Author Archives: abwrubel

Algorithms and Oppression

Net neutrality is a very interesting topic that deserves much more attention than it is currently receiving. The idea that pre-determined algorithms are embedded in all digital environments and filter information and knowledge for the individual is truly scary. At what point does the individual lose control over the information he/she seeks out or consumes. In an extreme sense, at what point does the individual become less human and is stripped of his/her more unpredictable human qualities and characteristics. Talk of algorithms and their subtle and subversive nature reminds me of a book I have been reading for my ethnography, “Understanding Popular Culture” by John Fiske. In this book, John Fiske discusses the capitalist intentions of all entities that exist, and the capitalist tendencies of all individuals. Fiske describes these intentions as simply being the need to participate in capitalist culture as a means of self-expression and the construction of identity. Fiske describes the existence and success of capitalism being directly related to the perpetuation of socio-economic differentiation in the confines of a societal structure. It is through this social-economic difference that various urges arise and compel the individual to act and react through the use of the capitalist market. The market, or brands, at this point becomes a means of rebellion and revolting that in the end always manage to further stimulate the economy.

Fiske’s capitalist conversation and this discussion revolving around the invisible hierarchy of the web, enforced by algorithmic structural elements, all work together to further differentiate individuals based on social-economic values. Is this true? It’s hard for me to believe that I live within a societal system that forges monetary value from human oppression. I guess the internet is a more free form of oppression, rather than physical abuse, it oppresses the individual in a subtle and enjoyable manner.

Here’s the link to a really good ted talk explaining the algorithmic nature of the internet:

Difficulties in Understanding the ‘Digital Native’

Though much of the information that Nishant Shah and Sunil Abraham use to present a structured and detailed understanding of the ‘Digital Native’, there is a lack of distinction within the term ‘Digital Native’ which could serve as a helpful way of teasing out the different types and forms of interaction that take place between the ‘Digital Native’ and the digital. In Shah and Abraham’s analysis they seem to overlook the fallacies inherent in generalizing. Here, Shah and Abraham impregnate their study with binary language, a historically patriarchal and systematized means of structuring thought, which ultimately detracts from their unbiased and objective understanding of the ‘Digital Native’. I think there should be more of an internal-analysis of the disparate geo-political factors that possibly influence socio-cultural modes of interaction for the ‘Digital Native’. Thus a more specific deconstruction of the term and idea ‘Digital Native’ is required in order to further progress Shah and Abraham’s analysis.

On the most simple and basic level of analytical understanding, one can explore the differentiating nature of digital interactions within the broader ‘Digital Native’ group through internal distinctions made using geo-political affiliations. This spatially oriented way of understanding differences within the ‘Digital Native’ population can point to greater distinctions in the digital population relating to socio-cultural and political uses of technology, further specifying interactions with the internet. This sort of analysis could structure and sort through the different political uses of the Internet and their correlation to actual physical intervention or action. This more detailed analysis could grasp at ideas concerning the passivity of human interaction with or through the digital.

Another variable that is not given enough attention is age. The foundation of the language for Shah and Abraham’s study is based in binaries predicated on age. However Shah and Abraham’s intentional decision to ignore and not address the more ambiguous questions of age within the ‘Digital Native’ population is what makes their study more simplified and basic. Age has never been more crucial than it is today. Using age as a determinant of socio-cultural uses of the digital would prove incredibly helpful in better understanding the ways in which human growth processes relate to digital interaction and digital ideology.


Re-evaluating Post-Modernist theory: Alexander Galloway

The Galloway text that we read for class spends a lot of time discussing the ways in which the Internet and digital world has presently faced us with a reality that was not properly noted in earlier post-modernist theories. Post-modernist theory places emphasis on the existence of a hyper-reality, in which the individual’s subjectivities or narratives are tended to resulting in a diminishing of reality, or the ability to describe or depict such a reality. It is in this post-modernist and theoretical state that no theories can be universally proven true, as reality is no longer understood as being mirrored by the human but rather enhanced and abstracted as it operates and co-exists with the human need for self-understanding. Thus, reality does not exist objectively, but is inextricably bound to interpretation and subjectivity. In the text Galloway argues the opposite. Though he doesn’t refute the existence of subjectivity, he believes that the individual subjectivity is guided or subjected to the greater power or authority of a universal ruling system. Alexander argues that there is a displacement of racism or race, as it has been moved from the real to the hyper-real or online. Its passive and subtle existence doesn’t call for direct attention, but its existence, nonetheless, points to a more suppressed urge.

Much of what Alexander argues and theorizes is related to ideas concerning technological determinism. For Alexander, technology has assumed a role in which it enforces these oppressive universal rules. Race is no longer directly confronted but is instead absorbed and diluted into a medium that distracts from its hard and compacted core. Alexander, by drawing attention to the inaccuracies of former post-modernist theories, he calls for a re-evaluation of what it is that post-modern thinking should concern itself with. The idea of sovereignty and authority should never be disregarded. These concepts have liberated themselves of the human form and now exist in the abstracted realm of hyper-reality.

Social media as a means of propagating political agendas

The reading for this week covered issues concerning the dangers of the Internet. For Danah Boyd’s the dangers of the Internet include cyber-bullying, sexual perversion, and misinterpretations and mislabeling that result from parental intervention. However, at the moment there is another more politically fueled danger that is living within these digital social spaces, ISIS. This relatively young political group, serving as a radically different alternative ideological force in the Islamic world, has been using social media to get in contact with teens and other individuals to recruit and enlist them in their violent political agenda. The political organization, which has made itself globally recognized for its brutal and horrific fighting techniques, has taken advantage of the generally young age demographic present on these Social Media sites and their vulnerability to push their political ideology. ISIS’s knowledge of Social Media sites and the internet allows them to manipulate and create appealing digital personas, in the hopes of targeting a confused and lost teen or younger individual who will then accept this political agenda as truth. ISIS, knowing that the digital world has created space for the lost or confused individuals to interact and exist, the group uses anonymity and the less defined features of the web to find and contact these people.

This current phenomenon represents the pinnacle of all parental fears regarding the Internet. It is in these moments that the Internet proves its ability to manipulate and convince the weak willed individual to act, a demonstration of the true power that the Internet holds. And as more and more western young-adults enlist themselves in the ISIS regime, what does this say about the current state of our ideological existence? How does this change the conversation about the Internet and social media and young individuals relationship to both? Here, the Internet becomes a place in which individual agency and ideological belief dissipates into nothingness, the individual solely becomes a representation of a tangible existence. Culture has no bearings, and the individual succumbs to the power of “truth”. The persistence of ISIS on the Internet illustrates the power of the digital world we have created.


Are we just different variations of our public self?



In Danah Boyd’s article she discusses and further clarifies the idea of the ‘Super Public’. For Danah, the super public is an entity that is defined as the unknown, or the public that extends beyond that of the immediately accessible public or audience. But as people become more familiar with the concept of the super public and aware of its existence, why do we continue to treat technology prior to us knowing of its presence. The infinitely larger audience, or super public, that commands the flow of content in the realm of the internet has forced the human-technology relationship into a strange place. I think its fair to say that people are overly affectionate and caring when it comes to their technological device. What I find so fascinating is that technology has immediately assumed the role of a diary of sorts. Its intimate relationship to the human is strange and a bit contradictory, as the structural nature of technological devices don’t necessarily support its intimate role, as things have naturally become more accessible and shareable. But when an individual shares data or information with a device, does the individual understand the device as representing a more personal grouping of people, a larger number of people, a public space, or an extremely private one. This perception of the iPhone (or whatever technological device it may be) dictates the information shared, it would also allow one to speculate as to whether people are becoming more or less extraverted with the advent of small technological devices, primarily used for social purposes. In taking a selfie, are one’s thoughts more outwardly focused, as they are more directed at the pure aesthetic of the photograph, instead of stimulating more critical thinking?

Just as a part of our political activist self has become more passive with the advent of the “like” button, one could also argue that our private persona is becoming more “public”. I guess this could come full circle and relate to the idea of technological determinism, in the fact that we now filter or edit ourselves for pre-determined and larger groupings of individuals. One could argue that this self-editing parallels that of which takes place in the real world, and to some degree it does, but it in no way can the internet provide such a spectrum of interaction. I think that Danah Boyd’s Super Public sheds light on the errors and fallacies present in our current understanding and relationship with technological devices and virtual communities. We all aren’t fully getting the Internet. But I guess our misunderstandings have generated a diverse range of content. Would a strong analytical understanding of the connective pathways of the digital world enlighten us to not make bad digital decisions? Would it make the internet more boring? Or would it become a place riddled with intentionality (which could be boring)?

The Image: Reinforcing Social Hierarchies?

In Jill Rettberg’s “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology” she discusses, in great detail, the affordances that come with living in a world so invested in digital and online technologies as a means of social communication. The way in which Jill discusses these affordances is very, in my opinion, optimistic. She takes a more historical approach and describes the ways in which various forms of technology or technology driven forms of representation have always battled with affordances, whether they are cultural, genre, or aesthetically related. In the example Jill uses, the initial racial injustices that resulted from the advent of analog film, she cites the racially complex nature of the first film developed. This affordance of the early stages of analog photography and its racial ignorance points to the cyclical and reoccurring process in which humans ignorantly or unknowingly interact with technology before overcoming these sorts of hurdles.

These affordances, as discussed in the reading, can be associated with the inherent structural qualities present in the technological device and the response of the individual. What is of equal interest to me is the way in which various cultures or communities react to technological advancements in the way they perceive and interact with or use certain devices. A very present topic of discussion is the image, as an all-accessible tool and how its accessibility is affecting cultural and industrial hierarchies in the Western world. Since all individuals have been empowered with the ability to take and edit a photo to have it appear to be on a professional level, it’s exciting to predict the various ways in which sectors of capitalist America and Europe, that are heavily reliant on the image and its social power, will respond. Since the image has become almost entirely democratized, how will companies assert their social power and dominance? I believe that the image is a very powerful political tool, along with its increased use and accessibility it can empower marginalized people and deter injustice.

But, as I said in an earlier post, the world’s inability to properly read photographs can be understood as a factor that reinsures this uneven balance of capitalist power and still allows the image to become a symbol of power and social hierarchy. The power dynamic has only become more subtle.

Understanding Misunderstanding and Identity

Since digital communities hadn’t fully arisen until the early 2000s, their formation and popularity has divided the population into two distinct groups: those who understand the nuances and subtleties of the way the communities operate and those who do not. This split in understanding can be thought of, more generally represented, as a division in age. A division between young individuals who grew up with and incorporated these digital communities into their social life, and the older population whose adolescence was not predicated on the existence and use of digital social platforms. In Danah Boyd’s “It’s Complicated”, she discusses reasons as to why digital communities inevitably become grounds on which younger individuals escape parental supervision and create more nuanced social techniques and understandings to “properly” interact with one another, a disconnect that Danah Boyd believes propagates misunderstanding and misinterpretation. It is this disconnect between the younger and older individuals, usually understood as being the children and adults, that engenders this misunderstanding. But where does this misunderstanding stem, and what ideas does it concern? In what I’ve gathered from the reading I believe that this misunderstanding between younger and older individuals is a result of differing ideas and concerns regarding context and perceptions of private and public space. Though an adult may view an online social community as a single interactive entity operating under a single set of rules, this is not the case for the adolescent individual. For the teen, a single digital space or community can be more accurately translated into multiple distinct physical spaces that lend themselves to a variety of rules. For instance, Danah Boyd tells of a younger boy who voices his frustration with his sister who continually abuses her ability to comment on posts that he thinks shouldn’t include her. Though he understands the conversation as being more of a private one between individuals that he views as being relevant, his sister understands the posts as a public interaction, and an invitation to join in. Here Danah points out the complex way in which individuals perceive the various spaces that digital communities provide. Individual ideas concerning private and public space dictate the ways in which actions within social digital communities are read. For some, digital communities represent a private space composed of family and friends, a place in which anything can be shared. For others, digital communities remain a part of the bigger structural system of the Internet, an incredibly public space where all information is accessible and shareable.

Because of the inhuman qualities of the Internet, the process of composing an identity, for the adolescent, has become more abstract. Instead of having one’s identity tied to a sort of physical being, it is constructed through the use of digital devices that produce nontangible extensions of the self. It is the sort of peer-to-peer driven nature of these online communities that creates an identity for the individual. No matter how the teen views his/her digitally fabricated self, whether it is in a serious or joking manner, that version of the self becomes an indicator of how that individual aspires to be understood in a specific social context. However, as the lines distinguishing between the real and digital self become more and more blurred, one must be careful not to become too heavily invested in any form of online socializing. Since the structural apparatus supporting these communities are rigid, an individual obviously cannot interact socially with something that is, utterly, non-human. An affordance that comes with social digital communities, which must be recognized, is their inherent non-human structural qualities and restrictions that ultimately shape the way users interact with one another and form any semblance of an “identity”. What I’m trying to say is that Identity shouldn’t be confined or attributed to a digital, non-real space, but rather something that permeates all realms of “existence”. A perspective that I believe would allow for a more healthy understanding of the self.


Misunderstanding the Digital Image

In “Personal Connections of the Digital Age” Nancy Baym comments on a variety of views and opinions that try to distinguish and label the role technology plays in the social sphere of human existence. Nancy groups the differing sentiments into two categories: Technological determinism, and Social Construction of Technology. Technological determinism claims that technology determines the extent to which humans can use it, thus altering human traits and characteristics. On the other hand, Social construction of technology argues the opposite, in that it views technology as merely serving an inherent human need, something that would persist with or without the emergence of socially geared technological devices.

However, siding with either category of thought does not sufficiently address the issue of properly weighing and understanding the nature of our social uses for technology. A perfect sub-topic of technology that parallels this discussion is the image, and its prevalent usage in the digital world for the purpose of human interaction. In using the two extremes Nancy Baym discusses, technological determinism and social construction of technology, one can easily see the ways in which the digital image can be argued for either side. But the simple grouping or labeling of the image as being one or the other ignores the subtleties and nuances that are necessary to understanding this relationship between the human and the digital image. Though I would like to argue that technology and its relationship to the image does assume a role in which both tend to the social needs and impulses of humans, something it definitely does, I think the way humans categorize their interactions with it is troublesome and ultimately problematic. The greatest qualm I have with digital technology is its love of the image. I find the relationship between digital technology and the image as worrisome solely because people lack the ability to correctly interpret or read images/photographs. Like language, the photograph is a linguistic instrument who’s doubly articulated existence is subtle. To read the subtleties of the image is to make an extra effort to interpret an entity that one can appear to have been adequately read almost instantaneously. However, the emphasis and dominance placed on our visual receptors is deceiving humanity. As images become more and more easily accessible, a result of their scalability, and if we continue to lack the skills to critically examine images, what will become of our more critical thinking processes or nuanced understandings and relationships to things and ideas. Has technology honed in on a human weakness? Lacking the skills to critically examine the digital image, humans would continue to perpetuate stereotypes and misinterpretations that could eventually harm social and cultural groups and possibly even further divide and segregate people as being similar or dissimilar. How would this affect our societal understandings of global cultures?