New Writing

Two recent essays from the past month:

Where the Streets Have No Numbers in Real Life Magazine

Florida himself has since backpedaled on many of these claims. His latest work, The New Urban Crisis, is a mea culpa of sorts, a career-spanning apologia similar in scope to Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, another work by a prominent liberal technocrat desperately trying to explain a world that their political failings helped create and that has largely cast them aside.

The parallels between Clinton’s and Florida’s books are striking: Each was overconfident in their computer models and ignored contrary evidence. They failed to understand the Rust Belt, seeing only rejuvenating progressive cities like Madison, Wisconsin or Hudson, New York and missing the deeply seated white resentment that also flourished alongside them. To Florida’s credit, he eschews finger pointing and contritely admits how sorely he had missed the mark. He had, in his own words, “been overly optimistic to believe that cities and the creative class could, by themselves, bring forth a better and more inclusive kind of urbanism.”

Local Institutions Respond to Net Neutrality Debate in The Alt

The coverage of net neutrality has largely focused on national politics, large corporations, and the broad economic implications of network regulation. Little has been said about the tangible impact of net neutrality’s demise on local communities. Businesses, labor unions, and nonprofit organizations rely on, and even base their work off of, a free and open internet. Net neutrality’s demise, if it does come to pass, will have an outsized impact on the people who rely on the internet the most to access essential services and run their organizations.

Weblandia on YouTube

All of Theorizing the Web 2017 is now on YouTube which includes Weblandia. It was a big honor to be the moderator for this all-star panel of Ava Koffman, Kyle Chayka, and Sharon Zukin (Kate Losse couldn't make it at the last minute but was cited several times).

We talked about the privatization of wealth derived from cultural products, the search for authentic experiences in the city, and what can be done about inequalities in urban environments.

Weblandia at #TtW17

I recently had the honor of moderating Weblandia the first keynote panel for Theorizing the Web 2017. I sat down with Sharon Zukin, Ava Koffman, and Kyle Chayka to talk about cities' relationship to the web and all the ways culture and city services are being rationalized and homogenized for the benefit of private capital. The whole talk was recorded and you can watch it above by scrolling down and clicking on "Weblandia" in the playlist.

Announcing #ttw17

Excited to do more for Theorizing the Web this year by acting as co-chair with Nathan Jurgenson. Check out the CFP below and hope to see lots of old friends and new faces at the conference in April!

Call for Papers

Theorizing the Web 2017

April 7–8 in New York City

At the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, Queens

The submission deadline is January 22, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST)

Started in 2011, Theorizing the Web is an annual event for critical, conceptual conversations about technology and society. Theorizing the Web begins with the assumption that to talk about technology is also to discuss the self and the social world. Debate around digital social technologies too often fails to apply the many relevant literatures of social thought. We do not think “theorizing” is solely the domain of academia, and we value clear and compelling arguments that avoid jargon. Here are some photos from last year’s event if you want to see the vibe of it all.

Theorizing the Web is a home for thinking about technology by people who may not think of themselves primarily as “tech” thinkers. Activists, journalists, technologists, writers, artists, and people who don’t identify as any of the above are all encouraged to submit. We especially invite submissions that engage with issues of social justice, power, inequality, and vulnerability from a diverse range of perspectives. 

Submissions on any topic are welcome. Some general topical suggestions include the intersections between technology and identity, privacy, sexuality, the body, power, politics, surveillance, racism, sexism, ableism, harassment, space, code, design, knowledge, images, memes, attention, work, fiction, gaming, globalization, capitalism, and protest. 

Submissions should be 300 to 500 words (only the first 500 words will be reviewed). The TtW Selection Committee will blindly review submissions and make decisions in early to mid-February. Space is limited, and our acceptance rate is typically 20-35%. The presentations themselves will be 12-minute talks in a panel setting. You will be speaking to a general audience who may not share your area of expertise. 

Before submitting, please read our FAQ section on submissions.

Submit your proposal here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/submit

Registration for Theorizing the Web remains pay-what-you-can, and we ask that you donate whatever amount you deem fair or can afford (minimum $1). Register here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/registration

Stay tuned to theorizingtheweb.org for announcements about invited panels, and email us at theorizingtheweb@gmail.com if you would like to help out with our all-volunteer event in any way. We’re @TtW_conf on Twitter, and the conference hashtag is #TtW17.

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The Edifice Complex in Real Life

How long and how intensely a technology seems “vulgar” before it fades into the background is a useful barometer of a society’s willingness to embrace whatever ideology that technology has made it impossible to ignore.

I have a new essay up at Real Life Magazine that I'm very excited about. You can read it here. I've also added some photos of Empire State Plaza to my photography portfolio

Talk with Melissa Gira Grant about Selfies and Politics

On November 1st Melissa Gira Grant and I will be discussing the role of selfies in the election. Knowing us we'll probably talk much more generally about privacy and publicity in ways that cut against the typical discussions of selfies as exercises in vanity. The event is hosted by the International Center for Photography at 250 Bowery in Manhattan. More information about this event and other events in the series here.

Some writing on writing

Over at Cyborgology I took a moment to write out my approach to writing, how to start writing for more popular audiences, and how to work with editors. It's mainly written for academics but I think it's generally useful for anyone in a professional discipline looking to speak to more general audiences. Had a lot of fun writing it. You can read the whole post here.

True-Ish Grit in Real Life

Original artwork by Alexis Beauclair

Original artwork by Alexis Beauclair

Had the distinct pleasure and honor of writing a long essay about social media and the marketing of authenticity in Rust Belt towns for the new publication Real Life magazine

If places have become commodities, social media are platforms on which cities like Troy might dream of competing. For such cities, photogenicity represents opportunity. Friends sharing Sunday brunch on a terrace, a dog being walked in a well-appointed dog park—such moments create a reproducible online brand built on an air of exclusivity. This rationalized quirkiness makes a local flavor known, sellable in the broader market of “those nice places to live.” Once a city’s obscure and unique qualities are made machine-readable and comparable across networks, the city’s brand solidifies and can sit nicely on a social-media shelf.

Full essay here.

Web Safe 2k16

Wrote something for the Web Safe 2k16 project. Web Safe 2k16 publishes one 216-word story associated with one of the original 216 web safe colors.  I wrote about forced calm and the use of blue in both social and work settings. 

I should have stared at the color a little bit more before writing because now I realize this also feels like the color of a TV awaiting a VHS tape. I wonder if there's something to that. A subconscious infusion of anticipation across all of our commonly-used platforms. 

There’s a reason so many memories with computers are blue. Blue is the color of imposed calm. Blue demands conscious calm in spite of what the blue-colored thing is doing to you. From social media and word processors, to company logos and web standards, shades of blue are keeping you passively awake.

Full essay here.

Won 1st Prize for Short Fiction at the 75th Annual McKinney Awards

I was very honored last week to receive first prize in RPI's annual McKinney Competition for short fiction (of all things!). The winning story, which is currently unpublished but looking for a home, is titled Platinum. Here's a short excerpt:

I do not like the house I am built in. I think it is ugly. I am beautiful. On the outside the house is trimmed in Quiet Moments™ and has Hawaiian Shell™ walls. I am black, with green, yellow, and red LEDs. I am mounted on an unpainted wall underground protected by a sump pump and treated steel. The inside of the house is largely characterized by PANTONE 14-1118 TPX and 15-1516 TPX and kept at 76F. My insides are plastic and platinum and reach temperatures in excess of 180F. 

This house is a brick and I am drowning slowly. That is a Ben Folds Five lyric. Jason Carethers played Brick on Whatever and Ever Amen [2035 Digital Vinyl Collection Edition] 135 times. Joyce Carethers, $usan and NickRulez were in a different room from Jason Carethers 96% of the time that song was playing. Automatically purchasing new needle heads for SONY Digital Vinyl – D3400 Player as per subscription settings.

Moderating #TtW16 Keynote Panel "Cool Story"

Stories are one of our first technologies. They are a means of collective memory storage that propel ideas forward in time and outward to new communities. Stories not only tell us what has been, they also help us imagine what could be. On the web, the scope of that collective memory increases and the relationships among stories, their tellers, and audiences are redefined. A complex social life plays out on our little screens, refracting and feeding into the stories told on the big screen. How will compelling, timeless narratives be told through timelines, threads, and selfies, and videos? Are algorithms already our best authors and editors? Rather than focus solely on perennial questions about the always imminent death of media forms and institutions, this panel explores how the web changes the stories we tell and how we tell them. 

This keynote panel happens during TtW on Saturday April 16th and features,

Alexandra Kleeman

Ales Kot

Laurie Penny

Jenna Wortham

Natasha Lennard

David A. Banks (moderator)

 

Essay in American Sociological Association's SKAT blog

The Science, Knowledge and Technology section of the American Sociological Association asked me to respond to a question President Obama posed in his latest State of the Union: "How do we make technology work for us, and not against us-especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges?" Here is my reply:

It is laudable that in 2016 our leaders are thinking about technology as something that could work against some humans’ interests. When the President of the United States asks how to “make technology work for us, and not against us—especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges,” our first inclination as social scientists should be to define the “us” under investigation. Presumably, the president would reply with “every American,” but even the most cursory reading of science and technology studies literature would suggest that this is impossible. Technologies are neither inherently good nor bad for all humans; rather, they are the artifacts of social action and often participate in political controversy and social stratification before, during, and after their initial creation. The levies in New Orleans, the drones that fly over the U.S. southern border and throughout the Middle East, and the corroded pipes of Flint, Michigan stand in testament to the ways in which technology participates in politics.
A far more realistic question might be: “How do we redistribute control over and allocation of technologies?” Such a reframing decenters the artifact itself and brings analytic focus to the methods we employ to make technology in the first place. If decades of research into innovation and regulation by social scientists has taught us anything, it is that our current paradigm of “design first and regulate later” makes for bad products and even worse policy. The former sets loose unintended consequences that cause real harm to people and the latter is ham-fisted, too late, or most commonly, both. Worse yet, as social scientists we may be over-prescribing DIY, citizen-led science and technology at the expense of social movements that would otherwise be changing the landscape of scientific research and technological innovation.

Read the full essay on the ASA SKAT website.

New essay in The New Inquiry about food and authenticity (with Britney Summit-Gil)

Have a new essay in The New Inquiry authored with Britney Summit-Gil about the newly announced "Bourdain Market", authenticity, and cultural capital. 

Authenticity is, for marketers and some cultural commentators, what objectivity is for scientists. It masquerades as an absolute, ascertainable quality inherent in situations when in fact it is a function of many contingencies, including subject position, social structure, historical happenstance, economic forces, and cultural norms. While objectivity relies on the expertise and training of scientists who follow certain procedures, authenticity is a product of cultural expertise with its own set of semi-arbitrary rules. Cultural experts are ordained with the power of finding and selling authenticity on the assumption that it exists somewhere, outside the self, and with the right training it can be discovered.

Read the full essay at The New Inquiry.

Mentioned in The Atlantic

Ingrid Burrington has a great article in the Atlantic on the mutually shaping relationship between railroads and the Internet where she cites my recent First Monday article on the origins of online and offline.

Google didn’t come to Council Bluffs because of historical resonance. They came for the fiber, which runs parallel to Iowa’s many railroads and interstates. Rail infrastructure has shaped the language of the network (as noted in David A. Banks’s work on the history of the term “online”), the constellation of companies that form the network (most famously with Sprint emerging from the Southern Pacific Railroad’s internal-communications network), and, most relevant to this story, the actual routes that fiber-optic networks run.

Read the full article in The Atlantic

Article published in First Monday's special issue on Non-Use

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I'm excited about my first single-author peer-reviewed article! Here's the abstract with a link to the full text:

More than a semantic difference, investigating what it means to be online or offline shines light on the contours and configurations of digitally augmented life (Jurgenson, 2011). Through the analysis of primary and secondary sources, this essay traces the origin of the terms online and offline to the early railroad industry where “the line” was a powerful orienting image. I propose that rather than an individual binary status; online/offline distinctions are more accurately described as a communal social relationship. This paper will argue that, rather than boycotts or similar market solutions, users are best served by following the historical example of railroads and fighting for democratized administrative control over networks.

Full article

Quoted in Fusion

“Why don’t we ever talk about taking over social media companies?,” David Banks, who studies public space and digital networks, asked last week on the blog Cyborgology. “We will boycott them, demand transparency measures, and even build entire alternative networks based on volunteer labor but no one ever seems to consider taking all the servers and data sets away from the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world and putting it all in the hands of the users.” Why are we so hesitant, Banks asks, to demand control over our digital lives? What would it take to stage a user revolution?

Complete story at fusion.net

Interview in Buzzfeed

I spoke with Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed tech about structural racism and the recent problems at Reddit:

Stamping out hate on Reddit is roughly as easy as stamping out hate anywhere, which is to say it’s nearly impossible. “You can’t treat this kind of hate or structural violence as a bug — it’s a feature in the system,” David Banks, a social scientist who has written extensively about Reddit’s ability to foster hate, told BuzzFeed News. “Structural violence exists in the site because it exists in society, and so it will keep showing up. So relying on reporting and flagging and tagging to get rid of this will never fix the issue for good.”

Read the full story here.

Two New Fellowships!

 

Very happy to announce that I have been awarded two fellowships covering this summer and the following academic year.

This summer I will be covered by the Alger Engineering Ethics Research Fellowship. This $1,500 will help me work on two dissertation chapters: One chapter gives two parallel, chronological accounts of the OSCVM and mesh wifi projects. This will also include descriptions of the field sites, the main objectives, methods, and final states of the projects. The second chapter will trace the difficulties I and engineering students had with working in places with vastly different material resources and coming to terms with geographic and cultural design assumptions surrounding the likelihood of product theft, fabrication costs, and time-to-completion.

The second fellowship ––The Humanities Arts, and Social Sciences Fellowship–– is an internal award that provides tuition and fee remittance, TA-ship release, and a $24,000 living stipend that will give me time to do fieldwork abroad and generally help me complete the dissertation. Very excited and thankful for all the help I've gotten from my wife, friends and colleagues.