Data, visibility and agendas

I have been working on an independent project for the last couple of months. I surely enjoyed it. However the task, I will outline some of my reflections.

The project was about the level of poisonous and life threatening levels of mercury (amongst many other acronyms) in the soil of a once lovely area of centre Italy: Ciociaria.

Those who know something about cinema are familiar with the area and its history. However, it is another story. We have collected data from the local ASL (like the local NHS), compiled and analysed it, gathered everything that s available online with regards to experiences of cancer, animals with blue tongue and so on and so forth especially for two cities: Colleferro and Ceccano, where the level of thyroid cancer, pulmonary diseases, and all sorts of  medically challenging cases of leukaemia have made Ciociaria one of the most poisonous areas in the country Surely, these two cities are not alone because the wild industrialisation the are has been experiencing has migrated very often. Metal first, pharmaceutical when there was the pharmaceutical boom and now services, with the boom of big shopping centres, massive IKEAs that will be sitting above historical sites. Of course, waste management is not something we can forget. In fact, in some data we gathered, we noticed that in 2013 600 tons of so-called “organic vegetables” have been shipped from an area south of Ciociaria. Funky stuff that was not mentioned to these artsy fartsy bobo…the tomatoes were grown on waste sites.

Anyway, nothing really new. Everybody has taken to Social media, traditional media, published books and compiled statistical evidence about the need to sanitise the area, the river (did I mention it? oh no. That s the part we re still analysing along with the calcium deficits caused by thyroid problems), the river banks and the soil.

All this long story to say: where is that statistics becomes a place of resistance in this particular case? There has been quite a lot going on about Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s connection between lack of data and lack of policies (to protect children in her case). However, how is data and statistical evidence, the rather big movement that has taken to streets, social media and the like to be considered? Shall we start to think that big data, algorithms, onto-epistemological reasoning of the being and blabla is becoming yet another academic (hence funded) mental masturbation with no ‘connection’ to what is happening?

Surely, this could be applied to any other event, case or situation but I have been working on this one….surely the concept of political agenda comes to mind. So, if there is a political agenda -and surely the Camorra as usual- how can we really talk about data in relation to and function of a grand political design? The issue I see, and have been seeing in the last conferences I attended and participated to is that there is a considerable possibility to do with data what we did with the Internet. Making it become a ventriloquist that gives a voice to the voiceless. Without considering the “usual”  social fabric and political consequences we -as researchers- are so strongly trying to forget.

Cultural Topology, networks and slaves

Celia Lury and Luciana Parisi, Tiziana Terranova and even Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti. I was wondering what they would say if they were to read this post (which of course they will not read!).

For almost two weeks now I have been preparing a module on Digital Media, Identity and Gender. As usual, to avoid the panopticon situation I lived while in Middlesex, I have asked friends, colleagues and family to give me harsh feedback on my lessons and slides. I was given the advice to follow a very detailed book on the topic and since my circle knows the panopticon situation of middlesex, they strongly recommended to just follow the book. “if you have the same sort of crowd, they can go to Cameron and complain; you followed the best book”. So I did.

They were right to the point where I got to the LGBTs section, which I found rather…inappropriate. So I started looking for alternative publications, alternative points of view and all went down to the fact that we are sort of bringing embedded notions of sexual identity online, through websites and blogs, facebooks and tweets. So, basically we are re-proposing the body as a symbol of strength and sexuality as a symbol of attractiveness.

I am new to the LGBTs academic analysis and I find it fascinating, ethnographically-focused, precise, never generalisable. I don t even know how, I kept reading and learning and my path crossed with that of pornography and feminist pornography. Our path had already crossed ages ago but then my ‘women’s power through data’ obsession made me forget it even existed. I see how hegemonic masculinities are more than ever a useful concept and even how the male gaze is still a burden in our societies. When I saw the LGBTs I felt a bit like Butler when she heard about queer theory fr the first time  (and she apparently asked: what is queer theory?) 🙂

Across all different sides of the debate, pornography is either distrusted or considered a form of art. I have no opinion really. However, I decided to get into the topic.

Found interestingly enough the following results:

– massive amateur communities

– massive erotic how-to-do sort of videos

-revolting “slave” “submission” themes

Let me start with the first point: amateur porn

I selected some basic websites -> youporn and pornhub. Funnily enough, I could do some traffic analysis and found how especially youporn is like a hub where different nodes can link to.

It is a rather big community allow me to say! Wives swap, hubbies swaps, threesome, neighbourhood orgy…Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary; how many times have we watched -willingly or not- Made in Chelsea, Desperate housewives and Beverly Hills 90210 where everybody slept with each member of the group at least once. The downside of this -and other- cluster is the lack of complexity. Hence my interest in looking at the different narratives of “straight porn” and “LGBTs porn” ->  any literature would be highly appreciated.

What is interesting from a “digitally sociological” (?) perspective is the amateur culture of voyeurism and exhibitionism I have tried to get my head around at length. Anyway, one thing led to another and I found: arab produced porn. In particular what I could see are forums where pictures can be uploaded, downloaded and shared. I have found so far 3rab nar.com and 6bat.net. Both are forums so no apparent presence of videos on the site although videos are available on youporn, (must be cause their label is all over the site) and, they also have inviting (lol) commercials on… youtube! And I thought that youtube blocked Indie music along with bad content! What a fool!

I am still studying the phenomenon so again, any literature or any current research on this, please do let me know. Any thought and even conference papers on this would be highly appreciated.

3rab
3rab-nar stats
6bat
6banat stats

 

Let’s move to the: erotic DIY

Interestingly enough, there is a rich plethora of videos with “erotic” keywords along with “kamasutra” and “tips”. I like this DIY attitude. Makes me think that there is a community of men and women trying to learn and be more effective; espeically teen agers since I was not asked my age on porn hub and I was asked to promise I was 18 on youporn!

 

 

Let’s move to the section that makes me sick and angry at those who defend pornography and also makes me wonder how the topology of digital culture is taking a turn we couldn’t ve expected or, very simply, freedom of the net is a rather oblique concept that doesn’t sit with who owns the underwater fiber optics. For years I  thought that being part of the net freedom movement would mean that alleged hackers could allegedly play playstation with servers. We usually associate freedom with Anonymous.

In my investigation born out of ignorance of the LGBTs academic theories, I ended up in a brutal world. Don t get me wrong, I am aware of the dominatrix reality (I watch CSI thank you very much) and I am aware of the current debates around the rape culture of Games of Throne or Thrones.

However, let me share the keywords I could find associated to brutal sex videos. Although domination and slavery seem to have a egalitarian distribution, believe me, there are only a handful of videos where some sort of enslaved woman was not tortured and raped by men. Fiction or not, it is an open space; and even if we were within a closed environment, how is this different from the tremendous messages of KKK or the many homo-phobic movements we are continuously trying to erase?

submissive spank slave domination chain

 

My questions lays not so much on why these videos are released. Surely there is an audience and I cannot argue with that. What is instead rather questionable is what sort of networked culture  we are talking about in this specific environment. We go on and on about terrorists using the net to propagate hate. Isn’t this hate and cult of suffering? Can we say that we are creating a “we”, a global and transnational solidarity when allowing these videos to be displayed? If not, when and where do we draw the line? What is in these keywords? How can we describe these ‘communities’ and how does freedom become a tricky concept? Is freedom endangered when I argue that these videos shouldn’t be released? Would education have the effect of negative freedom? We pretend we don t know because when we enter those keywords in Google, we don t see them as coming up. And if they do, the algorithm gives them a certain hierarchy so that women’s domination becomes a wikipedia result and not a video lost in some place in some hub. So, no data, no trace; no trace = clean conscience.

Once and again, I would be rather reluctant to see government intervention of content production and consumption and I find the criminalisation of porn audience preposterous, narrowminded and fascist. What in those platforms was seen as entertainment is something I research on a daily basis and describes the pain of torture, and looks very much like this:

feminicidios images

I have chosen not to share the graphic images;

In both cases the roles of male domination is evident; the lack of respect toward the (woman’s) body is doing nothing than transferring our off-line trapped minds into an online environment where interest can be very much lead to aggregation (we join communities because we like them bot because we were born in them).

However, the idea of the networked culture and cultural topologies come to mind. How would Judith Butler describe this “we” that is girlifying the girls and boyfying the boys despite their chosen gender?

 

 

Networks: analysis not ontology

First of all, I lost my password and couldn’t retrieve it (thank you wordpress for blocking me every time!) and it s been hell because wordpress sends me dead links to restore the password. Anyway, enough of my personal life. The title deserves attention and so does the topic I want to discuss or address (or simply write about).

There is a growing attention towards network analysis and mapping; flashy (sort of) tools have been developed and are still developed in the world of “digital sociology”. I was somewhere recently; some students presented themselves as “digital sociologist”; apart from the enormous respect (and genuine envy I suppose) I have for those who dare call themselves sociologist after a degree or a master (are doctors ever -or worse, always- doctors? but this is another story) I want to focus on the stress I have picked up in some contexts, literally, the stress of squeezing theoretical frameworks into tools developed to “map” the net.

Do we have to squeeze our theoretical thinking into the capturing of relations as happening online? I haven’t got an answer of course; the question is problematic. We are in a situation where new media are becoming old and where words are moving away leaving space to images; we live in a situation of short lived ideologies that must be taken into consideration not in terms of how they can be seen as co-word or co-occurence phenomena but in terms of specific digital phenomena not suitable for old “digital sociologists”. At the same time, I would say that the idea that the link will be the constant of the web is wishful thinking. The constant will be the code; try get a short link to work after some time!

But also, how about the idea of emergence in relation (or vicinity) to epistemology and ontology? It took me four years and loads of readings to understand where the difference stands and the discourses around the two. If we talk about a network, aren’t we talking about something that -although recognising the difference between epi and onto- tries (attempts, strives) to overcome the difference and see how the idea of the network can point at a socio-technical imbroglio, a human-non-human quasi-cyborg dimension?

I like the idea of looking at the inner differences of Facebook and Twitter, their being rather heterogenous ecosystems, layers where connectivity takes control and networks become inevitable and much-necessary “tools” of visualisation but, really, do we want to declass network to a “method of analysis and not ontology”? Are we slowly going back to the dichotomy that 30ish years of STS and ANT (and non-clustered philosophers like Barad) have tried to overcome? Are we really risking this for, let’s say, Facebook where activity is decreasing and Target Audience is older and less active?

Although I see the logic of looking at the hyperlink as the constant of our current reality, I think the real constant is code. And as history has taught us, it is probable that digital evolutions will bring us somewhere different; somewhere we still cannot envision. For example, there is a come-back of TV with its important digital enhancements; more and more behavioural attitudes are being used to launch very tailored, sophisticated campaigns (contextual advertising, semantic advertising etc…). Although academia is not focused on the commercial use of these hybrids, what will happen when Instagram (now Facebook) will be scraped for common facial/background/contextual features and data borrowed by a TV channel/company? It is only a hypotheses of course. What when the alleged software used to allegedly find Bin Laden through the analysis of the background will become commodity? Surely we will still be justifying the choice of the network as an analytical tool but, what will this switch tell us? Will we become a digital version of Modern Times where we will mechanically  collect and collate URLs and visualise networks or will we still be able (or have the courage) to think critically in terms of interpretation of data and its sociological (or ethnographic) nature?

I think these questions should make us question the complexity of the reality we are living in; where we could see Google as the necessary point of passage (to use Latour) I would argue the necessary point of passage is the digital in its many forms, the code that allows traffic to be disciplined. Let’s not forget that cybernetics was inspired by the behaviour of cats and cows!

Is a network a purely ontological or a purely analytical entity? is it an entity? I think it is both things; the idea of mapping the network is not that of focusing on one page, representing the comments, likes, but it is about asking ourselves how is this particular aspect of my research altering, shaping or even contributing to the complexity of the reality I am observing and -as we all know- immersed into? I really think we should very much focus on our ideas of the map and topology and network as complex onto-epistemological concepts that are pointing us to our every-day life: technology has become a prosthetic extension (this is the genius of McLuhan/Braidotti, surely not mine!) and data will further extend our techno-existence.

 

Although I completely agree with the idea of the heterogenous ecosystem, ecosystem is a very networked idea too. I think the thing we are missing at the moment is the cross-platformed forma mentis. Let alone the relevance of looking at the multi-layered context. But of course, that is not generalisable.

 

 

 

Digital junk

Digital media and digital humanities are becoming rather central in any field. Law has now opened the door to digital legislations against any respect for constitutional rights; governments engage with social media and restrict (read: filter) content published and ISP block access and send threatening emails to those who hide IP address, download TOR or are Torrent fans.

I have talked somewhere else about the Bakunian idea of the commune and how Anonymous could be considered the ‘voluntary militia’ that could bring the revolution he so passionately embarked on and -repeatedly- fell for. Despite ideological biases, which -I would argue- do not spare anybody, Bakunian ideas of revolution and voluntary militia are not just purely politically anarchical but can be easily applied to current ‘short-lived ideologies’. I see that the central point of the centrality of the issue, the ‘voluntary militia’ that assembles online and does something (from movies’ chitchats to cyberfeminist marches) has its flip side of the coin. Not necessarily bad of course! I’ m talking about short-lived ideologies that can be summed up in # and can generate loads of attention…and data-junk. Data that is stored (whether you want it or not there is a trace) but not really ‘cared for’.

The idea of waste is not mine. I assisted to a very brilliant and witty talk about waste by a Goldsmith reader and the idea is fascinating. I talked about it and expanded it to academia and its now-turned corporate functioning. But waste is ontologically and epistemologically interesting in the current world order, our world order. (footnote: I am aware of the theory of rent. I am exploring it too!)

When we think waste, the thought is one of ‘rubbish’, ecological damage and economic cost (or cost opportunity); the opposite –and consequence- of production and over-production. But looking specifically at the ontological essence of our digital world, we have ‘junk’ everywhere; in the form of space, data, hyperlinks and history. I am referring to the early 2.0 days (not even a decade ago sob) where blogs were ‘the’ big thing and everybody was not too stressed nor too tired (lol despite we worked more) to write, brag about our knowledge; have our ‘epiphanies’ as a friend would say. We would have followers and would follow. New platforms came along. And I am talking about the practice of writing your thoughts (or other people’s that ‘s easier) in 140 characters like in old mobile phones; the ‘I m sociable and even make my movie’ sort of platform and many others “selfies” to follow. I mention only two because I hear so much about them but there is no intention to neglect other forms of cultural production (and ‘junk’).

 

The overall idea is that of a digitally produced culture that finds its space on platforms that are capitalistically owned. But this is not the point; or at least it is not my point. The cultural production we are ‘producing’ turns into ‘waste’ in no time. There are approximately tons of inactive blogs worldwide, Facebok pages with Xn likes and approximately a like/comment ratio of .3, Twitter analysis is always a disappointment if looking at what I address as the ‘factual’ (I ve done my readings of Kant thank you very much!) tweets/retweets and when looking at the ‘influencers’. Google news has revamped the almost-obsolete concept of ‘agenda setting’ despite its great zoo of algorithms.

 

The trend is to say “content is king” and I would agree with it. But, if that were the case, where is this content going? Who is producing content? But most importantly, how long for is the content relevant? If content is the king, how extensive and how ‘powerful’ is this king? An Italian intellectual –now-turned-celebrity in France wrote that one day we will open the window of power and it will be empty, there will be nothing there to pick, choose, kill for or resist to. Although it makes me think of the 2012 crisis in Italy and the long queues outside the Milan Apple store, this reflection is much deeper than one could think.  Another very interesting thinker also argues that we will be forced (it will be painless surely) to enter continues ‘crises’, many different ‘bubbles’ that will eventually burst and leave us with new challenges and new opportunities (in mutande as we would say in Italian). But, at the same time, I would argue, we are already living a moment where cultural production is powerful but in new ways; it is no longer crisis-led. I am afraid but I must agree with those chaps that in 1947 actually used “cultural production” negatively and pessimistically as cultural industry where ‘trends’ # and #selfies[1] become more relevant and will re-write many of current theories of power, resistance, ideology, and epistemology/ontology.

Why is that? I assisted to a very interesting conversation with some marketers; young students who have opinions and use social media. And something caught my attention, the clash between ROI and PR through Social Media. Well, I would like to expand this thought. Focusing on content production, distribution and usage. Content is produced in new ways, new forms, short, long, images, pictures #selfies (again!).  It emerges; it is there and it can be stored and retrieved. It is a sign of our existence, a proof of our being and becoming (idiocratically or not?).

Cultural forms are nowadays technologically mediated and ‘authorised’ ontologies are being redefined and re-written in light of the computational and algorithmic turn of our current technological lives. A very interesting article on Elsevier by a very clever woman I had the pleasure to meet highlighted how the ‘trash’ left by Mexicans in their sad Sonoran desert walks towards the USA tells a story; a story that sees new forms of economy emerge (the production of black water bottles so to avoid sun reflection during the day) but also a story of desperation and rescue, hope and despair. I would invite people to think of the current ‘junk’ traces left on our digital world. Inactive blogs, obsolete # that we have, one way or another, stored; liked facebook pages with no activity, instagram liked pics that have been ‘abandoned’; lost relevance (cybernetics again). The desert becomes the platformed reality O’Reilly so much acclaimed and the migrants are us, all of us, who have left a trace, a piece of very valuable junk that will contribute to the making of history, our history as well as future history.

Our world has always being about understanding it, either through Cartesian and Kantian categorisations or through entropic approaches to matter. Digital Humanities will need to start looking at those traces, that junk that’s left behind.

The idea of the junk I am putting forward is one of abandonment, forgetfulness, but not trash; traces of parts of us (in this case cultural production however trivial and mundane)  left -for now-. It is not rubbish, it is not trash; it is junk, it is something redundant available (or scattered?) all over the desert. Although the difference between trash, junk and waste seems not to be marked, I would argue that in the long run, we won t be able to talk about rubbish because it is not rubbish. Culture is always culture, however mundane it is. It is not. Thinking in terms of our daily job: is it good to delete a mail or put it in junk? Junk is irrelevant but not trash yet. And this is the idea of junk I am using. Redundant cultural production that had relevance but retains agency. I am not going to explain what I mean by agency here but Barad/Cannizzaro influence is rather clear. It is part of our becoming something new, something else, it enriches our very selves and works along with institutionally approved apparatuses and is perhaps more ‘true’ or perhaps more ‘multiple’ to us than these apparatuses like the trash left behind by the Mexicans that tells as a new, multiple story of illegal migration than any reports. A story that is encapsulated in water bottles, altars to the Virgen De Guadalupe, old traditional clothes scattered on the floor and blankets. Those “desert/ed”  belongings (material as well as cultural) that retain history and tell a story, become exhibitions or are destroyed by the desert.

What Digital Humanities should start looking at is the overall junk scattered on our Sonoran desert, making sure that natural deterioration (in this case new technological algorithmic zoos) do not turn it into trash too well, too soon.

 

 


[1] A small note. No reference I promise. Please see the new Samsung “selfie camera and then watch Idiocracy and please, laugh.

Big Data Big Data

Big Data is the new academic debate. It seems to receive loads of attention at least from my understanding.
 Virtualisation, control demand, power, knowledge, restrictions, anti-hacking developments and such are being discussed and represent a major concern especially with regards to freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, content control and contention and other issues that are quite important, especially if compared to the general principles of Human Rights.

The funniest part of the matter is that talks on virtualisation big data storage and big data analysis started in the media and marketing industry in 2007; at least in the UK the crisis and the big mess banks created raised the question of “what now?”.

Virtualisation white papers, ICUs and other very interactive and cute tricks to show off how “thought leader” such and such clients were, populated B2B sites. How to convince that our super mega server can store more data and take less space than the competitors? Shall we organise a roundtable with the support (obviously paid) of such and such technology-analysis publication? Shall we just organise webinars and ask such and such big media rep to gain as many leads as possible? How about conversion?

Another element of concern was education as a source of profit. How to convince local government to spend on such and such server? How to teach them that virtualisation is the next step ahead? How to make them understand the benefits of integrated campaign and data?

What happens in the marketing sector? It happens that media and marketing agencies want to make sure the client retains the agency by proving how good they are with data. Apart from my overall skepticism with data and statistics (and competence), data became THE next thing, the only way to prevent an agency to disappear as fast as it appeared (if not faster).

So, hey client, with your fees of 10% paid to my agency you can not only get a media and communication plan and strategy; we can also promise you that we can monitor what’s happening “out there” and calculate your ROI.

Now, I think I have never heard anything as blunt and FoBS as this but the meetings had become very much like “we promise you to map and trace your spending and report your ROI”…Here comes the big flow of software (in house, outsourced, real or invented) that would put any conscientious manager in a rather awkward situation. How many likes on FB show that you will buy my product? How likely are you to buy my products? IN the early days of FB boom, keeping track of its users’ analytics was not as impossible. People share a huge amount of information online. Stupidly enough, people are unwittingly giving out information about their favourite colours, their passions, their interests. And not because FB asks but because we add pictures. Anyway, this is another story I m not going to discuss.

What happens when data really becomes a big thing? it immediately becomes a big issue. A client I have heard of had this paranoia of checking advertising spend and sales in each of the 94 countries it was present in. Now, the agency of course rushed into creating an in house stupid software taht would show the spending per brand, per category, per month, per year and show the YoY changes as well as sales volumes…. all of this is ridiculous to say the least. But this is another story. What is striking is the real problem with data: imagine the massive shift of data. From something that was meant to forecast future activities to something that tells you to adjust your strategy through short-term tactics.

Advertising is always a cost. What happens with this huge amount of data we have at our disposal? Very simple: mess. We can promise the client ROI but in reality, advertising is not an investment; until it doesn t produce its results (which means, until my product is not sold), advertising is a cost. Let s bear this in mind. We have to learn how to manage this data. What I see nowadays is a massive waste on how to create the best strategy. The best strategy is the one that uses Social Media wisely and turns all of the likes into redirections to your own website/microsite/anything you want and that makes your client SELL its products. All has to feed back to the marketing funnel. The marketing funnel means that we have to reach a high conversion rate. How do you reach a high conversion rate? By using the data, cleaning it, understanding it and making sure that you are on top of it. The risks of having loads of people talking data and not understanding it is great; and so is the risk of having another big bubble: the Social Media Bubble.