a feminist technology blog

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CSST 2012

I just got back from a fantastic four days spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the Consortium for Socio-Technical Systems summer institute (CSST). Along with 10 mentors and 30 other grad students and junior faculty, we did yoga, went hiking, and spent many hours hashing out the particulars of our socio-technical projects.

Picture of Mountain, Sky and Clouds on the Road to Santa Fe

I highly support the concept of academic retreats. Not only did none of us get cell phone reception (one lousy bar, and usually just on the Edge network), the wireless at Bishop’s Lodge was deplorable. So we were basically off the grid for half a week, which for obsessive academics who study technology was challenging. Well, I was challenged. Everyone else seemed fine.

My favorite part of the institute was a mini-workshop on ethnography which I ran (pats self on back). We went around the table and talked about challenges we were having with our ethnographic work. I was amazed and totally stoked that people were doing such fascinating and diverse projects using ethnographic methods, from studying emergency room trauma teams to looking at solar energy projects in Morocco to examining large-scale infrastructure from the ground up in rural India. My co-participants were a truly impressive group and we had a great time hashing out solutions to our varied problems. I was one of the few doing internet ethnography, and I realized how much I have to learn from STS and HCI people studying other forms of technology using similar methods.

I highly recommend that grad students (& asst profs!) apply for next year! It’s all NSF funded and a great group of people.

Magic Mike and the Myth of Entrepreneurialism

Last night my friend Grace and I went to see Magic Mike. It’s been hovering in the high 90s this week in NYC and the air conditioning sounded fantastic, I’m a big early Soderbergh fan, and, fine, I wanted to see Channing Tatum and Joe Mangionello (Alcide!) prancing around shirtless.

I have no problem with strippers. I do think the dynamics of male strippers vs. female strippers are revealing. About a decade ago I went to Vegas for a wedding. A big mixed-gender group of us went to a strip club that had female strippers on the first floor and male strippers on the second. The female strippers performed on small, round tables with about six guys drinking and staring intently at them, a stack of dollar bills by each one’s side. Lap dances took place in shady corners and the entire atmosphere was surprisingly intense. Upstairs, the packed audience was hooting and hollering as the gigantically buff male strippers dragged bachelorettes and 21st-birthday girls up on stage where they proceeded to humiliate them (blindfolds, spanking, etc. – all very campy) for the amusement of their drunk friends. Yes, male strippers are objectified, but the group dynamic and the embarrassment of the voyeur aspect are almost entirely absent from female strip clubs.

Magic Mike didn’t say anything about this. Like most of Soderberg’s movies, it’s not a feel-good flick; it’s a slow depressing meditation on relationships. Mike (Channing Tatum) is in his 30s, a very successful stripper with a nice apartment, a giant truck (which he keeps in pristine condition for future reselling) and $13K in cash savings in a safe. He also runs three businesses and is always on the hustle; one business is a non-union roofing crew, another a mobile auto detailing business, and of course, stripping. Roofing and stripping are both corporeal professions in which the young guys have the advantage and any injury can end your career forever; all three businesses deal exclusively in cash; and of course, none of them offer health benefits, 401Ks or training. Mike doesn’t have much education (he asks his grad student fuckbuddy if she’s studying “social studies”) and no interest in working a 9-5. He claims that his dream job is making ugly custom furniture, but we never see him doing it. Instead, he continuously falls back on his charm and looks to get what he wants.

Magic Mike says a lot about the state of the “American Dream” and the current wisdom about achieving it. Mike is relentlessly optimistic and refers to himself as an entrepreneur. One of his stripper colleagues earnestly advocates the financial self-help book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Dallas, the skeevy club owner, dangles equity in a Miami club as long-term financial stability for the team. These are fantasies of success and wealth that do not rely on the drudgery of minimum-wage McJobs or under-the-table construction work. People like Tim Ferris and Gary Vaynerchuk advocate living your passion, but none of the passions of the strippers have any possibility of creating financial stability, and Mike’s furniture business seems an unrealistic pipe dream. He has a passion because he’s supposed to have one, because a thousand magazine articles and movies have shown us the person who gets rich quick from their cupcake shop or dog-walking business, but when he tries to get a small-business loan he’s jettisoned by his lousy credit score. The only person with a 9-5 job is the (very boring and miscast) love interest, who processes Medicare claims at a doctor’s office. She lives in a drab apartment and seems resigned to her lower-middle-class lifestyle.

The characters in Magic Mike aspire to wealth, but lack the education or stable jobs that would allow them to build up savings or retire comfortably. They’re falling through the cracks, and buy self-help propaganda in lieu of union jobs, training, or structural safety nets. Notably, the film is set in Florida, which has been hit hard by the financial crisis and sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Entrepreneurialism is a fantasy which they want to buy into but which has little potential to benefit them.

The success of tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and the constant stream of self-help books promoting self-promotion has created a climate in which the path to wealth is the hustle. But that’s simply not true. The tech millionaires who get funded are part of a closely-knit network of founders and venture capitalists. The capital needed to launch successful companies is simply not available. And the failure rates for small business are astronomical. Magic Mike shows the other side of the myth of the American entrepreneur, and how it fails the people with the most to lose in our current era of neoliberal capitalism.

Contact information change

My wonderful postdoc at the social media collective at Microsoft Research has ended, and in the fall I’ll be a freshly-minted Assistant Professor at Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies.

As a result, my microsoft.com email no longer works! You can reach me at amarwick at fordham dot edu. My gmail and NYU addresses will always work.

Pharma Google Hijack Hack

I’ve been hacked again. When you search for “tiara org” or “tiara blog” on Google, and click on the tiara.org/blog result, you get directed to a lovely site pharmacy.multifind24.com, full of spammy spam spam.

Fixing this has been.. frustrating. I have a totally updated WP install. I have fresh passwords on everything. I installed the Ultimate Security Checker plugin (which is pretty great) and followed all the steps (I now get an A). I get a perfect score on the Sucuri security scan. I went through this post about the pharma hack and this post about the pharma hack and followed all the steps (none of the compromised files were in there).

So.. now I am a bit stuck. I searched for pharmacy.multifind.24 with hack, wordpress, hijack, and didn’t find anything.

I will update this post if I figure anything out.

Big revamping!

So I finally went ahead and updated tiara.org for the first time since 2008. It was sort of embarrassing. Now it has a shiny new look– aka “All the HTML I remember from my last job hand-coding HTML which was in 2003” — and several new pages.

Info about my dissertation is, surprisingly, on the dissertation page.

Updated papers (including works in progress) and PDFs can be found on the papers page. (note: I need to fix the link at the top of the blog pages, which currently points to an out-of-date location.)

And I updated the Press section and added a link to my bio and headshot because I’m conceited like that.

FINALLY, I am very pleased to announce that my group’s research blog, the Social Media Collective, has launched. This is my baby, and I’m very proud of it. Learn more about danah boyd’s group at Microsoft Research, what we’re working on, what we’re interested in, what we’re reading and where we’re speaking.

As you can all probably tell, I’m procrastinating from working on my book. (My officemate claims it’s not procrastinating if you’re being productive, but I know better at this point. Writing a dissertation makes you an expert on procrastinating.)

Social Surveillance in Every Day Life

I’m lucky to be in Toronto this weekend, interacting with amazing colleagues like Chris Soghoian, Priscilla Regan, Leslie Regan Shade, Lee Tien, Finn Brunton, David Phillips, David Lyon, and too many others to mention. We’re all here for the Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday life workshop, sponsored by the Surveillance Studies Centre at the University of Toronto.

Today I presented a new paper draft, The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life. In this paper, I lay out a theoretical framework for looking at social surveillance, and present some places where it’s useful for analysis (namely, Facebook stalking, context collapse, and lifestreaming).

Marwick, Alice. (2011). “The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life”. Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life, Toronto, May 12-15. [PDF]

Abstract: A profile on a social network site or a Twitter account is created and constructed against the background of an audience—as something to be looked at. This paper argues that the dual gaze of social surveillance—surveying content created by others and looking at one’s own content through other people’s eyes—is a normative part of constant ongoing social media use. Social surveillance is distinguished from “surveillance” along four axes: power, hierarchy, symmetry, and individuality. Based on ethnographic work in the San Francisco technology scene from 2008-2009 and amongst teenagers in the Southeastern United States in 2010, I look at this surveillance, how it is practiced, and its impact on people who engage in it. I use Foucault’s concept of capillaries of power to demonstrate that social surveillance assumes the power differentials evident in everyday interactions rather than the hierarchical power relationships assumed in much of the surveillance literature. Social media involves a collapse of social contexts and social roles, complicating boundary work but facilitating social surveillance. Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and protect social boundaries. These processes are normal parts of day-to-day life in communities that are highly connected through social media.

We had a lively debate in the presentation about whether or not this model of “social surveillance” renders the term so widely as to be useless (which I obviously disagree with). In my dissertation, I began theorizing how widespread lifestreaming affects self-presentation and subjectivity, with regard to the internalization of the expectation that people are watching. I think the surveillance literature is a very useful place to continue this theory; I’d be interested to hear what others think.

This is a draft; I’ll be revising and submitting to Surveillance & Society post-haste.

How Teens Understand Privacy

Danah and I just released a new article draft. Here’s danah’s introduction to it:

In the fall, danah boyd and Alice Marwick went into the field to understand teens’ privacy attitudes and practices. We’ve blogged some of our thinking since then but we’re currently working on turning our thinking into a full-length article. We are lucky enough to be able to workshop our ideas at an upcoming scholarly meeting (PLSC), but we also wanted to share our work-in-progress with the public since we both know that there are all sorts of folks out there who have a lot of knowledge about this domain but with whom we don’t have the privilege of regularly interacting.

“Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies”
by danah boyd and Alice Marwick

Please understand that this is an unfinished work-in-progress article, complete with all sorts of bugs that we will need to address before we submit it for publication. But… we would certainly love feedback, critiques, and suggestions for how to improve it. Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of this kind of research, it’s also quite likely that we’re missing out on all sorts of prior work that was done in this space so we’d love to also hear about any articles that we should’ve read by now. Or any thoughts you might have that might advance/complicate our thinking.

Hacked again

I’m trying real hard not to be a biznatch about this, but for the second time in two years, Dreamhost got hacked and now I have to comb through my WordPress install and figure out where this “Canadian pharmacy” spam that shows up in my Google results comes from. It’s going to take me a few days, and of course Dreamhost has been no help at all. I’ve been using them for more than a decade and I think I’m going to have to move to a different host. Rant rant. I hope to have this fixed within the next week.

2011 Spring/Summer Conference Schedule

Believe it or not, I do stuff besides talk to the press. This year I think I’m attending a record number of conferences! Some I’m presenting dissertation work, and some on my new fashion blogger project. I hope to see lots of new friends and colleagues this spring and summer.

February 16-20: Privacy and Security in Victoria, BC, moderating the social media panel.

March 3-5: Digital Media and Learning in Long Beach, CA. I’m on a panel about activism and agency, where I’ll be talking about my fashion blogger project, and another one on networked public life where I’m presenting some dissertation/book work.

March 9-10: TechFest, Redmond, WA: Internet Famous: Status and Attention in Web 2.0
This is a Microsoft-only event, but if you are an MS FTE, I’d love to see you here! It’s at 3:30 at the Conference Center.

In the mid-2000s, journalists and businesspeople heralded “Web 2.0” technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as signs of a new participatory era that would democratize journalism, entertainment, and politics. By the decade’s end, this idealism had been replaced by a gold-rush mentality focusing on status and promotion. While the rhetoric of Web 2.0 as democratic and revolutionary persists, I will contend that a primary use of social media is to boost user status and popularity, maintaining hierarchy rather than diminishing it. This talk focuses on three status-seeking techniques that emerged with social media: micro-celebrity, self-branding, and life-streaming. I look at two communities of practice—fashion bloggers and San Francisco Web 2.0 workers—and how they mark status and visibility using technology. I examine interactions between social media and social life to show that Web 2.0 has become a key aspect of social hierarchy in technologically mediated communities.

March 11-15, South by Southwest Interactive, Austin, TX
Unfortunately, my panel on academic research was canceled, so I’m now appearing with Anastasia Goodstein on a panel called Can the Internet Make Us Happy?. Spoiler: I’m voting YES.

April 20-24: Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Conference. I’m presenting a neat paper called “The Drama! Teens, Gossip, and Celebrity” which is brand-new work. Here’s the abstract:

“His girlfriend, Brittany, cheated on him and she went and partied really hard and got drunk and cheated. And then it was all over Formspring. A lot of people are like, “You can do better than that slut” and stuff. And people would write on hers, “You’re such a cheating whore” and blah, blah, blah. And so, that was like drama and stuff. And like, I know Brittany Martinez. If I saw her, I’d be like, “Hey, what’s up?” But I don’t know her personally. And so, I wouldn’t go talk to her about it. But I read that and I could know about it. So it was kind of just like drama I could [see] and stuff.”
– Victoria, 15, Nashville

While teenage gossip is nothing new, for many American teens today, gossip plays out through social media like Formspring, Twitter and Facebook. The resulting arguments and conflicts, and their digital traces, are colloquially known as “drama.” In this paper, we trace the similarities between today’s teen “drama” and discourses of celebrity, particularly in relation to reality television and soap operas. Shows like The Hills are predicated on relatively mundane interpersonal conflict; for teens, sites like Facebook allow for similar performances of gossip in front of engaged audiences. We frame drama as a form of publicity. While many teens profess to hate drama, others enjoy or even encourage it. We use recent ethnographic fieldwork to examine what drama means to teenagers and its relationship to visibility and privacy.

May 12-15: Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life workshop in Toronto. The full paper is due in April, and I have a LOT to do to get it ready for workshopping! It’s called “The Public Domain: Lifestreaming and Social Digitization as a Way of Life” and will be based on my life-streaming dissertation chapter.

May 26-30, International Communications Association Conference, Boston, MA: “Information-Sharing, Communication, and Interaction on Social Media: Emergent Practices and Evolving Theory” with the fabulous Nicole Ellison, Cliff Lampe, Bernie Hogan, Jessica Vitak, danah (of course) and Nancy Baym.

Twitter & Privacy: Kids Learning How to Manage Life in Public

Danah and I have an editorial in the Guardian today titled “Tweeting teens can handle public life”. Here’s an exerpt:

…Not all teens use Twitter, and those who do don’t all use it in the same way. The sense of what’s appropriate on Twitter varies wildly by social group and locale – is it OK to break up with someone on Twitter? To tweet a hundred times a day? Similarly, young people use Twitter in different ways. Some primarily follow celebrities, enjoying the glimpses into their lives, sending @replies to their favourites in the hope of a response and chatting with other fans. Others like getting coupons and freebies from Twitter-savvy brands. Still other teens use Twitter to play hashtag games, like #lessambitiousmovies (think “The Devil Wears Payless” and “The Above Average Four”), where their bon mots can be retweeted or commented on by thousands they may not know. There are also countless teens who use Twitter primarily to engage with people they know from school, summer camp or after-school activities. Who teens imagine reading their tweets very much shapes their style of participation.

We turned this piece around in a weekend, and I think it’s a breezy, yet nuanced, view of the topic.

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