Category: General

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Today, in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we bring you a compilation of some of our favorite past posts from the Spanish-speaking world. Happy reading! (read more...)

Battery Life: Charging Culture at the End of Energy 

Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone. Vodka-tonic. Take my picture. Charge my phone.  This (or a similar sequence) is an irritatingly common refrain heard by many waitstaff at lower-tier upper-class Instagram-approved destination restaurants in New York City—presumably other variations proliferate throughout the world’s urban centers. While vodka and digital reproduction make fruitful grist for social critique, the focus of the following is on the request to infuse one’s portable appendage with fresh electricity. There are a number of intriguing aspects of this “charging culture,” from its role in the resource consumption chain (Parikka 2015), to infrastructural adaptations appearing in charging societies (Larkin 2013), to the implications of portable appliances on mobility studies (Schiller 2011), to the novel linguistic interactions engendered by electronic communications (Squires 2010). In concert with these developments, the following discusses the metabolism of charging culture—that is, the processes that are necessary for the maintenance of life. (read more...)

Nature-Based Integration: Building Taskscapes Together in Swedish Nature

We’re a diverse group: between us we hail from four continents and our languages include Somali, English, Spanish and Swahili. We’re one of several subgroups that have been enjoying the extremely changeable Swedish summer weather on the second day of a course in ‘nature interpretation’, which aims to teach us to lead others into nature. We’re currently learning by participating in a vocabulary-building game in a forest not far from the small Swedish town of Nora. Scattered around this area of coniferous trees, roots and rocks are various cards, each of which has a number and a Swedish word upon it. These cards have been hidden high and low and we must search for particular ones based on a throw of a die. Upon finding the card we must speak together to ensure we all understand the word. We must then go to one of the organisers and explain what the word meant before rolling again. It’s fun – different groups are scrabbling about the place yelling to one another when they find the card they seek. I’m a little concerned that we’re not really all getting as much out of it as we could, and a couple of my teammates are fairly competitive and rushing around with little concern that everyone understands. One Somali woman, in particular, is much older and less fit than the rest of us with a much smaller Swedish vocabulary. I’m unconvinced she’s fully following along. Our next word is ‘bark’ (same word in both English and Swedish) and we gather to explain it to the organiser. As she struggles to make herself clear in Swedish, another teammate pulls a piece of bark from a nearby tree and presents it to the nonplussed guide. We roll the die and continue with a laugh. (read more...)

[Author Interview] Tom Gieryn and “Truth Spots”

Ilana Gershon interviews Tom Gieryn about his new book, Truth Spots: How Places Make People Believe (University of Chicago, 2018). Gieryn is Rudy Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Indiana University. Truth Spots began with a hunch that places matter in under-appreciated ways, and, in particular, with the question: In what ways does place matter for doing science? To understand this, however, one needs to understand the ways places become authoritative sites because they enable interactive orders that are locatable. Laboratories are counterpoised with sites seen as sparking political movements, sites that become the evidence for scientific classifications, sites that connect one to larger religious movements, and sites in which the future is predicted.​ (read more...)

The Surveillance Cyborg

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our ongoing series, “Queering Surveillance,” and was co-written with Alexander Wolff. Surveillance is an embodied experience, both being watched and watching. The sheer number of concert-goers recording Cher’s “Here We Go Again” concert this past year with their phones had them trade singing and dancing for an act of documentation. Whether the recordings are to remember the experience later, share the experience with others, or to simply document one’s presence in that space and at that time, recording the concert on one’s phone becomes an experience in its own right. They are present in the space, but their attention is about both what is happening in the here and now and the recording that filters the experience in the future. Their phones and recordings are central to their embodied experience, fused into one like a cyborg traveling across space and time in the moment. Add to this that countless concert-goers are recording the same concert from their individuated perspective, and thus the concert becomes infinite and virtual—of course, the way Cher was always meant it to be. (read more...)

Dumbwaiters and Smartphones: The Responsibility of Intelligence

“I don’t have to drink alone,” she paused for comedic effect, “now that I have Alexa.” Thus was the punchline of a story told by a widowed octogenarian at a recent wedding. Alexa is a mass-produced personality that can play music, suggest items for purchase, monitor consumption and health habits, or, like any good friend, just listen. While all these tasks could be performed in silence with various algorithmic appliances, Alexa and her cousins from Google and Apple are imbued with a perceived autonomy directly stemming from their capacity for vocalization. Speech, it seems, beckons the liberation of abiotic materials from their machinic programming. (read more...)

Out-of-Body Workspaces: Andy Serkis and Motion Capture Technologies

Over the last two decades, the entertainment industry has experienced a turn to what Lucy Suchman termed virtualization technologies in film and videogame production (Suchman 2016). In addition, production studies scholars have described authorship as linked to control and ownership, sharpening distinctions between “creative” and “technical” work, a divide with significant economic repercussions (Caldwell 2008).  These ideas are useful in understanding film studio workspaces, where visual effects (VFX) workers and actors collaborate in creating believable virtual characters, using three-dimensional (3D) modeling software and motion-capture (mo-cap) systems to capture the attributes and movements of human bodies and transfer them to digital models.  Once captured, digital performances become data, to be manipulated and merged seamlessly with those of live actors and environments in the final film. The introduction of virtualization technologies and computer graphics tools have surfaced tensions over creative control, authorship, and labor. British actor Andy Serkis has been a high-profile apologist for the human actor’s central role in bringing virtual characters to life for film.  Serkis, who Rolling Stone called “the king of post-human acting,” is known for using motion capture (mo-cap) to breathe life into digitally-created, non-human characters. His notable performances include the creature Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), the ape Cesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), as well as  Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and work on several characters in the 2018 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, which he also directed. While Serkis’ performances have made him highly visible to audiences, digital labor historians have begun documenting the often-invisible film workers creating 3D models and VFX (Curtin and Sanson, 2017). The tensions between mo-cap performers and VFX workers reveal the contours of an emerging hybrid workspace that combines actors’ physical bodies and movements with VFX workers’ manipulations of digital geometry and data. (read more...)

Critiquing Big Data in China and Beyond

“I do think that the Internet truly makes us feel the world can become a smaller place,” an interlocutor, whom I will call Bo, told me in his parents’ home in Shijiazhuang, a city in China’s Hebei Province. It was late 2014, and he was studying to become a filmmaker in Beijing. During our conversation, he told me about discovering Google Earth when he was younger, recalling how, suddenly, he could “see any place in the world” from the comfort of his home. He could zoom in to explore a mountain village in Iceland, a house, and even a village dog, feeling that, without Google Earth, he would never have been able to visit such faraway places. The experience might have been virtual (xuni), he mused, but it had also been real (zhenshi). His account expressed a kind of enthusiasm for the digital that I often encountered during my ethnographic fieldwork on digital opportunity in China. However, his story was made especially compelling by the oppressive smog plaguing the city outside. While neighboring buildings disappeared in a toxic fog, he expressed his excitement about “seeing” a digitally mediated “Google Earth.” (read more...)