Tag Archives: social media

Identity, Agency & the Digital Nexus: 5-7 Apr. 2013 at #AthaU

Symposium hashtags: #dns2013 #AthaU


This weekend I figured out the secret logic and magic of the Harlem Shake meme. It’s a meta-meme: a meme about memes. Harlem Shake: the recursive metameme. Starts with one weirdo in the corner, then abruptly millions freak out, & … Continue reading

How you know you’ve arrived as a popular culture scholar

When a reader likens your work to porn. (Favourably.)

The work in question is my chapter in the new collection Selves and Subjectivities: Reflections on Canadian Arts and Culture, edited by Manijeh Mannani and Veronica Thompson, out now from AU Press – in purchasable print and free, Open Access e-book formats.

“By examining how writers and performers have conceptualized and negotiated issues of personal identity in their work, the essays collected in Selves and Subjectivities investigate emerging representations of self and other in contemporary Canadian arts and culture.”

#Congress2012, part 2: conference tech review

Right, I’ve been meaning to follow up on conference-going with just a tablet, no laptop. The thing served perfectly for the proceedings in which I presented: it patched intuitively to the AV system (which all had audio as well as video); it supplied a backup copy for a panelist whose paper I had agreed but then forgot to print (oops!); it afforded some snapshots of proceedings (although this particular tablet’s camera leaves a lot to be desired, as if the company intentionally gave this model a bad camera just to be able to put a better one in the next release).

The tablet also proved unexpectedly handy in other situations: showing family pics to colleagues; providing a boarding pass (I seriously had printer issues the whole time); random must-see and to-do note-taking outside of proceedings; showing directions to venues, etc.

One weird irony in my tablet-bound conference-going was that while I had this mobile device with me more or less the whole time, with a cell data plan, I hardly made any use of social media the whole time; I normally like at least to tweet about proceedings (if for no other reason than to momentarily displace Twitter’s volume of celebrity gossip, sport event exclamations, and general smack-talking with critique, and in the process demonstrating the public value and engagement of Humanities research). Anyway, I wasn’t tweeting or blogging about anything during the conference, despite the apps at my fingertips. Drafting the conference review on the flight home felt weirdly like writing one’s paper on the way there: late, hasty. This is really less about the tech and more about the social, and the psychological, but thought it worth a mention.

One unexpected opportunity to further lighten the tech load: I didn’t use the bluetooth keyboard at all. In this case I think the short itinerary and busy schedule left me little time for catching up on other writing (this may also explain the social media disuse). And, technically, the pleasing availability and quality of built-in PA systems meant I didn’t need the portable boombox, either. But I still don’t think it’s safe to assume every conference venue will be similarly well equipped. The portable PA will stay an important “Plan B component” in my conference-going tech toolkit.

The human mic: a live extension of Twitter?

From yesterday’s refreshingly clear-sighted and supportive report on #OccupyWallStreet in the Globe and Mail:

Perhaps the most cogent symbol of this raw democratic process is the “human microphone,” a natural form of call-and-response voice amplification that the occupiers use to overcome the police ban on speakers and megaphones. At their general assemblies, a large group of occupiers repeat the words of a single speaker, allowing the power of multiple voices to resonate through the crowd. The result is both moving and arresting. The speaker must slow down, choose his or her words carefully, and then listen as the crowd repeats those words back. Likewise, members of the crowd move from passive listeners to active participants.

Agreed. The human microphone system being used by #OccupyWallStreet is proving an effective performative tactic to work around the imposed ban on technological amplification at the Occupation’s public gatherings. And as even this short quotation suggests, the tactic offers lots to think about, especially for studies of performance, media, and culture; it readily lends itself to poststructuralist reading. Check out the people’s acoustic sound system in action as Slavoj Žižek addresses #OccupyWallStreet:

Slowness, attention, delay, repetition, and the liveness of the moment: structured around these features, the human mic system might seem a direct revolt against the proliferation of new media technologies that are now so often cited as responsible for accelerating, diffusing, and hyper-mediating contemporary communications. But it seems to me that the human mic system would have been unthinkable before Twitter. The parceling out of brief statements, and their echoing repetition by those in attendance at the time, strike me as eminently Twitter-based practices. To say nothing of the statements that then get actually tweeted and re-tweeted by the crowd.

Rather than a revolt against new media, the human mic looks more like an embodied extension of them, a corporeal remediation of social network technology — technology that is widely held responsible for “doing [bad] things to our brains” — in the service of cultivating attentive listening, dialogic socializing, and above all critical thinking. (I’d like to think there’s something anti-proprietary about the system too; its formal focus on sharing and dissemination can be read as a critique of tightening copyright laws that are entirely of a piece with the kleptocracy against which the Occupation stands.)

I could be wrong; I’m venturing an impression here, and I haven’t researched the human mic phenomenon. If it predates Twitter, I’d love to learn about where it came from, and how it developed. (I certainly don’t mean to discredit anyone with my hypothesis — or to credit Twitter too much, as happened a lot amidst discussions of the Arab Spring.) In any case, the Occupation’s critical mass (which is at the same time, paradoxically, a global dispersion) of converged new media and embodied assembly producing some new kind of body politic?

A cento of Facebook tributes to Jack Layton

I’ve left the sources anonymous because, well, you posted it on Facebook, not in public. You know who you are, and you’re welcome to credit if you want it. Thanks for sharing.

This says it all ♥

Salut, Jack. I met you first 40 years ago when you taught me in a political science class at York. Since then I’ve campaigned for you, voted for you and admired your courage and integrity. You’ve earned your place beside Tommy Douglas.

RIP Jack Layton. Legendary city builder, national leader and advocate for youth. You will be greatly missed.

I had the pleasure of seeing you once in my life at a political gathering, and I will remember how sincere and how devoted you were to making Canada a better place.

Just renewed my NDP membership. Felt like the right time today.

He was a rare, galvanizing ambassador of Canada’s populist heart. People are ridiculously afraid of the word socialism for anachronistic reasons, but certainly Jack reminded us what it meant to be Canadians in this regard, a wholistic socialism of the heart, a country for all Canadians, “…making sure no one is left behind.”

I didn’t expect it too feel personal..like family.

really sad news. RIP Jack Layton – last of the great fighters … fighter, bulldog, slayer of dragons.

Had the privilege to meet Jack Layton and Olivia Chow when, in 2000, they hosted a little house party for safe-dance activists (TRIP, Party People Project, etc.). Canada needs more progressive youth and harm-reduction advocates like them. (Especially the kind who know how to throw a party.)

Jack accomplished so much, and his achievements will continue to serve Canadians for a very long time.

It’s a truly sad day for Canadian democracy.

How To Be a Good Canadian

I can’t believe how hard Jack’s death has hit me.

He was a truly motivating person with determination. You’ll be missed Jack. I remember how he congratulated *** at the finish line of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon when *** set a new marathon joggling record. He always had a sincerity about him in celebrating life’s achievements.

What a shock. RIP Jack Layton, fellow fighter of the good fight.

Jack Layton has left us but the movement continues.

Porch lights and candles in the windows for jack Layton. May he be at peace. Thank you Jack!

(P.S. Also: these posters of Jack Layton’s Words, by Stuart Thursby, are majestic. Let’s make lots of posters.)


Historic, pretty campus. (Pretty vertical, too: everything's a hike up or down the mountain.)

This year’s Congress has been a long story (which you don’t get) and a short trip (which you do): just yesterday afternoon and today, but nevertheless full of good things.
For starters, there’s clearly a lot more online back-channel activity than there was even just a year ago, especially on Twitter. Following #congress11 updates has helpfully pointed me to some recordings of events that I missed: the ESC round table on social networking and the humanities, for example; or National Chief Shawn Atleo’s lecture on First Nations education.
In a quick debriefing, what I did reach included:
an ACCUTE joint panel with the International Gothic Association, with talks about Mary Shelley’s Last Man, True Blood, and a Peter Pan adaptation;
the traditional President’s Reception (the real cornerstone social event of any Congress, the attraction being free food and drink), where, for a change, I actually worked the room and caught up with some good people: former professors, mentors, peers, and other colleagues from the different places I’ve studied and worked — even Prof Dr Kuester from Marburg, for whose McLuhan centenary conference I’d given a virtual (webinar) talk barely two weeks ago (“the ambassador liked it,” he said…oh good);
the first plenary talk for the Society for Digital Humanities (which I’ve been meaning to check out), which Jon Saklofske delivered, on what Disney theme parks can teach the designers of virtual worlds (both of which I haven’t been meaning to check out, actually);
then the ACCUTE-NASSR session on genre, in which my talk on the cento and copyright joined talks on Ann Radcliffe and Frankenstein, with a good audience and a great discussion on subjects common to our talks (like the power of the claims of the dead over those of the living, and the implications of stitching together things from diverse sources);
followed by lunch with a delegate at that session, an erstwhile colleague at Guelph who’s also studying copyright history, making said lunch a bit of a brainstorm (the kind of serious keener conversation I’ve often seen others at Congress getting into informally, but never thought I had neither the knack or attention span for, outside formal proceedings);
a “Career Corner” panel on publishing scholarly books, with reps from academic presses and the ASPP … amidst the Athabasca UP rep’s pitch for open access, another editor’s discussion of permissions, and my questions about quotation length and fair dealing (which can be used to defend a published book — a point I hadn’t been sure about), copyright (including the death and expected re-animation of Bill C-32) surfaced here as a bigger topic than many in the room had likely expected;
the ACCUTE annual general meeting, which I had to leave as it went overtime;
and, to wrap up the day, a couple of drinks in the beer tent with a former student of mine from UNBSJ, now at UNBF and holding down a resident DJ gig in Fredericton. Amazing to learn what your students get up to — another social serendipity that a big production like Congress can often yield. Before he took off to join the performers in this week’s Macbeth production, I asked him where I could find an ABM.
–I don’t know, I go to UNB. This is STU.
–STU is like twenty feet from UNB.
–Twenty feet up the mountain.

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

QuestionCopyright.org on this year’s “most ironic Oscar winner”

This is worth wider notice: a Question Copyright post that points out the irony in Trent Reznor’s win of the Oscar award on Sunday for “best original score,” since the score in question, for The Social Network, openly borrows Edvard Grieg’s “Mountain King” masterpiece — and since Reznor himself is, as the article details, “a musician who has capitalized on remix culture”:

[Reznor’s] an Oscar winner […] thanks to the same interest group responsible for the remarkably effective industry capture of national and international lawmakers with respect to copyright issues. […] With its sinister melody and increasingly frenetic pace, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” would make the perfect theme song for Hollywood’s escalating efforts to impose its supramaximalist view of copyright on the entire globe. Yet on Sunday, Hollywood gave its highest award to the poster child for remix culture.

And here I thought I’d never find anything at all of any interest whatsoever in the Oscars, that annual, over-exposed orgy of interminable self-congratulation, where the super-elite bow down before the one they serve to get what they “deserve.”

The rhetoric of drugs. I mean blogs.

The title of AU CIO Dr Brian Stewart’s recent blog post (“Addicted to blog,” 13 Feb. 2011) frames a discussion of the desire to blog as a question of addiction. This detail (whose explication here is not totally tangential to the substance of Brian’s post about another post by GMU prof Bryan Caplan) points to an interesting symptom of new media culture generally, and, more specifically, of the continuing, uphill battle for blogging to gain academic legitimacy of the kind that has been conventionally accorded peer-reviewed work.

The rhetoric of addiction informs (or infects) much popular discourse about new media in general (not just about clinically recognized forms of dependency like IAD, which is not my subject here). I’ve always found it fascinating that the characteristically modern subjectivity of the user is most closely and consistently connected not only with drugs but also with computing (as in the terminology of “graphic user interface”). “The notion of drug addiction as a disease,” Jacques Derrida remarked in a 1989 interview, “is contemporaneous with modernity and with modern science. Electronic circuitry got hooked up in the argot of drugs and the addict got wired” (¶8).

So the various reasons often given for denying to blogging the legitimacy of peer-reviewed research trade in no small part on modern Western culture’s deep association of new media usage with substance dependency (a variation on its associations of techne with death). Note how well the following quotation from that Derrida interview holds up, if you substitute “drug addict” with “academic blogger”:

What do we hold against the drug addict? Something we never, at least never to the same degree, hold against the alcoholic or the smoker: that he cuts himself off from the world, in exile from reality, far from objective reality and the real life of the city and the community; that he escapes into a world of simulacrum and fiction. (¶21)

Work Cited
Derrida, Jacques. “The Rhetoric of Drugs: An Interview” [1989]. differences 5.1 (1993): 1-25.

Cross-posted from my Athabasca U Landing blog