Tag Archives: sns

On differing online

Three flashes of the spirit of the age:

  • A friend on Facebook recently posted something to the effect that “maturity in the 21st century means un-friending somebody instead of getting into an argument with them.”
  • Lauren Beukes’ SF novel Moxyland refers in passing to (and I’m paraphrasing this too) “news feeds so ideologically customized that people only ever hear what they want to hear anymore.”
  • “Troll, n.2: … In extended use: an unpleasant or ugly person.” (Oxford English Dictionary, Sept. 2008 draft addition)

A social network is a strange place when people start to disagree. Last November, a friend on Facebook re-posted a link I had shared — an op-ed about the exploitation of Remembrance Day on behalf of present Canadian military campaigns — and later reported that he had lost two friends over the posting. Seems he got into a status-update thread of debate over the piece, a debate that got so heated he ended up dropping the two friends.

–But surely these were just “Facebook friends,” I asked.
–No they were actual friends, he said (then mentioned that they’d been on his shit-list for other offences for some time).

Earlier this year, I commented on a different Facebook friend’s support for Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s suggestion to repeal a plastic bag tax. I commented because I found it odd that this person tirelessly fundraises for cancer research but opposes a tax that would curb the use of toxic products. No further comments, on- or off-thread, followed mine. More recently I’ve had lively discussions with yet another Facebook friend over the upcoming election.

While I’ve arguably played the troll in these exchanges, neither of these Faceook friends — who are definitively Facebook friends (i.e. not people I look up when I’m in the area, or people I’d send holiday cards to) — have un-friended me over them. They are people whose political convictions oppose mine, and I appreciate their willingness to field my comments, even if they don’t agree or even respond to them. Here I should say that I’m not, categorically, any firm believer in “free speech.” For one thing, any decent grounding in poststructuralist theory quickly reveals, like the red pill, what a restrictive matrix is the prison-house of language in the first place; for another, free speech has been arrogated by the more strident and extremist parties to public discourse, for which it’s become a moral-panic smokescreen to cover all types of barbarism. “Free speech,” as my ex-pat friend in NYC reminds me, “is no excuse for being an asshole.”

But while I wouldn’t defend to the death the right of someone I disagree with to say whatever it is that I happen to disagree with, I might defend it to the pain. Not just tolerance of but critical engagement with difference of opinion is a hallmark of both a robust research culture and a vital political culture. Unfortunately, both seem to be turning into cultures we may have actually have to fight to keep and strengthen. A colleague in MA-IS recently shared some thoughts on current developments in how the political right is exploiting discourses of accountability and ideological “bias” to silence leftist dissent, while funding private think tanks to more thoroughly colonize the public sphere with ever-further-right hegemony:

“Legally, replete with a full moral rationalization emphasizing public disclosure, freedom of information, and the elimination of political bias in the use of public funds, the political right comes to completely dominate the public sphere of discourse. As public broadcasting is defunded out of existence, tons of private money goes to propaganda strategists in the think tanks and to propaganda distributors on cable TV/radio (e.g. Fox News, a form of which by the way is coming to Canada). It’s not hard to imagine the day when any voice of opposition is effectively silenced either legally (criminalization of dissent when any aspect of one’s livelihood has anything to do with public funding) or economically (little private funding available to mount effective public voice or a grossly disproportionate availability compared to what is available to the above-mentioned propaganda machine).”

Larger socio-political machinations like this make the personal of the social network seem a lot more political. I don’t know that there’s any general principle of tolerance or openness that should be applied in each and every case of differing online; I’m not suggesting the friend who un-friended over Remembrance Day hostilities should instead have suffered fools, gladly or otherwise. And I certainly agree that trolls — of the anonymous and cretinous kind that lurk in the comment fields of major news outlets, and among the general-interest hash-tags of Twitter — are not to be fed. But I might counsel a moment’s critical reflection if and when the opportunity arises to un-friend or otherwise cut off some disagreeable associate or acquaintance. The postmodern feminist sex-performance artist Annie Sprinkle once said during an interview that she was glad of such a teeming abundance of different and diverging opinions in the world. The interviewer challenged her on this, citing zealous anti-NEA conservatives like Jesse Helms, with their total, dehumanizing disregard for controversial art (which I’d say has only extended since to cover most art in general) — who, the interviewer pointed out, would never afford Sprinkle the same courtesy. Sprinkle stuck to her guns, and insisted on everyone’s right to a different opinion, however radical or extreme.

Like I said, I don’t think I could bring myself ever to excuse ignorant assholery as principled free speech. But does the health of the public sphere perhaps depend on cultivating its biodiversity, rather than culling its noxious weeds? And who gets to define “noxious”? I’ve blogged before about the inherent ideological premises of social networking technologies; so where on the political spectrum sits the one-click ability to cut off a voice with whom you disagree?

Cross-blogged from the AU Landing

Is Facebook suppressing this image?

So today a friend of mine shared this great picture* on his Facebook page.

So of course I shared the picture today, too, and saw this evening that another friend shared it as well. But as of now, the shared picture no longer appears on any of our three Facebook newsfeeds. Has Facebook just deleted it? I know Facebook’s policy about offensive content sometimes suppresses or censors critical content (try planting a link in Facebook to Seppukoo), but this seems a bit Orwellian (and, at the same time, a bit petty). Another possibility, I guess, is that the FB user whose image link I shared (an unknown friend-of-friend) has deleted it. (If so, why?)

In any case, I’m going to put it right back up in Facebook, and reblog it ad nauseum too. It’s too shrewd and wry a point to get lost in (or suppressed by) today’s most visited website.

* Not sure who made the picture; I’ve seen a “Captain Thermostat” credited, but the text is quoted verbatim from a December 2010 Saturday Night Live sketch:


Cross-posted from the Athabasca U Landing

15 albums

I was tagged on Facebook by a friend “interested in the list [of 15 favourite albums] you would put together.”

Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums that you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me because I’m interested in seeing what albums my friends choose.

Okay, but the request assumes that I listen to entire albums, which has never been my favourite way to listen to music. (Maybe I’ll follow this up with a “10 Best Mixtapes” meme. Or “10 Videos Most Like That Weird Recurring Dream You Keep Having.”) Some of these are excellent actual albums; others are excellent DJ mixes; still others just have a lot of excellent material. But all of them are excellent start-to-finish listening experiences (except maybe Substance). I thought I’d cross-post this, because good music is worth sharing, contrary to what the litigious labels say.

My list (in no particular order, except maybe the first):
1. Johann Sebastian Bach, The Brandenburg Concertos (ca. 1721)
2. Messiah, 21st Century Jesus (American, 1994)
3. Dogwhistle, The Life and Times of an After-Hours DJ (Quality, 1995)
4. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands (Blanco y Negro, 1987) …won a toss-up with Honey’s Dead (1992)
5. The XX, XX (Rough Trade, 2010)
6. Enya, The Celts (WEA, 1987) …that’s right, Enya. Deal.
7. The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Apocalypse Across the Sky (Axiom, 1992)
8. New Order, Substance (Factory, 1987)
9. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (Death Row, 1992)
10. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (Matador, 1993)
11. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol, 1973)
12. Delerium, Semantic Spaces (Nettwerk, 1994)
13. Elizabeth Mitchell, You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006)
14. R.E.M., Eponymous (IRS, 1988)
15. Jimmy Cliff et al, The Harder They Come (Island, 1972)

Honourable mention (a.k.a. “cheating by adding more”):
Digable Planets, Reachin’: A New Refutation of Time and Space (Elektra, 1993)
Gordon Downie, Coke Machine Glow (Zoe, 2001)
Bob Geldof, The Vegetarians of Love (Atlantic, 1990)
Seefeel, Polyfusia (Astralwerks, 1994)
The Velvet Underground, Loaded (Cotillion, 1970)

NASSR 2010: Romantic Mediations (remediated)

This year’s conference for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) was co-hosted by UBC, SFU, and the U of Victoria, and held in downtown Vancouver, just blocks from Stanley Park.

View from the top-floor conference rooms of the hotel. Not distracting at all.


This year’s theme, Romantic Mediations, was particularly productive. I say this mostly because of my own research interest in Romanticism’s popular cultural legacies, but also because of the program’s focused and lively discussions, and, in part, because of the increasingly mediated culture of academic conferences.

The theme directed a lot of attention to the diversity of media forms and the materiality of cultural production in the Romantic period. In the first keynote on Thurs., Aug. 18, William Warner and Clifford Siskin advocated a “history of mediation” as a material and concrete alternative to the more traditional but abstract “history of ideas.” Their presentation seemed both coy and provocative: coy, in that their argument seemed to build (albeit productively, imho) on both Marx and McLuhan without acknowledging either; provocative, in that they styled their talk as an exhortation to adopt their approach. The discussion that followed was feisty: some took issue with what seemed a faddish adoption of computing terminology; some grilled them on their sources and precedents; and some felt they were preaching to the converted, advocating a kind of historical materialism already old very old hat to a field transformed thirty years ago by New Historicism. (For my part, I was left curious enough to at least check out their work, like the Re-Enlightenment Project.)

The theme also prompted a lot of contributions on Romantic theatre and performance, leading me to compile a much better bibliography than that which I’d drawn on to draft the talk I was to give on Saturday (in the second of Danny O’Quinn’s two sessions on “media archaeology”). Fred Burwick’s session on Romantic drama included a paper by Melynda Nuss that I initially worried would moot my own, in her claim that “the technology itself was one of the main items on display” in Romantic theatre. But for Nuss this was premise not thesis for an engaging look at the period’s spectacular “aqua-dramas”: plays on nautical themes, with water scenes that drove the invention of some pretty heavy stage machinery. Subsequently, Friday’s keynote gave me the historical puzzle pieces I didn’t know I’d been looking for, as the Welsh science historian Iwan Rhys Morus gave a tour of the theatrical culture of science in Romantic Britain, and how it gave way to the more professional, less sensational practices of Victorian science. (Now I had more than a better bibliography for my work on the first Frankenstein plays–I had to tweak the paper itself, to give a nod to Morus’ work.)

Dr Morus tells us about the predecessors of Dr Moreau.

This keynote took place at SFU’s Woodward campus, nestled between regular downtown and Vancouver’s downtown east side. Strangely, this would not be the only time the conference found itself adjacent to a zombie parade. Moments before the final keynote on Saturday, I was out on the second-storey hotel terrace overlooking Denman Street, alone except for the keynote speaker, Dr Heather Jackson, composing herself before her talk with a crossword. Shouts from the street drew us to the railing, where a hundreds-strong march soon resolved into a mass zombie walk of the kind so popular now.

What do they want? Brainsss. (Photo credit: Louise)


They staggered down the street. They swarmed a parked bus.

Zombie walk participants swarm a bus. (Photo credit: Goh.)

What a perfect performance of re-mediated Gothic. And there I was, caught for once without my camera to re-remediate it. Of course, what with the ubiquity of cameras and the end of privacy and all, most of the zombies brought along their own cameras, documenting the day in sometimes too much detail.

Surely (as Byron told Banks of vivisection) this is too much. (Photo credit: Christine)

But perhaps I digress. Among the proceedings and festivities, some recurring points of reference that were not zombies also emerged, notably Friedrich Kittler’s history of discourse networks circa 1800 and 1900, and Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s theory of remediation: the “contradictory imperative” to resort to hyper-mediation as a means to simulate immediacy, as a perennial response to new and emergent media. For example: describing a printed text as an improvised performance (the topic of Angela Esterhammer’s fascinating seminar); or, for a more contemporary example, tweeting from a conference discussion in progress (i.e. “hyper-mediating” an immediate, “live” experience) to communicate some of the interest and urgency of the moment.

Ironically, however, the growing intensity of digital remediation and back-channel dialogue that have become a much-discussed trend in the digital Humanities–“conference hacking,” if you will–were not much in evidence at NASSR (held at a hotel with free wireless, no less). I could find only one other delegate, Katherine D. Harris, who was tweeting the proceedings. The listserv seemed dormant during the event, although it has circulated some well-deserved kudos to the organizers since (which I enthusiastically echo); similarly quiet during the event was the NASSR grad students’ blog, which now has some post-game commentary. I was alerted to a Facebook page for Romantics scholars, where some delegates have shared remarks and reviews. There may well have been more digital mediating of a conference whose theme so clearly invited it, and maybe I just wasn’t picking up the right channels.

And I could have been doing more, for my own part: I could have posted my suggested hash-tag on the listserv; I could have made time for more than tweeting, which admittedly has its limits for encapsulating conceptual complexity. (After all, it’s only now that I’ve found the time to share my own reflections on the event in detail.) I suppose I was just expecting more of the “remediating,” real-time back channel with which Twitter has become so good at supplying (supplementing?) other conferences like the MLA convention.

I’m not advocating more digital dialogue and mediation because it’s increasingly ubiquitous elsewhere, or just to appear tuned in and wired up (although there is a case to be made that publicly remediating debates over literary history and politics can help to change public perceptions about the stakes–or perceived lack thereof–in such fields). As shown by so many of the talks I attended in Vancouver; as shown by NASSR’s attention to media (from prior conference themes like techne and newness to systems like the listserv itself); and as shown by the wider field’s deep and diverse investments in new media (the Blake Archive, Romantic Circles, RaVoN): the discourse networks and media ecologies around 1800 have continued to shape and resonate with our experiences of discourse networks and media ecologies around 2000. So playing more extensively with the interface of hyper-mediated and immediate modes of communication and representation–playing, that is, with remediation in the performance scene of the conference–can shed new light on the ideologies and implications of media (both new and dead), and can transform the shape and tone of the conference as such, which is by no means a new medium, but one that can be not only compromised, but also (and at the same time) enriched and extended by the myriad forms and deployments of remediation.

A scholarly take on the copyfight & pop culture

Academicalism has a new section for CC-licensed research, and the first working paper I’ve posted there is one I’ll present later this month, for the Socialist Studies conference taking place as part of Congress (Canada’s annual Humanities and Social Sciences bashment):

“The copyfight, science fiction, and social media”

Cory Doctorow, one of the authors discussed in the paper, has kindly made time to read it and post a positive response his blog, for which I’m very thankful.

Between this endorsement from one of today’s biggest “copyleft” advocates, and the Socialist Studies connection, I may think twice about crossing the US border anytime soon.