Post Title

The digital turn of our times is opening up debates that put us in a new and so far under-explored situation: that of digital identities as being an extension of our offline caged beings. Please allow me the poetry without the need to academically explain what I mean by that; it is the caged being. It is an old debate. I know! Much is being and has been written about it and I know a very clever person who is going to write about digital culture and the way we are (not going to say how/what/who and the like).

However, the question of the offline-online is still being largely neglected. We talk very much about the algorithmic turn of capitalism; I heard Luciana Parisi talking about algorithm as becoming an ontological ‘something’ and I was fascinated.

However, I would argue, we should also question how is the ‘being digital’ feeding back into the everyday life? How are we selfie-driven? How is our offline life getting into the online world and vice versa?

The UK is the place where we tweet about anything; and it is absolutely good. I am an advocate of sharing thoughts as long as your boss doesn’t sack you. However, thoughts are increasingly becoming images and these images are becoming a continuous flow of instants that we feel the urge to share. Instantly.

In the nice old past, we looked at the Internet as the place where loss of identity, loss of gender, loss of patriarchal constraints would finally happen and we would fly free. Liberty. However, we know that it would be impossible to talk about freedom and democracy; blurred concepts that would lead some people I know say that there is a clash between what democracy is (ontology) and what democracy does (epistemology).

Whatever!

However, what I see from my very basic and down-to-earth-academic perspective is a world continuously merging online and offline, where the online identity is an extension of old (and animated) debates. Which is frustrating for those who looked at the digital world as something that could eventually better our ways of dealing with ourselves. I have asked loads of students why they post on Facebook, why they post pics of themselves everywhere and then feel the urge to share immediately on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The same pic over and over again. The answer is always the same: it s cool. Although I have to say the BAME students I have make sure they have a ‘clean’ profile if they have relatives back home to avoid blame and find alternative ways of sharing (whatsapp or twitter…as if!).

Everybody is adding pictures to their platforms to tell a story. Even LinkedIn is now inviting people to add more personal details, and post adding pictures. Surely, this is good in terms of overall media tracking; just ad a tag and boom. Job done. This is not good if I see people going around with their phones taking selfies for everything; and I mean everything. Near a dumpster, with a client, with a friend, with a new dress (most of the time horrible). Not to talk about ‘chiara is at Virgin Active feeling great’ and the like…I mean…Lula comes to mind!

Positively put, image is becoming the extension of men and facebook and the like are becoming the extension of our identities; a perpetuation of our little lives. But is Facebook just reproducing what we have tried –so insistently- to find online, which is freedom from the overall boundaries we are raised within?

Going back to the point of the social dimension of finding a job through Linked I talked about, I am wondering if this #selfie mania is pervading our offline daily life. I can only see poor man sex-and-the-city people and less and less prepared professionals who can avoid rookie mistakes when dealing with clients and suppliers. Surely, my universe is made of a small % of the western population but still….are we facebook-ising our life making it fit in one standard page made of sketchy (yet superficial) talks and heavy-weighted images?

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?

 

 

Mapping Complexities: women, issues and veiled identities

When thinking “women’s issues” in Middle Eastern countries we associate women, veil, men and burned noses. I think we all remember the “Girl without a nose”

I have recently reviewed a book from Riley and although I found it profoundly biased – there is nothing wrong with being biased but I imagine some of the women I know from ME would agree with me- I must admit that her attempt to work towards a popular-culture representation of women in Middle Eastern (used as a synonym of Muslim or Islamic…I already feel the confusion) countries is striking. Why? very simply because everything is true. the first time I approached my thesis, I had in mind the first chapter of the UN DoHR (we are all equal basically) and the poor Afghan girl whose beautiful face was disfigured by her crazy husband -affiliated or not with the Taliban, he deserves to be locked up in some mental hospital-. Riley’s book made me think a lot. A lot. Although academically problematic because it doesn’t shed a light on the complexity of “woman” in a MESEA context, it is fundamental and it should be read.

And it made me think in terms of association, dis-association, belonging and complexity. The term women is complex and is not just the plural of woman; it entails a complex set of features, characteristics, elements and navigational tools that one embeds since the early age, when we are still embryos whose life is being conjectured and imagined by mom and dad (if and when lucky).
There is a complex set of relations that need to be disentangled in order to be understood.

Some time ago I saw a kid struggling with a toy. A spiderman with a parachute; the parachute was all entangled and the poor mom was desperately trying to disentangle it, trying to find trajectories, putting it closer to her yes and then pull it a bit far, zoom in and out, continuously.

Apply that idea to the concept of the woman; then do the same to the concept of issue, then do the same with the concept “women’s issues” then do the same with women-Muslim-Islam-MiddleEast-South East Asia and so on and so forth…can we really talk about representation of the woman? can we talk about patriarchy without having problems and being paranoid that we are perhaps coming to conclusions before having at least considered the vast array of complexities?

In all this, how can we find our way around? I looked at that mom for almost 45 minutes in the end calling to her husband’s “fresh eyes” and then, eventually, succeeding in her task, accomplishing THE task, and proudly giving the spiderman with his parachute back to her kid. I also figured that it wouldn’t take too long for the kid to try new tricks with spiderman and for the parachute to get entangled once more. Again.

This is the work we have to do today as -and I use a strong term here- as scientists of the social. We must have a scientific approach and be ready that -whatever we produce- will be dismantled and we have to be ready to put our hands up and surrender, open the doors to more complex ideas and not be prisoners of old frameworks. I agree with Butler that certain gender divisions are passively imposed on us. Barad talks about the “girlification” (always referring to Butler of course) that happens when the scan of the foetus reveals the sex of the foetus. it is impossible to resist the temptation of thinking that our girl will be a beautiful engineer who will go to the female equivalent of Eaton, that will be pushed by her wonderful parents to speak mandarin, english ancient greek and perhaps -why not?- even Swedish by the age of three and will sit down with the mom to learn good manners so that by the age of 2 she will be able to eat properly, without dirtying herself, her expensive pink clothes and her beautiful hair.

Conversely, I can imagine any mom whose scan reveals the boy thinking on the discipline, the schools, the clothes. And, in both cases, imagine the grandparents buying Barbies and pink dresess, beautiful handmade clothes (pink or mini-gentlemen versions) and so there is a chain that is established that is cute and scary. Complex and multiple. The foetus becomes a person and this person has already a scarily planned future. it will not become but it is already; it is a she and it is a he; we would be lucky if the overall sphere of expectations and “what’s good for you” didn’t come along. And I am conscious that sometimes we do not have that passive pressure, but this painful aspect cannot be discussed here.

I have heard many couples giving advice on how to raise kids (whether they have kids or not), explaining why kids need to socialise and why they should be “forced” to learn some alphabet even at the age of 2.. I am not an expert parent so I cannot express my point of view (apart from a very Pink Floyd leave-the-kids-alone) but this aspect cannot be neglected. We are before being born and the characteristics of the technological device (the scan) that shows what we are -female or male parts of the human species- also influences (without having an “effect” because effect is a hard one) who we are and projects what we will become.

Scary. So, if we take this perspective and apply to our idea of the woman and then do the same to the concept of the issue and then to the concept of “women’s issues” and then to the concept of Islam and Muslim and so on and so forth, what comes out -take it from me and my experience- is a complex and multiple non-mapping something that is disentangled but re-entangles 10 minutes after having been entangled. So, what is our jobs as “social scientists” or scientists of the social (if we can still talk about a social but this is another story)? it is one of understanding that we will never understand. Some good dude some time ago argued that wise is who knows to know nothing and although arrogant, I guess this is the only way forward.

In the previous post I argued that some (and I repeat some) people are thinking to Facebook as an ecosystem and I agree and I am fascinated by this assumption. So, if an analysis of the above complexity had to extend -as in space-time- to the digital world we are embedded in, we would see complexity and the need to expand this notion of the map, topography and topology to include the way we navigate our lives from when we are not even a fully formed entity and the set of affections -no, not Touring- that cannot (cannot) be forgotten when talking about empowerment and identity. So, how to expand and intersect the world of digital with that of a complex word: woman in specific situations? My question is, if we privilege one – i.e. the scan and the foetus- over the other -the facebook pages that talk about FGM- are we not burning a big chunk of identities? In light of this, are there tools (theoretical or visual no matter) that could help redesigning the concept of the map? A new cartography of complexity?

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.

Learning

“A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning” (Rogers, 1951)

 

Education is becoming a commodity. funnily enough people  tend to complain, sure they know so much they get bored and complain, quietly,  not-so-quietly, not quietly at all. Not a problem sure.Image

 

When you talk about forma mentis, some students think you re speaking German or Swedish. If you explain that things change  and what you need is a method, they think you re talking research methods. I got to a conclusion: people do not want to learn anymore.

Hence, educational commodity or commodified education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

General thoughts on Visualisation tools for Social Networking Sites

Social Networks are becoming an increasingly intriguing source of analysis for interdisciplinary research, mixing and merging algebraic formulas and users activities.  The field of interdisciplinary studies entirely dedicated to what media agencies have been doing since the late 2000s are flourishing and evolving, multiplying and virtually competing to offer the best tool, create the best script and offer a complex and complete analysis of these 2.0 weapons that are changing the world, at least for the time being.

There is a conspicuous list of tools available for free and many of them are very ‘flexible’ or, they can be used to do many things, from calculating social relations to social media activiities to biological network. As long as there is a network, there is a tool.

 

In the specificity of social networking sites analysis, the available tools have two weaknesses, which are going to become three unless something is done. They will be listed and then explained in greater details.

 

  1. Lack of what could be defined ‘data-platform integration’
  2. Lack of what could be defined as ‘mood integration’

 

Data-Platform integration

 

With ‘platform integration’ this post refers to the possibility to integrate data coming from different platforms (twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, emails, blogs) and display it as one, complex and heterogeneous network. To date, this has not been possible especially due to the complexity and the nature of the ‘raw data’. What does it all mean? It is not too complex.

Social Networking Sites analysis relies onto the possibility to study relations (hyperlinks), established between the complex set of objects that constitute the World Wide Web or, an intense cobweb of URLs (nodes). Whether these URLs are users or videos, that only matters when these relations want/need to be extrapolated and studied. There are many ways of extrapolating data from Social Networking Sites. Facebook has launched the GraphSearch, Twitter has its own tools to check who is doing what, what conversations are trendier (#) and what account (@) is more influential in specific geographical locations. Marketing specialists and advertisers can go a bit further and plan a very well geo-targeted campaigns but even the basic and general information offered for free by the tool is nevertheless interesting from a sociological point of view. Universities and other organisations have developed their own tools, which are too many to list; some of them are open, some are exclusive to the developing organization. In all cases, there lacks a data integration, or the possibility to investigate all tools and platforms together, in the same ‘place’, as part of one big network and not as different, isolated platform-related networks. The reason is almost straightforward. Data is harvested different in Twitter because the source is different, the variables are different and because the typology of the data is different from Facebook data. Blogs and forums are another and yet completely different story. In the case of Facebook and emails for example, the data can only be harvested in relation to an ego-network or, only based on what you –user- follow, ‘friend’ (another Facebook revolution: friend has also become a verb) and have a communication with (sender-receiver). This observation brings to the next point.

 

  1. Mood Integration

 

What is mood integration? The answer lies in a long list of questions such as how can we quantify a ‘like’ on facebook and a ‘retweet’ on twitter? How can be quantify and even compare a ‘repost’ and a ‘#’ on Twitter? But questions continue; if we apply traditional Social Network Analysis (SNA), what is the difference between a ‘friend’ on Facebook, a link between two bloggers, a follower on Twitter and a follower on Facebook? How about a connection on LinkedIn and a friend on Facebook?

There is no possible answer. Although we could reduce all of these ‘semiotics’ into an analysis of hyperlinks, the gathered data will be of different nature; which means that unless we manually input every URLs we stumble upon into Gephi, there is no viable tool that allows a researcher to harvest Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums, LinkedIn and emails and create a uniform database.

 

Another problem arises, especially when it comes to collecting, understanding and aggregating data on Twitter.

Twitter has the characteristic of allowing users to open an account, participate in discussions creating hastags, which is nothing more than an issue around which a public is formed. Every user has only 140 characters at her or his disposal; in this very small space, links can be shared, opinions can be voiced and news can be given. Twitter is good for the android users, Iphone fanatics and for people who cannot care less of writing a blog-post. Pictures are shared on Twitter, moods and ideas are displayed. So far we could argue that even Facebook does it, LinkedIn has recently added the ‘status’ and the ‘post’ feature (along with other annoying applications). And they all share the possibility of having the icon directly on the phone screen. With the difference that whereas on LinkedIn or on Facebook nobody would expect a sudden and continuous change of status, Twitter works oppositely: nobody would expect anybody to not tweet constantly. What happens behind the scenes is that an enormous database of information is created, perhaps stored and available for retrieval. Already in 2010 Twitter highlighted the difficulties of having such big data to deal with and launched FlockDB, a graph database able to keep up with the humongous amount of data produced by users at the wake of the Twitter era. What is even more problematic is that there are very few hopes for any researcher who wants to not only have access to a graph database and have a grasp oof big datasets; it is also a problem of historical analysis. Whether we want to extrapolate data and statistics using open access software and tools, whether we go through OAuth and similar or decide to buy them trough Twittercounter for only 29 USD per profile (http://twittercounter.com), we can only retrieve users’ data and only one user at the time;good luck making connections between different users. The problems becomes even more complicated when the # (hastags) want to be analysed. It is possible to recur to the search APIs and gain info on most receint hastags but nothing closer to a historical set of data that can show the evolution of a trend. The creation of an application is rather urgent especially if the study of the hype and/or decline of an issue wants not only be described through a touch and feel and a set of hypothesis but also shown and integrated into a network graph.

 

Shall we go on hypothesizing and hoping to receive a conspicuous grant that allows a researcher spend 20,000 GBP for the acquisition of clean csv reports from twittercounter.com and about the same to have a task force collating information coming from different @? Shall we still go on and hope that at some point in life a very interested and well-heartened developer free of charge creates a hypothetical TwitHisto, an ideal Twitter app that allows us to trace the history of a # and, again, from somewhere 20,000 GBP pop up to aggregate all of the desired and needed # so that to have some sort of idea on how a trend rose, how it developed and situated itself in a broader Twitter (and non) context?

 

These are questions that do not only pertain to the word of developers and to the Twitter staff, which is always duper-helpful to anybody willing to create a new application. It is also a question for academics and especially researchers, those who are in charge of understanding how data can be managed, altered and displayed, displaced and integrated in a way that allows social research to get rid of old methodologies to describe a whole new world of coded information, that lies in a virtual mundaneum that can be anywhere at anytime. It is not only about what to do with a big, volatile and ever changing database; it is also about how to make sure we do have a grasp of it for innovative and cutting edge research.

 

 

The social dimension of job applications

I have been recently getting into the shocking and yet philosophically interesting process of ‘getting a touch and feel’ of the market place.

The experience I had, after many years of being in a very niche market where fights and competitions are fought with a pen like Cyrano de Bergerac, was disastrous. I had already understood the relevance of the ‘network’ when looking for a job position in academia and although disappointing, it is understandable. What is of difficult understanding is the social dimension of finding a job in the UK nowadays.

 

Good luck applying.

 

The procedure is of an extreme length. Since the number of CVs has increased due to a ongoing and well hidden crisis, each recruitment agency asks to register, add personal information, add job experience and, what is most striking, any ‘affiliation’. Then cover letter, CV and any other documents. But. It is not finished. A little window shows up in many cases (and I have to be honest, academia is the same) where four closed questions are asked: do you have a website? Do you have a LinkedIn account? Do you have a Facebook account? Do you have a Twitter account? The answer is YES or NO. the implications are many. As Deleuze and Guattari argued with regards of anorexia, finding a job today is not only a personal problem, it is a ‘psychological’ but it is also social, ethical and philosophical. (Ian Buchanan on Deleuze and Guattari’s body).

 

Economic Scarcity

 

Scarcity is an economic concept. It is associated to deprivation the the old good fart of ‘opportunity cost’. It is a condition that gives way to the creative process of generation. Production. Then, a long Quesnayian circle seems to be established: I produce, you are interested in what I produce, you have something I can be interested in, we exchange. I have an opportunity cost, you have your own opportunity cost, we fulfill our needs and we generate happiness. Seriously. Happiness is an economic concept too.

Scarcity has been used as a pawn for the justifications of capitalism. Scarcity is also a concept that can be applied to the current job situation, especially in relation to what I would address as the “social dimension of finding a job”. The need to have a social space to support a job application is intrusive of any privacy and although it might be easier for employers and recruitment agents to check their potential employees on LinkedIn and read through CTRL+F rather than spending 15 minutes of their lives to ‘analogically’ read a CV (and it is obvious the reference to Carr’s question on whether Google is making us stupid), it raises questions of privacy, accessibility, and psychological slavery. Most importantly, it represents a potential cost-opportunity for an overall system of production. I will explain each of these points telling stories about my friends, interesting people.

 

 

 

 

Scarcity: fees increases and job competition

 

Education in the UK (welcome to Europe) has been suffering tremendously, especially for students. Fees have gone up, modules and courses have been changed, adjusted, chucked altogether and the class division is very much in your face. Lecturing becomes more than ever a challenge for many reasons. The justification to the increase is an unknown decision to cut funds to education, adopt a managerial mind-set that sees academic work as a ‘productive machine’ that has a cost. And I agree. Academia is a massive economy. Anti-capitalist rhetoric aside, running a university is not much different from running a business. Especially if the business we are dealing with is made of intellectuals (or so!) who constantly apply,  are upgraded, promoted and funded.

Students’ fees have gone up, there is a scarcity of support from the government. Students will have to pay more to access higher education. This will create a very lucrative economic circle built on debt, which will make the US look like a debt-free country compared to us. This will create further scarcity of savings. But this is another story.  Once the student enters the market place, there will be a stigma: what university did you come from? Future job applicants will be told that competition is fierce. And it is fierce cause of the European Union and the tons of brilliant and competitive students that come from a ‘Continental’ education. So, in order to get a job you will be invited to be as competitive. Although there isn’t a scarcity of jobs, there is a surplus of applications for the same job.

I have seen a very bright student of mine opening a LinkedIn account and update it with every single activity she does: photography, event management, exec for a small digital agency. Every time there is a little window that pops up and asks me to congratulate with her for her new job. Competition is fierce, I may just want to open a LinkedIn account and show off.

 

Scarcity: Competition, being noticed and issues with privacy and accessibility

 

I have a friend we call “Treccani”, which is the Italian Encyclopedia. Made of more than 30 huge volumes, the Treccani tells you everything. My friend is a living Treccani. He has bad luck with jobs. He applied to everything. Never got a single job he wanted. Always surviving thanks to his many skills. He is a genius with no Facebook; a fake twitter account and rejects any possibilities to activate a LinkedIn account due to his many interests and many different jobs in many different places of the world. He is now applying for academic and non-academic positions but in 20% (for now) of the cases, he cannot proceed with his applications because he is not ‘socially connected’, or, as he says in French, he is not ‘a social media whore’. He has no access to the job application; has no way of circumventing the social media slavery step and apply for the job he wants. Even if he did, I would question whether his being a non-2.0 fan would penalize his applications, compared to a fond user of the 2.0 platforms that records every single paper published (or to be published), has connections, followers and follows, and has interesting and central actors in his/her circle. This could open the doors to mapping the social connections in relation to centrality and prestige but this is not the point.

 

  Psychological “fractional-Slavery”

 

 Tiziana Terranova wrote about the new digital world as a new system of slavery in terms of content production. She argued that blogs, forums and any forms of content produced online feeds back into capitalism and lucrative practices. I have never really agreed with her positions especially because she never really analysed the reason that brings somebody to produce content. The Deluzo-Guattarian concept of the body would become handy here but I will not delve into this. I would be more inclined in reflecting on a deeper element: the performativity of the data sets. Still looking at the job market and, for this reason, to LinkedIn, I would argue that it is not so much about voluntary slavery in terms of content production; it is psychological fractional-slavery in terms of giving away, fully voluntarily, privacy data.

In 2.0 technical terms, a fractional update is a tiny, small update of a pre-existing software. Fractional updates range from add-ons to “status updates” on Facebook. Whereas up until 2009 people would still argue on the utility of telling your Fb friends that you are going to the gym and feeling great, today it seems normal; if looking for a job, it is also considered sociable and, hence, more attractive to potential employers (really? I hope not. I m theorizing here). Actually, if you update your status adding the map of your local gym, tag one of your mates and ‘@’ somebody…it cleary shows how digital-literate you are. Doesn’t matter youhave no idea of the APIs for google map and Virgin Active, doesn’t matter you have no idea how tagging works and what it implies…you ve done it. You re 2.0literate or, more simplistically, you’re giving away information.

Now, let’s move to LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a profile picture, which you better add if you want to avoid the daily emails “Chiara, you haven’t uploaded a picture of you! Do it now and be recognizable!” Hell, that is stalking! Then you put your current and past job positions. Before that, please give a statement. Sure, copy and paste from your CV. And to this point, it is OK. If you choose to be on LinkedIn is because you think somebody may notice you and you could create a network of acquaintances, which you really don t know but…who knows. What happens when even LinkedIn starts pushing you because you are not a fractional-updater? Disaster. Every day you receive an email with your connections sharing articles, posts, interesting questions, new affiliations, new groups etc… this is creating a massive Mundaneum. If the first one was a failure due to space constraints, I believe this new one is going to be the realization of Bentham’s dream! With an addition: a “please tower: notice me!”. So it is not just a disciplinary society that we are building; it is something I cannot even term nor defined.

 

 

Scarcity and production (lack of)

My best friend is very business-oriented. She keeps telling me that “her LinkedIn profile” is updated weekly. And it really is. If you type her name on Google, she shows up on Twitter, FB, LinkedIn other specific platforms I will not disclose. So, I ask myself a very simple question.  if I am spending 20% of my weekly time finding new interesting and potentially useful connections, 20% of my time updating my LinkedIn profile and, let’s say, 20% of my time updating my status (although I may have Atomkeep on my deck that reduces my time to 10%). Add another 10% of my time looking for interesting articles to share. And, let’s be honest, an additional 5% of my time peeping others’ (especially colleagues we dislike) profiles, we have invested (or wasted) between 65% and 75% of our week-time in social activities just on LinkedIn. Add the Facebook and Twitter time (replies, #, @, comments, retweet –although random and not pondered at all). That would mean that on average I spend between 13% and 15% of my working day (assuming I only work the usual 5 days a week) doing this.

I am not sure fractional updates are made in the evening while watching east-enders, Hollyoaks or Channel Four special reports on something intellectual. So…what are the cost-opportunities for production? And If I do this at lunchtime, what is the cost opportunity of my mental health?

 I leave this to recruiters who are insistently asking poor people to be more active on social networking sites.