Category Archives: geekology 101

Geek stuff – websites, articles, games etc.

Perth, online.

blog out links

Just a snapshot from my work this week.

With thesis submission day rapidly approaching (next Thursday – finally!), I’m just putting the finishing touches on my network visualisations. Obviously the real thing is higher quality – this is just a screenshot – but what you’re looking at are two things: a) the way in which 135 Perth-based food bloggers network their identities online, and b) the way that Perth food bloggers link to each other via blog rolls. (Tracking the comments on blogs would have been more useful, but I have run out of time to do it.)

I’ve also got overlays that show the links between their Twitter & Facebook pages, as well as how they all fit together.

The text is very small, but basically I use a coded system to designate each individual (for example, if my blog was in there it would be ‘bw’ – beyond words – and then my linked Facebook page would be ‘bw.fb’, and my Twitter profile ‘bw.tw’, and my Urbanspoon profile ‘bw.us’ and so on). I’ve done this for a number of reasons; partly, it was to keep the labels for each node short, so that they didn’t take over the graph, but also to add a degree of anonymity to my results (rather than saying Blogger X links to pages w, y, z), which allowed me a degree more freedom with my study (i.e. not having to get signed permission forms from everyone on the list).

None of my research in any way discusses content on any particular blog; everyone whose work is directly featured in my thesis (such as quotes from blog posts) has granted permission for me to use that information. Everyone else is just a dot, and a link.

Blogs are represented by black dots; aqua represents Facebook; blue is Twitter, etc. I found that bloggers link to sixteen different social platforms (including social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, social recommendation sites, and social curation sites) from their blogs (in order from most popular to least): Urbanspoon, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Google+, YouTube, Foodgawker, LinkedIn, Posse, Yelp, Last.fm, Tastespotting, Tumblr (blogs that were hosted at Tumblr didn’t count towards this; if they did, Tumblr would come just after Google+, but I counted them as blogs for the sake of consistency), and Vimeo.

I haven’t included platforms like BlogLovin’ on here. I was going to, but in the end was having such problems with it at the time of data collection that I left it out. I’ve also undoubtedly missed some platforms. I used a site called IssueCrawler to get the initial links from blogs. Basically, I uploaded a list of URLs (i.e. all the blog URLs), and the returned results consisted of a spreadsheet with every URL linked from the blog’s main page. I checked everything manually a few times, as the IssueCrawler results weren’t perfect (some blogs appeared to have no links outwards, which proved to be incorrect based upon my double-checking).

I also checked everything a few times to make sure that I had the most accurate sample possible. A major challenge came in the form of collecting the sample group. Not all blogs h

One thing that I am hoping to do in the future if I have time is to create a dynamic visualisation of posts, which will plot the occurrence of blog posts across a period of time (back to about 2004, as I think that’s when the earliest post from this group was made) corresponding to the restaurant/cafe/location they blogged about, placed over a map of Perth. I’m not sure how I will treat home-cooking/recipe posts, but these could possibly be plotted as well, although not to a location (maybe by theme or primary ingredient).

Blogs are somewhat of a passe subject these days, but I’m quite fascinated by how the medium has persisted. We have all these other ways to communicate, as the social platform links attest (for instance, 51% of the group has a linked Urbanspoon profile, 49.5% a Twitter accounts, and 47.5% a Facebook page dedicated to their blog). However, blogs offer the opportunity for longer-form expression that few other platforms allow at this stage. (Newer platforms like Medium are changing that as they straddle the boundary between blog space, collaborative environment, and SNS.)

Because I’m specifically looking at Perth, these links just serve to demonstrate how closely knit the Perth food blogging community is (and, by extension, how close other online communities are). My research focuses on the ways that place identity can be encountered and expressed via locative and location data, so the crown in the jewel of my research is a much bigger map that looks at how Perth bloggers and social media users have talked about Eat, Drink, Perth over the past four years.

The decision to research that particular festival wasn’t entirely arbitrary; there are important, undeniable links between food, geography, identity, and community that are vital to my research, so EDP has been a useful vehicle for exploring local networks in more detail. I’m still working on finalising that visualisation. However, it’s taking a loonnnng time. I’ve collected the geographic coordinates for every EDP event from 2010-2013, as well as (I think?) every online news article, tweet, and blog post about EDP. (Probably not all; there are limitations. For instance, I have no access to private data, such as protected tweets, nor did I want access to them for this project as I am only looking at information that is publicly available. In addition, EDP/Show Me Perth remove content from their website and Facebook page every year before launching the new event. The Wayback Machine was somewhat helpful, but there’s no doubt I’ve missed stuff.)

All that information is being plotted on an incredibly complicated network visualisation that I will share here once it’s done. The graph corresponds to the geodata I’ve collected; for instance, all posts about the Butcher’s Picnic link to the node for that event, which is located (on the map and IRL) in Northbridge Piazza. There are also different levels of links for comments, trackbacks, and different colours utilised to represent different years of the festival. Fun!

f19 network structure

a basic example of how the main network visualisation is structured — bright green: event location (geolocated on a map). teal: events held at that location during one edp year (in this case, three; this is just a dummy example, there may be more/less in a given year). purple — blog posts about specific events. red: bloggers (the actual blogs). if you look closely here, this network depicts ‘blogger a’ as having written both of the blog posts (purple nodes); ‘blogger b’ was linked to in the mad hatter’s tea party post (there’s a tiny arrow pointing out from that node to the ‘blogger b’ node). imagine this, hundreds of posts over, for four years…

It actually is very fun. It’s just super frustrating and time consuming getting the data to appear in a way that is logical and informative, rather than just being a splash of colour on the screen that isn’t really any good for telling a story.

I’m thinking once I’m done with everything and have a spare moment, I’ll publish a list of Perth food blogs/Facebook pages/Twitter profiles on here, in case anyone is interested. I’ll also have high-resolution versions of my visualisations available too.

Meghan Tonjes is fucking amazing.

I would be lying if I told you that I don’t have the world’s most immense lady crush on her.

(I do. Very much so.)

Best line:

“Nothing good that I have ever done has come from fear or hate…

… I refuse to entertain the notion that publicly shaming people for being big or fat or anything that makes you uncomfortable is anything but completely demeaning, ignorant, and disgusting.”

#fuckyehmeghantonjes

Caterina is not ‘my wife’

I’ve been reading Jessica Livingston’s interview with Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr (along with her husband Stewart Butterfield) in the book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. It’s an incredibly interesting piece, but I was so shocked to read the following passage:

There is a lot of institutionalized sexism working against women in business and I think that people aren’t even aware that it’s there. One example happened when we went down to Silicon Valley to meet with a venture capital firm. After the meeting, the VC spoke to someone associated with our company and said to him, “Tell Stewart not to bring his wife to VC meetings.” Which was shocking to me, and Stewart was furious about this as well. He let everybody know, “Caterina is not ‘my wife.’ She is instrumental to the success of this company. Her contributions have been equal to mine.”

I’m not a woman in business, but I am a woman in STEM (although because I consider myself an academic first, in professional terms, I do forget this sometimes!). I’ve been lucky so far in the context of my work not to have been the victim of sexist attitudes, and I hope I never am. (Actually, I lie: in my very first semester of teaching, I was told by a male student in his 50s that he refused to take instruction from me, a woman.) If anything, I know of more women in my field than men! It’s shocking that Fake was regarded as merely “the wife” as recently as 10 years ago; it’s more shocking that it undoubtedly still goes on today.

I definitely recommend getting your hands on this book if you can. Some fascinating stories about how the Internet-based companies we know today got started and have prospered, even when the market seems already to be saturated.

Tales of teenage insecurity

During my hunt around Flickr and Instagram over the past week, I came across a pretty disturbing (and, indeed, confusing) Instagram account.

The page, run by one girl, invites users to tag photos of themselves, which are then shared on the page in question, with an invitation for other Instagram users to rate the photo out of 10.

perthsbest

 

The girls (they are mostly girls) appear to be teenagers; they look young, and the rather deplorable standard of the spelling and grammar in the comments support that assumption. They pout and pose in bikinis and outfits far beyond their years, all heavily-applied make up and doe eyed innocence.

The page disturbed me, because it threw into disarray my thoughts about the narcissism of youth. I’m a fairly strident opponent of the notion that the kids of today are overly narcissistic; instead, I prefer to think that the seemingly endless stream of selfies and self-promotion is simply symptomatic of the fact that there are so many tools at the disposal of youth. I thought that the levels of narcissism had probably always been the same; it’s just that today, there are so many more ways to promote yourself, and the overt sharing of oneself online just seems over the top to us older folks, but is in fact perfectly normal behaviour, given the circumstances.

But… I don’t know. I’m really confused by this Instagram page. I’m quite sure that there’s a massive element of insecurity lurking behind each girl’s decision to submit her photo for public scrutiny, but at the same time each girl must know that she is quite beautiful, because if you possessed genuine self-image issues, surely you wouldn’t put yourself in such a position. I’m not a psychologist; I don’t really understand the motives behind selfies, let alone this kind of bizarre activity. Sure, I share selfies not-irregularly, and I’m not entirely sure why I do it, but it’s certainly not motivated by the desire to have people tell me I’m beautiful or gorgeous or give me a rating out of 10. (God forbid.)

I was a teenager once and although it wasn’t that long ago, it was in a time before smartphones and social media and perpetual self-promotion. I can remember what it was like, though, to be a teenager, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have opened myself up to criticism by being featured on a site like this Instagram page. (I’m not saying the name as I don’t want this post to turn up in Google searches.) I was a painfully insecure kid, plagued by body image issues from a very young age and was certain that I was about as attractive as a dog’s breakfast. I remember believing, when I was the age of the girls featured, that I would never get a boyfriend (I did; getting one at 29 is proving much more challenging!), that I was too fat for a bikini (I wasn’t, but it took a while to realise that; I learned around the age of 22 that every body is a bikini body), and that I was really just too damn weird for public consumption (correct, but I’ve embraced it).

The existence of sites like this IG page really do make me wonder whether growing up is actually very different today to what it was 15 or so years ago. When I was a teenager, the Internet was for nerds, for goodness’ sake. It was unusual to be online, not the norm. Growing up online must be such a challenging experience. As a 14 year old, it was bad enough wondering whether I’d ever feel “acceptable”, without my photographs and my social life being plastered all over the web. I wonder what the girls who needed society’s approval – the girls who needed strangers to rate them out of 10 – did back in 1999. How did the insecure beauties from my school get the validation that they needed? Did they even need to seek it, or is behaviour like this a product of the fact that life is basically an ongoing public competition of blatant self-promotion?

It makes me feel out of touch. I am happy to share so much of my life with the world, in the form of blog posts, photos, and tweets, but at the same time I’m still very much aware of the fact that I’m a private being. All the random insecurities that arise in my own world don’t manifest in a need to have the public tell me I’m worthy. I can’t even begin to identify with what it must be like to be fifteen and perma-connected.

 

Social games, social gambling, or something altogether sinister?

As an Internet researcher, mobile- and platform-based social games – although not a part of my active research interests – are something always in the back of my mind. After reading about and listening to some presentations on social games this week as part of ANZCA 2013, though, I have found myself pondering the social, cultural, and economic implications of the genre.

I’m not much of a gamer, although I have played a variety of games regularly in the past, beginning with Tetris and Super Mario on Gameboy as a kid.

gameboyremember this?

The most “social” that Gameboy got for me was when my cousin and I got a connector cable that allowed us to play tennis against each other during long car rides. That, and fighting with my sister about whose turn it was to play. (This was resolved, I think, by my parents giving in and getting another Gameboy.)

Then, when I was in high school, we got an original Playstation and a bunch of crappy games from Bali. I had a game of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater going for an entire term, left on pause when I wasn’t playing it because my parents refused to buy a memory card. Somehow they thought that would stop us (me) from playing so much. Bahaha. (They also used to unplug the Ethernet cable and take it to work during the school holidays so I couldn’t spend all my time online. Look where that got me, folks. Doing a PhD in Internet Studies, you say?). Again, not terribly social, except for fighting with my sister… although I think she had lost interest by then.

tony-hawk

soul on a roll but you treat it like soap on a rope cause the beats in the lines are so dope.

In the post-high school period, I played Quake and Civilisation on PC with my then-boyfriend, and Sims on my laptop (pre-Apple fangirl era), which resulted in my housemates at the time staging an intervention and telling me that I played Sims too often. I didn’t; I just didn’t want to spend my time in the large walk-in pantry with them, snacking endlessly on Pringles and chatting. (Fun story: we used to do our food shopping mid-week, but put a ban on opening the Pringles until the weekend. I can’t even tell you how many times we’d go to open them on Friday night, only to discover an empty tin with the piece of foil replaced over the top, making them look like they were untouched.)

Then, I didn’t play games for a while, until I moved in with my then-boyfriend (different one. Don’t look at me like that, there have really only been two) who was a certified gaming nerd. At one stage I think we had… 6? different platforms in the house.

This is where I realised that games are not for me.

You see, I have anger issues. Not all the time, and not serious, but put me infront of a TV and my lack of gaming competence leads to almighty rage.

It took me a week to pass the first stage of Halo 3. A week. I think it took him about 15 minutes.

There were many tears caused by games in that household, all cried by me.

There were tears during The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, when I played the same part over and over and over again and couldn’t work out how to progress.

There were tears during Super Mario Galaxy, when I played one stage about four hundred thousand times and couldn’t get all the bastard coins. (And, I might add, never did.)

coins

i think it was this one. i remember purple coins, but everything else is blurry due to the fact that i couldn’t see through my tears.

There were tears during Mario Kart Wii, when my boyfriend would thoroughly kick my arse on the track again and again and again. These were met with screaming and yelling at each other. The most memorable time, we were playing Mario Kart against my best friend and her then-boyfriend over the Internet (because you could do that on Wii! Social gaming revolution!), and I was Skyping her at the same time. She was laughing and saying how much fun it was; my boyfriend and I were red in the face from yelling at each other.

Actually, this probably says more about our relationship than anything else… although yelling and games have been a lifelong co-occurrence for me. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing that with the Internet.

Most of the time during that relationship though, my exposure to games came in the form of me lying on the couch watching the screen as he played. It was like interactive TV in an non-interactive relationship, but it was kind of fun in a way. Other times, he would have the boys over for hour upon hour of Super Smash Bros and Halo, and I’d… do other things. I don’t know what.

In the past three years, I haven’t played too many games. I’ve casually played puzzle games on my phone (initial iPhone and now Samsung Galaxy Note II) but nothing serious. To be honest, there’s really nothing I can get in to, and I’m too busy to play much. When I do play, it tends to be just before I go to sleep, as I’ve conditioned my brain to begin to slow down when lying in bed doing a jigsaw on my phone, or playing Solitaire, or something simple like that.

The social games revolution hasn’t completely passed me by, though. How could it? I’m on Facebook, after all.

When Farmville arrived a few years ago, I ended up systematically blocking anyone who invited me to join or whored themselves out for extra… whatevers. I’ve never played, and it’s with that in mind that my current criticism of social games arises.

For what it’s worth, I am not against games at all. I believe that children should be encouraged to play games – both physical and video – from a very young age, as they help to develop problem solving and logic skills. Being a gamer is, to my mind, no different – and indeed perhaps better – than being a fan of movies. I say “better” because of the interactivity factor – something you just don’t get from plonking yourself in front of a screen motionless for two hours.

But this isn’t about that.

This is about Candy Crush Saga.

It’s a game that I have no interest in, really, because it just seems like a ridiculously unnecessary time-suck. But as I saw Facebook friends posting statuses saying they were up to level 30, 75, and then 135 — people with jobs and families — I started wondering what on earth could be so good about it. So I downloaded the app for my phone.

Screenshot_2013-07-06-12-12-40someone around here doesn’t now how to take a screenshot properly.

Candy Crush Saga is a game much like Bejewelled and aaaaany number of similar games, where you have to swap out pieces of candy with identical pieces of candy in order to progress through the game. It’s basic and kid-friendly and really pretty damn boring.

bejewelled

bejewelled. swap the jewels to get three in a row in a certain amount of time. rinse, repeat.

But it’s also incredibly addictive. And, really, that’s all games need to be, for the average person. They don’t need brilliant, life-like graphics, or fast game play, or even need to be fun. They need to be simple enough that anyone can pick up their phone and start playing, without needing to sit through long-winded tutorials or having to trawl the web for walk-throughs (although there are, of course, plenty of those).

Social games need to get players to keep coming back for more. The best way to do this, after allowing the app to be downloaded for free, is to give you a very limited number of lives. Let’s say, five. That’s what Candy Crush Saga gets you. It’s not a difficult game, and I got about 25 levels in before I ran out. I’m sure others have done better, or worse, but by that stage, it’s fair to say that many people would be hooked. You can wait 30 minutes (the amount of time required to get a new life without paying, up to a maximum of five lives), or you can pay $0.99 on the spot for five new lives, right there.

$0.99 is a clever amount. It’s less than a dollar, and people don’t tend to think of anything under a dollar as being real money. Because you want to keep playing right away, you’re happy to pay $0.99 for five new lives, and you keep playing. But, fairly soon, you reach a level that quickly uses up all five lives… so you buy another five. And another. And another.

It’s not just lives that you can purchase. There are a range of boosters and charms that can give you additional powers or extend your gameplay, ranging from $0.99, well into the $20-range… and probably beyond. These are permanent, so you pay once and use forever, but still… $25.99 for a charm in a game that you can download and pay for free, if only your patience holds out long enough?

         Screenshot_2013-07-06-12-13-07 Screenshot_2013-07-06-12-26-56 Screenshot_2013-07-06-12-15-52

Herein lies my issue with social games. It seems that there are two ways to get further: either by spending real money on extra bits and pieces, or by whoring yourself out to friends over Facebook. Gift me this, donate me that, I need to keep playing! It’s a part of gaming that I’m incredibly uncomfortable with, but I also keep my Facebook life very separate to my other online pursuits. I’ve made exactly one status update in the past year, and probably only one in the year before that. I’m not anti-Facebook, but I don’t at all like how invasive it can be.

To me, social gaming feels more like social gambling. It’s the hand-held equivalent of a pokie; you can easily sit there, flushing your money down the drain as you click purchase, purchase, purchase, all in the name of what? Getting a few extra lives so you can play a bit longer, instead of putting down the phone and coming back to it tomorrow when your lives have been renewed for free? Spending more than some people earn in an hour (and, on a global scale, more than some people earn in a month) on a booster that will allow you to pass difficult levels? It’s probably no surprise that I hate this and find it really sinister, given my extreme dislike for gambling. It all feels like the same thing. It’s about addiction and a quick thrill, but the payoff is just so little.

As I said earlier, I come to this with only a passing knowledge of game studies and the socio-cultural theory behind it. This is more just a ramble than anything else, but it’s an educated ramble from someone who has played the game, and has some familiarity with the topic, and who can’t help but be highly suspicious of what’s going on here. Reports suggest it’s already making parent company King an awful lot of money… but that’s no different to Angry Birds, right? Why am I more bothered by Candy Crush Saga than I am by Angry Birds? Perhaps it’s the fact that AB feels like it has a more beneficial problem solving element, or maybe it’s that in-game purchases include access to extra content.

Maybe it’s just that I never really got into Angry Birds. For what it’s worth, I’m not getting into Candy Crush Saga either. I’m curious to keep playing just to see whether it gets any better, or whether the next 355 levels contain more of the same. It’s so rare that I’m genuinely against something appy-webby-netty, but this just seems like a money-sucking waste of time that preys on people’s inability to pull themselves away and go do something useful with their lives. For that, I’m not sure who I’m more angry at: the players or the developers. Please, everyone, use the time you have to explore the immense wealth of knowledge that you have at your fingertips, accessible via the same device that you’re spending hour upon hour crushing candies on. You’ll be a richer, more fulfilled person for doing so.

Dear Google – is there anyone home?

This morning, Google have announced that they’re going to retire their Reader service in the face of the declining popularity of RSS feeds.

googlereader

seeya, reader. you’ve been super dooper.

The reaction from the masses, or those who I follow on Twitter at least, suggests that this is quite a strange move. It seems that everyone’s still using the service, and consistently, too.

I’ve been using Google Reader for approximately forever. There’s no point on putting a number on it; I’ve been using it since it came in to being. And now, it’s going.

I recently cut the list of blogs I follow from over a thousand down to about 100. It felt marvelous, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, but obviously there was a sadness in that, too, for Google Reader was like an archive of my tastes from the last however many years. Writing blogs for when I was seriously pursuing creative writing; running blogs from when I ran; political blogs from when I was more in to politics; and so on. I certainly don’t check all of them, or even most of them, regularly – my PhD has kind of killed my enthusiasm for many blogs, and (slowly) for social media in general, although I have no doubt that this will change as the thesis tapers off and I rejoin the world of actual living human beings.

It’s sad to see this service go, but it’s a reflection of the times. We don’t need RSS as much as we used to, because we get updates elsewhere – on Twitter and Facebook from accounts set up by bloggers to attract and retain a wider audience. From in-built readers like that offered by WordPress, which make it easy to follow any other WordPress blog.

Perhaps it’s even a sign that we’re reading less blogs. Are they on the decline, finally? Or is it just that few people are simply bloggers these days?

As for me – I don’t know what I’ll use instead. What I love about the Google empire is the fact that I can access everything I need or want to access from anywhere else in the world. The exact same content is available on my laptop as on my desktop, and on my iPad as on my Samsung phone. The brand, device, or platform doesn’t matter because Google have really aced the cloud- and web-based computing market.

Therein lies the problem, though: many of us so heavily rely upon the flexibility of Google’s services that we’re at the mercy of its decision makers. For the millions of people still actively using Google Reader, the decision to axe it seems illogical – but we’ll adapt, as we always have, and will continue to do. Google has us where it wants us, and it does a damn good job of keeping us there – and I say that as a Google enthusiast.

Could this be part of Google’s push to revamp and raise the profile of its never-really-got-off-the-ground social network site, Google Plus?

Cyber- digital- virtual- … space?

Following on from my post earlier, I’ve been thinking about another issue that I discuss in my thesis. It’s related to the notion that there’s really no use for digital dualisms (real/virtual, offline/online, etc) that are often deployed when talking about the Internet.

Something I didn’t get around to mentioning but intended to was the fact that I still find the concept of cyberspace useful, but I am struggling with the terminology.

Due to the fact that my research investigates geography and place identity (i.e. our relationship and identification with the environments we inhabit – taking ‘place’ as different to ‘space’ in that place is “location (space) made meaningful” [see Tuan, Cresswell]) and social networks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what cyberspace means in the early twenty first century.

cyberspace

cyberspace: not quite this hectic, as far as i know. is that a body? do we even need bodies in cyberspace?? (hint: yes) //source//

I’m sure it has different meaning today than it did in the early 1990s, when cyberspace was posited as a futuristic, disembodied, dislocated Other world. It was firmly situated within the realm of the online/virtual, and in cyberculture studies the tension between our physical reality (perceived as flawed, restrictive; at a time when the (western) world was experiencing the first true dissolution of geographical boundaries, the body was an encumbrance to freedom) and the desire to exist purely as data inside the network.

Have you seen The Matrix? That, really. Jacking in, logging on, and dropping out: it was all about information, where to find it, and how to absorb as much as possible.

The only real problem with this was that it wasn’t entirely feasible. As far as I know, in 2013 science has still not found a way to separate mind and body, allowing the psyche to be uploaded to the network in order that one may live as a series of ones and zeroes, free from the constraints of ill-health, age, race, gender, death, and the need to pee. And that’s not to mention the ethical issues. I receive emails from my department reminding me to review ethics clearance for my research, which involves trawling blogs and social media and waxing lyrical about them. I can’t even imagine trying to get ethics clearance for a project that would essentially kill the physical body whilst preserving the human mind inside a machine.

Tres complique!

So it’s fair to say that cyberspace, as the ultimate pre-dot-com-bubble-burst buzzword, is probably no longer useful in the 1990s sense. However – and this is where it might get a bit mind-blowy (or maybe not) – I firmly believe that we now live in cyberspace.

This is where I come back to Nathan Jurgenson’s post that I commented on previously. He argues that there’s no need for digital dualisms, and I agree. When was the last time you used Google Maps your mobile phone to find your way to a friends’ house? Have you ever used Urbanspoon to find a restaurant recommendation when you’ve been out in town and want something good that’s within walking distance? Have you checked in on Foursquare or Facebook Places, or uploaded a photo to Instagram (they’re geotagged, you know), or tweeted from a festival? Have you asked for recommendations, or visited your national news website and automatically been directed toward the local news?

This is cyberspace, friends.

In many ways, ‘cyberspace’ forms a useful portmanteau – cyber referring to information (rather than virtual or fake), and ‘space’ to, well, geographical space – for labeling the relationship between data and materiality. When we participate and contribute content (status updates, photographs, videos, music downloads, check ins, reviews, ratings), we’re telling the network something about us, and about the places we inhabit. Our interaction with our physical surroundings is richer and more complex because “it” (the Internet – or more accurately, the algorithms and programming that allow information to be fed back to us as users) knows so much about us, our world, and what we want. Isn’t that a grand thing?

Like I said at the beginning though, I do struggle with the term ‘cyberspace’, probably because it is difficult to shake off the 90s connotations. The second you say ‘cyberspace’, it conjures up images of ones and zeroes and terrible (but awesome) movies like Hackers.

It’s also a term that I can’t help but want to use ironically, because it’s just really naff. But what should we say? Is there a good way to describe this network of information that coexists with our physical world?

On digital dualism (or why, in 2013, are people still fear mongering the Internet?)

I’ve spent the better part of the past 48 hours editing a chapter of my thesis called ‘Always online: How social networks and mobile phones re-embodied and re-placed digital narratives’.

The crux of the piece is that over the course of the past ten years (what some might call the ‘Web 2.0‘ era), and particular over the past five years since smartphone ownership rates skyrocketed and Internet-enabled mobile devices became the norm, the dichotomies of online/offline and virtual/real have become less meaningful, and certainly less useful, ways of describing the relationship that we, the users, have with the Internet. Not only has the Internet moved rapidly from being the haunt of geeks and researchers to a tool that everyone uses, but really, we’re always online. Having access is something that we take for granted; the trade off of ubiquity is that we’re never really alone, and never really ‘offline’.

I read this blog post by Nathan Jurgenson, a doctoral researcher from the University of Maryland, about the tendency of society – particularly the mainstream media – to still reduce life to digital dualisms, despite the fact that the notion of there being anything at all ‘fake’ about the Internet is far out of date. It was a timely post for me, as he’s managed to say in 500 words what I’ve been battling with for the past two days (more eloquently, of course).

The term that Jurgenson uses is digital dualismsThis is the notion that the dichotomies I mentioned above – online/offline, virtual/real (and others, like disembodied/corporeal, mind/body) – are absolutes when it comes to the Internet. It is the idea that everything that happens online is fake – and that, somehow, we possess the ability to switch ourselves on and off – connecting and disconnecting from ‘the matrix’ (hi, 1980s cyberpunk fantasies).

Digital dualism is the attitude that regards the Internet as some kind of digital other-space, and the interactions and relationships that are enacted within that space as entirely fictional.

virtual-reality-8

zomg virtual reality. this is how i access the internet. /source/

For most of us in the field of Internet research, online space stopped being perceived as a virtual Other a long time ago. For me, it began with the move toward an increasingly social web. Once upon a time (in a land far away), people would go online and construct alternate identities for themselves. They weren’t necessarily fake, digital representations of the self, but they weren’t quite the same as the everyday offline self, either. It was not always the norm to use our real names and post photos of ourselves on publicly accessible profile pages, nor was it the norm to connect online (via social network ‘friendships’) with people we knew offline. It happened, definitely, but not on the scale that we today perceive as standard, thanks to Myspace, Facebook, and the like. Without going in to the details of how Jurgenson’s post arose (you can read the full story here – basically it involves an American college footballer being duped into a relationship with a woman who didn’t exist, and the media are calling it a “digital hoax”), I instead wanted to highlight some of the things that he’s said that really exemplify how incorrect many attitudes are to the way so-called “digital” life works.

For some reason, users – especially young ones – are depicted in the mainstream media as possessing a plethora of social ineptitudes as a result of always having their eyes glued to their smartphones. Their only real skills, some would have you believe, are taking selfies and demonstrating nonchalance toward anything that happens in the ‘real’ world. They’re portrayed as so disconnected that they’re more zombie than human, lost causes aimlessly wandering the digital (ahem) streets of cyberspace. Probably on the Information Superhighway. When they’re not too busy surfing the net. And sexting.

Jurgenson writes:

The point isn’t that there exists a digital world that’s fake; it’s that there isn’t a digital world. The hoax is the invention of some cyber reality we’ve traded the offline for, where interaction is fake. The hoax is this conceptual error that Egan and other digital dualists rely on to make many of their arguments.

These writers get mileage out of calling this a “digital deception” and declare the Internet “fake” in order to have a convenient answer (“technology!”) for real, messy, complicated, human problems like celebrity, romance, and deception. Blaming technology also provides a simpler solution: “less technology!” And as I discuss in my IRL Fetish essay, by constructing the digital as some “other” place, and then judging that as “virtual” and less real, one can then value their own non-use as more human and deep.

I couldn’t agree with this any more. For some reason that makes absolutely no sense to me, but complete sense to most, the Internet and its goings-on are still a convenient scapegoat for real, complicated human problems. Young person has a naked photograph plastered all over the web? Blame Facebook! Celebrity attacked by the public via social media? Blame Twitter! Parents don’t know how to control their children? Blame teh intarwebz!

Here’s a thought. Perhaps the reason that the media and, it must be said, many parents, are still demonising the Internet is because they’re from a generation that didn’t grow up online, and this technology is still relatively new to them. As such, they lack the skills to adequately interpret the place that it has in society. It’s like that idea that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Likewise, the Internet (which is not actually a sentient, autonomous being, incidentally) doesn’t create hoaxes – people do. People attack and hurt and deceive each other, and it’s high time that we (the collective We – society) realised that. The Internet is merely a communications tool. It’s the same as a telephone or a CB radio or a letter, for god’s sake. Without people, these are inert objects and systems.

Map-of-the-Internet

the internet: not as terrifying as you think. //source//

I’d really recommend that you read Nathan Jurgenson’s post. He makes a lot of sense. More than me. My prediction is that to the society-leading adults of the future, this malarkey over cyber-hoaxes and general digital fear mongering will seem completely ridiculous. They’ll have grown up online, they’ll have already made the mistakes that we’re accusing them of now making, and they’ll have come up with ways to deal with it – from different parenting skills, to formal education, to the relaxation of hype in the media. More to the point, online behaviour will just be common sense because it will be normal. Nobody who grew up with a telephone fears the unseen dangers that lurk on the other side of the line, and the media has, for the most past, stopped with the moral panic about television.

It’s called technology, everyone. It changes, and sometimes it’s a bit scary, but it’s not always a bad thing.

Does the world need the new Myspace?

Imagine this: The Internet holds a party. All the usual suspects come: Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Soundcloud, Pinterest, Instagram, and a bunch of others, plus some quality A-list celebrities for good measure. It’s fun, but eventually things get a bit too rowdy and, like any good party*, debauchery occurs and everyone wanders home in the morning missing items of clothing and feeling a little bit sorry for themselves.

Then, down the track, out pops a baby. That baby is the new Myspace.

newmyspace

‘your stream is empty’: the nice way of saying ‘you have no friends and no interests, you boring shit’

Not to be confused with the hectic, migraine-inducing disaster of the old Myspace, the new Myspace is slick, algorithmic (it knows exactly what I want! Or does it?), and full of Justin Timberlake.

But is it really necessary?

I mean sure, it looks good, and chances are that there will be a whole new user base that never used the shitty old Myspace platform. Combined with a bunch of people who liked it enough to sign up again, the new Myspace might have potential. On the other hand, it might prove to be just another social media platform. And don’t get me started on the fact that it’s being called “the new Myspace” in the media. It feels like “The New iPad”. Wank less, please.

It’s more than a social network, more than a photo sharing site, more than a place for musicians and artists to be discovered. It’s kind of all of these things at once, but the way I see it, I already have so many other platforms that are allowing me to share, connect, and discover. I have more than enough ways of connecting with the people I already know, to the extent that I have little interest in searching for my Twitter or Facebook friends on Myspace (although this is possible. It’s also possible to sign in with Twitter or Facebook – a feature that increasingly makes me roll my eyes. Sometimes I just don’t want all my online activity to be strung together and interlinked). I connect with friends, acquaintances  and people of interest all over the web and on mobile-native platforms, so do I really need Myspace?

I feel like Google+ was the great white hope for a viable alternative to Facebook, but it hasn’t really picked up steam on a broad scale… even though people continue to whinge about Facebook and its various displeasing terms and conditions. Perhaps the new Myspace will do what G+ hasn’t yet been able to do, and succeed in drawing people across from Facebook. Is there a need for another major social platform to coexist with Facebook, though? Or are we finally growing tired of Facebook’s dominance?

Admittedly, I probably won’t use the new Myspace, so my questioning of its value may be biased. I didn’t use the old Myspace because it was an eyesore and a shining example of Why People Shouldn’t Be Allowed The Internet (i.e. too much teen angst + too much attitude + too much sex + too many colours and fonts and flashing things makes Erin something something). I probably won’t use the new Myspace because I already feel like my web presence is spread fairly thin, and at this point in time I’m looking for something to make managing my distributed self a little easier, rather than something that’s just going to add to my presence without really bringing anything new to the table.

Maybe, though, it will be a massive success. It’s prettier than Facebook, that’s for sure, although it’s not terribly intuitive (I saw the link to add my Facebook friends when I first signed up, but now I can’t find it. That’s annoying.), but I do like the ability to search for people by location (both users and artists). I also find it kind of creepy. Immediately I see some of my former students in the list of other users from Perth who are, incidentally, disproportionately male. I didn’t specify my gender when I signed up, but it’s almost if it somehow knows I am female, and then assumes that because I am female, I will be looking for men in my area. Is this a dating service, or a social networking site?

That’s another thing. It’s definitely more of a social networking site rather than a social network site, given the emphasis on discovery and being able to locate potential ‘friends’ by location. In that way, it’s almost as though Myspace have acknowledged that you might be kinda bored by connecting with people you already know by this stage – or, maybe, they’re just covering all their bases. The new Myspace: a place for people to find potential lovers and articulate once more how many friends they have (and then show all those friends how eclectic and obscure one’s taste in music is).

I don’t know. I’m skeptical. Maybe I’ll keep an eye on this development and check back in six months time to see whether the new Myspace has changed the world… or whether it’s just old hat.

The curious case of GOMI: The dark side of having an audience.

The web is seriously creeping me out today.

Or, more accurately, I should say that the people on the web are creeping me out. For the first time in the more-than-a-decade that I have been blogging, I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable with the idea that people, for no good reason other than to express themselves, share the minutiae of their lives online for the entertainment of strangers.

Perhaps it’s because I spent far too long today trawling the forums of the Internet’s bitchiest hate site, Get Off My Internets!, taking screen shots of conversations that I will reference in my thesis… and then doing some very internet-stalkerish back-trawling of the blog posts that were the subject of those conversations, relying upon the fact that many of the blogs they referred to were blogs I knew so well that all I had to do was look in the archives at a particular month, and (generally) locate the post in question without too much trouble. All in all, I feel a little bit dirty.

GOMI isn’t a particularly nice site, but it’s a free Internet, right? We’re all entitled to our opinions. Perhaps why I feel so strange about it is because the users express many of the opinions I’ve had, but kept to myself. An unfortunate side effect of researching blogging for the past four years is that there are blogs and bloggers that I am sick to death of, but keep reading because I have to for my research.

I still feel like bloggers are real people, and should therefore be exempt from the dissection and character assassination that celebrities are subject to. At the same time, the moment that you choose to put your life online, you essentially have to accept the fact that you will be criticised, for everything from your poor grammar, to the fact that one of your eyes crinkles a bit when you smile, to the fact that your baby is a bit too chubby to be cute – and he has a weird name, anyway. And that’s not to mention picking apart the financial situation of those bloggers who are able to work from home, or (good heavens!) not work at all. (These are all examples of real posts that I read today, and are far from the most vitriolic.)

I’ve been blogging in some form since before I even knew it was called blogging. I blogged at LiveJournal (remember that??) from 1999-2002 before starting my previous blog, and this is what i think: (atiwit:), in 2004. I stopped posting to atiwit: at the start of this year during another crisis of confidence in which I suddenly began to feel a bit too exposed.

Neither of my blogs ever drew particularly big audiences. At best, atiwit: had up to around 500 visitors per day, and the only thing I ever saw written about it on a site (other than blogs written by friends) was when someone referred to my smoke detector battery removal method on a forum. Perhaps there were other things, but I never saw them, so as far as I am concerned, they don’t exist. (Yes, I vanity Google, but the forum post was actually discovered via link trackback.)

I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of online celebrity. Being Big on the Internet always seemed a bit too… invasive, I guess, and after reading GOMI today I’m pretty sure that I’ll never be striving to do anything exceptional with my blogging (not that I need to work on that – now that I’ve converted to research blogger, I’m getting 1/10th the visitors that I used to).

Get Off My Internets is such a peculiar site, and more than a little disturbing – but then again I’ve always subscribed to the policy of ‘Don’t like it? Turn it off!’. I will turn off the radio in my car if I don’t like a song. I will skip an episode of a TV show that I don’t like if I’m re-watching the series for the fiftieth time. I won’t read blogs that shit me to tears unless I absolutely have to – and I certainly won’t post about how much I hate it on the Internet.

I’m writing a chapter at the moment about identities and audiences, and I’ve included a case study of one particular blogger (who I won’t name here, as I don’t particularly enjoy her blog anymore, but I don’t think she needs extra negative attention) who received an immense amount of backlash from her readers when she changed the genre of her blog. She’s a perfect case study in how identity and authorship are really discordant concepts online. The audience of a blog has much more of a say in identity and authorship than they ever would “in real life”, and yet they’re only privy to part of the story – the identity that the blogger chooses to display. Bloggers essentially separate that part of themselves that is the blog-subject when they publish online, particularly when they become ‘successful’ bloggers. Audiences (or, in the case of face-to-face interactions, those that we engage with) always have a say in the person that we feel ourselves to be, but it’s never more visible than it is online.

I can’t help but feel that the reason so many people on GOMI are determining that bloggers are complete ‘flakes’ and nutjobs is because we, the audience, are causing them to be so.

Proceed with caution.