Monday, March 24, 2008

The contradictory nature of cameras

I think it's intriguing how so many of the articles and websites we focused on this week showed the different sides of cameras. First, there's the camera as a tool of surveillance, like the panopticon and as someone else mentioned, the cameras in the Friedman Study Center. Then there are the cameras that people train on themselves, exhibitionists and even just normal people (who hasn't taken a photo of themselves and put it up on facebook?). What then does the camera do for us? The first is to instill the fear that we are being watched, that if we do something "wrong", it will be known and we will be punished. The second contradicts that. We want to be watched. We want people to know what we are doing. Where do we get this desire? Is it to show people who we "really are"? And how can these two contradictory notions still work together? How come we both fear and love the camera?

Human nature...obviously a very strange thing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Simulation in Snowcrash

i did this wrong, go away evil post.

Panopticism – should it be scary?

Bentham’s conception of the Panopticon naturally leads one to think about all of the ways that this new type of power could be abused. The idea is made even more frightening when Foucault applies it to such a wide range of structures. But then Bentham tries to save face by arguing that panopticism can be a means for transparency at all levels. He says that the doors to the central tower are to be kept open, and all records made public. Perhaps oddly, the Panopticon is presented as a (potentially) democratic tool. This argument is a clear invitation for skepticism; one need only think of 1984-esque surveillance to revert to fear once more.

On second (or third) thought, however, I think that Bentham may be on to something. In Bentham’s time, it was necessary to imagine an architectural structure to accomplish the goals of the Panopticon. Combined with the selection of a prison, this makes for an ominous image. But it need not be so. With modern technology, one-way observation is nothing remarkable. I’m writing this post in the Sciences Library, where there are plenty of security cameras. This is probably a good thing, and one can imagine scenarios in which it would be desirable for a whole class of individuals to have access to the surveillance. For example, for times when our self-discipline fails us, it might be helpful to enter into a situation where discipline is placed upon us – subtly yet powerfully. We could, in effect, utilize panopticism to internalize the disciplines we find attractive, without others being imposed against our will.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

1 year performance video

I spent some time thinking about MTAA's '1 year performance video'. I thought about its relation to Tehching Hsieh's original 'one year performance' (also known as 'cage piece') and about what the piece did for me during my minimal viewing of it.

According to the website, '1 year performance video' is supposed to be an update of Hsieh's piece. I'm not sure I get how it's an update, or, if it is one, why an update like this would be necessary. I get the idea of switching the work from the artist to the viewer. The artists don't have a one-year commitment in this, and instead the audience does. This seems like an interesting idea and something MTAA want to play with. But there's not really any work or strain transferred to the viewers. We don't have to view it all at once; we can log back in anytime and have our exact time saved. Even more importantly, we don't have to watch it at all. We can just log on and then minimize the window for however long we leave our computer on. They do point this out, saying "No one needs to suffer on this one," but that seems to clash with the idea of transferring the work to the viewer. When you start the video, it says 'please watch for 1 year' at the top, so they seem to at least want to keep an illusion of wanting people to do that. This confuses the piece for me.

By eliminating the need for anyone to do anything for very long or put in any effort, the piece seems to be pushed pretty far away from the original. Additionally, the illusion of continuity in the videos is broken by the obvious cuts to new pieces of video. I guess these aspects of the piece are part of the concept maybe. Is the idea that there's no necessary effort anymore for artist or viewer? If this is the point, it doesn't do much for me. I found the original 'one year perfomrance' and some of his other variations of it much more interesting.


The talk of surveillance is essentially the concept of the public and private window, and that ultimately leads us back to the control and freedom argument. I know we have gone over this all in our readings and through lectures, but I want to reason it out myself.

The difference of a webcam to our normal concepts of windows is that they are one-sided. Example: before we talked about how giving information online granted the user more access but additionally put them out in the open. This is not the same with webcams. When someone puts themselves on a webcam, they are offering total exposure in exchange for nothing of material value. But since webcams are like windows, and based on the previous concepts we have discussed, I believe that control/freedom goes two ways. Not only do people gain freedom with the consequence being a loss of privacy, people inadvertently gain freedom when they knowingly give up privacy. I know this sounds redundant, but maybe I can illustrate it as publicy leads to freedom and freedom leads to publicity depending on what one is consciously affecting. Therefore, though a webcam does not offer material gain, SOMETHING must be gained. To my knowledge, the only thing it could be is something psychological. Maybe the idea of self-promotion or fame makes people do it. Or maybe it's the idea of freedom itself.

Ultimately, I have realized that though surveillance often makes people think directly of control, surveillance is more about offering freedom. For every camera that exists, there is freedom gained by the people. The only thing controlling the person's habits is knowing that they are being watched. Politically, I do not think something such as anarchy can function. If a government must exist, I think that it should be considered that the only way for a government to have control and still offer the governed the most amount of freedom is to have more surveillance.

public behavior

Does publicity warrant good behavior? Does it induce the behavior that was intended? When thinking about my own personal experiences in public, and the 'happy slapping' video we watched in class I have concluded that publicity only induces good behavior when its penalties outweigh the benefits. The attraction to misbehaving in public is simply the thrill factor. When I was in high school my friends and I used to videotape ourselves acting crazy in public places, wearing banana suits and invading peoples personal space, without actually doing anything wrong other than annoying bystanders. (Beantown Banana) There could be zero repercussions for this behavior. The worst that happened is a police officer or a park official would tell us to stop what we were doing and we would just move locations and continue. However in malls and such, the thrill factor runs into a barrier when the behavior can result in steeper penalties. In areas of business and commerce, when more is at stake, there seems to be more of a control system set in place. Yet still there will always be reactions against that control. The fear of being videotaped and having evidence of your acts is an afterthought, it is more about the present. The immediate time and place, people's reactions to you, your reaction to them. It is all a personal limbo of sorts, escalating rapidly over the travesty of capture and control. The more imposed regulations the more people will react. People want to be seen, that is why it is so attractive to be videotaped and put online. it is the desire to be known, without the fear of judgment because with digital media you manipulate what is viewed. If it is a foreign device capturing you then what is at stake remains to the location and the circumstances. It is 1984ish with the privacy issues, but privacy is really only important when YOU feel safe and secure. It doesn't matter if you actually are, if you feel this way, then you are in privacy. It is different for everyone.

The Reality of Reality?

JenniCam seems to be a particularly popular thing to discuss in these blog posts. One could theorize that this is because we all have some sort of natural obsession with watching others do, well, anything, while remaining anonymous ourselves. Reality shows build off of this concept; maybe we can see through actors, or maybe we think we can, and that’s why we enjoy the real so much more than the staged. Or maybe it’s because there’s always the possibility of contact with the person you’re watching; they’re not just a fictional character, but a real person, that, with enough effort, could be contacted and communicated with.

Of course, the theory that this is why we all chose to write about JenniCam falls victim to the confounds of only having so many topics to talk about and having had Chun talk about it to a fair extent in class. Nonetheless, I like the ideas that it inspires.

I guess I’m trying something new with this blog post. Rather than planning out an argument and discussion, I’m kinda going stream of consciousness here. But isn’t that essentially what we enjoy about JenniCam? It’s real, or seems to be real – not planned, not organized, just life moment to moment.

But this isn’t exactly true, is it? By adding the element of being viewed, we change the essence of reality. Many of us can tell that reality shows are staged to some extent, and often people will “act out” on the shows for the camera. Similarly, Jenni will perform her “acts” on occasion for the camera. And even I am altering my thoughts for placement on the blog.

Even more interesting is how this augmented really does become reality. Jenni becomes a “star” in real life, and could be found on magazine covers nation-wide. Similarly, reality show participants will sometimes go on to professional acting careers, or host their own new reality shows. But does this “stardom” out of the context of the show reaffirm their reality by showing that they are real people outside of the show, or does it highlight the lack of reality in their respective shows, as they are now stars for participating in their so called reality?


In Virilio’s article he claims that the Internet and webcams make visible the blind spots of traditional television, but is this necessarily true? Chances are, those people that have webcams are not the type of people that have anything particularly mind-blowing to hide. The willful choice to put oneself on a webcam implies that one is not particularly secretive to begin with. Does anyone really think that webcams will truly reveal anything particularly shocking or enlightening about people? There are probably a select few individuals who are committed at attempting to show the reality of their lives on camera, but, even in this case, there is a certain awareness of the camera being there causing hesitance in certain actions. This group also obviously represents a very small minority of people (i.e. people who can afford a webcam and computer, people who actually have the desire to show their lives to the world, people who are committed to doing this truthfully). The idea that someone on a webcam could be any sort of person is completely false. Those people who have and use webcams are a very particular group. People with big important secrets with the power to shake the very foundations of society aren’t going to be parading about on a webcam. A webcam can only truly represent reality when the person being filmed is unaware that they are under surveillance.

            Another problem with the idea that webcams can eliminate all blind spots of traditional television is the plethora of fake and staged webcam users. As Jenni from Jennicam mentioned in the interview that Gem posted, a number of webcam users are hired strippers, who create a false voyeuristic environment on their cameras. In fact, a majority of webcams that show particularly scandalous or unusual acts are probably fake. If anything, the webcam confuses reality. Traditional television programming does not claim to be real, webcams do, but in most cases what is seen on a webcam is no more real than what can be seen on television everyday. Whether or not some webcams do depict reality becomes irrelevant. It is almost impossible to tell what is real and what is merely a show on any particular webcam on the Internet. Every webcam must be viewed with some skepticism. In fact, before even considering this idea, one of my first thoughts when viewing the one-year performance video was, “is this real?” The ability of the Internet and technology to create realistic fantasies forces users to become skeptics of almost everything they see on the Internet. For example, the other day I saw a video in which an American soldier in Iraq throws a puppy off of a cliff. Many of the comments on the video discussed whether or not it was real (turns out it is and it is currently being investigated). Some people pointed out all of the reasons why it was fake, while others pointed out why these people were wrong and why it was most likely real. People were strongly convinced of both sides. The truth is, almost nothing on the internet can be taken at face value anymore, but, truthfully, could anything be taken this way to begin with?

online, scholars under scrutiny

In an article published today in the New York Times, “The Professor as Open Book”, Stephanie Rosenbloom speaks of the growing number of university professors creating Facebook and MySpace profiles to connect with their students. They are also appearing on shows like “Professors Strike Back” where they have the chance to respond to comments and criticism about their classes that students have posted on After reading this article, I was reminded of Professor Chun’s comment about the classroom acting as a sort of Panopticon for the professor to view the students.

This article however, seems to suggest that while the actual classroom environment may place the students as the subjects under the professor’s gaze, student demand to interact with professors on more level ground may lead them to display their personal lives on the internet. Professor Chun also mentioned that several universities are filming the professors’ lectures and that in some cases, professors must specifically request, not to be filmed. With this interplay between the classroom, profile sites, blogs, and television shows, control of the situation shifts back and forth between students and professors. This seems relevant to the debate over whether or not Jennifer Ringley really had control over her viewers in the way she controlled her presence and absence. Professors, as well as students, appearing in the public domain of the internet and television have a similar situation in viewing others and being viewed themselves. There is also, of course, the question of acting for the camera, of which Phil Agre speaks in “Surveillance and Capture,” that one’s knowledge of his/her own surveillance fundamentally alters the way one functions. Everyone‘s reactions to the news that he/she could be seen in class this week is a perfect example.

Rosenbloom quotes Stephen Friedman of mtvU, the television station on which “Professors Strike Back” airs, as saying, “It is the nature of the age, ‘I think it’s part of this increased transparency….It feels as if they are breaking some kind of wall.’” This recalls Thomas Keenan’s article on windows, in which he notes, “For if the window is the opening in the wall constitutive of the distinction between public and private, it is also the breaching of that distinction itself.” (8.1) For students and professors the internet seems to be breaching this distinction and transforming relationships that were previously more traditionally and formally constructed with the professor as the authority figure, about which the student could find very little personal information, and the student as the subordinate, about which the professor probably had less information as well. Now, as we may become saturated with information on anyone about whom we could wish to learn, perhaps these interactions between students and professors are an indication that we are approaching the crash Paul Virilio writes about. Perhaps however, social networking sites and the like, as Rosenbloom puts it, simply offer another way for professors, and anyone for that matter, to do “online what they have long done in their offices: displaying family photos and personal artifacts, decorating with posters, literally keeping their doors open.”

Surviving the Visual Crash

I disagree with Virilio's vision of a visual crash. Under the assumption the YouTube is the most 'visually dense' media we currently have, the media which is mostly likely to have caused a 'visual crash', I will argue that such a 'crash' is not possible.

Given the enormous amounts of visual data on YouTube, one would certainly be inundated by images if he or she were to attempt to find anything useful in the 'ether' of YouTube. However, what has emerged in the large mass of information is a democratic system of value. What has happened is that no longer am I, the occasional user, presented with millions of stupid videos, but instead I am presented with only the most valued videos, whether by rating or sheer number of times watched. The key to this system working is that there are so many users that uninteresting videos quickly become hidden from the collective focus. This 'power in numbers' is the same enabling factor for Wikipedia. Because there are so many users, any mistake, no matter how small, is found quickly and reported or fixed. When so many users are presented with so much information, a democratic system of importance emerges and only the interesting information remains visible to the collective vision of the masses.

Jenni's Window

Obviously, Jenni's camera serves as a window--at least in one direction. The viewers can see her. But to what extent does it let Jenni look out? Apparently she took the camera with her from her dorm room to her first apartment, telling Ira Glass "I felt lonely without the camera." She got hundreds of e-mails a day, but how much about her viewers could those messages have possibly told her? Victor Burgin suggests that Jennifer is similar to the child who feels safer jumping off the couch as long as her mother is looking. The attachment she felt to the camera would appear to support that. Thomas Keenan, as well, writes that the window-light is a source of "comfort and protection" to humans. Is it unusual for Jenni to feel comforted just because hundreds of strangers are watching her? Could this unique type of tele-window, where hundreds of people can see one person but not the other way around--a reverse panopticon--have been reproduced without the webcam?
Another question: Jenni writes in her FAQ that "I do anything . . . that any person would do in the whole of their house." Does anyone believe this? Capture systems affect what they measure, and people don't act real on reality television.

Facebook as Social Voyeurism

So here's a thought:

We all know about the pervasiveness of social networking sites. Many have spoken about the concept of "writing ourselves into existence" by, in effect, developing our social skills online.

That was so last week.

While it's true that we have the capability to look up anyone's profile that we want, we don't necessarily have to. In theory, we could render those of us who view our profile anonymous - exposing the nitty-gritty details of our lives online. While it's true that for many, a profile is simply a single frame, an overview of our life as it stood when we logged in, the capabilities of broadband have expanded just how much of ourselves we can show.

Think about how many Facebook photos you've been tagged in. There are over 900 snapshots of four semesters, two summers, two relationships, and countless friendships that have come, gone, or persisted - all available with a click of the mouse. Blogs (just like this one) can outline entire years, events of one's life laid bare online in digital text. Youtube allows us to upload videos of whatever we choose; while not necessarily real-time, are we not exhibiting ourselves to an anonymous public? In fact, by selectively uploading, selectively blogging, and selectively recording, are we not attempting to present the best of ourselves to a world whose approval we seek?

Still, this isn't about everyone. It's just a thought.


Where does it come from, then, the idea of privacy? Agre seems to refer to the Industrial Revolution; I'd imagine it was quite connected, for a couple of reasons I can think of: the creation of the industrial work day and the new mass availability of relatively high-tech commodities. I'd guess before that families would sort of huddle together at night by the fire, I don't know, stuff like that.

It seems unhelpful to view the phenomenon of public vs. private as deterministically arising from technology, though. That is the obvious reason, I guess, but that doesn't tell us much about how it works. I don't believe it's just about visibility. Just casting a random line here, but I see something of self-projection (that term probably doesn't mean what I'm using it for though). Ideally, we force certain of our evils into the public sphere--our boredom, our frustration, the things we don't want to do, or rather the things we deny. See for instance the old standby of Tom Sawyer whitewashing his Aunt Polly's fence, with the moral that play is whatever we're not allowed to do, and work is what we are forced to do. The end of the workday comes as the beginning of play and at the same time the entrance into privacy--at that time you can relax, or sleep with your wife, or play with your dog, or watch TV, or (obviously) surf the internet. So even if they're not the same thing, they're connected pretty intensely--that is, privacy and play, or autonomy if you like. The solidification of a system of control around our work and lives doesn't just mean invasion of privacy, it's that the old work/play paradigm is slowly being chipped away at--from both sides, because computer games can now be the same thing as work. When a McDonald's cashier punches a slot or whatever, that action is directly part of the continuum of the control system, but the space in between isn't monitored as intensely. That's a bad example, think about somebody who's not watched as closely instead--an office worker, maybe. The idea would be to approach a kind of autonomy within the system, without being able to break through the system, because the system encompasses everything possible. You don't really have that many more options after work, it just feels that way--if you have an easy job, anyway. As jobs become easier, maybe they stop being work and just become things you do, and as play becomes more demanding, maybe the same thing happens. The question, then, is what are we going to not want to do now? Maybe we'll see a jump in the suicide rate, hmmm?

Real Virtuality

It’s funny that advertising still remains. So materialistic/capitalistic.
This crash, over-exposure, seems to mean that advertising is less opportunistic. No longer will everyone be watching the Superbowl at the same time from the same camera angle on the same network. Every ‘real’ place is watched, presumably equally, and so every spot is as ripe for the exploitation by advertisers. Even if everyone is forced to tune in to TBS for the Superbowl because of licensing, what is to stop licensing from pervading every area of the globe? It is already considered unlawful to photograph or film on subways or in government buildings. Sure, it may seem hard to enforce, but on a universal data network on which algorithms can operate in near infinite efficiency, it seems like nearly every transgressive instance could be easily detected and prosecuted. YouTube shuts you down if you post a clip from last week’s episode of Lost, yet ABC lets you watch all of the episodes on their website for free, interspersed with some ads. What is stopping this from being the case everywhere? In a way, TV channels have had at least moderate success at maintaining the limited amount of places to go for information. It comes down to (painfully shrewd) economic things like substitute goods versus complementary goods. You can get news about a developing tragedy from any of several sources and garner a comparable amount of information. You can only watch Lost on ABC. Some homegrown web TV business might try to make a show like Lost, but it sure as heck will not be the same thing. What does this say about the relationship between knowledge and entertainment? It’s almost disgusting how capitalistic this all is…

Globalization and virtualization, by saying that everything happens now, implies that everyone lives such that everything can be accessed instantaneously, simultaneously. This may be technologically possible, but humans must still sleep, eat, defecate, etc. So while we may not have to wait for the newspaper or the 8 o’clock news, we’re still not going to live in front of a computer. We have more needs. In a way the internet has become a competition for who can minimize the rest of their needs, and who can, in fact, live in front of a computer, accessing everything as it becomes accessible. There is (perhaps perverse) credibility and reputation to be had in knowing (/seeing/reading/responding to) things before others do.

While this is hilarious, it’s relevant, I think, to what I was saying, and as well as to Virilio’s idea of over-stimulation and dis-information, a loss of context and frame of reference. The realm of reason is no longer defined through the TELEscope, but is pushed right up to our face and into our eyes and mind, and we lose the ability to differentiate between ‘true’ and ‘false,’ ‘worthwhile’ and ‘waste of time,’ ‘valid’ and ‘invalid,’ etc.

Some of Many Questions:
Is the fully realized ideology of Virilio the ability of any person to experience anything at any time, at any whimsical command? Are images really the future? It appeals to the uneducated, maybe, but as far as intellectual value, the internet is re-privileging text, it seems, albeit in a different form, requiring different style (no online novels, but blog posts, comments, etc.) Will intellect and academia recenter itself around images? Will abstract concepts be better explained and understood through some as yet unproliferated visual process? Classic television supposedly focalized the attention of spectators, but what, exactly, are things like Wikipedia doing? And Google? For example, how so many people in class supposedly linked to the same things in their first assignment?

Alone-Together, Speech-Silence

“One night, when we’re alone together…”
“Mrs. White, no man in his right mind would be ‘alone together’ with you.”

One of the interesting paradoxes that JenniCam highlights is this idea of “being alone together.” (The lines above are from the movie Clue, by the way.) Through Facebook, for example, we are able to socialize in utter solitude if we want to. Similarly, even when Jenni is alone in her room, she can feel herself surrounded by other presences, peering at her. Burgin identifies this as a mechanism to cope with the transition between childhood (a period of constant surveillance) and adulthood. Jenni lives in a state of "silent cinema" that Burgin compares to pre-lingual infancy.

I don’t agree with Burgin that “the solitude one speaks is already compromised” – just look at the poetry of Emily Dickinson for this counterargument – but in delineating a distinction between word and image, Burgin hits on an interesting aspect of the surveillance question. On the splash page for Demonstrate, the camera swoops around Sproul Plaza, settling on a group of women talking to each other at a table. Though we see them speaking to each other, we cannot hear what they say. The sorts of webcam sites that we have looked at this week also operate in silence. Perhaps the message that Demonstrate hopes to communicate is that, though we have acclimated ourselves to near constant camera surveillance, we still possess some kind of free speech. The camera, after all, cannot hear us.


In the article about JenniCam, I was struck by how the camera positions Jenny at times as a child under the maternal gaze, at other times puts her in the maternal position in relation to her 'supplicants.' It is interesting how the camera serves the function with Jenny to shuttle her from adolescence to adulthood, especially when you think about how Danah Boyd championed another technology, myspace, as an integral part of socialization and adolescent development. It's worth considering the new roles technology will start playing in human development, perhaps as a surrogate for human caregiving.
I think we can agree, all of us, that developing alongside classical NEW MEDIA THEORY are the thoughts and writings of PAUL VIRILIO, which are fast outstripping our ability to develop terms. His present means of fragmentation, or textual interference, call for a RESPONSE of an INTERNET scale, an action that has hardly been discussed thus far. The new academic-contextual-textual continuum is no longer so much TENURED PROFESSORS, which have become more or less standard, as the multiplication of MINI-VIRILIOS are installed in more and more regions of the world and are available for consultation in PDF, BOOK, and even HTML/STREAMED/SCREENED form, as a veritable CRASH OF IMAGES. Even DERRIDA is outmatched. In reality, these "micro-virilios", whose capabilities will soon be comparable to the DEVELOPED PERSONAS of professional cultural critics, represent the overcoming of the classical scientifo-logical semantic.

As a matter of fact, we are moving, whether we know it or not, toward DEMOCRATIZATION OF VIRILIOISM on a planetary scale.

— I, for one, think that we should all be concerned.

1 Year Performances

M.River and T.Whid (MTAA) attest that “1 year performance video” is an update on Hsieh’s earlier work: “Though the work stands fully on its own, another dimension is added when it's viewed in dialogue with the work that inspired it. The choices made in updating the work we believe speaks to how our society, culture, and the creative process has changed since the original was created” ( I would be a happy little blogger to learn how the artists see their work as an “update,” (in using this word they are implying a linear historical trajectory that connects Hsieh’s work and theirs) because I don’t see any real commonalities in the two pieces at all. Yes, they share a name, and yes, in each something is “enclosed” for one year, but the stakes, aesthetics, and conceptual ground differ radically in the two pieces.

To point one just one basic but seminal difference: Hsieh’s performance evokes awe and is emotionally difficult to digest—here is a caged human being, consciously rejecting all technology, tediously propagating his confinement/de-socialization until his self-appointed release. This has great emotive appeal as well as a pedagogical facet. The work reads like a meditation on a “bare life” (to borrow G. Agamben’s term) as the uncertain high-order reconciliation between the human and the animal. “1 year performance video” is a staged video loop programmed to play for one year to a registered viewer before it unveils itself (its raw data). There is no life at stake here (neither is there any possibility of true surveillance of life), only a representation of life that is mediated countless times by technology and is now playing on my monitor. It is nearly impossible for me to care about the video, much less about what will happen if I let it play for a year. There is no incitement to give much laborious thought to the piece or to feel anything about it altogether.

MTAA are aware of this: “No one needs to suffer on this one. The failure is built-in at the front end” ( How then is this failure an “update” of the original? Likewise, how exactly does “1 year performance video” speak to the cultural transformations since the early 80s? I feel like the artists would be inclined to use a lot of jargon borrowed from Manovich in answering this, which has theoretical weight to be sure, but in stating that “the creative process has changed since the original was created” they are positing an essentializing slogan of “New Media” that totalizes artistic creation as a whole. I feel like this is an exaggerated and unfounded claim. Moreover, can MTAA be implying that the creative process and end-result is now hollow and somehow ontologically inferior to the “real-thing-that-once-was”?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

is youtube the visual crash?

"The visual crash is equivalent to a /i/failure of the phenomena/i/, a failure from which only disinformation [...] will be able to profit." Even before completely figuring out what this means, it reminded me of youtube: A crash of images causing a mess... But to unpack this further:

From AH Dictionary; a phenomenon is, "In the philosophy of Kant, an object as it is perceived by the senses." So "failure of the phenomena" means that if a globally voyeuristic network (youtube) reaches Virilio's 'crash' point of overwhelming 'overexposure,' then our perception of these objects (objects of surveillance?) will fail. Fail to what? Fail by doing what?

If "only disinformation will be able to profit," then information must have less value, so perhaps the visual crash of overexposure, of information, floods the 'visual market' (to take a page out of Virilio's book and turn the stock market into the visual market) with so much information that it crashes to become not worthless but not profitable. Rising from the crash of information then can only be disinformation. But what is disinformation? Is disinformation merely misinformation or is it information that transcends the mass of normal information (say, youtube's recently added page) to become captivating information (the one video in a billion that you email to all your friends)?

but mommy, i want it NOW

After reading Victor Burgin's article “Jenni's Room,” I was struck by the way in which our concept of “instant access” has changed. At the height of JenniCam's popularity around 2000, “at any time of day or night anyone who can log on to the web may look into Jenni's room” (77).

Except you couldn't, really.

What you saw was an extremely low-quality image of Jennifer's room, updated every 180 seconds. That's a frame rate over 4000 times slower than most commercial films. Nowadays, if I want to see what's going on somewhere in the world where a webcam has been placed, say Times Square, the experience is much more immersive. I am presented with several different camera angles to choose from, all of which are streamed to me live and with sound.

JenniCam has been relegated to the realm of exhibitionist art. It and its thousands of spinoffs are no longer instant enough for us to be taken at face value. I am reminded of Tara McPherson's article, “Reload,” and her description of the ways in which we have become obsessed with liveness. “...the Web references the unyielding speed of the present, linking presence and temporality in a frenetic, scrolling now. We hit refresh. We feel time move. ... Just click. Immediate gratification” (201).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


What is interesting about “demonstrate” is that it feels a bit invasive. When we contemplate the possibility of have a camera tracking our motions through a public space for anyone on the internet to see and photograph, we typically react negatively. As Sean pointed out, if such cameras were to proliferate so that we could almost expect to be on one in any large public space, there would most likely be an outcry of public backlash. What is interesting is that “demonstrate” particularly invokes in us this feeling when in fact, to the extent that camera systems like the one in the piece can track and photograph us in public, we could easily be documented by anyone to an even greater extent with out our knowledge. In effect, a network of human beings bearing cameras, cameraphones, and voice recorders are as threatening to our privacy in public as any system of cameras could be. In the end, the aesthetics of “demonstrate” revolve around the fact that it only seems invasive when in comparison it really isn’t.

Something completely different: “Is it possible to practice image making by exploring all of image-space using a computer rather than by recording from the world around us?” This quote comes from John Simon’s artist’s statement about his piece “Every Icon.” First of all, if it is possible, Simon’s piece is not going to be a very efficient way to go about it. Its astronomical proportions make it a not-useful way of systematically generating imagery. Secondly, Simon’s interesting idea of exploring “image-space” doesn’t seem to really need a computer. We process all visual signals as unique snowflakes and readout on a computer screen is no different from the already infinite variety of images we find elsewhere. Computer’s could potentially be used to create a kind of navigable “image-space” which would be very interesting (four dimensional? Probably not.) but not until we can conquer astronomical figures.


In the Panopticism, Michel Foucault stresses that the notion of the panopticon is that of a persistent surveillance of our actions. More accurately, it is the illusion that we are constantly under surveillance. He state that “To induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who excises it.” At a prison, if there is a guard tower in the outdoor court area that looks over the whole prison but no one is able to look inside and know whether the guard is watching, then it is not necessary to put a guard in the tower all the time because the prisoners will act as if they are being watched. “Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. The inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central power from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment, but he must be sure that he may always be so.” This concept of panopticon applies to the society governance, as “Discipline” is the “physics” or an “anatomy” of power. The disciplinary society is not necessarily one with a panopticon in every street, it is one where the state controls such methods of coercion and operates them throughout society. The best form of governance is its ability to create the illusion surveillance.

Surveillence/Capture : Space/Time

One difference between the surveillance model and capture model is articulated through Virilio’s argument that “real time has superseded real space.” In world where information can travel at increasingly higher speeds (as he says in his other article, “real time abolishes the historical primacy of local time.”) location and space are increasingly unimportant.
Foucault’s discipline-mechanism, as shown by the panopticon, spatially organizes individuals: “This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place…in which each individual is constantly located…” When this model operates in society, it controls individuals by making them productive facets of a larger, hierarchal system, subtly restricting their liberty of movement. F writes that “discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion;…it established calculated distributions.” What is distinct here is the discipline model’s focus on spatial organization and distribution as a way of control.
On the other hand, tracking (a form of capture) registers changes and state-variations over time. Furthermore, the “grammars of actions” that Agre uses to describe the way computers represent/map already existing systems are composed of actions or “state-changes.” I think what is that any time a computer wants to capture information/data, it can only do so based on a user’s change in status—on a most basic level, a computer captures data based on changes over time. Agre says that this allows for a freedom and a mobility that is not enjoyed by people in “Tayloized” work (from the explanation a few weeks ago of Taylorism, it seems to be akin to Foucault’s disciplinary society.) This distinction between space and time is also an element in Agre’s summary of differences between the surveillance and the capture models, “The surveillance model is concerned to mark of a “private” region by means of territorial metaphors of “invasion” and the like; the capture model portrays captured activities as being constructed in real time…”
I it makes sense that computer’s capture is time based rather than space based (what Virilio and Agre are arguably implying), but it’s still interesting to speculate about how this came about. To do this, I’m going to go on a short tangent here at the end about these ideas of mobility. Is it relevant at all that we are physically immobile when we sit in front of the computer? For all of the spatial organization and control of a disciplinary society, humans were probably more physically mobile under that form of power. Even if we are virtually more mobile when our actions are being captured online rather than being under surveillance, have we sacrificed material mobility for virtual mobility? Perhaps space is no longer important not only because it has been superseded by real-time, but because we now have the navigable space of the computer described by Manovich. The experience of physical immobility sitting in front of a computer may seem silly until you consider other trends in the new media world: trading a physical body for a virtual one, confusing actual and virtual rape, and trading real space for navigable space.

The long slow march

When we finally notice that we are being watched, why do we all of a sudden change our behavior? Why do we feel the need to project something completely different from what we actually feel like doing? It’s probably because of our fear that the authority will not approve of what we actually want to do, and that what we want is always contradicted by what we should (examples abound throughout Judeo-Christian ideology and parenting methods). Perhaps we try to portray the ideal instead of embodying the “flawed.” I notice some students change their behavior to be much more unusual, usually on the voice volume scale, when they see a tour of the campus going by. Why should our lives matter to these people we don’t even know? Why do we feel the need to treat these other people as a mirror of our lives, by which we can judge ourselves?

When I started looking at the “Demonstrate” web site, I began to think about surveillance and what would happen if they started hooking up real time cameras in more public spaces, and if they began publishing the videos and pictures for the world to see. People would probably freak out at first and revolt against the idea, but after a while, the fuss would probably die down and people would resume life as normal. My conclusion reminded me of our discussion over the uproar about the News Feed on Facebook, and how, now, people have gotten used to the idea about things being published about their actions on their profiles and on others’ home pages. Why do we change our attitudes when we have an object which becomes a mirror to ourselves? Why do we look at ourselves different in regular mirrors? Why would we eventually get used to the idea of the surveillance society? Would we actually? Has the progression to real time changed our ideas about privacy and are we slowly walking to Big Brother, but freely accepting it?

"I watched TV, it informed me, I was an ordinary man with ordinary desire.."

Right now I’m watching the 1 year performance videostream as well as Anacam. I’m sort of pissed off at both, completely bored with one, and utterly glued to the other. Frustration: nothing’s really happening on either cam; the two dudes are lying down, one on the floor and one on his bed; the “Ana” cam just shows a dark room (I think it’s a room) with a partially closed door. Oh wait, now the two guys are both typing on their computers (I’m doing the same thing). Ana’s door still hasn’t moved. Boredom: I don’t feel the need to watch someone do the same exact thing I’m doing in my room. Where’s the fun in that? Captivation: my attention is on the Anacam; when is something going to happen finally and what the hell is that something going to be? I’ve got reading and other work to do but I just want to sit here and watch until anything goes down. There’s some need for me to be watching when anything happens. I’ve got an all encompassing view of the two dudes (one’s doing push-ups!!), but this kind of access to everything they’re doing in their little cubicles isn’t quite as interesting as what I can’t see (yet?) on the Anacam. Now after realizing I’ve watched for a few minutes, I’m starting to feel like a creep ‘cause I don’t know what I’m expecting to see on Ana’s cam and whether it’s connected to Burgin’s and Barthes’ quotes on perversion and “the staging of an appearance as disappearance.” There’s something a little more harmless in watching the two dudes (back at their computers) than waiting for a glimpse of Ana in her dark, partially concealed doorway. This is too sketchy for my liking. I guess there’s some kind of underlying desire to see what you think you can’t see when someone’s in the privacy of their own home as opposed to two guys (apparently they get newspapers in their boxes) just sitting around doing what I do when I’m sitting in my sorry excuse for a living space. Maybe I’m just seeing too much of myself in these cams. Damn you Lacan!!

Also, in case anyone is interested, Death Cab For Cutie is playing in May (sorry for the plug):

"The Sky is Full of Zeroes and Ones!!"

I agree with Julia about the (un)catastrophic nature of the impending “information bomb” that Paul Virilio mentions in his articles. Of course the whole of human knowledge is expanding exponentially- we have digitized our data and have the capacity to store as much as we can create. But I don’t forsee this leading to a mind-blowing “Infocalypse” because it is not going to be experienced by everyone at the same time. The data is stored, spread around, and accessed when it is required.
Just because information exists does not mean it wants to be everywhere at once. We will have a lot of data s
tored (a lot) but a large number does not mean catastrophe- it is expected.
I can see a risk in the preservation methods- a large amount of data could stand to be lost in the destruction of a relatively tiny chip, but by and large I assume that all the important stuff has been backed up.

However, if there is going to be an information explosion, I’d say (according to this very scientific graphical representation of the development of humans) we’re in the thick of it and heading for the worst.(graph is from here)

star power

I have often wondered about the power that woman have over the (male) gaze, and whether by controlling it power is transferred to her, or whether the power remains the voyeur’s, as I think many would have it. Is a woman’s to-be-looked-at-ness a mark of her weakness––a sort of deer-in-the-headlights situation, in which she is trapped by the gaze and laid bare to it––a mark of objectification (when she, ironically, becomes the subject of a gaze), or a mark of her power over the one who’s gaze she is controlling?

Burgin’s discussion of the JenniCam raises similar questions. If Jennifer Ringley cannot control when the camera takes the pictures or who her audience is, is she still in control? If people can take the pictures of her when she is naked or when she is having sex and put them on the internet, without her knowledge, can she possibly have power in this situation?

Burgin remarks on page 86 that “Jenni plays not only the revelation and concealment of parts of her body. More significantly, it is her entire person whose coming and going she controls.” She has successfully made her entire person the object of desire, because .

By being gone for the majority of the time, her fans miss her. By being present only ever in three minute intervals, her fans want to know what is happening in between the photos. By only showing her dorm room, her fans want to know what goes on in the rest of her life, and probably, they want to know what she is like, what they don’t get to see. And isn’t this what everyone wants? For not only your body to be the desired object, but also the rest of you? Has Jennifer achieved what we all hanker after?

And this is the allure of movie stars. The popularity of tabloids reveals a desire to get to know the movies stars better. Fans want to meet them, speak to them, be recognized by the stars, even though it is they themselves who are under the public’s eye. Where they go, their watchers will follow. So my question is, I suppose, a question of desire. Does the fact that no voyeur can see all of a subject give that subject of his scrutiny the power?


When Paul Virilio predicts that the speeding up of time in the form of web “real time” is going to result in an “information bomb” in the same way that Einstein predicted the collapse of space-time at the speed of light, what does he envision? What would an “information bomb” look like; how would it manifest itself?
His own argumentation called his thesis into question for me: he highlights the parallel, for example, between the Italian Renaissance’s formation of spatial perspective and the internet’s formation of temporal perspective. While another dimension was discovered, changing visual representation forever, nothing exploded. Visual representation was not harmed; there was no Armageddon of the way we move through space, either in art or in life. So why should I believe that the introduction of real time, which is essentially the exploration of a new dimension, will speed forward into an information explosion?
Furthermore, the “real time” projects we looked at this week seem (to me) to disprove his argumentation. John Simon’s “Every Icon” should be the perfect example of overexposure in real-time (it will create every possible image I could see on the web) but his project clearly will not have the effect of a crash.
Is the kind of “crash” he has in mind, for example, the threatening mail that Jenni received? In “Visual Crash,” he argues that real-time closes the distance between RL and surveillance, so that the information we receive visually is no longer distinguishable from what we see. I suppose that a person so accustomed to integrating the real-time actions of a virtual presence into his own consciousness could lose track of what is “real” and what is “online.” Maybe a Jennicam viewer could convince himself that he has an interactive, rather than a reactive, relationship to the images he sees, and then demand that Jenni modify her behavior according to his demands. But even that letter turned out to be a hoax.
So I guess my question is: when I think about the crash of information’s general relativity, what should I be afraid of?

Is there a lab tonight?

Sorry to clog up the blog, but I don't want to go MIA..

Difficulty with Foucault

In Foucault's description of panoptic institutions, he claims that by subjecting them to inspections by the public, one could effectively cut the risk of tyrannical behavior to zero. This however may be an invalid assumption. There have been numerous psychological experiments involving groups of people behaving in very inhumane ways. Indeed the whole nation of Germany was swept up in the evils of Naziism, in spite of their disciplined society. Psychological experiments such as Milgram's shock experiment and the Stanford prison experiment both reveal the willingness of an individual to commit atrocities. The studies even suggest that the individual may be more prone to tyrannical behavior in the presence of a group of other individuals. Granted social interaction is complex and often unpredictable, and for every psychological phenomenon indicating one trend, their is a theory indicating the opposite, but this fact also discredits Foucault's assumption, all be it on entirely different grounds. I don't know if I'm alone, but it seems that Foucault makes many claims in his writings which are hard to support and arguments that seem farfetched almost to the point of incoherence. Maybe it's because many of his writings (I'm not sure about the Panopticism article) are translations, but I have a hard time deciding how he is trying to get us to view a certain issue, or even what issues he is addressing at certain points.

"Honesty through paranoia"

I'm having a hard time separating the surveillance model and the capture model. In fact, I feel the two are inseparable in modern society. I'm at a loss to find an example of surveillance that doesn't capture the information it surveys. Nor can I find an example of capturing information that doesn't survey the subjects of capture.  One example that Agre presents is the experiment of tracking in the offices of Xerox, where employees where a self-locating badge. I feel like this follows both models of capture and surveillance. The information of the employees' whereabouts is instantly relayed to a database with the ultimate goal of making the workplace more effecient. I feel if anyone were 'out of place', this information could be instantly processed, and the situation rectified. Maybe I'd be an extra-paranoid employee, but information can be captured and processed so quickly that I'd be extra careful where I went throughout my workday. Another example is my Dad's laptop from work. He won't let me touch it. He has no idea how his company tracks its use, but he isn't willing to chance it with non-work related material. He responds to the capture of his information in the same way you respond to a security camera - you don't know if anyone is watching, but you act as though somebody is.

I see how the two differ - the model of the Panopticon versus the model of information capture, one being more transient and the other more permanent. The two, however different in operation, produce similar results in the groups to which they are applied.  

JenniCam Message

“Freud reminds us that it is not by looking that we may learn what people are doing when they look, or when they shield themselves from the gaze of others, or - like Jennifer Ringley - when they expose themselves to the other’s gaze”

Jennifer Ringley has set up her own panoptical environment. Perhaps by exposing herself to an invisible audience she feels she will live her life better; perhaps she is trying to send a message to the world that she has nothing to be guilty of (unlike Baldwin’s Giovanni who had pathological guilt leading to his need for privacy); maybe Jenni felt like the publicity would help her out in the future (after all, she sold her bed on Ebay [for $$$], she inspired several commodities [$$$] and most likely made a profit off of her website [$$$$$$$$]); it’s also possible that she is simply afraid of being nonexistent and lonely and that the camera gives her meaning; or perhaps Jenni really is merely an exhibitionist who loves the attention. Whichever is most correct, the most accurate statement that can be made about Jenni is the following: she made a bold statement.

Several people these days are afraid of judgment. While it may be impossible to know if Jenni acted any differently in front of the camera than she would in real life, she clearly does not fear people judging her or misconstruing her actions and visual messages. While “any verbal address implies an addressee,” (87) Jenni’s visual images are not directed toward anyone in particular. She’s left open for judgment by all sorts of people…. even her parents…

Also, since college years are all about independancy and making decisions, control often becomes an issue. As her college years come to an end, she may feel like she lacks control in all aspects of her life -- and the camera may give her that sense of control that she can’t find elsewhere. Ultimately, she controls what part of her room can be seen, what parts of her body can be seen, and what she does in front of the camera. She stated, “I don’t feel like I’m giving up my privacy. Just because people can see me doesn’t mean it affects me. I’m still alone in my room, no matter what.” I think this contradicts what she says after she graduates - when asked why she set up a camera in her apartment, she said that she felt lonely without it. This expresses her need to be “‘alone in the presence of someone’” (84). Thus, she does view the camera as a sort of audience, someone always there with her.

This also raises controversy on the idea of privacy. Does Jenni have to tell people that they are being filmed when they walk into her room? The article states that she engages in sexual intercourse… which is inevitably filmed… but does her sexual partner (if not her boyfriend) know of the invisible window that he is being exposed through? I wonder if she tells them. If not, I personally consider that kind of morally wrong.

Lastly, why are people so interested in taking part in the surveillance of other people? Why do humans enjoy watching other people’s lives? Like David Letterman said on the youtube video I posted, “People are lonely and desperate. . . they’re reaching out, they want to see life somewhere else taking place. It’s comforting.” Everyone is so interested in Jenni and “lonely adult children keep watch through their windows for Jenni to come home from work” (87). This makes human nature look sad. There are also reality TV shows, like The Real World, and America’s Next Top Model, and even fictional drama TV shows that people love to watch. Why do we get so much pleasure out of watching other people live, make decisions, and make mistakes?

Student Thinkers

In reading Burgin’s essay on “Jenni’s Room” I questioned the status of critical thinking on new media objects. Professor Chun mentioned in her lecture on Monday that Brown students are being trained to think critically. Burgin makes this explicitly clear in his essay when he makes the distinction (footnote 8) that he is analyzing the character Jenni broadcasted online and not Jenny the girl behind the camera. By positing himself as a critical thinker, our reading of Burgin trains us in this critical method. Yet Jenni is a human, two people are living for a year in cubicles in “1 Year Performance Video,” and I am wondering where humanity plays in our critical thinking. Burgin leaves Jenni as merely a signifier for us thinkers. Virilio mentions the ethics involved in looking about media, but his discussion focuses on military and political realities. Thinking about the youtube video shown in class on Monday, my question is how our work as critical thinkers in school is controlled? How we change as members of society by being critical thinkers? Is resistance to academia freeing or are we unable to break out of this commodified, technological, academic system.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Disciplining The Mind

After reading Panopticism, I feel betrayed by the American educational system. No, I feel angry. No, wait, shocked. Ok, maybe just confused. Regardless, all this talk about Santa Clause and internalized discipline and "swarming of disciplines," and docile bodies got me thinking. 

In lecture today, it struck me. Not only do lectures function like the Panopticon, but so does the our educational system, something Foucault just barely acknowledges at the end of this piece. As small children, we participate in highly structured, supervised activities. As we grow a little older, we are given pictures to color, work sheets to fill out, and sentences to write. We turn these in to the teacher, and the assignments are returned with a gold star sticker or a smiley face. In high school, we're given pop quizzes to ensure we've done the reading, and, as extra insurance, teachers check even our reading notes and paper outlines. By the time we finally reach college, we're simply expected to do the work, no questions asked. For the most part, no one is checking up on us anymore. This is especially true at Brown due to the fact that there is no GPA calculation and all classes can be taken pass/fail. Despite all this "freedom," for the most part, we do all the work anyway. Why? Out of fear. We're scared that if we don't, an invisible hand will come down and expel us from university, effectively ruining the rest of our lives.

Forget prisoners being so caught up in the power structure that they don't realize they're actually the ones with the power; let's talk about the higher education system! The GPAs, the letter grades, and the SAT scores come together to form a perfect example of the what Foucault calls "the power of mind over mind." A little later on, Bentham himself explicitly says that the control the Panopticon model yields is applicable to "any institution" (his italics, not mine.)
This is a difficult argument for me to make. I know the pressure I put on myself to do well academically and career-wise is somewhat intrinsic to my nature, but a good part of it is due to 19 years of prodding by my parents. Yes, I want to succeed and "do the right thing." But, now I wonder if this desire is really my own. Maybe it's just something that has been so thoroughly instilled in me by a passive aggressive disciplinary methodology that I don't realize it's not really who I am? 

Foucault's analysis is confusing and somewhat troubling. But it's not something I can think too long on. I really have too much reading (which no one is going to actually check if I read) to do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Viruses: from Dibbell 2/95 to CNN 3/08

The front page of reads, “From iPods to navigation systems, some of today's hottest gadgets are landing on store shelves with some unwanted extras from the factory -- pre-installed viruses that steal passwords, open doors for hackers and make computers spew spam.”
The full article, entitled “Electronic gadgets latest sources of computer viruses,” blames workers in China for the cyber pandemic: “…a careless worker [plugs in] an infected music player into a factory computer used for testing…” and voila. This sheds light on the invisibility and quick and easy dissemination of today’s virus which could potentially come “from anywhere,” which is not controlled, and which penetrates the distributed network that we read about in Galloway.

In a related article on phishing (“Cyberthieves go phishing to rob banks”), CNN says that the essential characteristic of computer viruses has morphed from chaos-causing to somber crime-propagating. This transformation has made viruses more dangerous to users, with the number of “‘high-severity vulnerabilities’ up by 28 percent in 2007 compared with 2006.” Moreover, viruses are becoming harder to detect, according to CNN: for example, “Most users, even the savvy ones, wouldn't know that their server settings have been hijacked.” This is quite at odds with Dibbell’s portrayal of viruses in “Viruses are Good for You” as extensions of individuals’ street graffiti into cyberspace—graffiti, after all, is neither high-risk nor invisible.

It is difficult to take seriously Dibbell’s naïve, messianic end of cyber-history in which the fear of computer viruses will be overcome and in which we will shake “fellow earthlings’ shaping hands” (1). Dibbell characterizes the virus simply as a violator of the unity of purpose that defines one’s computer system, or as “noise on the line” (5). This characterization is outdated in light of the transformation of virus nature aforementioned. The motivation behind a virus is less to violate unity of purpose than it is to infringe on privacy and infiltrate loci of important information, and this is more villainous than “bad attitude” (4).

After making lame comparisons of viruses to cockroaches (eloquently put as “little boogers you can’t see”) and guns, CNN’s “Electronic gadgets…” calls for stricter (more centralized) quality control in factories and urges users to update their antivirus software. This is only a small step to managing the ever-evolving hazards in a distributed network. Ecological management of a “chaotic digital soup” (Dibbell 2) is of course a laborious topic and I don’t intend on expounding on it here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I as well did not hear about the group postings... rats. And this is also late... drats.

Danah Boyd's article certainly answered its title, "Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites." Providing a list of reasons ranging from the specific need of a teen-only public sphere in today's adult-oriented world, to the generic need of teens to fit in and be cool, Boyd has told me exactly why I do the things I do. I used to be a conscientious objector to Facebook and Myspace (I imagine most Brown students, or at least the ones taking this class, share a similar history), but I wanted to keep in touch with some friends from a summer camp and so I made a Facebook account. I do not have a MySpace, and I never did, although my band used the site because we couldn't figure out how to upload streaming music files on our actual website. Facebook soon became a large part of my life, and I eagerly enjoy the social voyeurism and minor drama that adds spice to my otherwise boring, insignificant life. Ironically enough, that was an instance of the difficulty in online communication--no easy way to indicate sarcasm. But continuing on!

The article mostly pointed to things I already knew about teen social behavior. But one thing that really sparked my imagination, that Boyd barely mentioned, is the presence of contradiction in the way adult society views teenage life. There were a lot of slashes and semicolons in that section, if I recall. Boyd says, "We sell sex to teens but prohibit them
from having it; we tell teens to grow up but restrict them from the vices and freedoms of
adult society" (21). The adult public tends to either idealize teens or demonize them, criticizing gang violence and teen loitering while simultaneously marketing heavily to them. I wonder what social trend this symbolizes, or if this has anything to do with Boyd's statement about the generational gap being brought on by the advent of high schools and technological disparities. But it certainly is true; most anguish and confusion in teen life is brought on by this confusion. The contradictions in the adult view of teenagers certainly reflect the choice that users of MySpace have in either being, as Boyd calls it, cool or lame: a user can either be peer-oriented, use swear words and proclaim risky activities admired by peers, or acquiesce to parent wishes and, if not pursue, at least not admit to pursuing such goals.

Really, why is it that roller rinks, activity centers, and drive-in movie theaters have disappeared? Today's teen population is as robust and consumer-oriented as ever. This is less a question of digital media and more one of anthropology, but it's interesting nonetheless. Perhaps it's a reflection of the emphasis of choice, privacy, and individualism that has become even more apparent in the days since the fifties, when such choices were popular and the teen subculture was still similar to what it is today. Even the contradiction in today's malls--teens are a nuisance while simultaneously the reason why they exist--could perhaps just be an extension of the contradiction of being a teenager. There is a need to rebel, to be different from one's parents and communicate in a peer-only world, but simultaneously be ready to assimilate to the world's norms and expectations. I can relate personally; one time, when I was caught drinking by my parents in high school, my mom scolded me while my father merely smiled and nodded. My mother wanted to protect me from risky behavior, but my father may have been satisfied that I was a socialite, partying with friends rather than sheepishly pursuing less reckless behavior. I imagine most other teens lived through something similar.

Is there anything to do to address this contradiction, and perhaps make it a little easier on teens to understand what, exactly, is expected of them? Probably not. The appearance of generational gaps are well entrenched in American society, as well as across the globe, coming along with the widespread availability of high school and college. Peer networks are essential in assimilating into society, and it's not like getting rid of them will make it any easier to grow up. Plus, Nietzsche says life's a contradiction anyway, and in order not to avoid nihilistic despair we have to pretend it isn't, which is itself another contradiction... so might as well get used to the contradictions early.

I had forgotten how hard it was being a teenager. Good thing it's all done now, and my days of needing a peer-oriented community are over. Time to sign off, I have a notification on Facebook I need to check out.

--Dan Ricker

wot wot

I'm interested by a few things that this week's readings touch upon. First, the significance of a customizable profile as digital body. Sartre mentions at one point that an individual can never view himself as an object, an other, this is a power that we all intuitively know people have over us--that's why we feel embarrassment. Along that train of thought, each person is really two people--I am I, who see, and there is Max, who is seen. In general we have only very limited control over our external form, it takes enormous amounts of practice to learn how to project the desired image of ourselves to other people. Things like Facebook allow one to extend these things infinitely and at leisure--there is no spirit of the stairs online. If you come up with a beautiful insult or rejoinder long after an argument you can still post it up and in future other people will see it too. That was a bad example, but perhaps I make my point clear.

I wonder if there are any writers like the guy from "A Rape in Cyberspace" talking about online forum culture, which is an entirely separate phenomenon from social networking sites, and I think a fairly interesting one. MUDs are horribly outdated, but much of the terminology is still used on a number of forums. I'm a member of a particularly infamous forum, which contains among other things separate subforums for music, literature, general questions, academic questions, debates, and so forth. Each one has its own rules, which are enforced by moderators as on most forums. There's also a particularly interesting forum whose only purpose is to belittle other users. People who "hang out" in that subforum enjoy locating a specimen who they think is ripe to be made fun of, and then search through their post history--not just on that website, but on any others that the user has made locatable in his career on the forum, intentionally or not. People can create their own identities, but that means that when the public gets a hold of them there isn't even the comforting celebrity cushion of "You don't know me! You just know what the newspapers/television/radio say!"--after all, if it's online, you probably put it there on purpose.

Human Relationships and Social Networking Sites

I too seem to have missed the announcement about partnered blog postings somehow, so I apologize for that. Also sorry this post is so late, this is the first time I have been home for more than ten minutes today.


Danah Boyd in her article “Why Teens (Heart) Social Network Sites” makes reference to people who consciously object to using social networking sites. Formerly, I refused to use facebook or myspace or any similar sites. I had neither AOL instant messenger nor MSN messenger nor even a cell phone for quite some time. Some kids are simply “too cool” says Boyd. I was one of those kids, but upon further investigation of my motives for refusing to use these social devices I have found that I actually had quite a few things right. One thing I would constantly say when asked why I did not use myspace or facebook was, “Facebook and myspace are for people who want to think they have more friends than they really do.” There is a lot of truth in this somewhat brash statement. How many of your facebook friends are people you see or talk to on a regular basis? How many of them would you actually refer to as friends in the real world? Probably many less than you have on your page. I have about 120 people on my "friends" list, which seems to be a modest number in comparison to most other people. I know that I probably talk to less than half of these people, much less are truly my friends. In fact there are some people whom I talk to almost solely on the Internet at times. Perhaps they should change the label to acquaintances.

            Another objection I had was that social networking sites actually pushed people further away rather than bringing them closer together. Though it may be convenient to use facebook to contact people it is certainly not the most personal method of communication. Facebook makes it a lot easier to talk to people without ever having any significant contact with them. When people write on each other’s walls there is no real conversation going on. It might be easier to message you friend on Facebook then to call them. The idea that social networking brings people closer together is a façade. It merely makes it simpler to contact and keep track of people without having any true human contact with these people. Social networking sites further separate people from their own humanity and reduce the personal aspect of human relationships.

            I never actually considered the political aspect of Facebook or myspace too thoroughly (though I know at least one person who refuses to use facebook on this basis). Not having a Facebook or myspace profile certainly reduces certain social opportunities, but I believe that refusing to have one increases the quality of social opportunities. As with everything, there are pros and cons. Had someone not made a myspace profile for me, however long ago it was, I might still be the social networking cynic that I once was. I still am to a degree, but I have a facebook account that I check regularly. There is no denying that it is an addicting concept. As these sites become more and more pervasive we must keep track very closely of how they may alter our relationships, making sure not to lose the things about these relationships that we value so greatly


Apparently I did not hear about the group blog postings, so I will be doing my own and hope that I still get partial credit. My mistake.

So let's talk about "Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites". I feel that much of it has to do with the rise of the Internet occuring during our generation. The Internet is now another way to escape from one's parents. These sites might also act like one of Baudrillard's simulations. We are using the Internet as a "second life", where we are free from conditional rules. I believe that the article is very accurate towards what teens believe the networking sites to be. They are all about how we want to project ourselves. But of course, how we project ourselves entirely depends on who we want to see it. An adult's myspace profile generally works as a dating profile, with accurate statistics and to-the-point answers. Teen's pages range from flashy and all-inclusive to plain with short and witty answers, depending on the group with whom the person associates.

I think our developing understanding of publicity in new media plays a huge role in the use and importance of networking sites. The new public domain is democratic, entirely free, and a different realm altogether, and that makes these sites more interesting than ever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

late post on Deleuze: gender roles and naturalization in the society of control

At one point last weekend, over dinner, I found myself chatting with friends and one boyfriend about his decidedly negative reaction to the vagina dentata––the toothed vagina, which is active rather than passive (I promise I have a point). This ultimately led to a discussion on whether or not the modern woman’s gender role––particularly the vagina’s passive engagement in sex––could change, or whether or not it was innate. On the subject of the possibility of changing gender roles, one friend offered, “I once read something about them being more complex now than they were even in the middle ages,” by which she meant (I found upon a cross examination) that because they were more complex, the modern gender roles (both) are more confining and controlling––the greater complexity, I took this to mean, leaves less leeway. These complexities, I thought, must be a result of the fact that we are simply less conscious of the gender roles.

Which brings me right back to Deleuze’s society of control vs. Foucault’s society of discipline).

Firstly, we are controlled by protocol, rather than rules, which in the end means that we have to figure it out for ourselves, so, as with the segments of our life, we don’t know where modern society’s “rules” begin and end. Which complicates things. The society of control is controlling because, as we’ve discussed, we aren’t really aware that we are being controlled––just as Deleuze’s aspiring young men brag about their enthusiasm for joining the competitive forces of Wall Street.

[Also, to comment on Alice/Zach’s post, they provided and excellent example of being forced to conform when thinking consciously that they were pursuing freedom and opportunities (in other words, “America”). I think the paradox they describe in the beginning is fascinating––that in order to be a part of the free self-expressing society’s of cyberspace in which you can be a dolphin or have “blue eyes… suggestive… of untamed eroticism,” or present yourself as being awesome and having a ton of friends while skirting the label “MySpace whore,” you still are forced to define and present your identity (and certainly, defining yourself curtails a certain amount of freedom that we typically have to express different parts of our personality), and you have to do it in accordance with social protocol. Furthermore, rather than being truly free no, you have to behave in accordance with protocol, for fear of being toaded.]

And we aren’t aware that we are being controlled because we are controlling ourselves. It’s what Boyd describes as “impression management” (she’s quoting Goffman), as teens do on MySpace. She describes this (or Goffman does, I’m not sure which) as a natural development. But I’m not entirely sure that defining your identity in text form is natural, rather, it seems to take on the guise of the natural.

And now I come to the end of my rather convoluted tangent to make my rather convoluted original point: modern women tend to think that their gender role in modern society is innate, is natural, is something that they are born with and therefore don’t examine quite as closely as they might (unless of course that woman is exposed to the Brown community for 24 hrs). Their role is something they absorb from the world (and its media) around them, and that role has been naturalized by that world. They are not taught it, it simply is that way. The ambiguity of the society of control lies in the fact that its protocol has become naturalized, and we consider ours to be the natural state of society/the world.

Consider (for the fiftieth time) the Matrix: its power lay in the fact that people thought it was real, and so they never questioned it––though really, it was just in their heads.
We were interested in boyd's section on impression management and the idea of people writing their virtual selves into being. "Impression management," writes boyd, "is a part of a larger process where people seek to define a situation through their behavior." (page 12) She points out that, in a way, impression management over a site like myspace gives people more control by letting them carefully consider what they want to portray. She also mentions that this can easily lead to misinterpretations. To us it seems like many people believe that they really are given more control over their virtual selves, while ignoring the inevitable misinterpretations by parts of their social network. People often sculpt their profiles with a particular audience in mind. They may gain control of how a certain group of people understands their virtual self, while confusing or misleading other groups. People have intended audiences in mind while designing their profiles, but other groups still shape what they display. Some people seem to make profiles with the intended audience of acquaintances they don't know well or are just getting to know. But their closer friends still shape these profiles. They have to stay true to their offline selves to a certain extent (or make it clear that it's a joke) since their close friends are often the same online and offline.

-Steve C. and Alex! E.


I'm reading through the Boyd right now and the whole strong/weak tie thing is making more sense. I don't know what you guys want to discuss. Something that caught my eye was the fact that MySpace profiles can be "hacked" in a sense - the engine interprets HTML and CSS manually entered by the user, whereas Facebook cannot - it's much more strict. This provides room for those two different types of people - those who can code and those who cannot (although anyone can write HTML). I enjoyed her connecting the cluttered "pimped out" profiles to a teenagers messy room - MySpace profiles are usually terrible looking.
I was interested in the "hacking" idea, too, especially in the context of "writing identity."
Last week Marissa posted this quote from Snow Crash:
"Did you win your sword fight?"
"Of course I won the fucking sword fight," Hiro says. "I'm the greatest sword fighter in the world."
"And you wrote the software."
"Yeah. That, too," Hiro says.
For the privileged code-literate, social networking online gives them new and different social leverage. It's not just a question of the regulated functions that the web site designers create, but the possibility of creating real-life social connections based on online capability. If a guy in your class knows how to put music videos on his MySpace page, but you can't code well enough to do that, then you create some kind of real-life social link (maybe a weak tie?) when you ask him for coding help. That kid is always going to "win the sword fight" online, but he's also going to be able to carry that prestige into the off-line world.
Also, I totally agree: MySpace pages look AWFUL.
My Myspace page is (or was at times if it isn't now) actually pretty classy, in my opinion ( even though I have long since stopped caring about it.
The hacking is interesting, and in a way facebook has made the true elitism of the hacker class much more distinct, because whereas in Myspace anyone can use a Profile Pimper or Generator or whatever because of the susceptibility of the system, facebook began by effectively disallowing any kind of unconventional customization, but has since opened it up to the 3rd party developments of Apps, which requires true coding knowledge, but is still limited in the extent to which it can modify a profile. For a while it was a neat trick to be able to embed a video clip into a Myspace comment, but YouTube has made that skill obsolete. Photobucket and Flickr provide instant copy-pastable code for images, and will take all the effort out of tracking your visitors by giving you IP and geographical information through the functionality of a few lines of computer generated code and instructions on where to put it in your profile.
And none of these things fly on facebook.
Facebook also doesn't have the musical draw that Boyd found so crucial to Myspace.
Facebook has fallen just short of fully mapping out ties (imagine with your own friends) with the Mutual Friends section, etc.
Writing identity is also interesting and makes me think, again, of the difference between facebook and Myspace. I have friends who use both, I have used both at different times in my life, and I have found that by allowing the (almost) total customization of the profile, Myspace allows a person to 'write' their identity much more in accordance with how they want themselves to be seen. While it may be argued that it is impossible to write a 'real life' identity on a website at all, facebook provides a much more accurate mapping of a person due to the tendencies towards a more objective, multi-perspective, self-checking, free-flow of information. On Myspace I can upload 4 flattering pictures of myself, but on Facebook my friends can tag me in hundreds of more truthful portraits. The Wall-to-Wall works in a similar way.
The ability of the sword fighter to carry his prestige into the real world lies entirely in the real world's willingness to accept the validity of the online world. What happens for the disenfranchised and conscientious objectors, and the people who don't participate "because its stupid"? I know they may be in the minority, but I also still know plenty of people that I respect and admire that hold these positions. This seems to connect to the infection of workers that Granovetter spoke of, in that in order for something to gain social momentum it must be picked up by the central, more well-connected members in order to spread. But in this case the infection is in the form of a tool for being well-connected. It almost seems tautological.
You're right- the "I think it's stupid" crowd is a totally legitimate group, and I definitely used to be in that category. My parents were never internet savvy enough to know whether or not to be worried, and I just didn't care enough to get involved online. I didn't think it was "stupid," perse -I just didn't give it much thought. Interestingly, my first social networking experience happened when my friend built a LiveJournal page for my 17th birthday, as Boyd noted. Of course I'm whole-heartdly on faceook now (I can code a little in Java, and as Andy pointed out, everyone writes HTML), Andy has a pretty amazing music site, and (against all odds ;oP) you have a very classy MySpace page. I guess this validates Boyd's social networking "field work," but she might misrepresent the interconnectivity of on- and off- line relationships.
I know Boyd focuses on the "youth" and their use of networked publics, but I think another demographic is important to look at, namely adults seeking jobs and businessmen seeking connections. This summer I worked for a small communications firm in the city, and my boss was all about, which is a social networking site for small businesses.

The conscientious objector to social networking sites may have a good argument in "because it's stupid". As Nadine points out on page 14 of Boyd, "Taking someone off your Top 8 is your new passive aggressive power play when someone pisses you off." This exhibits the frivolity of facebook/myspace (when used by teens looking to 'fit in'), versus the pure function of a site like linkedin. Granovetter had stated that weak ties will, more often than strong ties, lead to finding a job. The ties forged on any social networking site are weak at best - especially when no real world correspondence has occurred. Furthermore, almost all jobs I've ever applied to have been through an internet form - submit a resume, cover letter, and a referral, and the nameless, faceless employer will get back to you. I guess the 'strength' of weak ties is often overlooked.

The "I"s: Andrew C. Miller, Julia Horwitz, Crow Norlander

Windows and Internet Identity + Performative Language

According to Boyd, social networking enables teens to create their personal, individual identity by imagining themselves as part of a public. She writes, “publics play a crucial role in the development of individuals…by interacting with unfamiliar others, teenagers are socialized into society. without publics, there is no coherent society.” As individuals create profiles, customized representations of their identities, they imagine the reactions of an imaginary audience, a “public” they desire to join. Social networking allows the individual to constitute his self-hood through a hyper-customized profile that visually defines a contrived individual identity, while simultaneously makes him conform to a given public that is “a collection who share a common understanding of the world, a shared identity, a claim to inclusiveness, a consensus regarding the collective interest.” Unlike in real life, the individual’s identity cannot be fluid, adapting situationally to present different identities to different publics—it must be fixed. It is interesting and somewhat paradoxical that in order to become a part of the collective networked public, one must actively construct an unique, customized, and defined representation of individual identity.
This paradox reminds me of the concept of the window in Keenan’s article. Keenan discusses different interpretations of windows, asking whether windows reinforce self-hood through gaze or whether they bridge the gap between self and other, public and private. The window that constructs the self is a “humanist window, the “window door,” the vertical frame that matches and houses the standing, looking, and representing figure of the subject.” (126) Keenan writes later that “the window defines the place and possibilities of the subject…” (132) However, Keenan’s window also challenges the separate self by opening it to a public. He defines the public as all that is different and other to the subject, not as “a collection of private individuals experiencing their commonality.” (133) The window also lets in light, opening the individual to the public and deconstituting his subjectivity: “the enlightenment of this other light exposes me to all that is different in and beyond me.” (136) I’m quoting all this to highlight the dual, paradoxical functioning of the window, which both reinforces and challenges subjectivity.
“The window is the opening in the wall constitutive of the distinction between public and private, and also the breaching of that distinction itself.” Perhaps social-networking sites are windows, constructing and deconstruct individual subjectivity. Myspace requires an individual to construct a profile that reinforces his selfhood and identity, yet its openness and connectivity joins this individual to a public which makes privacy impossible. Even the interface of social networking sites, the computer screen, imitates the a window.

On another note, Keenan’s window and Myspace also have similarities in their conceptions of language and speech/writing as active. Keenan’s final point is a comparison of light passing through a window to language, which is also public because it deconstructs subjectivity. “What if the peculiarity of the public were…the rupture in and of the subject’s presence to itself that we have come to associate with writing or language in general? Language exceeds the subject, opens up a window to the other in the monad…” My interpretation of this is that language, and especially writing, is public because it connects an absent subject to whoever his language addresses. (I’m not sure if this is correct, but I wonder if this idea of language/writing as deconstructing subjectivity is comparable to Barthes' Death of an Author?) But more than simply surpassing its origin, language is always performative: “If we make images and express ourselves, we do so only at the risk of the selves we so desperately long to present and represent…Language intervenes in the lives of those who seek to use it…” (138)
On Myspace, language and writing are also actions—Boyd argues that when we create our identities online, writing replaces behavior. Teens “write their community into being.” This confusion of speech and action was a big idea in a lot of the readings this week, such as Viruses Are Good for You and A Rape in Cyberspace. A final question—were speech and action conflated with the advent of the internet, as the Virus piece suggests, or, as Keenan says, has language always been a public performance that both reinforces and challenges subjectivity?

--Alice Hines and Zach Smith

Ambiguity or Exposure


In Danah Boyd’s essay she analyzes MySpace and its use to teenagers in this day and age. Her analysis, however, is done in a very general way and it does indeed focus on MySpace, which isn’t the social site used the most here at Brown. My “weak link”, Sam, and I decided to examine one another’s Facebook profiles, doing a little of comparing and analysis, attempting to learn a bit more about another. Now I’m a frequent user of Facebook, just like so many of my fellow Brown classmates. My profile has quite some information; with one screen shot it wasn’t even possible to see my whole profile, even with all my profile boxes collapsed. When I first saw Sam’s Facebook profile, which I couldn’t even access without him inviting me, I immediately realized how much less information he seemed to have, in comparison with me. Looking at my profile [above right] I wasn’t even able to take a full screen shot of what I wrote for my “Information” box. Then I saw Sam’s “Information” [lower left] there was a considerable less amount of information. This somehow relates to Boyd’s reference to “impression management.” While I choose to write an extremely long novel in my profile description to create a certain kind of impression, Sam chooses to hardly write anything at all. Thus which creates a better impression, a lot of information, or lack there of? Perhaps we’re aiming for difference audiences, thus our descriptions appeal to different people.

Boyd also discusses how conversations, which were originally in private spheres, merge into the public sphere, through the use of comments, in Facebook called a The Wall. Many teenagers use comments and The Wall, constantly sending messages “back and forth, creating a form of conversation…taking social interactions between friends into the public sphere for others to witness.” Sam, however, doesn’t even have The Wall on his profile, not really bringing conversations to the public sphere, which is something I apparently do. Considering the differences between our profiles it is definitely apparent that we have different uses for this particular social network site. Sam’s Facebook profile definitely does differ from the description of a regular MySpace profile, as described in Boyd’s essay. Sam’s profile is indeed private, not much information, no public conversations and no pictures of him displayed on his profile. He seems to have strong control over what people see of his profile/being. My profile, however, seems to be a lot of exposure, the opposite of Sam’s. I can’t say if exposure or ambiguity is better when it comes to social sites, but it definitely does reflect on how different we socialize. [To look at a full screenshot of each of our profiles follow these links: Sam’s Profile, Jamilya’s Profile]


Jamilya and I thought it might be interesting to comment on/describe each other's Facebook profiles in order to show how profiles can be differently constructed using the same networking site. This difference shows that we have a different way/approach to online networking.
Before going into detail in explicating the construction of Jamilya's (I'll use J.) profile, it is important to note that it is open to anyone belonging to the Brown University network. Therefore, I could view her profile (i.e. see/understand "who she is" because in Boyd's terms, "[people] write their being into existence") without even knowing her. The fact that it was "open" to me let me gain specific knowledge into who she is even though I might not have met her.
J. has filled out most of the basic "generic form." This primary form consists of her school, sex, hometown, year of birth, networks she belongs to, sexual orientation, religious and political views. She has not filled out the latter two. She has, however, personalized the generic form by not including the year of her birth even though she filled out the date and month of her birthday. This act of answering a question partially could be read by some as concealment. One could, for example, wonder why the year has not been included if the rest has. Questions arise, connotation ensues, and conclusions are made.
Online profiling leads to hyper-interpretation. One could also question why some questions in the basic form have not been answered and posted on the profile. The fact that they exist and left blank signifies something because one had to deliberately choose not to answer the questions. This is not to judge J. of what she decided to include/exclude, it is just to point out the decision making that happens when one creates an online profile and how it can have interpretive consequences, negative or positive.
Aside from the basic generic form, J. has many Facebook applications. They are too complex to analyze in detail so I will just say that the fact that J. has applications shows that she has strong interactions with an online network. Especially so when the applications require participation of friends. One such application is "Bumper Sticker." This application allows people to post stickers on her profile for her and the public's (limited to Brown) enjoyment. J. and her friends can interact with each other by sharing funny things on a public page. What happens when these stickers are viewed by an unknown public to her? Interpretation, and then conclusions. If one has stickers of pets, one will interpret those as being a sign that she and her friends like pets. Since the stickers are removable by the profile owner, the act of "doing nothing" shows that she also likes pets (to a degree unknown to us, unless there is repetition which would signal a high degree of liking). This is, I admit, slippery terrain to analyze because maybe she hates pets and just didn't remove the sticker before I saw it. However, this does not matter, because what matters is that a reader interprets what he sees, regardless of the intention(s) behind the presence/absence of elements.
From all this, what I can say is that social networking happens through the communication with others whether voluntarily or not (someone at Brown who does not know J. can sort of figure out who she is/what she is like in the same way as her online friends); and by exchanging and sharing (or not sharing) information that is always subject to interpretation.
Interpretation seems to me to be the most important aspect to online networking, which is why my Facebook is so bare. However, I cannot escape interpretation because the fact that my profile is bare can be interpreted just as well. Perhaps not having a Facebook is also subject to interpretation....
In any case, what can be taken from this juxtaposition is how two people (approx same age, same school) can see/understand/use/participate in/interpret the value/benefit of a social networking site differently.

--Sam E. and Jamilya R.C.--