Theorizing the Web 2012 was great. Everyone involved did a bang-up job. I certainly learned more in a single day than I usually do at weekend-long establishment conferences. I have said a lot about conferences (here, here, and here) as have fellow cyborgologists (Sarah, Nathan, and PJ). All of these posts have a common thread: academia is changing, but conferences seem out of date in some way. They are needlessly insular, they rely on hefty attendance fees that are increasingly cost-prohibitive, and they rarely take advantage of social media in any meaningful way. The relative obduracy of conference styles come into high relief once they are compared to the massive changes to institutional knowledge production. Universities have adopted many of the managerial practices of private companies. They are also acting more like profit-seeking enterprises: putting massive resources into patenting offices and business incubators, hiring less tenure-track teaching staff, and employing armies of professionalized managers that run everything from information technology services to athletic facilities. Conferences, on the other hand, have seen few innovations beyond what I call Tote Bag Praxis.
This weekend I'll be at the University of Maryland in College Park presenting my work on mobile phones in Ghana. This is an amazing conference hosted by the Cyborgology editors Nathan Jurgenson and P.J. Rey. I'll be joined on the "Theorizing the Mobile Web" panel by Jason Farman, Katy Pearce, and Jim Thatcher. Cyborgology has a full write-up with our abstracts. Mine is reproduced below.
“Finding it ‘Otherwise’: Culturally and Geographically Situating The Practice of Texting”
Social constructionists and actor network theorists consistently claim that assemblages of technosocial systems are historically contingent or otherwise –to varying degrees- arbitrary. In other words, things could have been another way. The main criticisms of this these programs have been a lack of critical focus on power distribution and the influence of institutions. Rebuttals focus on the “seamless web” of social action that provides no clear beginning or referent for analysis. We must be satisfied with identifying the salient characteristics of relevant actants and working outward analytically, and forward historically. I contend that the statement “it could have been otherwise” belies a lack of sufficient comparative analysis. There are cases where it was, in fact, otherwise and from this comparative analysis we can find a basis for talking about power.
Over the course of two weeks I conducted over two-dozen interviews with patients, caretakers, administrators, and pharmacists in and around a government hospital in the city of Kumasi in central Ghana. My goal was to set up a text messaging system that helped Ghanaians find pharmacies that sold condoms. In the course of asking questions about privacy, frequency of phone use, navigating urban environments, and contraception, I also learned something about the culturally situated nature of large sociotechnical systems.
Mobile phone technology plays a much different role in Ghanaians lives than in Americans. Investigating these differences tell us something about the power relations embedded in western and non-western cell networks. The cell phone plays a much different role in Ghanaians lives than in Americans. In Ghana, the cell phone takes the place of the home phone and internet-enabled computer. (A tendency that we are only just now seeing in America.) In this comparative analysis, we can parse out meaningful relationships between sociotechnical networks and draw conclusions about what makes networks useful and powerful
House representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced a bill back in November called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523) or CISPA. It has since been referred to and reported by the appropriate committees. Since then, according to Representative Rogers' own web site, over 100 members of congress have already announced their support for the bill:
The 105 co-sponsors of the bill include 10 committee chairmen. Additionally, a wide range of major industry and cyber associations, such as Facebook, Microsoft, the US Chamber Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Internet Security Alliance, TechAmerica, and many others have sent letters of support for the bill. A list of major industry and association supporters can be found at http://intelligence.house.gov/bill/cyber-intelligence-sharing-and-protection-act-2011
Unlike SOPA and PIPA, CISPA is all about collecting and sharing "cyber threat intelligence" and has less to do with copyright infringement concerns. This bill does not directly threaten the business interests of web companies, which means we should not expect their help in fighting the bill. In fact Facebook, IBM, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft (among others) have already sent letters in support.
Last Friday, Rachel Maddow reported (video clip above, full transcript here) that hundreds of citizens had suddenly started posting questions on the Facebook pages of Virginia Governor Ryan McDougle and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. Their pages were full of questions on women’s health issues and usually included some kind of statement about why they were going to the Facebook page for this information...
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.