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Monthly Archives: May 2013

What is most interesting to me about Big Data is the amount of speculation involved. As described in lecture, Big Data is not about tracking your piracy actions, but about predicting the likelihood of you being a pirate. Big Data is just not about tracking your consumer actions, but also about predicting what your consumer actions will be based on other information, and encouraging you toward those actions. As Rita Raley details, “Speculation lurks here in the incalculable, the size of data storage exceeding conventional metrics and simply open to an unknowable future. Thus it is necessarily the case that data markets should be speculative, their units of exchange not even stabilized as such, and driven by techniques of ‘predictive optimization’ that attempt to generate future value.” (124) For example, something like online behavioral advertising “produces a dynamic, flexible, and perfectly customized audience, constituted by the microtargeting of the intents and interests of consumers on a massive scale.” (122) The degree to which speculation is involved in data interpretation is understandable, but also somewhat disturbing. Data interpretation reads the individual as “flecks of identity” and makes predictions off of this. Raley: “Data is in this respect performative: the composition of flecks and bits of data into a profile of a terror suspect, the re-grounding of abstract data in the targeting of actual live, will have the effect of producing that life, that body, as a terror suspect.” (128) This leads me to question the implications of big data and continue to ask what are the possible effects of these procedures, positive and negative?

I was really surprised to learn that each time one uses a VHS tape, it degrades. I have always wondered why my favorite VHS tapes as a child ended up deteriorating the fastest.

I find it interesting, then, that as technology improves, and we have better means for recording and storing information, that formats are continuously altered in the opposite direction. For example, we have better equipment for recording music today than we did fifty years ago, but instead of recording honestly, much editing is made in the recording process so that the sound is actually unreal.

I think this ties to screen essentialism, which we have described as privileging the screen at the expense of everything behind the screen. In doing so, we lose the material aspect of the information presented to us, as well as the labor and production processes. I suppose it depends on the preferences of the listeners, but it seems as though the unreality created in our advanced technology (autotune, for example) is misleading and perhaps changing the way we hear music or view visual material?

Rafael draws an interesting connection between the crowd and technology in his article about the cell phone and the crowd. He points out that “the crowd is a medium, a way of gathering and transforming elements, objects, people, and things,” so that “in a sense, the crowd is not merely an effect of technological devices, it is a technology.” (414) This is interesting because he then goes on to describe how the crowd can become an incredibly liberating space, as the embodiment of freedom and incalculable pleasure. At it’s most utopian, “the crowd became a medium for the recurrence of another fantasy that emanates from the utopian side of bourgeosis nationalist wishfulness: the abolition of social hierarchy.” (415/6) So the crowd became a space of equality and anonymity. I understand Rafael’s point about the crowd as a technology, but I am not sure the cell phone goes with this argument. A cell phone is distinctly not anonymous. Your number is tied to your name. You are only anonymous to people who do not know you, which is no different than anonymity in face-to-face exchanges. So I am not sure I totally agree with his statements about cell phone use and anonymity, especially statements like “cell phone users accepted anonymity as a condition of possibility for sociality.” I think that is a statement deserving of further questioning and unpacking.

Anonymous is based in anonymity. Participants trade their own individualism for collectivism, so that anonymity becomes a positive force in galvanizing political action. Anonymity, especially in the context of Anonymous, is interesting because it is basically public privacy. All participants keep their identity private, but do so publicly. In some ways, this move gets us to think through possibilities of anonymity. The Internet has supposedly eroded the division of public and private, and, as we discussed in class, has led to the belief that the home has been compromised, that the home is exposed to dangerous online content. The move to protect the home, however, has been coupled with an explosion of child pornography, cyberbullying, sexting scandals, and the like. So many things like these occur online, despite the alleged transparency of the Internet. Thus, a group like Anonymous becomes interesting because it grew out of one of the seediest anonymous places on the Internet. The group makes an interesting point about how anonymity can actually be channeled towards meaningful public action, and questions the logic of security.

What is the relationship between affect and technology? How does technology produce certain affective relations?

Thrift’s piece provided an entry point for asking questions like these. He links the rise of affect to technology, discussing the ways space, new media, and affect are tied in the modern age. Screens and the Internet act as new kinds of neural pathways. The human body transcends itself through digital technologies. To “be” is to always be in touch, to be connected through multiple digital devices and networks. The human body takes on new forms, new vulnerabilities, and new modes of being open. How does the human body physically change? What new forms of consciousness and cognition are produced? What are the implications of new affective relations?

Deleuze’s Postscript on Control Societies highlights an interesting shift in the distribution of power and control. He talks about how we have moved from societies of sovereignty to disciplinary societies to control societies, and points out the way language has shifted to accommodate these changes. A particularly interesting bit reads: “In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand the disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.” (Deleuze 5) Deleuze is identifying an important change in the way the individual is configured. She is increasingly digitized, authorized by a code, a password. The body is broken up into multiple parts, subject to different and new interpretations.

Thinking of the human as a data body makes me think of CAPTCHAs, the challenge-response tests often used on websites to verify a user’s humanity. CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” The CAPTCHA will often show a distorted image or string of text and the user gains access to another level of the website by correctly entering that information. It is interesting to think of the CAPTCHA in Deleuzian terms, because it is an example of the way codes become important in verifying one’s identity, but also how distinguishing between human and robot is becoming a trend in the digital era.

In Patchwork Girl the user narrativizes on her own terms. There is no center and no real end. The Body is not experienced as whole and Being lacks linearity. Jackson is highlighting the way Selfhood is a collage of meanings, both given and produced. Hypertext allows for such an illustration because of its simultaneity and unhierarchical structure. Hypertext is experienced only in the act of production, in the same way that identity is experienced in the acts of reading and writing.

What does it mean to read and write? In literary theory, reading and writing are not actions limited to written language, but rather are processes integral to the practice of every day life. Society consists of complex sign systems, each with its own logic, such that almost anything can be read as a text – clothing, street signs, a film.

In this way, the individual can be understood as a text. The individual writes her identity even as her identity is written for her. She both constructs and participates in systems of signs. Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl literalizes this conception of the individual. In translating a Self into hypertext, Jackson realizes the individual as a porous, polysemic entity.

It seems that hypertext is the perfect form to illustrate this. Yet, in navigating the piece, I was confused and unable to immediately understand the purpose. This is perhaps indicative of an inability to comprehend non-linear narrative structures, and thus also indicative of a gap between reality and fiction? I am curious about this affective response to a hypertextual experience…

Last week’s lecture discussion about big data being about you in both the singular and the plural resonated when I read this BuzzFeed article this morning, detailing the ways in which Urban Outfitters describes its customer data to investors with hilariously specific names like “girl who has not yet realized quirky is sexy” and “upscale homeless”.

Immediately I thought that this was the real danger of big data: the use of abstraction in order for capital to assimilate us, sort of like the Post-Industrial answer to Fordist education (in which the consumer was taught what to want) except the other way around. Instead of teaching desire patterns, let them emerge and jettison outliers. It is impossible for a service industry to continue to see returns to scale if it continues to atomize production based on individual consumers. What better way to eliminate the need to do so then to sand down the edges of identities and individuals while claiming that the categorization brings about maximum efficiency?

It bears mentioning that Urban Outfitters is headed by a board that regularly pumps money that it scrapes off the hides of the “upscale homeless” and drops it into big Oil, anti-gay hate groups, and super PACs that work to undermine the radical reform that the financial industry so desperately needs. Coding its buying base in ways that investors can understand and tailor their investment strategies lends Urban Outfitters the epistemological legitimacy it needs to continue to participate in the late capitalist economic order. What then do we do when we’d rather not be called “upscale homeless” or anything even remotely as ridiculous?

In the Intro to “Raw Data”, Lisa Gitelman and Virginia Jackson claim that “we are also subject to data.” (2) I think this is the most engaging quote in the text for several reasons. One of the first points they make with regard to data is that “at first glance, data are apparently before the fact: they are the starting point for what we know, who we are, and how we communicate.” (2) Data is always commonly understood through its ability to “prove” or “demonstrate” an already given existence or fact. However, what the authors brilliantly address is the fact that in order for data to exist, we must exist. Data has to be collected. Data has to be manipulated to tell a story. It is in this sense that we are “subject to data”. This argument makes me think of another course I took this semester on an HBO series called The Wire. References to statistics and numbers are sprinkled in throughout the series with regard to policy making and police enforcement specifically. What the numbers demonstrate on the show is that their human element is consistently ignored. I think that human element is what makes data so manipulatable so that “scientific knowledge is produced – rather than innocently ‘discovered’.” (4)  Rather than objective, as it is commonly presented, data has an outstanding subjective quality to it.

“The solo gamer, wrestling with nothing but machine-bred adversaries, can take full creative license in filling any gaps in the structured narrative… The gamer molds much of the gameplay’s pace and tone. The narrative’s protagonist grows to reflect the user and everything else occurs in the context of this character’s presence and actions. How does the expansion of this gameplay into a multiplayer, networked experience alter the gamer’s perception of centrality?”


I believe we’ll eventually engage with systems that optimize the realization of every user’s desire, even within a “social” space, via elaborate sandboxing/versioning/abstraction. This would preserve centrality. However, the form it takes and the implications of a scare-quoted social remain to be seen.