Tag Archives: social media

Batman Incorporated and Kanye West: media homunculi

Here’s a super bit of cyborg-media-culture-identity riffing from Kevin Lovelace at grinding.be about the power of brands and/or identities (the difference between the two is getting pretty fuzzy) as prosthetic cyborg extensions of our selves. A post that mashes up Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc., Kanye West and open-source umbrella identities like Anonymous – what’s not to love?

By becoming a transmedia brand, the Batman gains the ability to clone itself and sent out its conceptual mind-babies out into the world, doing the work of Batman even in the actual absence of Batman.   Many people “know” Kanye via his body of work and his carefully sculpted public persona – a persona so information rich and media saturated that it can spawn its own meta-narratives.  Kanye West is the puppet of the Illuminati, and we can prove it!  He’s brilliant!  He’s insane!  He’s…  He’s a story.  The Kanye that 99% of the people reading this know is a story about a man who makes music – a narrative crafted largely BY the man who makes that music.  Its is a story with granularity and richness enough to allow many points of entry and engagement, spin-offs, theories and supposition.    The Kanye West we “know” is a prosthetic identity – an interface program that uses media as its computational substrate that exists between “us” the audience and the “real” Kanye (and his PR team) who operate the prosthetic.

Lots of connections to our earlier discussions of the ubiquity of narrative in an altermodern culture… we are all the stories of ourselves, but we can change the plot whenever we like, or even let other people write their own versions. Go read it.

Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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I have never been to the festival of hubris and chest-thumping that is the American video games industry’s yearly trade-fair E3 (a.k.a. ‘E Cubed’, a.k.a. ‘Electronic Entertainment Expo’), but the mere thought of it makes me feel somewhat ill. A friend of mine once attended a video game trade fair in Japan. He returned not with talk of games, but of the dozens of overweight middle-aged men who practically came to blows as they jostled for the best angle from which to take up-skirt photographs of the models manning the various booths.

As disturbing and sleazy as this might well sound, it still manages to cast Japanese trade shows in a considerably better light than a lot of the coverage that came out of E3. Every so often, an event or an article will prompt the collection of sick-souled outcasts known as ‘video game journalists’ into a fit of ethical navel-gazing: are their reviews too soft? are their editorial processes too open to commercial pressures? do they allow their fannishness to override their professional integrity? Oddly enough, these periodic bouts of hand-wringing never coincide with E3.

E3 is a principles-free zone as far as video game reporting is concerned: Journalists travel from all over the world to sit in huge conference halls where they are patronised to within an inch of their wretched lives by people from the PR departments of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. At a time when cynicism and critical thinking might allow a decent writer to cut through the bullshit and provide some insights into the direction the industry is taking, most games writers choose instead to recycle press releases and gush about games that are usually indistinguishable from the disappointing batch of warmed-over ideas dished out the previous year. At least the creepy Japanese guys had an excuse for wandering around a trade fair doused in sweat and sporting huge hard-ons.

Microsoft Kinect with Xbox 360

Continue reading Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb

Did the Iranian “Twitter Revolution” actually happen?

You know, I’m always advising people not to believe everything they read, but I’m just as bad at doing it as anyone else – we all give credence to the stories we want to believe, I guess (and hell knows that media companies know how to exploit that).

So, remember the Twitter Revolution in Iran? That there was a revolution is not in question, but that the revolution was powered by social media? That’s not so clear [via MetaFilter]:

… it is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right. Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran. As Mehdi Yahyanejad, the manager of “Balatarin,” one of the Internet’s most popular Farsi-language websites, told the Washington Post last June, Twitter’s impact inside Iran is nil. “Here [in the United States], there is lots of buzz,” he said. “But once you look, you see most of it are Americans tweeting among themselves.”

A number of opposition activists have told me they used text messages, email, and blog posts to publicize protest actions. However, good old-fashioned word of mouth was by far the most influential medium used to shape the postelection opposition activity. There is still a lively discussion happening on Facebook about how the activists spread information, but Twitter was definitely not a major communications tool for activists on the ground in Iran.

[…]

To be clear: It’s not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven’t played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It’s just not been the outsized role it’s often been made out to be. And ultimately, that’s been a terrible injustice to the Iranians who have made real, not remote or virtual, sacrifices in pursuit of justice.

I’m starting to wonder if a faith in the hierarchy-corrosion of modern communications systems isn’t becoming a core plank of what, for want of a less contentious or partisan label, we might call the postmodern progressive liberal platform. Maybe because we feel ourselves to have been liberated from something by the internet (even though we’re not sure what it is that we’ve been liberated from), we think that it can deliver liberation to others from things that are far more oppressive and powerful (at least at the level of curtailment of individual freedoms) than we have the context and experience to understand? That political revolution can be as safe, easy (and fun!) as our spare time whiled away on social media? (See also: the illusion of participation produced by slacktivism.)

Or maybe it’s just old-fashioned and fallacious Golden Age pulp technophilia: “Twitter is the future! The future is something we progress toward! Democracy in Iran would be progress! Therefore Twitter will help create progress toward democracy in Iran!”

I’m having a weird week; I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we make pretty much everything into a story that reflects what we already believe to be true. The trouble with dwelling on that for a while is that you reach a point where you realise that, if that assumption is true, then that assumption is also part of a narrative that’s reinforcing itself through you. Which is a pretty weird psychological and philosophical paradox… not to mention being remarkably unconducive to getting anything practical done.

Blue genes: poetry encoded in DNA

Via Lauren Beukes comes the news that Canadian poet Christian Bök has thought of a way to transcend Keats’ epitaph of being “one whose name was writ on water”; he seeks a poetic immortality that could outlive the human species itself, by the expedient of encoding some of his work into the DNA of a hardy strain of bacteria.

… it’s a tricky procedure, and Bök is doing what he can to make it even trickier. He wants to inject the DNA with a string of nucleotides that form a comprehensible poem, and he also wants the protein that the cell produces in response to form a second comprehensible poem.

You can’t fault the guy’s ambition. Who knows – his work might be rediscovered in some nigh-unimaginable future where interest in poetry hasn’t withered away to nearly nothing.

Then again, maybe it’ll stage a comeback – Damien Walter argues that the social media era is ideally suited to poetry’s narrative and expressive concision. I’d very much like to see it happen… but I’ll not hold my breath just yet.

Foursquare, Chatroulette and the social panopticon

I think what surprised me most about the Please Rob Me flap was how little flapping there was, and that most of what there was came from the sort of people I usually expect to see beyond the obvious tabloid angles to the truth of a technology story. Perhaps technopanics just aren’t getting the click-through they used to… or maybe everyone’s too busy covering the adventures of neoprene-clad sportsmen in cold places to care.

Stowe Boyd managed to make the point about Please Rob Me in a much more coherent and conciliatory fashion than I did:

I am suggesting that a single level of ‘friending’ is probably too general to satisfy assumed needs for safety, although there is little evidence that social tools increase the likelihood of burglaries or rape. We don’t have an epidemic of ‘social crime’ to resolve here.

The slippage of geolocational information from a closed, stable network into an open, dynamic one opens up a wider assemblage of contacts, but without the assumed friendship that comes from symmetric following. […]

So, I think the slippage of geolocational information from a closed, stable system like Foursquare into an open, dynamic system like Twitter is less problematic than generally considered. I don’t think it, per se, is scary.

While it is possible that a cadre of burglars or a sex slave ring might try to eavesdrop on our geolocational information in these services, history would suggest that our so-called friends and acquaintances are actually the source of most of these dangers.

People are scary, not social tools.

Quite – and that’s not to underemphasise the potential scariness of people, either. The perspective we need to regain here is that technologies aren’t intrinsically creepy, invasive and risky, but that some people are. If anything, gaining a true understanding of the implications of a technology is probably a better way to minimise its risks than a witch-hunt. Kids can cut themselves with sharp knives – so do we ban all knives, or do we just teach kids not to play with them?

I’m not saying that encroachment into privacy isn’t a problem – just ask the kids of Harriton High School. But we need to move away from this culture of blaming technology for the misuses it is (or could be) put to by people; it’s the same fallacy that the hair-shirt greens are so fond of, and it’s counterproductive on every level. Sure, we’re all able to watch each other more thoroughly than ever before, and yes, the social panopticon comes with similar social risks to a more monolithic (e.g. governmental) surveillance apparatus [via @AmandaChapel]- but it’s not going to go away. Wringing your hands is a waste of time; if you really want to prevent tech misuses, educate your audience instead of trying to terrify them into momentary Luddism.

Talking of technophobia, I name ChatRoulette as front-running candidate for the next tabloid technoterror. The more moderate mainstream media has a hold of the story already, painting it in very “wow, the crazy things these internet people build!” colours with some positivist highlights:

… Chatroulette is a social Web site that allows you to navigate somewhat incognito. “There’s no log in, there’s no registration, and that’s fundamentally different from Facebook and Twitter, where your real persona is tied back to you,” said Sarita Yardi, a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who studies the role of technology in teenagers’ lives.

The Web has long allowed anonymous conversations among strangers. Text-based chat rooms are rife with deceit — people pretending they are someone else. Video makes this harder — even if you’re wearing a mask. Then, too, the anonymity can be fleeting. Screenshots of people using Chatroulette have popped up everywhere. Is one of them you?

In truth, ChatRoulette looks to be a pretty benign (and ultimately banal) thing – not to mention strangely reminiscent of a Jeff Noon story I vaguely remember, in which every one in the world had a mirror that showed the face of another person somewhere else in the world. The usual social media/privacy commentators are being quietly sensible, too, albeit keeping their guard up against the inevitable accusations of showing support for technodepravity:

I like the fact that there are still a small percentage of folks out there looking for some amusement because they’re bored and they want to connect with randomness, folks who recognize the joy of meeting strangers in a safer space than most physical spaces where that’s possible. I realize that this creates the potential for seeing some pretty gross and/or problematic things and I certainly don’t want to dismiss that, but I’m pretty certain that teens are responding the same way that I’m responding – by clicking Next. Is that ideal? Probably not. And I’d certainly love a filter – not just for teens but for my own eyes.

[…]

I’m not sure that immature folks of any age (or the easily grossed out) should be on this site. But I do hope that we can create a space where teens and young adults and the rest of us can actually interact with randomness again. There’s a cost to our social isolation and I fear that we’re going to be paying it for generations to come.

Indeed; the more we seek to protect ourselves and our children (especially the children, poor innocent things that they are!) from everything and anything, the less able to deal with adversity we become – and adversity is inevitable, unless you live in a box lined with cotton wool and a Faraday cage. Common sense aside, however, the potent and flammable combination of children, strangers and video pretty much ensures that ChatRoulette will be moral-panic-boogie-man of the week for the usual suspects within the next month or so… provided the fad lasts that long, of course.