How does digital culture enter physical spaces and situations?

  • Digital Feelings and Analog Space

    Hollis Griffin's picture
    by Hollis Griffin — Denison University view

    Participating in the geo-social media networks enabled by gay mobile applications like Grindr, Scruff, and Growlr can feel a lot like being at the nastiest, most brutal bar that ever existed. Network subscribers often ignore each other or use the “block” feature to break off contact. Sometimes, users will communicate with someone for a few minutes and then move on to someone else. Though sometimes users just disappear altogether. Interactions that take place on the apps can be tense and harsh as users trade messages with dismissive, imperious, or just plain offensive language. Interactions of this sort underscore the operation of a panoptic regime on the gay mobile media apps wherein users police each other even as they regulate themselves. The connections enabled by the apps are also policed by a set of in-group norms related to identity and desire, so forging interpersonal connections on the networks requires that users navigate a complicated regulatory matrix in disclosing personal information to one another.

    As a result, interactions can be attended by rather profound feelings of doubt and insecurity. Enjoying a conversation with another user on the network can be undergirded by the trepidation of “does he like this as much as I do?” Interactions frequently precipitate thoughts like, “does he like me too?” The apps bind intimacy and regulation in ways that often create a sense of emotional precariousness among users. Seeking out interpersonal connection via these means requires the navigation of frequently clashing, harshly regulated value systems. When users run afoul of each other’s ideas about what constitutes proper comportment and/or suitable identifications, their connection may get severed: sometimes they block each other, though sometimes they just ignore each other and stop interacting. Users sometimes prefer these outcomes, of course; when they are not sexually, romantically, or social compatible, parting ways can be a relief for both of them. Nevertheless, such events can also be rather acutely painful, especially when the needs and wants of the pair diverge.

    As assemblages of bodies and drives, devices and connections, the networks created by the apps provide users with opportunities for both embodied and disembodied exchange. Some users see trading messages and pictures as pleasures in and of themselves. Though other users see the interpersonal interactions that take shape on the networks as eventually leading to offline encounters. These connections also shift and morph over time; users do not always know what they want from particular interactions when they begin. Sometimes, chat between users evolves into the desire to meet in person. Other times, one user wants an in-face meeting and the other user does not. Such feelings unavoidably affect the kinds of interactions that occur between users.

    The relationship between these digital technologies and the analog spaces in which they circulate is thus fraught, and can be characterized by both precariousness and flux. Love and romance are never easy propositions—especially when there is a veritable menu of possibilities at one’s fingertips. Gay mobile media applications are not for the faint of heart. The Grindr Guide is an eight-episode YouTube series chronicling some of the more common experiences that people have using the technology: the anxiety of picking a profile picture, planning an in-person meeting, and so on. Episode six is called “The Aftermath,” where a Grindr user, Joel, has an offline meeting with a person he began chatting with online. Joel wants the in-person meeting to result in an ongoing relationship, and the episode details his experience waiting for the other user to get back in touch with him. The episode is organized as a series of vignettes that unfold over several days wherein Joel obsessively checks Grindr, waiting for the other person to get back in touch with him. The episode becomes cringeworthy as it becomes clear that the other user does not share Joel’s romantic feelings.

    I can’t help but feel sorry for Joel as that particular series of events is a common one on Grindr and other gay mobile media apps. The relationship between digital and analog space is often understood as being an agentic, happy one—as if users opt to move online interactions offline but do not necessarily “have to.” We typically understand such transitions as being a function of little more than one’s “choice.” But the tension between online and offline is an anxious one. In that move from digital to analog, users must navigate a variety of norms, in addition to the intentions and desires of other users. As a result, the relationship between digital technologies and analog space is as potentially disappointing as it is possibly painful. 

  • A Network of Networks: Convention Culture, Offline Avatars, and New Fandom Practice

    Charles Dunbar's picture
    by Charles Dunbar — 4 Comments view

    With the onset of digital culture, fandom conventions have recently undergone serious transformations. Originally a method of shared appreciation for media and creative culture, digital communities have influenced an entire new generation of fans and their modes of interaction, changing the con floor from a fluid space between panels and vendors to a celebration of the same internet culture most fans encountered in the nascent stages of their fandom, and reflecting the power of social media in the present. 


    The “offline online” avatar

    -Where once an individual would maintain an avatar for use online, now the online identities are forming their own avatars for offline interaction. As people become more identified by social media handles and news feeds, now those feeds and handles need to be acknowledged as an influential part of the person’s offline life. (“I’m Tumblr-famous” or “I have 5000 followers” or “I went viral.”)


    Moving beyond this merging of online identities with offline lives, now the outlets themselves are being incarnated in the convention space through the popular medium of cosplay. New York Comic Con 2013 and Anime Boston 2014 both had in attendance Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook cosplayers- providing a face and physical form for social media networks. Where once the avatar allowed the fan to exist in a virtual world, now the virtual network has its own avatar to interact within the real world, or at least that’s what the presence of these cosplayers could suggest. Given the importance of these networks in fandom practice, it might have been inevitable to see the network “transcend the boundaries” of the virtual and physical worlds. 


    Online practices as dictating powers and generational markers within fandom

    -Newsgroups and forums were a pivotal method for fans to interact across long distances, producing discussions and email chains that facilitated sharing of knowledge and opinion. Now, social media sites cater to a more “instant gratification” idea, whereby fans make short comments, or promote the creations of others. Akin to mimetics, the short-form information carries more weight and influence than the long-form discussion. 


    A generation ago, forums and newsgroups were used to enhance the fandom experience and collect ideas for communal digestion. The new generation of fan uses the internet as a definitive mode of fandom practice- rather than a tool to enrich fandom, it becomes the fandom outright, dictating passions and defining methods by which fans interact both ONLINE and OFFLINE. It is an affirmation-based community, versus an information-based one. Fans feel the need to vocalize their recognition of multiple fandoms and practices, rather than build a focused body of knowledge and information, and have created a new elitism that insists it despises the elitism of earlier generations.


    Looking at a convention space today, fandom discussions and education are the purview of the panel room and private meetings. Much like forums discussions, they are regulated by topic, and frequently contain dialog and information. The convention floor behaves differently: fast-paced interactions, callbacks of online catchphrases, sharing of photos and image gathering, which are then uploaded onto social media sites for the virtual attendees to experience. In a way, the convention floor is becoming a convergence of social media fandom practice, mirroring the online media outlets through which these fans interact outside the con.  


    Digital communities have altered how the recent fandom generations practice anything, because it is how they first interacted and learned of fandom communities in the first place. And this new practice of fandom carries over to the analog space, where the visible transformation is most apparent. A sort of physical network of networks.


    Image on front page by Alan Teo and available via Flickr

  • Depth Sensing: The Connotations of Body Data and the Microsoft Kinect

    Chaz Evans's picture
    by Chaz Evans — School of the Art Institute Chicago, DePauw University 2 Comments view

    New inventions are often received in terms of the science fiction texts that foreshadowed their coming to be. This was the case when Microsoft released the Xbox Kinect camera in 2010. As a depth sensor, hooked up to your home entertainment system, which converts the appearance and motion of the user’s body and physical surroundings into spatial data that your Xbox can interpret, it resembled the “telescreen” from George Orwell’s 1984. The telescreen functioned as a compulsory entertainment device that observed Orwell’s dystopian subjects in their own homes. The connection was not lost to voices in blogging and the popular press who characterized it as a machination of “Big Brother.”

    The telescreen from a film adaptation of 1984 (Virgin Films, 1984)

    Simultaneously the device was also received as an example of great progress in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), issuing a new era of relatively inexpensive “natural interfaces” with personal devices freeing users from the tyranny of keyboard, mouse, or other hand-held controller. This characterization was posited by other voices in the popular press as well as Microsoft.

    After the device’s proprietary drivers were reverse engineered the device was also characterized as a utopian hacker triumph. The great innovation was no longer the strict property of Microsoft, but could work with a number of devices and applications. Soon thereafter, Microsoft reversed their proprietary stance and released a software development kit (SDK), so that outside technologists could experiment with the device in a sanctioned manner. Microsoft then characterized the device as an embrace of techno-utopian openness and experimentation.

    Throughout this whole narrative, the Kinect was still a toy: a family friendly play-object that resembled Disney Pixar’s Wall-E, especially when its enclosure is removed, as Greg Borenstein pointed out in Making Things See (Maker Media, 2012).

    A Kinect camera without an enclosure. (Photo: iFixit)

    The Kinect camera converts the shape, motion, and depth of corporeal bodies into digital information a computer can understand and reproduce. It works using a principle called “structured light.” Before receiving any light, the device first projects an infrared grid onto the space in front of it. An infrared receiver on the device then measures the distance the infrared emissions travel between an object in space and the device. These distances can then be compared to a more standard RGB camera, giving the image that the device captures more detail. As a consumer-grade depth sensor, the Kinect is a household appliance for making digital copies of an individual’s body and personal space. There have been other video game peripherals that have captured physical motion in some aspect (such as the Nintendo Power Glove or the Activator for Sega Genesis), but none that have digitally recorded so much corporeal space at once, making the stakes seem much higher any other motion controller in history.

    The extreme meanings circulating upon the Kinect’s release reflect how these stakes have created emotional and cultural impact. Microsoft and others described the device as “revolutionary”, but if these revolutionary narratives differ or outright contradict each other, how do we know which revolution this device is allegedly waging? And for whom?

    The ongoing narrative of what the device means continued when Microsoft revealed that the device’s second version (for the XBox One) would always be on. After this announcement struck another chord with critics sensitive to privacy issues, Microsoft once again changed position, stating the device could be turned off anytime, defraying further associations with surveillance technology.

    A toy, a surveillance device, a revolution in HCI: the Kinect opens up new issues of personal space as politicized space, commodification of personal data, and the viewer/user’s physical participation as constitutive element of a media text. What additional meanings can we expect from this device’s relatively short but unfolding history?

  • Digital "Fads": How Performing Fads in the Digital Differs from the Analog

    Claire LaBar's picture
    by Claire LaBar — Old Dominion University view

    In a culture where we are constantly connected and essentially on display for members of our real and social networks, questions of identity building and performativity must be applied to several different spaces.  As a member of Generation Y, I’m constantly told how my peers and myself do and will react to this level of connectivity.

    A society of “digital natives” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2005, p. 1), we were born with this technology sometimes quite literally at our fingertips.  Although this type of immediate and constant interaction is often used with good intentions, such as checking in with a child or reconnecting with an old friend, there is something to be said for too much of a good thing. As one’s digital presence extends into the analog and vice versa, as scholars like Sherry Turkle have pointed out, many Gen Y-ers grow tired of being constantly connected. 

    In this post, I plan to explore how various “fads”, traditionally on display in the analog, can now spread to and change in the digital.  In this space, Gen Y-ers grow tired of these trends even faster than they would if restricted to the analog, which may speak to the instability and volatility of self-expression in a digital space.

    Fitness as a Digital Fad

    Though the fitness world is a traditionally analog space where gym members perform, on some level, for other gym members, or for explicit audiences (think: body builders, all gleaming tans and rippling biceps), it has not been until recently that fitness has permeated digital social media as a new fad. With an overflow of social media posts spouting “Fit is the new skinny,” and displaying food preparation, green smoothies, and stylish gym clothes, fitness and health performances have become just another way to put oneself on digital display. From recent Sports Illustrated cover model Nina Agdal’s flexing “selfies,” to MTV's The Jersey Shore star “Snookie” tracking her journey as a "fit mom,” this trend has become the newest way to be a part of the “in” group online.

    ^Jersey Shore star "Snookie" flexing her fit mom physique- #fitmom ?

    While fitness is generally a positive concept (who doesn’t want to be healthier or lose a few pounds?), as I said before, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when these concepts cross over into the digital.  Through interviews with Gen Y-ers that attend group fitness classes at my local gym, I have discovered that these online performances do follow much the same path as traditional trends.  In the digital world, there are still the ones who “did it before it was cool,” the new ones who “do it better,” and the ones who see the fad as something to be mocked, in order to position themselves as the non-conformist “other.”

    ^Green smoothies in mason jars- what better way to be "in"?

    But these digital fads, when performed in their analog spaces, do something differently. All gym members that I spoke with mentioned being “sick of seeing fitness all over the Internet,” and expressed that they were quickly growing tired of this fad’s online presence. However, they found that it was still acceptable, and actually an "in" group requirement, to be extremely devoted to the fitness classes, diet regimens, and healthy personas at the gym. I wondered, did the analog space retain its "cool" because it's somehow more "real" than the digital? 

    I found this topic interesting, as I haven’t previously seen examples of this separation of analog behaviors remaining “cool” past the expiration dates of their digital fads. As this project is still a work in progress, I open the discussion to other MediaCommons members (no matter which Generation you belong to), to gain a better understanding of digital fads and their effects on the analog spaces from which they evolve.

    Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2005). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York, NY: Basic Books. 

  • Digital Pornography and the Space of History: Six Preliminary Propositions, Part II

    Richard Cante's picture
    by Richard Cante — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2 Comments view


    Digital Pornography and the Space of History: Six Preliminary Propositions

    Part II


    Rich Cante

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


    Angelo Restivo

    Georgia State University


    (Continued from April 21st)


    In light of all this, we propose that:

    1. The sense of a spatial trajectory that was until recently so important in all-male porn is being eclipsed. Instead, we are presented with a series of relatively interchangeable, laboratory-like “any space-whatevers.” New forms of complicated inter-action between privacy and publicity are thus enfolded in novel ways into the operations of digital pornography, with different dynamics of “power” transecting the insides and outsides of such enfoldings.

    2. Reflecting the solo internet viewer/user and her/his own contiguous “spaces” of engagement–as opposed to the group viewing ethos of the theater, or even the physically delimited viewing locales of home video—the solo act becomes the model for the sexual encounters in pornography. Even when you are not seeing solo numbers, this is the case, as connectivity becomes something increasingly subsumed by enacted rubrics of digitality, linkage and extension. One effect is that solitude gets publically attached to pornography, and sexuality, differently.

    3. A different form of “liveness” is produced. It problematizes the very coherence of “pornography” as a word and concept. The “written reportage of prostitutes” had necessitated the re-presentation of the evidence of whole acts/encounters—leftovers of the commerciality of the original acts/encounters and of each instance in the supply-chain of their re-presentation. The other side of this, the other side of pornography, now appears as the “site” from which the desire of and for the pornographic is mostly digitally generated.

    4. The newer space-templates of pornography are produced as the physical spaces of gay life and gay history are transformed. San Francisco is the paradigm case, partly because it is the seat of “digital culture” in the U.S. It is also one of the places where gays are being dramatically displaced from a physical “Zion” by a new class of Technorati (gay or not, though mostly not). In this sense, emergent historical processes—which subsequently become visible partly as repetitions of prior ones (eg, Times Square or the use of gays, via AIDS, as disposable agents of urban gentrification in the 80s)—are visible in the traffic in pornography. In fact, pornography can now be viewed as an alternative type of news, showing you “what’s goin' on,” at the level of such not-yet-historicized, almost subperceptual levels of everyday life. 

    5. The gaze of cruising was invented as a way for “gay men” to make and phantasize private connections in the public spaces of a world that they were in the process of activating as their own in the liberation era—and fashioning themselves in relation to, individually and collectively. The cruising gaze was also regularly used for spatiotemporal mapping, since the filmic feature, in constructing establishing shots and transitioning into numbers. A visibly “voracious” look was even regularly built into the visual styles (“identities?”) of performers who became stars during the video era. With de-narrativization, the autonomization of numbers and parts of numbers, the move toward more anonymized spaces, de-celebrification, the further appearance of formal elements of postidentitarianism, and so forth, this formation dematerializes. This is closely related not only to what is happening in places like San Francisco, but also to everything that has been happening to gay identity, and the institutional recognizability of LQBTQ social bonds, in this country. 

    6. In a classically (or retro) postmodern operation, digital pornography becomes the penultimate sort of site at which the “over-saturated subject” feels they might find sanctuary from techno/media culture itself. The value of sex that pornography implicitly advertises to us, and the possibility of good or better sex with which it confronts us, can now be escaped most effectively through pornography itself. Likewise, mandates of good or better sex—instituted partly in and through the media (including pornography) and related technologies (eg, pharmaculture)—feel most readily “escaped,” paradoxically, through the use of media pornography. So does the so-called “increasing ‘sexualization’ of the world” since the 1960s. This is the precise sense in which this pornography promises something much more satisfying than sex: it now seems to be, feels like, and works as a more “astute” and “helpful” (re)presentation of what sex is, and what it does to us, than is sex itself. It is a “better” portal of access to spaces and spatial trajectories of being and becoming that we used to assume were potentiated most effectively by unmediated sex. Consequently, the energies available for desiring “things” like cities changes with this in a variety of ways. Given the centrality of NYC and LA, in ecological relation with SF, to (gay) porn and (gay) phantasy in the U.S. since the 70s, this represents a major shift in the co-operative topographies and topologies of U.S. sexual identities and their histories.  

    Photo Credit: balaam via Compfight cc
  • Digital Pornography and the Space of History: Six Preliminary Propositions

    Angelo Restivo's picture
    by Angelo Restivo — GSU Moving Image Studies view

    (part 1 of a 2-part posting, both co-authored by me and Richard Cante)

    In the years between 2001 and 2004—the period immediately preceding the explosion of “Web 2.0”—we together published a series of three essays on all-male pornography. At the heart of our argument was this claim: whereas the model that Linda Williams developed largely from heterosexual film pornography could unproblematically presume a certain fixity in the demarcation of public and private spaces, “all-male” pornography—in contrast and out of necessity— automatically had to position itself in relation to a public. Thus, all-male pornography made clear that it is less the "figures" (or bodies) produced through pornography that warrants critical attention than it is the"ground" beneath and between these figures. This is why spatial questions become crucial. How does pornography function in and upon space, as well as with space? This immediately confers upon all-male porn especially a political (and geopolitical) mandate, precisely in the sense that queer theorists of the time were talking about queer “world-making” as a political project.

    It seems to us, however, that the emergence of the web 2.0 as the primary (though certainly not the only) mode of dissemination, archiving, and viewing of porn demands a reconsideration of porn’s relationships to space, publics, world-building, and ultimately “the historical.”  And while our work continues to focus on all-male porn, it remains our assumption that it is possible to here discern crucial aspects of the function of all pornography in the U.S since the 1960s—which in turn can provide further vantage points on the issue of digital porn’s relation to physical spaces.

    Before addressing these larger questions, however, we want to detail some of the ways in which the formal system of (all-male) porn has changed as it has assumed its current, partly digital and web-based modalities. Of course, we realize that contemporary pornography exists in a wide variety of formats, ranging from those associated with major studios and sites (Falcon, Belami), to smaller niche operations (machofucker), to user-generated (xtube), to aggregator sites that collect samples (“legally” or pirated) from all of the above. Nevertheless, we feel that the following generalizations about the “look and feel” of recent pornography, are critical:

    a. increasing autonomization of porn “units.” Studios sell their “feature-length” porn by the numbers (in the sense Linda Williams developed with this term); user-generated porn often presents us with even smaller “minimal units,” such as stripping off shirt or pants, dancing (or “twerking”) in various states of undress, quick money shots, exhibition without money shots, acts of pure gesture such as “components” of what may be masturbation or urination, etc.

    b. partly as a result of the above, increasing flatness of mise-en-scene. The mise-en-scene becomes the barest kind of “genre” template: “home” (bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, etc.); car (stationary or moving); park; pool; etc.

    c. attenuation of the gaze as organizing principle. By this we mean that the elaborate system of looks that structured the scene of cruising in feature-length porn is weakened in online porn. Of course, it persists in some feature-length digital productions. But insofar as the webcam and/or cell camera replaces the older apparatus, and insofar as these are deployed quite literally as mirrors (reflecting the performer back to himself on his computer screen or phone), the gaze is occluded.

    d. weakened boundary between live enactment and the recorded act, and thus between process and product.

    e. a move from a structuring logic of stardom and celebrity to one of a new sort of run-of-the-mill anonymity

    f.  in the all-male case, a move further into a “gay for pay” ethos; i.e., further movement from identity into acts as the structuring logic of pornography

    (tomorrow we will present our preliminary propositions re: the above.)

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  • Precious (Binary) Illusions

    Katriel Paige's picture
    by Katriel Paige — Independent scholar 2 Comments view

    I remember a writing seminar I was in - about ten years ago, now. During the critique of a short story by a classmate that featured instant messaging, the classmate said: 'I wrote this because I believe nothing important can be said online. Nothing really important, anyway.'

    We have this mental framework: digital – distraction – loneliness, and face-to-face – intimacy – meaning. The first set is billed as generally negative, while the second set is billed as positive. Scholars like Sherry Turkle, especially in the social and humanities portions of academia, can take this dichotomy also: that the digital is a curiosity, that relationships and networks made digitally are somehow not the norm. Or that such relationships simply aren't 'real' – that we are substituting constant digital connection for meaningful conversation. It can be likewise inferred that what we are connected with digitally is but an illusion, a copy at best and a series of lies and deceptions at worst.

    I put this to you:

    If nothing important can be said online, if the physical is – by default – more worthy, then why do we have practices like 'doxxing' – revealing personal addresses and details of a person as a way to get vengeance? Would that not be counted as a threat impacting the workplace / school life and private life of that person any other time – what about the online space makes it different? Should it be treated differently at all? Why do we have software like Skype, allowing us to keep in contact with those in other towns or cities? And how is this different from phone calls – another mediated communication, with no body language cues? And why then, on a more personal note, are the friends I've had for the longest time (12-14 years, at the moment) also those I have met and talked to primarily online? If nothing truly important can be said online, then it would follow that friendships would not be able to start or primarily take place in forums, chatrooms, discussion boards, or those channels. My work is done digitally just as much as my friendships are digital.

    It's not all peaches and roses online either, though. If we think of the physical as raw – like cutting into an onion and causing tears – the digital can be just as raw. It can hurt: we can learn about the death of friends, or broken relationships, or see pictures or people telling us we're worthless. Parts of it can make us uncomfortable: from political extremism to sexual kink communities to creepy urban legends to hearing about sexist rants and abuse at conventions. We also have our favorite places and people as well as those we try to avoid. We have our favorite places and the places (and people) we try to avoid. We can find satire and extremism and death and work and love – all of these, just as we can in the streets and driveways, parks and bathrooms.

    So what is the illusion – if there even is one – here?

    Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc
  • The Overpass Light Brigade's Remediation of Digital Media to Engage Public/Private Spaces

    Kristopher Purzycki's picture
    by Kristopher Purzycki — University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee 1 Comment view

    After eclipsing print a few years ago, internet advertising has now surpassed that of broadcast media. This saturation of digital advertising is evidenced on nearly every web page or with every check of our personal electronic devices. Since the emergence of graphic design, outreach communications has at times returned to more ironic, “analog” modes to create messages that attract attention though the dense media haze. One of these modes has involved the exploitation of public spaces as forums of public discourse. While many of these modes encroach upon public spaces, they often become blurred within the urban landscape in the forms that includes graffiti, sidewalk chalk announcements, and tagging. Engaging audiences that are simultaneously indeterminable yet highly selective, these media offer an intriguing contrast to the targeted messages tailored to address our IP addresses and the content of our cookie jars.

    For activism outreach, public spaces are fundamental environments for demonstration and protest. Across America, various factions of the Occupy Movement united under a singular campaign of coopting these spaces. Although many of the public park shantytowns of Occupy have been dismantled, a few of the outcropping campaigns continue to protest. One of these Wisconsin groups, the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB), arose from this movement and continues to draw attention to several regional issues. Most significant of these issues was the 2012 passage of “Act 10” in Wisconsin, which decimated unions’ abilities to negotiate workers’ contracts, prompting thousands of public school teachers, civil servants, and their supporters to assemble at the state capitol building to denounce the radical move by the state’s administration. During the ensuing protest, OLB volunteers held up alphanumeric light-up sign boards to spell out one of many topical mantras across the pedestrian bridges spanning the area's highway systems. During the subsequent campaign to remove Governor Scott Walker from his office, OLB protestors spanned the Bradford Street Bridge in Milwaukee to spell out “RECALL WALKER” across Lincoln Memorial Drive.

    Over the two years following the initial fight over Act 10, the open-source activist methods of the OLB have prompted numerous groups across the globe to use similar activities in protest of both local and widespread issues: the Seattle Light Brigade and Colorado Springs Light Brigade both demonstrated against regional energy crises; OLB Chicago railed against the defunding of public schools; “MARRIAGE EQUALITY” was promoted by Light Brigade Maryalnd; the NYC Light Brigade joined several other groups in the OLB network to decry the agricultural giant Monsanto; the chapter in Colgne, Germany has taken OLB's open-source media global.

    Wisconsin’s political division has, of late, focused on this administration’s attempt to restrict publicly-owned spaces such as government buildings from being used by individuals and groups to protest. These restrictions have not only generated unique protest groups such as the “singing grannies,” but have also spurred the OLB to further promulgate their message, using social media outlets to augment their broadcasting power. By using the publicly-accessible bridges over busy commuter routes, OLB messages are reaching out to the public in one of the few remaining private spaces: our vehicles. As the usage of texting while driving is regulated in most states, the OLB has remediated this truncated form of communication to not only appropriate the traditional public space but also the typically isolated space of the evening commute. In this way, the OLB takes advantage of the audience’s inability to engage other communication inputs, perhaps even satiating the hunger for media.

    Not only have the OLB re/claimed these spaces, but are combining several forms of communication found in traditional and digital advertising, public space communication, and social media. So how does the medium of the public forum affect our interfacing with a medium that evokes the pixelated fonts of OLB light boards? As the OLB continues to grow, its members continue to search for more of the few remaining private spaces that exist. As someone who first heard about the efforts of the Washington D.C. Overpass Light Brigade, has since moved to the organization’s home state of Wisconsin (and participated in a handful of OLB protests), I am similarly concerned with finding these public/private spaces. 

    Photos by LightBrigading. 2012. Some Rights Reserved.

  • West African virtual spaces as urban assemblage?

    Clovis Bergere's picture
    by Clovis Bergere — Rutgers University 3 Comments view

    What happens when Internet use becomes ubiquitous in places characterized by general conditions of scarcity, such as urban Guinea in West Africa? Connections rates in Guinea's main cities such as Conakry or Labé are vertiginous with young people at the forefront of the change. Facebook, for instance, is currently adding over 25,000 new users from Guinea per month; over 50% are between the ages of 18 and 24 and over 80% are between the ages 16 and 34 ( Why are urban youth in Guinea so strongly attracted to social media? What do they do online? What new digital cultures are emerging in these virtual spaces? These are just a few of the new research questions raised by Guinean – and perhaps more generally West African – youth's new found fascination with online social networking.

    To date, academic research on the Internet in Guinea, and West Africa more broadly, has tended to focus on issues of access or on more marginal practices such as scamming or political activism for instance. Yet, as young Guineans’ digital lives become increasingly complex with cyberspace occupying an important part of their everyday lives, new conceptualization of youth's engagement with space, and in this case virtual space are needed. It is within this context that I want to ask: How can theorizations of space within urban studies help us make sense of African digital spaces?

    In his 2011 article 'The city as assemblage: dwelling and urban space', McFarlane offers the “ House of Paraisopolis”, a house built by cementing together an intricate amalgam of just about everything its creator is able to get his hands on, from discarded plastic to old shoes or kitchen utensils, as a heuristic for conceptualizing the city as assemblage. For him, the ontological metaphor offered by this house is useful to understanding the city as “processual, relational, mobile, and unequal” (p. 649). Looking at the intricate juxtapositions of carefully crafted self-photographs, shared news stories, entertaining videos, football commentary, advertising and heavily abbreviated texts scrolled together in a continuous 'news' feed that constitute the Facebook timelines of many Guinean youth, parallels to the house seem warranted.

    In answering the question above, I therefore want to tentatively suggest recent work on conceptualizing the African city as an assemblage (Simone, 2006; McFarlane, 2011; Fuh, 2011; Pieterse, 2007 for instance) - work born and concerned with non-digital spaces in African cities – as a fruitful theoretical footing from which to approach the virtual spaces of West African social networking.

    In other words, urban studies as a discipline concerned as it is with juxtapositions, assemblages and complex spaces of multiple possibilities and unpredictability seem particularly interesting as an approach, or at least as a point of departure, a interdisciplinary footing from which to study cyberspace and emerging online cultures. Yet, just as the cities they describe, these theories also demand to be re-made in the process.

    Further readings:

    Fuh, Divine 2012 “The Prestige Economy: Veteran Clubs and Youngmen's Competition in Bamenda, Cameroon. Urban Forum 23(4):501-526.

    McFarlane, Colin 2011 “The City as Assemblage: Dwelling and Urban Space”. Environment and Planning-Part D 29(4):649.

    Pieterse, Edgar 2008 City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development, London: Zed Book.

    Simone, AbdouMaliq 2006 “Intersecting Geographies? ICTs and Other Virtualities in Urban Africa” In Fisher, M. S. and Downey, G. 2006 Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Photo Credit: Jeff Attaway via Compfight cc

  • Walls, posts, and boards: Revisiting analog structures of social mediation

    Katie Day Good's picture
    by Katie Day Good — Northwestern University 1 Comment view
    Workers at the Glenn Martin aircraft plant share information about carpooling on the bulletin board. 1942. Photographer: Howard Liberman. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
    Among the various retro technologies shown in the TV series Mad Men, one in particular always catches my attention: the office bulletin board. Usually relegated to the background, the bulletin board comes into focus in at least two scenes in the series. In the first, it offers a platform for a petty office revenge when an ego-bruised employee, Paul, posts a copy of Joan the secretary’s driver’s license, publicly revealing her age and humiliating her in front of her colleagues. In the second (video below), it offers a lesson in social self-presentation when the same secretary, Joan, chides her co-worker Peggy for posting on the board a bland advertisement for a roommate and helps her craft a flirtier one.
    Joan offers advice to Peggy on how to present herself on the office bulletin board.
    These scenes around the bulletin board, though small and seemingly insignificant moments in the series’ overall plot, are useful reminders of the long history of social mediation before the age of social media. In particular, they highlight the enduring and everyday practice of people posting information on public structures and common surfaces to communicate messages, share ideas, and represent themselves to audiences of varying sizes and scopes. These analog structures of social mediation―including not only bulletin boards, but also walls, telephone poles, refrigerator and office doors―are ubiquitous, and often mundanely informational, features of the landscape. But as the small dramas around the bulletin board in Mad Men suggest, such structures have also historically served as useful and flexible platforms for participatory communication, or spaces around which people congregate, exchange meaning, and even negotiate power through bits of posted media.

    Bulletin board on Hennepin Avenue. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1937. Photographer: Russell Lee. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

    Media research has increasingly highlighted the fluidity of boundaries between the physical and virtual, digital and analog, online and offline spheres. As Anna McCarthy and Nick Couldry argue in MediaSpace (Routledge, 2004), there is a need to move beyond the idea that virtuality is immaterial or unmoored from the spatial realities of everyday life, and to recognize “the artefactual existence of media forms within social space” as well as “the ways that media forms shape and are shaped by the experience of social space” (2). This emphasis on the spatiality of media culture is complemented by a historical turn in media studies that calls for situating “new media” in pre-digital histories of mediated, material, and technological experience. With these perspectives in mind, my aim in revisiting the bulletin board is to suggest that at the same time that we pursue this week’s prompt on MediaCommons―How does digital culture enter physical spaces and situations?we should also be asking the inverse: How does physical culture enter digital spaces and situations?

    It is worth considering, for example, how material structures like bulletin boards and their associated social practices have informed the architectures and cultures of digital space, from the bulletin board systems (BBSes) of the early internet to the “walls” of Facebook, the “posts” of blogs and microblogs, and the “boards” of Pinterest. How has the ubiquitous presence of these physical spaces in everyday life configured the habits and hierarchies of information seekers and sharers online? And given what we know, conversely, about social media and other virtual spaces as sites of cultural negotiation, self-presentation, and politics, how might they, in turn, lead us to reconsider the neglected material spaces, surfaces, and grassroots practices of communication that existed before the internet?

  • Introduction: Digital Culture and Analog Spaces

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    by Jamie Henthorn — Catawba College view

    MediaComons’ April survey asks how digital culture affects analog spaces and and interactions. We live in an age where real and digital spaces are constantly remediated. As Katie Day Good mentions in the first post for this survey, many of the practices and uses of the bulletin board are remediated into online spaces like Facebook. In the Media Park at ODU, where I work, we have Facebook magnets on our fridge that we use to interact with a different, analog, professional and social community focused on digital media and learning. The lines between digital and analog spaces are in many ways fluid, but at the same time, digital culture has a lasting influence on real spaces. We see this in contemporary activist groups and our survey on the digital divide asked similar questions about how physical space influences digital participation.


    This month’s survey reflects on a diverse set of musings on how the digital and the material intersect to create meaning. Responses include metaquestions on how we discuss mediated spaces as well as research into digital culture and social action, porn studies, social media, gaming, and cosplay. Our hope is that this survey will introduce many to the research going on in this particular field of digital scholarship but also open up discussion on how changing media spaces change the ways in which we answer this question.


    Scholars contributing to this survey include:

    Katie Day Good, Northwestern University

    Clovis Bergere Rutgers, University-Camden

    Kristopher Purzycki, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    Katriel Page, Independent Scholar

    Richard Charles Cante, University of North Carolina

    Angelo Restivo, Georgia State University

    Claire LaBar, Old Dominion University

    Hollis Griffin, Denison University

    Chaz Evans, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, DePauw University

    Charles Dunbar, Independent Scholar