publications

The Web is a whimsical mood ring.

Last week, TechCrunch pointed me to a new and wonderfully whimsical website, CookThink.com, that magically conjures up recipes according to your current craving. Well, maybe semantic web searches can’t really be called “magic,” but they certainly offer an array of new possibilities for communication and the interweb.

At CookThink.com, I curiously clicked the “Mood” section and, giggling, clicked “forceful”:

“Forceful” was added in to the orange box to the right, after which I clicked “cookthink it!” Much to my delight, the following recipe appeared on my screen: Mexican Pilaf With Cumin and Jalapeño. For the record, all of these things are fucking delicious. “Is this what you’re craving?” the page asked me. Why yes, yes it is… but, moving on to the exploration…

What popped up on my screen was not just a recipe. Along the left-hand side was a selection of other recipe the current one “goes with,” in this case White Bean and Broccoli Burritos With Cilantro and Fish Tacos With Avocado, Feta, and Cabbage, as well as some “related tips:” Why are some jalapeños hotter than others? How hot is a jalapeño? Along the right-hand side was a single ad requesting your donation of $35 to provide a hand pump for drinking in Cambodia. When I refreshed, the ad space was requesting that I “help stop animal cruelty& suffering.” At the top of the ad were the words “BlogHer Ad Network,” which states on its homepage: “BlogHer is the definitive guide to what women who blog and their readers are doing and talking about all over the Internet.”

So, that website is pretty sweet.

I like this method of searching. It should be expanded to all things. Music, for example, is something I’d love to come across by searching for specific moods. While online radio sites like somafm and besonic.com offer a handful of “mood options” and AllMusic.com lists descriptive words for bands, songs, albums and artists that allow for viewer input, I was unable to find a working database of music searchable by mood. Can anyone help me out?

Across the Universe and just as incomprehensible…

I don’t normally write “reviews” of anything- I recommend music I like, utilize potent literature and films in my writing, and enjoy my fair share of television, but I don’t really esteem myself to have an expert opinion about anything when it comes to popular media. My cultural bankruptcy has been likened to the oft-utilized metaphor of the cave. Well then, I live in a cave. Wanna know why? Because so often when I emerge, I am bombarded by utter CRAP. The purpose of this post, therefore, is not to *review* the limp sentimental dishrag that is Across the Universe, but to warn you, fellow readers: this film is not the feel-good journey through the romanticized “hippie era” that you were expecting. My friends raved about it, the Internet gave me tantalizing treatises… but, sadly I will admit, I could not bring myself to even finish it.

The movie starts out cheesy, and for the first ten minutes my boyfriend and I wondered if the entire thing was to be composed solely of Beatle’s songs. At last, after a few random scenes meant to introduce us to the main character (through the lens of some of the early, simple romantic Beatle’s songs) we are granted some dialogue…  it is disastrous. Much dancing ensues, the comparison that best comes to mind would be West Side Story, while we continue to wonder, “who are these people? who are we supposed to care about? what is he thinking?” Such questions would continue to arise throughout the movie, until we simply began to resort to pained grimaces and shared looks of horror.

Oh, there is one slightly redeeming scene that is salvaged only by the unique charisma of Eddie Izzard, but it too is laden with bizarre special effects (I suppose it is an attempt to create a more ‘psychedelic’ feel, but I’m not buyin’) that overwhelm the viewer in their complete noncomprehensiveness. In truth, each character is a flat icon of the Vietnam War period, obscured by a reliance on the sentimentality of the movie’s viewers meant to be evoked by the enormous popularity of the band that gave birth to pop culture as we know it today.

And the symbolism is horrid. Our hero, poor Liverpool boy Jude, expresses his angst about the war by tacking strawberries onto his wall. They bleed into a montage that reeks of stock footage as we’re launched into “Strawberry Fields Forever”. How poignant.

How to eliminate Facebook application spam.

Yesterday, the Facebook team announced their plan to help users battle “application spam,” describing recently-added features they’ve added that many of you should find pretty appealing. It’s a good thing, because the bevy of e-mails and invitations I’ve received in the past few months has been a real turn-off for the vast majority of “veteran” users. High school students and MySpace converts enthusiastically SuperPoke one another, adorn each others’  profiles with “Graffiti,” and rank the “Hotties” amongst their Friends (capitalized because Friendship on online social networks is quite distinct from friendship). Other Internet enthusiasts and thinkers promote charitable organizations, ask Questions of their profiles’ visitors, and incorporate their various online presences (on MySpace, SecondLife, Twitter, etc;). However, those who’ve been with Facebook since the beginning (older college students and recent alumni) have a very different relationship with the site. Sure, we may SuperPoke and turn you into a vampire every once and awhile, but for the most part, Facebook serves to keep in touch with college friends scattered across the globe, see what’s come of our high school classmates, take nostalgic journeys through the hundreds of pictures tagged with our names (de-tagging when appropriate), and keep our various networks of old friends informed about our post-college lives.

When Facebook began allowing anyone and everyone to join the site back in 2006 and added the News Feed, thousands of college students virulently protested: some quit the site completely, many joined Facebook Groups protesting the move, and practically everyone I know complained. In response, Facebook added a slew of privacy features, such as Limited Profiles (which I use liberally) and News Feed controls. With the advent of Applications, a similar wave of protest made itself evident through such groups as “fuck off… i don’t want to be a pirate/vampire/werewolf/zombie.” Nevertheless, the number of Application exponentially increased, growing increasingly manipulative and tricksy. Many applications, particularly quizzes, practically force users to invite friends in order to see their results, resulting in the rise of groups protesting viral applications. Once again, Facebook has responded.

Here’s a run-down of the new ways you can control your “Application-Spam:”

1. Block Applications instantly. Now, when you get an invitation for the latest useless, viral Application, you can check “Block Application” directly within the invite. Nevermore, you vampires and zombies! Go bite someone who cares!

2. Clear all “Requests.” I’m not the only one who simply ignores every invitation sent my way, allowing them to build up steadily on my homepage (currently, I have 64 pending invitations). Why spend the energy rejecting every single invitation? You can be sure I’ll be clicking the “Ignore All” button (located on the “Requests” page, at the top) as soon as I finish this post.

3. Applications must now inform you ahead of time if you’re obligated to invite Friends in order to get information or access content. It’s so very irritating to spend 15 minutes filling out a quiz, only to be told afterwards that you must invite Friends to see your results. Sneaky Applications are no longer allowed to do this.

4. Forcing users to send Invitations is no longer allowed. Did you install an Application, only to find yourself forced to send invitations to your Friends in order to use it? Report it by clicking “This Application is forcing me to invite friends.”

5. Opt-out of e-mail sent by Applications. New Requests will automatically present you with this option, and you can control e-mail sent by Applicatios you’ve already installed by going to the “Edit Applications” page.

6. Help Facebook weed out the garbage from the good stuff. Getting a lot of e-mails from one of your Applications? Mark it as spam, and Facebook will take note. Did an Application break the rule I mentioned in #3? Go to the App’s “About” page and report it to Facebook.

Though it took them awhile to get around to it, I must commend Facebook on once again listening to their users and providing tools for protection against this latest version of viral marketing. Now to spread the news and help empower you Facebookers out there!

writing a thesis requires the regular doing of nothing much.

This past month, I’ve sought to nourish myself through what is, for me, the most difficult period of the year. January. And I made it! I’m okay! And I’ve written a lot of things.

Having shaken myself free from the noxious syndrome of reading “research” and creating headers beneath which I can conveniently categorize the perspectives of others into “anxieties” and “utopias”, I have now reached what will be the butter on the bread of my thesis. That is, that which makes the dry foundation delicious. Not that ethnography is ever dry. My first chapters are rife with the stories, anecdotes, personalities, ideas that propelled me to do this research in the first place.

But now, allow me to be indulgent. I embark on a chapter I’ve hesitantly entitled “A Phenomenological Exploration of Online Social Networking.” This is where I tell my own story, where I deeply investigate my own integration of anxieties toward and utopic visions of the Internet and its potentials and failures.

And everything else.

The past week has consisted of moving into a new apartment (where I will no longer bother touchy neighbors with my entirely nocturnal rhythm and proclivity toward human interaction and [god forbid!] music), sleeping 10-12 hours a night, and battling the obvious onset of ill health with my finest vegetarian cooking, isolation, and relaxation.

I sit before the screen now resolved to put forth a testimony founded on inner truths, desires, sadnesses, attempts to bridge the increasing divide I see between individuals and community. The Internet, for me, is the “final frontier” in which we may remake ourselves, and in so doing, contribute to the remaking of this severely damaged world.

Though, as severely damaged as it is, it is because of my overwhelming love of the stories, personalities, and lives of others that I have become so enamored with the potential for anthropological research to promote human understanding, empathy, and that elusive yet all-empowering ultimate pursuit: community, connection, the sense of belonging and the extension of selfhood.

This has been a manifesto.

my immune system toolbox

This post is dedicated to my sickly boyfriend, Joe. Take care of yourself, love!!

Yesterday, after sleeping for 12 hours, I emarked for the grocery store on a mission to MAKE MYSELF WELL!

Not that I’m sick, technically, but the scratch in my throat and listless fatigue were sure signs that I was on the path toward the same miserable, sniffly state of being many of my friends currently reside in.

Beyond a solid 12 hours of sleep, regular vitamins and constant re-hydrating, I recommend the following:

Barley and mushrooms are great sources of beta-glucan, which supports the immune system. Though expensive, the Green Goodness juice nestled next to the soups contains wheat grass, spirulina, spinach, blue-green algae, dragonfruit, kiwis, mangoes, bananas, apples, green tea, barley grass, echinacea, and garlic. It is both green and incredibly delicious, and an easy source of extremely good-for-you phytonutrients and vitamins.

The little Emergen-C packets in the middle have been a staple for my health since my freshman year at college. Each packet contains 1000mg of Vitamin C, as well as a host of B vitamins. Dense with electrolytes, the powder dissolves in water and is not only delicious, but absolutely necessary for staving off illness. Beneath the Emergen-C packets are a handful of kiwis- and kiwis, my friend, are also rich in Vitamin C… as well as antioxidents, potassium, and vitamins A and E.

The Green Tea Kombucha is a new discovery I’ve made… Kombucha is the name for a tea derived from live bacteria and yeast cultures, aiding in digestion and, purportedly, overall well-being. Green tea, as we all know, is also rife with antioxidants.. the combination makes it a powerful aid to the immune system.

In the bottom left, notice the funky-lookin’ ginger root… great in stir-fries, fresh ginger helps to ease nausea and aid digestion. It is used in cultures around the world to combat the common cold. Also to be included in my next stirfry is red cabbage, which contains more fiber than green. Among the nutrients it is full of, I prize the iron and calcium content especially.

The bread, cheese, and feel-good film, I admit, is my personal recipe for mental well-being. The tryptophan found in cheese (as well as turkey, but I’m a vegetarian) is a necessary amino acid, serving as a serotonin precursor. Another way of saying this, is that cheese helps you produce the happy juice of your brain, and the same juice is also necessary for sleep.. probably a major cause of why I slept for 12 hours last night. And today, I feel great!

The 2008 Presidential Election and Online Social Networking

Both MySpace and Facebook have become important sites for political campaigning. In 2006, Facebook launched a feature called Election Pulse, enabling members to indicate which candidates they support, learn about and discuss political issues, and gauge how candidates are faring among Facebookers through polls organized by state. MySpace, in turn, recently launched Impact Channel, fulfilling essentially the same functions as its Facebook counterpart but reaching an even greater audience. Furthermore, the Channel is heavily video-oriented, featuring a series of dialogues with the candidates in collaboration with MTV Networks. Visitors to the site are able to submit videos of themselves asking questions of the candidates, promoting a sense of being directly involved in political democracy. Similar collaborative endeavors between network television and online social networks include the YouTube/CNN presidential debate in June of 2007 and the Facebook/ABC presidential debate in January of 2008.

As the 2008 presidential election approaches, candidates have been rushing to capture the elusive yet desirable youth vote. Unsurprisingly, the Democratic party has been considerably more effective with its use of new social media to drive campaigns. In a recent CNN article, a Republican pollster is quoted as saying: “Our party is really behind in learning how to maximize this and use it to our best benefit. We were very proactive in learning how to use talk radio. When it comes to the Internet, especially social networking sites, we’re really behind.” On MySpace, Barack Obama leads the popularity contest with over 240,000 Friends- not counting the thousands of friends who link to alternate Obama profiles created to represent each individual state in the U.S. His profile consists of a regularly-updated blog, YouTube videos of his past speeches, links to further information, photographs, podcasts, and various buttons linking to his other “online habitats” on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Such practices serve to humanize politicians and breach the disconnect felt by voters, and are particularly oriented toward the purportedly politically apathetic youth generation of the United States today. Members of online social networks, in turn, have begun utilizing the sites to display their support for particular candidates on their profiles (much like bumper stickers), research and discuss political issues, and run local campaigns in the form of Groups. For the record, I support Obama. And Kucinich.

cave music; or, music for submersion

The music I describe in this post is best experienced as an accompaniment to heightened sensory awareness. I recommend dark chocolate, red wine, and etceterta; Clicking on the album names will lead you to the album’s page at AllMusic.com. Oh, and if the word “experimental,” or, worse yet, “glitch” turns you off, you can stop reading now.

Whistleblower, by Vladislav DelayThe first time I truly listened to Vladislav Delay, my boyfriend and I let the album recycle all night long. At times I felt my brain unzipping? at other times, simply hypnotized… It lent a seamless metallic, drippy atmosphere to the night, which was rife with some of the most rich and visceral dreams I’ve had in months. I suppose that description doesn’t sound entirely inviting, but I highly recommend the album to anyone who likes having soundtracks to the negative space of … infinitude, or something like that.

Released in 2007, Whistleblower is the latest brainchild of Finnish producer Sasu Ripatti. Clicks and cuts never sounded so spooky yet somehow soothing. This is my current favorite album to play while writing the nights away…

Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms, by Venetian SnaresAbove, I very nearly described Whistleblower as glitchy… but that word immediately evoked another, different kind of glitchy glory… Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms (Venetian Snares!) is aptly named, indeed- innovative breakcore that soars from break-neck to mind-melting speeds, twisting and smashing into things as it goes.

My favorite track on the album is easily ‘Pwntendo,’ which as you might imagine sounds like Yoshi got into the Sugar Frosted Crack. A little nutty, for sure. I like my music extra-crunchy.

*bleep* *whir* *skitter* One up!

The Net, the Counter-Net, and the Web

In 1991, Hakim Bey published a work entitled TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, and Poetic Terrorism. The TAZ is essentially that liminal space that exists on the edges of things, the moments that allow for true creativity that occur outside of the hierarchical structures of society and information. True freedom and empowerment is found only in these moments. Though we often conceive of the Internet as a liminal space in which structural hierarchies are dissembled, Bey differentiates between “the Net” as the hierarchical structures of information flow, and the “counter-Net”, which are those clandestine and rebellious practices that subvert this hierarchy (think music downloading…). The “Web”, then, enables open and horizontal patterns of information flow. Together, the three comprise the system that make up the Internet. Some great questions are posed- I’ve excerpted my favorite bit below:

“Also I am not impressed by the sort of information and services proffered by contemporary “radical” networks. Somewhere–one is told–there exists an “information economy.” Maybe so; but the info being traded over the “alternative” BBSs seems to consist entirely of chitchat and techie-talk. Is this an economy? or merely a pastime for enthusiasts? OK, PCs have created yet another “print revolution”–OK, marginal webworks are evolving–OK, I can now carry on six phone conversations at once. But what difference has this made in my ordinary life?

Frankly, I already had plenty of data to enrich my perceptions, what with books, movies, TV, theater, telephones, the U.S. Postal Service, altered states of consciousness, and so on. Do I really need a PC in order to obtain yet more such data? You offer me secret information? Well…perhaps I’m tempted–but still I demand marvelous secrets, not just unlisted telephone numbers or the trivia of cops and politicians. Most of all I want computers to provide me with information linked to real goods–“the good things in life,” as the IWW Preamble puts it. And here, since I’m accusing the hackers and BBSers of irritating intellectual vagueness, I must myself descend from the baroque clouds of Theory & Critique and explain what I mean by “real goods.”

Let’s say that for both political and personal reasons I desire good food, better than I can obtain from Capitalism– unpolluted food still blessed with strong and natural flavors. To complicate the game imagine that the food I crave is illegal–raw milk perhaps, or the exquisite Cuban fruit mamey, which cannot be imported fresh into the U.S. because its seed is hallucinogenic (or so I’m told). I am not a farmer. Let’s pretend I’m an importer of rare perfumes and aphrodisiacs, and sharpen the play by assuming most of my stock is also illegal. Or maybe I only want to trade word processing services for organic turnips, but refuse to report the transaction to the IRS (as required by law, believe it or not). Or maybe I want to meet other humans for consensual but illegal acts of mutual pleasure (this has actually been tried, but all the hard-sex BBSs have been busted–and what use is an underground with lousy security?). In short, assume that I’m fed up with mere information, the ghost in the machine. According to you, computers should already be quite capable of facilitating my desires for food, drugs, sex, tax evasion. So what’s the matter? Why isn’t it happening?

The TAZ has occurred, is occurring, and will occur with or without the computer. But for the TAZ to reach its full potential it must become less a matter of spontaneous combustion and more a matter of “islands in the Net.” The Net, or rather the counter-Net, assumes the promise of an integral aspect of the TAZ, an addition that will multiply its potential, a “quantum jump” (odd how this expression has come to mean a big leap) in complexity and significance. The TAZ must now exist within a world of pure space, the world of the senses. Liminal, even evanescent, the TAZ must combine information and desire in order to fulfill its adventure (its “happening”;), in order to fill itself to the borders of its destiny, to saturate itself with its own becoming.

Perhaps the Neo-Paleolithic School are correct when they assert that all forms of alienation and mediation must be destroyed or abandoned before our goals can be realized–or perhaps true anarchy will be realized only in Outer Space, as some futuro-libertarians assert. But the TAZ does not concern itself very much with “was” or “will be.” The TAZ is interested in results, successful raids on consensus reality, breakthroughs into more intense and more abundant life. If the computer cannot be used in this project, then the computer will have to be overcome. My intuition however suggests that the counter-Net is already coming into being, perhaps already exists–but I cannot prove it. I’ve based the theory of the TAZ in large part on this intuition. Of course the Web also involves non-computerized networks of exchange such as samizdat, the black market, etc.–but the full potential of non-hierarchic information networking logically leads to the computer as the tool par excellence. Now I’m waiting for the hackers to prove I’m right, that my intuition is valid. Where are my turnips?”

technoshamanism, neotribalism, and the collective neural net

My virtual wandering through the thousands of bulletin boards that make up Tribe.net exposed me to two terms I’d never heard of before, but instantly caught my attention: technoshamanism and neotribalism. Both terms evoke a somewhat romantic notion of merging modern technologies with our ancient tribal past. For instance, certain kinds of electronic music are claimed to have the capacity to induce trance-like states that are shared by a group of people through ecstatic dance, evoking images of shamanic tribal rituals in various parts of the world (such as South America, India, and Africa). Synthetic drugs such as LSD (“acid”) and MDMA (“ecstasy”) are frequently ingested as well, to aid in inducing trance-like states, altering visual and auditory perceptions, and enhancing feelings of connectedness to others and the “divine within”. In the words of one Tribe.net member:

“To me, [technoshamanism] is getting in touch with the past and uniting it with the present. Our species has danced the night away to a rhythm and beat for as long as we have had consciousness to do so. Whether it be an animal hide-based drum, or a drum machine the sound is the same. If music in general was compared to say, the English language, its beat and rhythm would be the vowel sounds that make up every word in existence. Understood by all who hear it regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

Various parallels with these ideas/beliefs can be found with religious movements: prophetic figures have emerged throughout the past half-century (such as Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, Alex Grey and Daniel Pinchbeck), some of whom espouse the belief (traces of which can be found throughout the site) that the world will either come to an end in the year 2012, or become embroiled in a global spiritual transformation (this theory is rooted in the Mayan Calendar, but I won’t get too gritty with the details. It’s all widely disputed by Mayanist scholars). “The tribes and the primitive people will survive,” predicts a 50-year old Californian man, “know how to get all that you need from the earth. Nothing else can be expected to survive.” Like the Back-to-the-Land movement of the 1960’s, neotribalists seek a return to humanity’s “ancestral roots” through developing local, self-sustaining communities, with an emphasis on creating a global network of interconnected tribes. The Internet is, quite naturally, one of those modern technologies that is utilized by technoshamans as a means of tapping into the collective neural network.

Underlying the ideology of neotribalism is the concept of a universal consciousness that has been forgotten in the wake of civilization, and that must be rediscovered if humanity is to survive. A technoshaman, then, is a guide, one who integrates modern technology into primordial practices in order to induce transcendent experiences. Now, such a description evokes remnants of that anthropological black mark- the noble savage. From my vantage point, it feels a bit shameful- white hippies “going tribal,” attempting to appropriate cultural practices that have developed over centuries.

[Edit: Thanks for the feedback. My feelings about its shamefulness extend from my own personal experiences with such practices, and wondering, at times, if we are being duped into the sense of communitas- often brought about only through the aid of drugs. I’ve thrown many such parties, where I provided no drugs, in an attempt to see if *it* could be spontaneously generated without such additions… I failed, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying…

I agree, we are enculturated to look down on such practices. And that’s fucked up.]

Your feedback is strongly encouraged… tap into my neural network, damnit!

writing ethnographies of the internet

For the past two years or so, I’ve been conducting field research on online social networks (MySpace, Facebook, and Tribe.net in particular), and am now in the midst of writing up my ethnography/thesis (tentatively titled “Webnography: An Ethnography of Online Social Networks”;). Hopefully, by May I will be once again walking to a podium, this time to receive my master’s degree in anthropology from Wesleyan University.

Cyberanthropology, as it’s often called, is a relatively new field. Nevertheless, I’m entirely overwhelmed by the vast amount of information and research available online. For those interested in the field, I’ve put together a fairly well-organized assortment of links to past studies, pertinent blogs, and must-read books on the subject. You can get to it by clicking here.

I chose to conduct my research in an area of human life that I felt I was already a part of. I’ve little desire to study the “exotic other,” as I believe true knowledge starts with an intrinsic understanding, which is then expanded through conversations with others, situating the topic within the broader context of history and philosophy, and engaging in dialogue with other researchers of the subject. While there are empirical studies out there, my own research is anything but. The only true claim to authority I have is over my own experiences.

“Language is a virus from outer space.”
-William Burroughs

In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”. In other words, we’re not really saying anything new – how could we? What is changing, however, are the tools for communication. Each new medium takes on qualities of those which came before it, and extend our possibilities for communication. Thus, in the case of communication on the Internet, we experience the permanence and distantiation from time and space that print media has allotted for, as well as the immediacy and convenience afforded to us by the telephone. We are furthermore enabled to broadcast ourselves in a way that television could never quite encompass, even with “reality” programming. Unlike any previous private communications medium, our experiences on the Internet are enhanced by images, video, and sound.

“Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.”
-Laurie Anderson

Perhaps the greatest danger to writing about the Internet is that of technological determinism- the belief that technology determines changes in society. On the contrary, societies develop technologies that are always being shaped by the culture they’re embedded in. We are not a society being altered through our technologies- rather, we are human beings engaging in the same activities through the use of evolving tools (hence the “campfire” metaphor, above). The modern age, however, has arguably transformed humankind’s way of thinking and perceiving in ways that have yet to be fully determined. Understanding where we are, where we’ve come from, and where we are going is an important endeavor, I believe, if we are to understand the implications of modernization and the future of this planet.