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.

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


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

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.