The Power of a Decentralized Left in Tikkun Magazine

Silver-StackAbandoning the monolith of “The Left” means embracing the tumultuous and complicated relationships we have with one another. It means having our fights out in public, with each other, and organizing affinity groups across geographical as well as social, economic, and gender lines. It means knitting together as many different kinds of organizations as possible. The Right will portray this as dissonance and fracture. We should embrace both of those charges and hold them up as our most cherished virtues because it is through working out our disagreements that we arrive at more sustainable, effective, and just decisions.

Full text here: The Power of a Decentralized Left | Tikkun Magazine.

Democracy comes to Mozilla

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for exactly 11 days before stepping down. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Last week Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, had to step down amid backlash from his fellow board members, Silicon Valley elites, and the public at large for his $1,000 donation to supporters of California’s Prop 8 anti-marriage equality bill. In the grand scheme of things, a $1000 contribution from a guy that is I-invented-JavaScript-wealthy to a $38.7 million campaign, probably didn’t change much. But the headlines were never about Eich secretly bankrolling Prop 8; it’s been about what kind of person should be allowed to lead the best-known open-source organization that makes the third-most-installed browser on the planet.

There’s lots of people who say that even if you disagree with Eich, this shouldn’t be grounds for him to step down because his beliefs have no bearing on how you build a browser. I deeply disagree, and it isn’t a matter of ideological opposition, but of observable fact: technology always has a bit of its creator in it and technology is never politically neutral. Moreover, I don’t think, as many have claimed, that Eich’s departure was a failure of democracy. In fact I see it as a leading indicator for the free software community’s maturing legal and political knowledge.

Read More: Democracy comes to Mozilla » Cyborgology.

Why Facebook’s Acquisition of Oculus Still Seems Unfair

Last week, The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries (@adrjeffries) asked a really provocative titular question: “If you back a Kickstarter Project that sells for $2 billion, do you deserve to get rich?” After interviewing venture capitalists and the like she concludes that the answer isn’t even “no” it’s “that’s ridiculous.” After speaking to Spark Capital’s Mo Koyfman Jeffries writes, “Oculus raised money on Kickstarter because it wanted to see if people wanted and would buy the product, and whether developers wanted it and would build games for it. The wildly successful campaign validated that premise, and made it much easier for Oculus to raise money from venture capitalists.”

Kickstarter’s biggest innovation is its ability to cut two time-consuming tasks –market research and startup funds– down to a 90 day fundraising window. Companies that choose to use Kickstarter usually aren’t ready to offer equity because that comes after the two steps that Kickstarter is so useful in accelerating. Or, perhaps more honestly, companies opt to use Kickstarter precisely because they want to avoid selling off shares of their company as much as possible. Jeffries gives us a good financial and legal (juridical, if we want to be Foucauldian about it) but that seems like a wholly unfulfilling argument for someone who spent $25 on an Oculus-branded t-shirt. Let’s forget for a moment about what’s legal and normal –those things are rarely moral or fair– and start to compare what happens on Kickstarter to similar (and much older) social arrangements. To start, let’s go way back to the early 1990s.

Read more: Why Facebook’s Acquisition of Oculus Still Seems Unfair » Cyborgology.

Notorious Learning

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I learn a lot on Tumblr. I follow a lot of really great people that post links, infographics, GIF sets, and comics covering everything from Star Trek trivia to trans* identity. I like that when I look at my dashboard, or do a cursory search of a tag I will experience a mix of future tattoo ideas and links to PDFs of social theory. Invariably, within this eclectic mix that I’ve curated for myself, I will come across a post with notes that show multiple people claiming that the post taught them something and so they feel obligated to reblog it so others may also know this crucial information. If you’re a regular Tumblr user you’re probably familiar with the specific kind of emphatic sharing. Sometimes it is implied by one word in all caps: “THIS!” In other instances the author is ashamed or frustrated that they didn’t know something sooner. For example, I recently reblogged a post about America’s Japanese internment camps that contained a note from another user who was angry that they were 24 when they first learned about their existence. I want to give this phenomenon a name and, in the tradition of fellow regular contributor Robin James’ recent“thinking out-loud” posts, throw a few questions out there to see if anyone has more insights on this.

Read more here: Notorious Learning » Cyborgology.

A Sample of My Work

This is my writing sample for my (public) application for the #AmtrakResidency.

Oh Amtrak. How could you even ask me why I’d want an #AmtrakResidency? Don’t you remember the moments between me and your Twitter account? You told me it was love at first sight! And who is Spencer? How could you hang out with Spencer with puns like those? Amtrak I thought you and I had a thing. Like the time I shamelessly added you to my tweet about a guy getting really excited about trains. I thought we were closer than this. In any case, I never got around to saying this but, I’m glad that you’re glad that I like trains.

So much of this is a Love and Theft arrangement. The love comes from my own relationship to trains. This residency, for me, is a relationship that could never exist outside of my own memories of that HO scale Amtrak train that I’d set up in the living room and watch go around in a circle for hours. I would never consider writing on a train ride to nowhere if I hadn’t thought, for the first decade of my life, that Amtrak was what adults took when they wanted to go somewhere important. Afterall, that’s how my grandparents went from Fort Lauderdale to New York City twice a year. I just assumed that trains were for special occasions. Like a cross-continental limousine. I was also the kid that, having most of Orlando, Florida’s theme parks at my disposal, wanted to go to Train Land over Disney World. Universal Studios was okay because you got to ride a train on the Earthquake ride. I love trains so why wouldn’t I pass up doing what I love while riding a thing that I love?

But then there’s the theft. I think Vauhini Vara gets it right in her New Yorker piece when she compares the #AmtrakResidency to David Foster Wallace’s essay about traveling on cruise ships. This residency is nothing more than highbrow marketing that gives cynical assholes like me a license to sincerely enjoy something as earnest as reflecting on life as the scenery rolls by. In turn, I will let others know how Beyond Cool™ I am to just enjoy a train ride to nowhere in particular. I will help you turn the Lake Shore Limited into a Hipster Carnival Cruise. It is for this reason that I don’t think you’re stealing from writers necessarily (or primarily), you’re stealing from a society that desperately needs a continental rail system that could give airlines a run for their money. Trains shouldn’t be small luxury liners, they should be big buses. That’s what we really need from you right now. But I understand that as an organization that relies on government money, your agency is severely restrained and so you must find money wherever it lies. Indeed, you must act like all other market actors and cleave your offerings into two big categories to match the socioeconomic landscape. Your trains must either be high luxury or bargain basement. You’ll sell both, but investment to create the former will be bankrolled by the latter.

#AmtrakResidency is eerily similar to the Write-A-House Program in Detroit: a program that teaches poor kids carpentry and masonry skills by having them rehab a house that’ll be given away to a writer who only pays a modest fee to cover the property taxes. It sounds like a wonderful program until you think about the long-term repercussions of the arrangement: they’re taking poor kids’ labor and investing it in a house that will, most likely, end up gentrifying the area and kicking them out of the neighborhood that they literally built with their own hands. The #AmtrakResidency does something very similar. It gives away tickets on Amtrak’s most expensive lines, in hopes of rebranding a private-public corporation as a writer’s retreat on wheels. It can fund these land-cruises with equal parts tax money and the profits from the Northeastern corridor. Granted the lobbyists riding the Acela Express could use to have their fares raised but will we realize too late that the middle class riders of the Empire Express were bankrolling the gentrification of their beloved train this whole time?

But let’s get back to how you’re stealing from writers for a second. A good friend of mine compared this little part of your Official Terms to the Limp Bizkit’s Guitar Center talent search:

Applicant understands and agrees that Sponsor has wide access to ideas, stories and other literary, artistic and creative materials submitted to it from outside sources or developed by its own employees and agents (together, “Sponsor Creative”); and, such Sponsor Creative may be competitive with, similar to (or even identical to) the writing sample/answers to questions created and submitted by Applicants; and, Sponsor shall have no liability to Applicant or any third party in respect to or in connection with the development, use, sale and/or commercial exploitation of all or any portion of Sponsor Creative by Sponsor and/or its designees and licensees, all of which liability, if any, Applicant hereby expressly and irrevocably waives, releases and discharges.

This isn’t a good look for you Amtrak. I’d love to do this if you didn’t write up terms that’d make Elsevier cringe. We could have been partners on this thing. I don’t want to live in a world where Amtrak is the Limp Bizkit of trains. Or maybe the Limp Bizkit of writer residencies. I can’t really tell anymore. Either way, I didn’t ask my friend if I could use that comparison. It was just too good. Maybe you’re on to something here.

I love you Amtrak, and I wish we weren’t in this fucked up scenario where you have to turn a profit and I have to find ways to pay the bills through people paying attention to my work. But putting the two together might be too much for me. I hope one of your writers in residence writes the perfect story that renews everyone’s interest in trains and they don’t mind that they don’t get a cut when your funding goes through the roof and you don’t have to spend all of your money on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. I just won’t be one of those writers.

This is part of my (public) Application for the #AmtrakResidency.

Photo from Flickr User Leon Kay, all rights reserved.

 

Article in The Information Society With Ron Eglash

Very proud to announce that a co-authored article with Ron Eglash was just published in a special issue of The Information Society by Taylor & Francis.

Abstract: Kelty’s “recursive public” is defined as a binary: whether or not ownership of intellectual property is legally in the public domain. We propose a broader continuum of recursive depth, which spans the range from shallow constrained generative spaces (e.g., photo memes) to the deeply open collaborations of “critical making” communities. Recursive depth is assessed by the capacity for transformation across three distinct continuums: public/proprietary, virtual/material, and high/low social power. Transformations across all three continuums is not always necessary for deep recursion (as Kelty and others note for many cases of open source), but we argue that paying attention to all three, and treating them as continuums rather than binaries, allows a better evaluation of the capacity for democratizing the technosocial landscape.

Full text available to subscribers here.

If you don’t have personal or institutional access to The Information Society the first 50 people that use this link can get a free copy.

Google Scholar has also picked up some free pre-published versions.

 

Producing Consumers: A Follow Up to Robin James » Cyborgology

Today’s post is a reply to Robin James’ post, which raises questions stemming from the observations made in Jodi Dean’s recent post on “What Comes After Real Subsumption?

Image c/o Aldor

Image c/o Aldor

This might be a tad “incompatible” with the existing discussion because while the discussion so far has focused mainly on a Marxist approach to a series of philosophical questions, I want to take an anarchist approach to an anthropological re-reading of the initial question: “what comes after real subsumption?” That is, I think some of the subsequent questions might be more answerable if we interrogate their anthropological facets. Particularly, I want to focus on what is considered feedstock for production and what is identified as the act of consumption which, by definition, must yield a waste that capitalists sort through in an effort to extract more surplus value. Pigs in shit as it were.

Read more here: Producing Consumers: A Follow Up to Robin James » Cyborgology.

The New Normal: School Shootings as Industrial Disaster » Cyborgology

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

An entire train full of crude oil slides and tumbles 11 miles down hill. Image from NBCNews

One morning, in the seventh grade, my math class was told to prepare for a surprise standardized writing test. A writing test with no warning in math class wasn’t the weirdest thing we had been asked to do. Jeb Bush was our governor and Florida was a proving ground for what would later be called “No Child Left Behind.” Tests were common and testing different kinds of tests were even more common. You never knew if the test you were taking would change your life or never be seen again. This one was a little bit of both. The prompt was really strange, although I don’t remember what it was. As a life-long test taker (my first standardized test was in the 4th grade) you become a sort of connoisseur of writing prompts. This one didn’t seem to test my expository or creative writing skills. It just felt like a demand to write and so we did. We wrote for about half an hour.

 

The New Normal: School Shootings as Industrial Disaster » Cyborgology.

The Conservative Social Scientist: What AcademicTorrents Says About the Social Sciences » Cyborgology

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

When you search for Foucault on AcademicTorrents

The Social Sciences –despite the widely held notion that we’re all a bunch of Marxists that will turn your children into pinkos– are incredibly conservative when it comes to their own affairs. Our conferences are pretty traditional, we took a really long time getting around to noticing that the Internet was A Thing, and if you take a Social Theory 101 course you’re more likely to read Durkheim than bell hooks. You can blame it on tenure, fear of action, or simple lack of imagination, but the analysis remains the same: rarely do our articles’ prescriptive conclusions make it into our day-to-day practice. When I read that a couple of students from the University of Massachusetts had launched a torrent site to share data I knew it wouldn’t be social scientists. Not necessarily because we don’t have the expertise, (more on that later) but because we so rarely seem to have the will to act. Its always the engineers and the natural scientists that come up with faster, cheaper, and more egalitarian methods of sharing data and promoting their work. What gives?

 

The Conservative Social Scientist: What AcademicTorrents Says About the Social Sciences » Cyborgology.

#Review Actor-Network Theory’s Approach to Agency » Cyborgology

#review Features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books.

This week, I’m reviewing: Sayes, E. M. “Actor-Network Theory and Methodology: Just What Does It Mean to Say That Nonhumans Have Agency?” Social Studies of Science (2014) Vol. 44(1) 134–149. doi:10.1177/0306312713511867. [Paywalled PDF]
Update: The author, E.M. Sayes has responded to the review in a comment below.Image from You as a MachineImage from You as a Machine

A few weeks ago Jathan Sadowski tweeted a link to Sayes’ article and described it as, “One of the best, clearest, most explanatory articles I’ve read on Actor-Network Theory, method, & nonhuman agency.” I totally agree. This is most definitely, in spite of the cited material’s own agentic power to obfuscate, one of the clearest descriptions of what Actor-Network Theory (hereafter ANT) is meant to do and what it is useful for. Its important to say up front, when reviewing an article that’s mostly literature review, that Sayes isn’t attempting to summarize all of Actor-Network Theory, he is focused solely on what ANT has to say about nonhuman agents. It doesn’t rigorously explore semiotics or the binaries that make up modernity. For a fuller picture of ANT (if one were making a syllabus with a week of “What is ANT?”) I suggest pairing this article with John Law’s chapter in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (2009) entitled “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Between the two you’d get a nice overview of both of ANT’s hallmark abilities: articulating the character of nonhuman agency and the semiotics of modern binaries like nature/culture and technology/sociality.

#Review Actor-Network Theory’s Approach to Agency » Cyborgology.