Revisiting Digital Mourning

In class on Tuesday, we discussed different forms of online mourning, and concluded that digital spaces enable affected individuals to connect with the deceased-and with other living people-on an equal plane. Whereas funerals occur once, take place in a set location, and are often closed ceremonies, digital memorial sites (whether Facebook pages,, or online archives) can be constantly revisited and revised. One of these places we explored, “Our Marathon,” resonated with me especially because I am from Boston and have experienced spectating at the Marathon both before and after the events of 2013.

Should mourning be contained by boundaries?Should mourning be contained by boundaries?

I have my “JFK Moment” from when I heard about the bombing; I was in the Chic-Fil-A in Huntersville and had just ordered a sandwich when a New York Times notification appeared on my phone. I first checked with my friends at home who would have likely been at the race to make sure they were okay. Thankfully, they all were. I did not know any of the four people who died from the bombing, nor did I directly know anybody who was injured, outside of mutual friends. Yet I felt some sort of attachment to the story and still do. Today, the site is relatively unmarked. The two explosion locations have been cleaned, and makeshift memorials have been placed in city archives. “Our Marathon” thus becomes a place where mourning lives on. I was affected by the event, but never would have been invited to the funerals of any of the victims. Thus, private grieving would be closed to me. Nevertheless,  I still feel connected to what happened; to think that someone from New Mexico or France wouldn’t be as connected as be simply because of their area code is shortsighted. Such platforms allow the plane of grief to be leveled between all people. Tragedies bring people together; how can media help unite differences in times of happiness as well?


Studio D’s Screens: Where We Look

DIG 210 is my third class in Studio D. As we all know, the room functions pretty differently from other classrooms on campus: moveable desks, a laptop cart, whiteboards around the perimeter, and four monitors make the space pretty flexible. Whereas most rooms contain rows of chairs that face in one direction, Studio D’s design makes students constantly change who (and what) they are looking at. For my observations this week, I focused on the room’s monitors: I know that I don’t have my “go-to” screen in the room, and was curious if other students switched the screens they looked at as well.

The diagram below shows the four monitors in the classroom. On Tuesday, there were three moments in which students were asked to look at a screen: the first and second related to blog posts, and the third related to our discussion on annotating the Apple Watch website. On Thursday, Moment 1 represents a review of the course syllabus, Moment 2 represents pre-Gephi discussion, and Moment 3 occurred after the Gephi demonstration concluded. The following results describe the screens students focused on for each of these moments:

Moment 1: Screen 1: 7, Screen 2: 4, Screen 3: 3, Screen 4: 3, Personal Laptops: 10

Moment 2: Screen 1: 6, Screen 2: 6, Screen 3: 3, Screen 4: 3, Personal Laptops: 9

Moment 3: Screen 1: 5, Screen 2: 2, Screen 3: 2, Screen 4: 0, Personal Laptops: 18

On Thursday, The following results describe the screens students focused on for each of these moments:

Moment 1: Screen 1: 1, Screen 2: 1, Screen 3: 1, Screen 4: 3, Personal Laptops: 20

Moment 2: Screen 1: 2, Screen 2: 0, Screen 3: 1, Screen 4: 10, Personal Laptops: 13

Moment 3: Screen 1: 2, Screen 2: 2, Screen 3: 2, Screen 4: 7, Personal Laptops: 2

Thus, it becomes clear that students in Studio D do not focus on a single screen; instead, they alternate the direction toward which they pay attention. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing- or neither. It certainly does contrast sharply with typical classroom settings, at least. Tuesday saw more students looking at the screens across the classroom’s walls than on their own devices.

Class Diagram
Class Diagram


Expanding the “Small World Phenomenon”

David Easley and Jon Kleinberg’s chapter on graphs provides an instructional background on the mechanics of visual aids. Their explanations on distances between nodes, paths, and connectivity, however, read as overly specific. Developing “basic network properties in a unifying language” (23)  for graphs sounds unnecessary to a common reader because the very point of graphs is to make information accessible without the need for complicated directions. Visuals are so prevalent in our daily life that directions are unnecessary. Even seemingly private information made available to us with visual aids, like our Facebook data, is immediately digestible. Reconsidering how graphs are established, however, allows us to find similarities between visual aids that may be unexpected.

Through their discussion on social media, Easley and Kleinberg hinge upon a link between visual maps and connections with friends online. They introduce a concept named the “small-world phenomenon— the idea that the world looks “small” when you think of how short a path of friends it takes to get from you to almost anyone else” (35). The Guardian’s article on internet privacy opened our eyes to how closely linked humans are- even people who don’t know each other. I would argue that other graphs also work to shrink distant locations, and apply the idea of social network analysis to physical geography. Easley and Kleinberg use airline routes and subway maps to illustrate the graph’s ability to document “direct connections.” Shrinking one-hundred city blocks into twenty orderly dots makes an urban environment look compact. I can travel across an entire city by making a few stops along this lined? A flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, a fifteen hour flight across an entire ocean and continent, can be reduced to a two-page spread in a magazine. That journey looks pretty simple. As previously mentioned, graphs are incredibly accessible and benefit from not needing the mechanical directions provided by Easley and Kleinberg in their chapter. One thing graphs lack, however, is a sense of context. While they may be easy to read, their simplicity may imprint “the small-world phenomenon” on geography as well as people. Accessibility comes with a cost; whether or not such a cost is positive or negative is up for debate.

Vancouver and Amsterdam are only a magazine page away


(You can’t) Have it your way: The Data Double Standard

Tuesday’s class ended with a discussion of involuntary data collection, or the process by which organizations gather information on individuals without expressed permission. Thinking of my upcoming spring break trip, I argued that airlines participate in this form of data collection without explicitly letting customers know. A November 2013 Wall Street Journal article on the subject notes the numerous pieces of data airlines obtain from travelers: American Airlines informs gate agents about past traveling history and frequent flyer status, JetBlue informs crew members about birthdays, and British Airways allows flight attendants to write comments about traveler behavior, including fear of flying. This involuntary data collection shouldn’t be surprising. We often provide our personal information to companies in exchange for some benefit, including airline miles, elite status, and a more personalized experience- as outlined by the WSJ article. Airlines are the big fish in this example; we have minimal power in keeping our data from them.

Growing technology-and easier access to data-has recently created a flip flop in this hierarchy: now, the customer can involuntarily mine data on the airline. Aktarer Zamen, a 22 year-old entrepreneur, faced lawsuits by United Airlines and Orbitz Travel in December after the two large companies outlined objections surrounding his site, Skiplagged plays upon airlines’ use of supply and demand. Flights do not necessarily increase in price as distance increases. For example, a flight from Nashville to Boston with a layover in Atlanta may be cheaper than just taking the first flight from Nashville to Atlanta. Skiplagged would find this discrepancy and tell a customer traveling to Atlanta to book through Boston but not board the second flight. Zamen’s website mines airline data to, like the airlines who work to “personalize the flying experience” (WSJ), “help travelers” receive the best possible product (CNN). Whereas airlines mine the customer’s data, Skiplagged serves as an example of a customer mining the airlines’ data.

Airlines clearly stand aware of how powerful the data they mine from customers must be. If they weren’t, there would be no reason for them to be afraid of Skiplagged and other startups that mine data on them. In the future, airlines and large travel sites may not be the only fish mining data in the travel pond.

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Week 4 Data Collection

I wasn’t able to be in class this week, so instead of gathering data in class, I took a look at how our class used the blog. Specifically, I took a look at the frequency of certain words, similar to the State of the Union Adress database we examined.

Data From 2/3: Reader Blog Posts: How many times did Readers use the following words?

Graphics: 2

Works of Art: 2

Photograph: 1

Hemings Count: 13

Jefferson Count: 27

Slavery: 13

Data: 9

Search: 8

The: 118

 Data From 2/5: Kissinger Questions: How many times were the following words used by groups?

Data/database: 2

How: 7

What: 10

Why: 4

Mean: 4

Textplot: 6

Color: 3

Network: 2

Word: 4


The Opportunity Cost of Surveilance

In “From Big Brother to the Electric Panopticon,” David Lyon analyzes two perceptions of surveillance and prompts the question of how such theories relate to the present day. Lyon’s defines George Orwell’s “Dystopia” as the idea of a defined yet veiled form of observation, one where “those under surveillance were unsure whether there was any time they could relax” (60). The “Panopticon,” on the other hand, also involves observation but centers around inspection. Individuals under surveillance become aware of external viewing to the point that they begin to inspect themselves they are “bearers of their own surveillance” (66). Through modern processes of data collection—from license plates to Internet searches—Lyons suggests that we have become increasingly aware of surveillance in our everyday habits. The developed world has reached the point where “Dystopia” and the “Panopticon” have become realities.

     Few, if any, people can prevent surveillance in the twenty-first century; I argue that we accept our residence in an observation-dominant world in exchange for connectivity. The same technologies that blur “distinctions between private and public life” (71) simultaneously bring individual public and private lives together. Facebook, for example, offers “friends” (no matter how close) the opportunity to share photographs and articles, play games, and message. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on the networks his platform creates in his January 1, 2015 update, declaring, “may all our efforts make the world a smaller, warmer, happier, and more connected place this year.” As one interacts to a higher degree with Facebook (and makes his or her world “smaller”), the social media platform’s surveillance increases. Instagram’s ability to offer “suggested” account to follow based on one’s current follow list (in addition to friends I follow National Parks, outdoors photographers, and Boston sports teams—and receive very relevant suggestions) highlights its ability to cater to personal preference, but also its power of surveillance. It’s inevitable that we experience the surveillance theories outlined in Lyon’s article. We now must determine what we’re willing to receive in exchange.

Mark Zuckerberg's first post in 2015 highlighted his  desire to increase connectivity
Mark Zuckerberg’s first post in 2015 highlighted his desire to increase connectivity
Instagram has the ability to suggest pages very similar to my interests
Instagram has the ability to suggest pages very similar to my interests










Lyon, David. “From Big Brother to the Electronic Panopticon.” The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1994. 57-79. Print.