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#ExistenceOnSearch: Multispecies encounters and knowledge dialogue at the in-between space

Este contenido está disponible en español aquí.  Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. According to Colombia’s Biodiversity Information System (SiB Colombia), the country has 51,330 species, including 1,909 species of birds, 528 species of mammals, and 1,521 species of freshwater fish. Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of biodiversity. Its territory is an interweaving of different ecosystems that favors a profusion of life, much of it endemic. However, many of these species are threatened by a variety of human-influenced factors: from the expansion of the agricultural frontier and intensive ranching to the effects of global warming on ecosystems. Humans are also protagonists in the production of life as “diverse,” at least in its existence as data. Biodiversity requires the cataloging, comparison, identification and counting of the living. Without these activities, it would be impossible to state the figures mentioned above. (read more...)

Innocent images? The ethics of sharing your children’s photos online

There are collections of embarrassing childhood photos stashed in most parents’ homes. Everyone remembers an instance when those photos unexpectedly appeared in ways that were awkward or humiliating, such as in a graduation slideshow or the stereotyped first-date-meets-the-parents scenario. For previous generations, those images were hard-copy, faded, dog-eared, and easy to hide under your bed. They also came in limited supply, due to the costs of cameras, film, and film processing. For today’s children (and parents), things are different. We create more images thanks to the cameras on mobile phones, share them more widely through the internet, and have no idea how to destroy them. In this evolving sociotechnical reality, what should parents do? Should we succumb to the social pressure to share online photos of our children’s most adorable and incriminating moments, thereby “sharenting”? (And even make money from it, as social media influencers?) Or should we respect our children’s right to privacy and control over images of themselves? (read more...)

Dark Patterns, or Shades of Grey?

Auto-playing videos. Bottomless social media newsfeeds. Accentuated “I consent” buttons. The internet may appear as a Choose Your Own Adventure, but some pathways and actions are more enticing than others. Persuasion has become part of the online furniture and is largely by design; central to the architecture of user experience (UX) is the use of behavioral and social psychology to make particular aspects of digital products or services engaging and easy to use. (read more...)

The Server Souvenir: Taking Home Remnants of Virtual Worlds

“It’s amazing to think those little circuits that we can carry around were an entire world to us.” –Diana*, interviewee “We might say that this capacity of objects to serve as traces of authentic experience is, in fact, exemplified by the souvenir.” –Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection (1984) In 2011, just seven years after the birth of World of Warcraft (WoW), the game’s development company decided to implement some major changes to their server architecture. Rather than disposing of the decommissioned server hardware that had helped run the game world since the beginning, they auctioned it off for charity. For long-time players of WoW, these pieces of server hardware hold value because they are pieces of the virtual game world that hold spatial memory. WoW players have historically viewed servers as persistent and discrete places, places where players played together, formed relationships, and faced challenges. In this short post, I will outline how owners of commemorative WoW server hardware treat these objects as mementos of their time in the world of WoW.** (read more...)

Neolithic Plumbing: The Landscape is a Machine

Water is, among its many attributes, fluid. Left to its own devices it runs, spills, flows, leaks, crashes, and splashes. Holding H2O still is nearly impossible above 0°C. An ambitious enough goal in water management is containment and, if lucky, control. Mastery over the whims of water is of paramount concern today across a number of socio-environmental spheres—coasts flood, deserts desiccate, Flint contaminates, and California incinerates. The various infrastructural and political hydrology problems posed by Anthropocene conditions have inspired a number of technocratic and neoliberal solutions (e.g., the $118 billion storm surge gates in New York or monetization of dehydration in Africa). A brief look at archaic relationships between water and society, however, suggests conceptual alternatives to such high-energy and high-cost survival designs. Two such examples are examined below: the gravitational plumbing at the Neolithic* site of Smerquoy in the Orkney Islands and the Persian yakhchāl, a pre-Alexandrian ‘icebox’. These (read more...)

Video Games, Mental Health, and the Complicated Nature of Playing

He melted into the shadows, pressing the ‘E’ key on his keyboard, activating his stealth skill, allowing his form to vanish into the grass around him and making him invisible to his prey. A short distance away, in the dense forest tree line, a group of adventurers waited for the established sign: a flare! That flare marked that the cloaked figure had achieved his task of poisoning the nearby camp’s healing pool, a vital resource in this war against their enemy.  For many of these participants, video games are mechanisms that bring them together digitally, often forming a bond that lasts for many years. The scene above is familiar to many, including myself. In fact, the spirit of gaming is something I have lived since I was young. Perhaps it was my early involvement in video games that guided me to consider them as a professional. As a mental health professional with a background in anthropology, I have long been interested in the intersection of video games and mental health. Over the past 15 years, my interest has been framed by my clinical experiences as a therapist. As part of my wider conversation about video games and mental health, I hold a weekly online forum about mental health depictions in video games and then mental health among gamers. While games are often demonized for their association with addiction and violence, I find that some of the things that help link video games to negative associations also have the opportunity to help address some people’s social and mental health concerns. (read more...)

Before They Erase It: Memory and the social media archive

Disponible en español aquí. This afternoon, I began to notice increasingly alarming images, posts, and tweets from my interlocutors in Santiago. It appeared that Santiago was on fire, and that the military was in the streets. Images of familiar streets and landmarks now felt doubly familiar, as their similarity to images taken during the coup of 1973 were undeniable. A quick Google search confirmed my fears; Piñera had declared a state of emergency in response to the student metro protests, that there were already deaths, disappearances, and torture reported, and that a curfew had been implemented. Switching over to Whatsapp, I sent frantic messages to my interlocutors and former host family to check that they were safe (they were.) However, it was clear that—even for seasoned activists—this felt different. Many recalled memories or iconic images of the 1973 coup, wondering if history might be about to repeat itself. As the (read more...)

Period Tracking Apps: Something Old, Something New

They’re sleek and colorful, “fun and easy”, full of icons and dials. Period tracking apps, or “menstruapps,” are an increasingly common way a large segment of the population attends to their health and embodied experience of menstruation. In some ways, these apps are part of very recent trends towards the Quantified Self, the datafication of health, and reliance on biometric tracking devices to “optimize” one’s habits. In other ways, they evoke older legacies of feminist health care, notably the Our Bodies, Ourselves movement begun in 1969. Fifty years later, what does it mean to use technology to “understand how your body works”, as Clue advertises, or “take control of your body,” the tagline for Natural Cycles, which are two of the most popular menstruapps? (read more...)