Vapor Eyes in The New Inquiry

vap-383The e-cigarette feels like the future. It is a generational marker that gives millennials another way to distinguish themselves from the past. It takes its design cues and business models from smartphones, gentrified downtowns, and complimentary next-day global delivery systems. When you choose to use silicon and glycerine over paper and tobacco, you are also choosing a shipping warehouse in Anaheim over the nearest gas station, opting to monitor battery life instead of lighter fluid, and possibly demonstrating a preference for the DIY promise of building your own vaping rig over the predictability of mass-produced, uniformly rolled cigarettes. It should be no surprise that almost every e-cig battery charges over USB, there are no disposable batteries, and if you want to plug it into a wall outlet you have to use a converter brick just as with a smartphone. E-cigs are eminently compatible with our digitized lives. Read the full text here: Vapor Eyes - The New Inquiry

Very Serious Populists

Really proud to be published in The New Inquiry for the first time. I really love their work and it was a pleasure working with them. 

Just like its government equivalent, voting on social networks is also a nice way to give the illusion that anything and anyone can succeed on merit while actually maintaining the status quo through sociotechnical structures. Tech entrepreneurs deploy voting to show allegiance to their fantasy of a color-blind and genderless meritocracy, predicated on what PJ Rey has shownto be an outdated and debunked notion that the Internet allows us to transcend race, class, and gender by entering a space of pure information. Popular posts are good, the logic goes, because only the best makes it to the front page. Sites use a combination of moderators, reporting procedures, and spam filters to keep the meritocracy in order, but it is the user community (which sometimes includes volunteer moderators, depending on the platform) that polices the boundaries and defends the site from would-be attackers. In practice this often means strict enforcement of majoritarian politics. On Reddit (a completely user-moderated site), this has taken the form of protracted embargoes of Gawker media and internal conflicts between an insurgent “fempire” (a consortium of subreddits that compile and deconstruct problematic content) and the rest of the site. Gawker and the Fempire threaten the legitimacy of Reddit’s system by highlighting the terrible things it enables and promotes. By ignoring the existence of other subjectivities online, these sites reproduce (as bell hooks would call it) the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Implementing voting in online forums, evidence suggests, is a good way to keep them white and full of dudes.

You can read the whole article here.

Grad Students are Ruining Everything

Here is a list of skills that, as a grad student at one time or another, I’ve been expected to have with absolutely no offered training whatsoever:

  • Creative writing
  • Public relations writing
  • Typesetting
  • Sound engineering
  • Videography
  • Photography
  • Graphic design
  • Web design
  • Film editing
  • Institutional procurement
  • Professional event catering
  • Conference planning and management
  • Brand representation on social media
  • Copy editing
  • Public speaking
  • Managing a grade book
  • Learning content management systems
  • Advanced settings and features of Excel

These skills are not optional for me. I cannot expect to be competitive in the Ph.D job market without possessing at least three quarters of these skills. Through trial and error and the mutual aid of fellow grad students and sympathetic junior faculty (who know what its like and help in spite of the fact that this kind of service won’t go towards tenure) it all gets figured out, but there’s a serious, unsustainable problem here. Don’t get me wrong, there are much more egregious workplace abuses happening around the world, and enjoy an immense amount of privilege in society just by saying that I’ll probably have a Ph.D in a couple of years. I am not claiming that my challenges are the same caliber that fast food workers and Wal-Mart employeeshave recently started to fight against, but there are some important intersectionalities at play here. Namely, the ill-defined role of the grad student replaces well-paying jobs with privileged students that can afford to work for little money until they are credentialed enough to maintain a destructive status quo. 

More on Cyborgology.

On Facebook, Hating CNN

I “Like” CNN on Facebook. Not because I enjoy getting the news on my Facebook feed (my friends do that) but because I love watching a bunch of people hate on CNN. As the above photo demonstrates, CNN tends to show its ass a lot. Asking your readers about the Royal Family’s baby on the 4th of July, will undoubtedly piss off a dozen different demographics. It is constantly being called out for doing all of the things we know are wrong with American cable news. There are dozens, in some cases even hundreds, of comments about calling a revolution a coup, ignoring the important parts of stories, and generally missing the mark when it comes to stewarding and curating these weird things we generally call “national conversations.” I just want to know why CNN chooses to subject their brand to such public, naked criticism on a daily basis.

Read more on Cyborgology.

Fuck, I Need Some New Swear Words

I love swearing. It’s a weekly miracle that my essays don’t include “totally fucked” or “fucked up and bullshit” in every paragraph. If I were reborn as a linguist, I would study swearing and cursing. I watch documentaries about cursing, I play a lot of Cards Against Humanity, and this interviewwith Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing is my favorite episode of Slate’s just-nerdy-enough podcast Lexicon Valley. If you’ve been in the audience when I give a presentation, you probably (despite my efforts to the contrary) heard me swear five or six times. I would hate to live in a world without swearing because it would be fucking dull. Unfortunately, my (and most English-speaking people) love of swearing comes into direct contradiction with inclusionary social politics. I need a new arsenal of swear words that punch up and tear down destructive stereotypes. Every time I swear, I want to be totally confident that I’m offending the right people.

Read more on Cyborgology.

The Contradiction of Austere Warfare

Drones offer a gaze of the battlefield akin to the reality-TV producer’s gaze. From atop a remote-controlled flying HD eyeball, American generals are coming ever closer to total battlefield awareness. That fabled state of logistical being that heralds the beginning of the ultimate life-imitates-art moment: real war is fought with the perspective of a Sid Meier game and the ease and danger of a flight simulator. All of this visual data is curated and presented to Deciders with the same techniques that brought you Monday Night Football and The Bachelor. Reality-TV producers cum military contractors are the real Fox warmongers and we barely know they exist. The culture industry is widely recognized as post-industrial America’s main export, but I don’t think anyone ever expected it to be quite this deadly.

Read more at The State's Murmuration: A Festival of Drone Culture

Star Trek Into the Endless War on Terror

For Christmas in 2004 I received every episode of the original series on VHS. Each tape contained two episodes separated by the kind of cheesy music you might expect from a local news daytime talk show in 1992. I watched all 30 or so tapes, multiple times, sometimes with my high school English teacher during lunch after he had finished sneaking a cigarette in his beat up Civic. I have fond memories of eating turkey sandwiches and laughing at William Shatner’s fighting style. But what was more important (to us anyway) than the unchoreographed fight sequences were the literary parables. I see no exaggeration or hyperbole when people describe Star Trek as a philosophy or a religion, but I see it much more as a political orientation. The crew might go where no one has gone before, but the show rarely strayed from the very basics of the human condition. Star Trek holds a mirror to the society that produced it, and J.J. Abrams’ trek is most certainly a product of the Endless War on Terror.

Read more on Cyborgology

Can We Make an Anti-Racist Reddit?

I don’t recommend doing it, but if you search for “Charles Ramsey” on Reddit, something predictably disturbing happens. First, you’ll notice that the most results come from /r/funny, the subreddit devoted to memes, punsphotobombs, and a whole bunch of sexist shit. Charles Ramsey, in case you don’t know, is the Good Samaritan that responded to calls for help by Amanda Berry- a woman that had been held captive for 10 years in a Cleveland basement, along with Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The jokes on Reddit are largely at the expense of Ramsey, poking fun at his reaction to a police siren or his reference to eating ribs and McDonalds. As Aisha Harris (@craftingmystyle) said on Slate: “It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform.”

Read More on Cyborgology.

Also syndicated on The Daily Dot

Cable News is Dead, Long Live Cable News

The very fact that your eyes rolled (just a little bit) at the title tells you that it is absolutely true. So true its obnoxious to proclaim it. Perhaps cable news died when CNN made a hologram of  Jessica Yeller  and beamed her into the “Situation Room” just to talk horse race bullshit during the 2008 election. Or maybe it was as far back as 2004 when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and shattered the fourth wall by excoriating the dual hosts for destroying public discourse. The beginning of the end might be hard to pinpoint, but the end is certainly coming. Fox News had its lowest ratings since 2001 this year, but still has more viewers than CNN & MSNBCNEWSWHATEVERITSCALLEDNOW combined. Even if ratings weren’t a problem, credibility certainly is. Imagine if CNN stopped calling themselves the “Most Trusted Name In News” and used the more accurate, “A Little Over Half of Our Viewers Think We’re Believable.” By now it is clear that the zombified talking heads of cable news are either bought and sold, or just irrelevant. Cable news channels’ hulking, telepresent bodies have been run through and left to rot on the cynical barbs of political bloggers and just about anyone at a comedy shop’s open-mic night. This last series of screw-ups in Boston (hereherehere and unless it was avant-garde electronic literature, here) begs the question if cable news channels can even tell us what’s going on anymore. Cable news is dead, but something keeps animating the corpse.

Read more on Cyborgology

The Cost of Opting Out

About this time last year I asked our readers, “why we don’t criticize other things like we criticize the internet?” It seemed like a fitting topic for the season; we utilize some of the most resource-intensive technologies at our disposal so that we may enjoy egg nog with old friends or taste grandma’s famous Thanksgiving day turkey. Everyone wants to be near their loved ones for the holidays, and so begins a massive effort to transport ourselves in cars, trains and planes until we arrive at our optimal holiday season arrangements. It is a wonder, then, why we spend so much of our lives outside of this optimal arrangement. What kind of relationship do we have with our immediate surroundings? Not just the people, but the technologies and the patterns. There is a lot of excellent work on carbon footprintslocal food movements, and walkable communities but I hear comparatively little about who is capable of making this transition. What does opting out of the status quo truly entail?

Read more on Cyborgology

Against the Minority Report Computer

Who decided the Minority Report computer was the goal of 21st century interfaces? Why does anyone think its a good idea? Could you imagine doing a spreadsheet on that thing? And why the hell are they using physical media to transport information? What is so alluring, exactly, about this gigantic computer that requires two (two!) Nintendo Powergloves to operate and can only receive data (apparently) through physical media drives the size of VHS tapes? The resolution looks awful and, since the screens are transparent, I can only assume your computer always has to be up against a blank wall. But none of those things are nearly as important as the human element it ignores. The computer has no soul. Its a sterile interface meant to catch murders (or frame people as such), not share family photos. The obsession with the Minority Report computer is a betrayal of everything that is human about computers. 

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Participatory Comedy

Or, Tosh.0 is Racist, Classist, Homophobic, Sexist, and Just Plain Gross

I’m not really sure where to begin here. Tosh.0, the Comedy Central hit show hosted by Daniel Tosh, is so rife with sophomoric dick jokes (I prefer the classy kind) and heteronormative swill that I contemplated not even writing this post. Unlike Ellen or even It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tosh.0 is meant to be (as far as I can tell) the refined distillation of a 14-year-old-white boy’s id. The show is half sketch comedy, half sitting with your younger brother while he guzzles an energy drink and laughs at youtube videos of bums fighting. Jezebel has already written about his “lightly touching women’s stomachs while they’re lying down” campaign, andhis fat-shaming caption contest.  Both posts deserve your attention, the former for its righteous anger, the latter for its history of the image used in the contest. I went through several pages of videos, looking for good examples of the “-ists” I listed above, but each one was so jam-packed with privilege and hate that I couldn’t pick just one. But if, you have never seen the show and need some mental flagellation, here’s a sexist one about MMA fighting; something called “fat girl gymnastics” (fat shaming with bonus racism); a video that’s actually titled “Racist Moments Montage“; and an even more racist one called, “stereotypes are not always true.” I understand that Daniel Tosh is a comedian, and to argue with one usually means you have already lost the fight, but I think there is a fruitful discussion to be had about how a public figure engages with his or her audience and the sort of behavior they encourage.

Read more on Cyborgology.

The Show is Back

I actually discovered it after the project was over. The duckies, the sports racers, world-wide sandwiches, and the ugly MySpace profiles were all finished projects that had been immortalized in this strange, eclectic mix of abruptly (but expertly) edited videos. I don’t remember how I found out about “The Show with Ze Frank,” but it was probably on the recommendation of some podcast host. The web site that housed all of the videos for “The Show” was very strange for two reasons- 1) it had rubber duckies of various sizes, colors, and shapes and; 2) It was not Youtube. Today, the site has undergone only minor changes. The proprietary video player has now been replaced with a blip.tv player and there’s a button on the right that allows you to “like” every video on Facebook. “The Show” drew thousands of viewers before Youtube was the go-to place for video on the Internet. The episodes were shared between dedicated fans while Facebook was only available to people with certain college email addresses. But what is, truly remarkable about “The Show” is that you have either stopped reading this and started watching your favorite videos all over again, or you have never heard of this before but the video above has instant resonance with you. It’s playful, but incredibly honest at the same time. It’s simultaneously goofy and sincere. It’s the ur comedy viral video show and after a very successful run on Kickstarter, it’s coming back.

Read more on Cyborgology.

Limbaugh's Social Media Problem

It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:

Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology

Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time?The headlines almost write themselves. The rivals are polar opposites and very well known. In one corner, the old heavyweight champion: syndicated AM radio. In the other corner, the young and nimble contender: social media. The Washington Post is already covering the story from a social media angle: “Limbaugh backlash on Facebook, Twitter put pressure on advertisers.”

Read more on Cyborgology.