Real Information or an Ad?

In Safiya Umoja Noble’s article, “Google Search: Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible,” she explores the results Google provides when using “Black girls” and what this means in a historical and social context. I found Noble’s point about the distinction between real information and advertising to be particularly compelling. I recently went through an interview process with a company who aims to maximize clicks on their client’s paid ads as well as natural searches. Until learning about this process, I had no idea how search engines’ results were ordered.

The ability for companies to pay for their website to appear higher within the search results acts to bias the internet. This can be problematic, particularly for Black women as Noble pointed out or minorities more generally, as it acts to reinforce and strength the dominant political or social groups stance. The Dove commercial we saw last week in class is a prime example of this issue. If this ad was one that the company choose to pay more for it to appear higher on the search results, by nature more people would see it. This means that not only are the groups Noble mentions “highly sexualized and even stigmatized” when they are searched for directly, the normalization of racist or misogynist search results more broadly reinforces hegemonic narratives.

https://twitter.com/claud1a_1/status/916962406269685760/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnbc.com%2F2017%2F10%2F09%2Fdove-faces-pr-disaster-over-ad-that-showed-black-woman-turning-white.html

The financial aspect of search engines allows the engine itself to “reflect and re-instantiate the current social climate and prevailing social and cultural values.” Moreover, this major influence in how results appears adds to the cyclical nature of online racial disparities. Google, like many other search engines, denies responsibility for search results despite the fact they are not random or based upon popularity alone. However, studies such as the case of the Google searches conducted in 2011 illustrates that this is an issue of the digital age that needs to be addressed.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Digital and Tangible Fidget Spinners

When looking at Jason Farman’s article “Fidget Spinners” on the calendar, I automatically assumed the topic would be the toy designed to spin on its axis and help individual’s focus. The subtitle and actual article made it clear, I was wrong – and should’ve realized earlier as it is a digital studies class. However, I believe there is an implicit connection between the digital and tangible fidget spinners.

via GIPHY

Farman states that the buffering icon is “meant to help us sit back and enjoy our passivity. These icons, try to shift our expectations, modifying our willingness to wait.” This purpose might seem in direct opposition to the infamous tangible fidget spinner. The fidget spinner is a toy that is marketed on the promise of helping people who have trouble focusing due to nervous energy or stress. Its goal is to give them something to do with their hands or a distraction that will ultimately help them concentrate. Unlike the online buffering icon that is characteristic of passivity, the fidget spinner is often used to keep children still when something is going one – like when a teacher is talking. While the purposes of the two fidget spinners are different, the necessary for the tangible toy could have potentially be a result of the internet’s effect on individual’s attention spans.

Individual’s average attention span has been decreasing over time. An article published by the FortuneTech Inc. stated that many scientists believe that “people’s ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information” made easily accessible by the internet. From 53,573 page views, 17% of views lasted less than 4 seconds and only 4% lasted more than ten minutes. Furthermore, scientist found that if a website contains 111 words or fewer, 49% of individuals who click on the page will read all of the content. However, if an article contains approximately 593 words, only 28% of users who access it will read all of the content. Has information overload and modifications to our willingness to wait impacted the human attention span? If so, the two fidget spinners are more related than one may originally think.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Parallels in Motivation, the Freak Show and Scambaiting

Lisa Nakamura’s journal article ‘I WILL DO EVERYthing that Am Asked’: Scambaiting, Digital Show-Space, and the Racial Violence of Social Media explores the conditions present in society that allows these memetic images to circulate the web. On page 270 of the article, Nakamura argues that this phenomenon is the viral version of the postcards and posters associated with the Barnum Museum and traveling shows. I believe the parallels between freak shows and scambaiting extend to the motivation behind each phenomenon.

Through her work, Extraordinary Bodies, Rosemarie Garland Thomson explores the success of the 19th century American freak show. Much like Nakamura’s argument about memetic images, Thomson argues that these shows were designed for entertainment and monetary purposes. However, Thomson takes her article a step further by concluding that these shows were also meant to ease the anxieties of the “average” American. The author attributes a large proportion of the American freak show’s success to its ability to assure the masses that they were normal in comparison to those on display. The American freak show illustrates despite the country’s vocal emphasis on being a melting pot and valuing individual differences, individuals work to create a social hierarchy in which they feel powerful.

                                American Freak Show

The parallels between these two arguments lead me to wonder more about the motivation behind scambaiting. While individuals “operate under the sign of fun and amusement” (p. 261), what are the true motivations behind their actions? Does it resemble those who created and frequented freak shows or reflect some other implicit or explicit bias?

 

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. “The Cultural Work of the American Freak Show, 1835-1940.” Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. 1st edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. 55–80. Print.

 

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Intro to Digital Studies 2017-09-29 14:02:42

Reaction GIF

via GIPHY

Reaction gif’s are a way for individuals to react to statements, opinions, events, etc. They allow users to convey emotions through an animated image. Conventionally, as seen in the first image, reaction gifs contain an individual’s entire face. This provides more context and makes the emotion the gif is conveying clear. Taking this convention into mind, I decided to focus on one small part of the face in my counterexample. By zooming in and focusing on a small part of the face, viewers lose some of the context. This allows for a broader range of potential interpretations. Shock is the obvious emotion being conveyed in the first gif. However, when we take the same action (a blink) and zoom in, suddenly the gif could be attempting to convey various emotions. The second gif illustrates that a blink could mean any variety of things including shock, boredom, tiredness, etc. The unspoken convention of including the entire face acts to provide context and streamline interpretation.

Cinemagraph

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Cinemagraphs are a version of gifs where only one aspect of the image moves. It is commonly associated with being artistic, grand, or classy. In recent years it has become a popular technique for advertisers as illustrated by the first photo. This image utilizes cinemagraphs to advertise hairspray by having a model’s hair blow in the wind. The image appears very high class and artistic. The counterexample we created only as one part of the image, the drool, moving which classifies it as a cinemagraph. However, the photo has a comedic or even crude effect causing it to deviate from the normal use of a cinemagraph. By changing the purpose of the image we are critiquing the purpose and challenging the artistic or even pretentious connotation surrounding cinemagraphs.

Sports GIF

via GIPHY

Sports gifs are known for displaying the most intense plays, epic fails, or entertaining reactions. The first image shows an intense catch resulting in a touchdown and embodies this category of gifs typical use. In our counterexample, we decided to create a parody of this category by making a sports gif in which nothing happens. In the second image, you can see the players from Oregon and Kansas prepare for play to start and then we can assume a whistle is blown, despite not having audio, all of the players stand up and start wandering around. The anticlimactic nature of this gif acts as a critique to sports gifs.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Define Delete

I was particularly intrigued by a quote on page three of “What is a File?.” The authors state: “It is important to bear in mind that all of this work, all these doings are not necessarily seen or understood by users.” The idea that users do not completely understand the inner workings of files or technology at large became more compelling to me when coupled with the example of deletion. What happens when users “delete” a file, particularly when it has already been uploaded to social media sites?

https://imgflip.com/i/ygk1f

This meme illustrates the difficulty in deleting Facebook, or photos from it, that users experience. Photo from: https://imgflip.com/i/ygk1f

In 2012, a Venture Beat article was released revealing that deleting a photo on Facebook did not permanently get rid of the photo. When a user clicks delete, the photo disappears from their album and profile. However, if someone had copied the direct link to that photo it is still easily accessible. This means that until the photo is directly wiped from Facebook’s servers, it is still available for not only those with access to the server but the general public. The article did not mention how often Facebook wipes or updates their server to permanently delete these files. However, the authors were able to find photos that users had deleted in 2008 or four years before the article was published.

This illustrates a discrepancy between what users believe delete means and how those who engineered the technology define the word. Much like the word “file”, deletion in this context acts as a boundary object between users and computer scientists. The paper defines failure of a boundary objects as the inability of both sides to “get on with their concerns.” (page 4) This boundary can break down when users believe they deleted something from an online platform but it could come back to affect them later. This is increasingly relevant as privacy concerns become a widely debated topic.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Social Media – Public to Political

Rosenweig’s article “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet” clearly mapped the transition from the internet being a government funded technology used primarily for military purposes to a popularized medium to foster communication. I was particularly intrigued by the internet’s transition from a tool for bureaucrats to a part of everyday culture because I feel like this process has been reversed in modern times as exemplified by social media.

Sixdegrees.com emerged in 1997 and is considered the first form of social media. The website allowed members to list any connections (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) in order see and communicate with people from around the world that they were separated from by six degrees of freedom or less. This website and those that followed gave rise to blogging and many new forms of social media. Six Degrees or more modern examples such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were originally created for the general population but have become an integral part of bureaucratic processes. Not only is it nearly impossible to log onto social media sites without being informed of your friend’s political opinions, these platforms have become a tool for bureaucrats themselves.

Barack Obama was the first President to ever issue a tweet. His successor, Donald Trump has taken it a step further as his time in the White House has been coined as the “Twitter Presidency.” Not only was Twitter a key component to his strategy during the election, it continues to be a way that he communicates with the public. Twitter and other forms of social media have changed strategies of political campaigns and what it means for a President to go public. This is just one example of how social media’s purpose has been expanded into the bureaucratic world.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Virtual Reality Through Farman’s Lens

Virtual Reality is in the middle of the process Farman describes using the kaleidoscope and Iphone as examples. This relatively new electronic equipment creates a three-dimensional computer simulation of an environment that can feel real to participants. If this technology was being assessed by the standards Farman used to evaluate kaleidoscopes and Iphones, VR would be beginning its introduction into common culture. Much like the other technologies, critics could fear that people will become too engrossed in the virtual world and forget their real world responsibilities. Some may even argue that the lack of inhibition within a virtual world could have dangerous implications for real life behavior. The article tended to only address the negative feedback surrounding the introduction of new technology into society. When thinking about VR through this lens, I thought it would be interesting to take it a step further and see how the new technology could contribute to society.

In 2015, a member of Google’s virtual reality design team, Alex Faaborg, gave a Ted talk about what must be considered when designing this equipment and its possible implications. Faaborg focused primarily on art and education. I was particularly interested in the implications VR has for education. Google’s goal when producing this technology was to allow children to see and experience what they are studying. For example, after reading Romeo and Juliet they could take a virtual class trip to Verona. This form of virtual experiential learning could help instill students with curiosity and help them enjoy learning. The Ted Talk made me wonder if this could be taken a step further. Could VR be produced at a low enough cost and used to provide underserved students in developing countries with academic lessons?

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat

Manipulation and Humanity

“Oh, and I’m sorry about Linda, in the arcade. I was hoping to speak through her, but I’m generating all of this out of your memories, and the emotional charge…. Well it’s very tricky. I slipped. Sorry.” (p. 119) The scene of Case and Linda in the arcade, as well as Deane’s explanation of the interaction, brings up many interesting aspects of the story line. While in the matrix, Case finds Wintermute but is detected and must quickly escape. He wakes up outside and arcade and finds Linda before being woken from this memory. A common theme throughout Neuromancer is the break between the mind and body. The body is often referred to as meat, illustrating the lack of value placed upon it and the individual. For me, this scene took that separation a step further. As Case comes out of the arcade scene, the author describes the memory hitting him like a “microsoft into a socket. Gone. He smelled burning meat” (p. 117). Comparing Case’s memory to a microsoft is another example of the body being seen as a machine. However, what I believe takes this a step further is the smell of burning meat. Is this symbolic of Case further losing his identity or even his humanity?

During Deane’s, or rather Wintermute’s, explanation of Case’s interaction with Linda, it comes out that it was an unsuccessful ploy to allow Wintermute to communicate with Case through his memories. This is just one of the many times Case has been manipulated since the start of his mission. In the beginning of the book, Armitage provides Case with the surgery that will allow him to enter cyberspace once again. However, there is a catch, he also puts sacks of toxins in his blood that will undo the results of the surgery if Case does not complete his mission on time. During chapter nine, readers are given more insight to why Case is being manipulated. Wintermute is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and has been the one giving Armitage his assignments. Additionally, Wintermute, who has been disguising himself as Deane, reveals that he is only one-half of a “potential entity” (p. 120). This conversation provides a lot of insight to readers about the motives behind Case’s missions but leaves them intrigued about the other entity that Wintermute referenced.

Knowles, N. (2016, October 21). [Neuromancer Illustrations]. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from https://natalieknowlesart.com/category/neuromancer/Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. Penguin Group.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Kat