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Theorizing the Web 2016: Friday Afternoon Breakdown

by admin on April 15, 2016

One of the reasons I tend to return to the Theorizing the Web conference is that it represents this cool hybrid between an academic conference, a performative space, a professional development hangout, & a grad/undergrad research workshop. It has the trappings of the traditional conference with semi-structured panels and experts in various areas discussing the observations to an appreciative audience. The performance space feeling this year is reinforced by the location of the conference (at the Museum of Moving Images in Queens) and the configuration of the rooms making up the presentation space. Development occurs at this meeting through the bringing in of academics, professionals, artists, and various knowledge workers to discuss different conceptualizations of the web during and after the conference. Finally, I feel that Theorizing the Web encourages young scholarship as many of the members of the planning committee are either grad students or junior faculty members in their department. #ttw16 feels like a counter example to a traditional academic conference. The archive and the livestream of the conference can be found here.

My first session on Friday began strongly with a series of presentations entitled “Site Seeing.” PJ Rey stated the ground rules of the conference and described how conference attendees should interact with others in the museum (mainly it was the long form of Wheaton’s law). Whitney Mallett acted as moderator for this panel that covered how the internet interacts with real world conflicts. Chris Peterson was the first speaker. His discussion on “Imagining an Internet Worth Filtering: Mapping the Geography of Censorship in Alabama Public Schools and Libraries” was interesting as he highlighted his two key findings. The first key finding was many of the schools and libraries implement CIPA using different sets of filters and various types of filtering software (including Dan’s Guardian). He argued that we are theorizing an Internet worth filtering by the particular legislative actions at the state level and the decision-making processes at the hyperlocal level.

Jonathan Karp focused on “The Right to Rename” as it relates to Instagram and geotagging. He argued that the geotagging within Instagram acts as the means for place-making within the site. Instagram organizes content and posts via usernames, hashtags, and geotags. Geotags allow the Instagram to answer the question is “what has happened at this place?” I thought Keith Basso’s definition of place-making worked well when discussing geotagging. Also, I thought Karp’s use of Snoop Dogg’s Bogata Instagram typo was a compelling example of place-making and the imagining of those places. Place-selection was referenced as different presentations of the space of Instagram. Finally, Karp’s discussion of renaming space on Instagram as a form of protest and representing a place. He finished his presentation by noting “The history is open to revision.”

Matthew Tiessen continued the discussion with his work on “Big Data and the Digital Remediation of Human/Nature Relations.” Tiessen looked at urban space and escaping to the more natural space via mapping software and GIS. “Urban Ecological Escapism is a counter to our modern essence of a connected world” noted Tiessen. One of the interesting points I found from Dr. Tiessen’s talk is the way that Toronto’s mountain bikers became the infrastructure for creating maps of the “Toronto’s invisible bike trails.” The rationale for the creation of those trails is the “flow and fun” of the bikers. His focus on Strava and its heat maps was discussed as a means of creating a communal space and place for competition among the riders.

Finally, Shannon Sindorf concluded the panel with her “Guns and the myth of the post-geographic web” presentation. Specifically, geography has become more important when discussing gun debate, which she is on the side of nuance within the debate. She argues that the Internet was supposed to collapse geography, but it has merely created an imagined geography. The discussion of the panel discussed the difference between physical spaces and digital spaces. Tiessen mentioned, “hugging a tree” as a counter to focusing on the digital space in his dissertation.

The conference for me pivoted to the works dealing with the realm of “In Formation.” Caroline Sinders acted as the moderator for this one. Eve Ahearn kicked off the discussion about “Locating the Person in Personal Data: A Comparison of Open Government Data Implementation in the U.S. and the U.K.” The focus on the dividing line between people and their data. Ahearn focused her work on how Open Government Data (OGD) is defined by the United States and the United Kingdom and where the data comes from for this research. The data released as OGD is a reactive matter as opposed to a proactive means (specifically the OGD release is balanced with some aspects of privacy in mind). The question that Ahearn worked on was related to the struggle of privacy issues that would arise from the release of data. Several of the quotes directly expressed how this consideration factored into those release point (specifically how the context can be removed from the datapoint and the potential connection to individual people related to those people). FoIA requests were mentioned as a concern when it came to the privacy rights of individual with OGD. The deanonymization of data and connecting those datapoints to individuals is a primary concern when it comes to the release of OGD.

Jack Webster presented next with “Algorithmic Taste Makers: Reworking the Concept of Cultural Intermediaries for the Digital Age.” Webster used the room as prove of the issues related to these algorithms. Many of the people attending this presentation used digital media services and used the recommendations presented within these digital media services. However, very few could explain how these recommendation algorithms worked. Webster et al. used Bourdieu as a mean to define and conceptualize recommendations through the habitus & cultural capital of users of the digital media services. The concern over agency (humans do not have it, but the technological systems do under Bourdieu). To deal with this, Weaver et al. use Active Network theory to bring in both human and non-human actor into the realm of having agency within a given system. Specifically, the level of expertise brings agency within digital music systems. “When should approach this type of research through a socio-technological perspective.

Nick Seaver followed up by discussing “The Return of the Gift.” Mainly, Seaver trying to analyze “gift economy” and “data” from an anthropological theoretical framework. Eric Raymond’s quote “hacker culture is a gift culture” began the discussion point of connecting data and gift culture. Mauss’ “The Gift” was used as a means of describing the connection between data and gift economy through the lag of the connection, the memory of the gift and the commodity exchange within the exchange of information.

Finally, Maria Schreiber began her “The good, the bad and the ugly. Platform-specific photographic practices and aesthetics” presentation by present three different pictures she took of herself on three separate platforms (WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat). She was interested in the microlevel connection between user and platform via visual convention, iconographies, hardware, software, habitus, & performing sociality within the context of the individual platform.

“Get Real” was the final theme of the Friday afternoon sessions which provided an overview of realness & authenticity in online communication. Austin Brown and Natalie Morcos co-moderated this final panel. The first topic “The #nofilter self: The contest for authenticity among social networking sites, 2003-2015” was the work of Jeff Pooley and Meredith Salisbury. BeMe, Peach, & Ello being the primary social networks of focus. However, services like Facebook Timeline, Snapchat, & Whisper were discussed as examples of service that called out in a version of “one-upmanship.” Authenticity matters, reactive dynamism, varieties of authenticity were built into the past advertising of these sites and as a means to study the connection between social network service. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, PR notes, and blog posts were the means of analysis for this research. “We [as academics and consumers] do not take authenticity seriously.” The original definition of self by discovering it and express it is conflicting with the rejectionist model of authenticity through the cooptation of a calculated authenticity. The best example presented during the talk of the conflict with the anti-capitalism authenticity was Ello.

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