almost fail proof final.

    * * *

  • On the joys of playing and making: Drone Edition

    I have to accept certain things about myself. I tend to think more theoretically, and/or more towards the future than many people. I’m not a deductive thinker. I am an inductive thinker. I’m really good at seeing different parts of complex things and how they work together to make “predictions”… that to me are just observations. All this to say, what my experiences in Higher Education have taught me is that I do not think like most people. As a co-learner and as a teacher, that means I have to come up with ways to make the things that are “obvious” to me visible to others. I have to also create openings for people to critique, expand, or disagree with those things I think are obvious. Because I do not know everything. In fact, I maintain that I know very little. I just exist in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity (great mindsets for learning and exploring imho). So, what’s a girl to do???

    Playing and Making

    I’ve always been drawn to playing and making. And I didn’t get why until I started my drone tests to see which one I would attempt to get for my class next semester… and which ones I would get for us at the Duke PhD Lab (all the grad students there are super into the idea of playing with drone, from the classics people to the digital humanities people). What I think I determined, which is one of those things that was probably obvious to everyone else, is that when we play or make, we immediate go to the more theoretical imaginary space. We make towards a potential thing, and playing is all about that which isn’t there but could be or is only symbolically.

    I cashed in all my store credits and discounts to put together a little fleet of drones. I have a small rolling FPV that is just very intuitive and really fun to play around with. A mini-qudrocopter drone that films excessively grainy HD video onto a microsd card. It has the biggest learning curve to fly too. There is a very stable quadrocopter that is fun, has a small learning curve, but only takes photos from directly below where it is flying. And finally, I have a low-midrange bigger quadrocopter that takes really nice video (the first flight video is above). I’ve done my first few flights with a series of drones and my brain is whirring (I imagine that word came to mind because of the whirring of the propellers).

    I think when I was originally planning on possibly teaching with drones I assumed, naturally, that the primary thing I’d be working with and against is surveillance culture. That is a part of it. The second part was about creating world perspectives. I was thinking about literature and film, and how one would go about writing what can be seen through a drown, or creating new aesthetic practices in film that go beyond the panning scenery. I was really excited when I saw this Ok Go video because it took advantage of the mobility and perspectives of drone filming:

    (There’s an interactive version of the video here:

    But, after playing with the drones, and their different interfaces, I’m thinking a lot about how we imagine the body with technology. Like a broken record, I am thinking about how useful McLuhan’s idea of technology as an extension, and ultimately, amputation of the body, is when we try to conceptualize what are relationship to technology is when it becomes the only thing we can see through… I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared for a piece of technology as I was when I saw on the screen that the bigger drone was going above the trees and it was a speck and I wasn’t sure if I could keep control.

    I am having lots of thoughts about public space, and how we imagine technology being in these places. When I made it to the park where I did my test flight, there was a group playing competitive boomerang (yes I live in that type of place). When they saw me go to another part grass near the field with my flying thing, they moved where they were playing to a neighboring baseball field without saying a word to me, sort of handing it off. Additionally, as we pulled in to the community park, I reflected on drones being banned in National Parks. There was a story this weekend, too, about an emergency helicopter pilot who had to avoid a drone while flying. I’m also trying to figure out where I can go with my students so they can film with a drone without others feeling like there is an invasion of privacy, and, where this is no risk of them hurting someone by dropping technologic object with spinning blades, as they learn to fly. So, lots of things I didn’t think I’d be thinking about until the technology was in hand.

    And, of course, I always wonder about the implications of having all of these technologies that are designed so specifically for a visual experience and not really much else. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just… curious.

    I imagine as I play around a bit more, and as I play with more people with these things I’ll have lots of other thoughts, and they will too. I am just grateful to have another fun bridge to help break down some of the thought barriers into something other than language. And I’m happy to have more toys to play with. I’ve let my little ones play with all the drones (except for the big one… it was too windy) it’s been interesting to see how intuitive some are versus others.

    * * *

  • 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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  • 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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