August 6, 2008
Future plans include:
-A cyberanthropologist's toolkit, replete with links to pertinent literature, blogs, academic programs and journals.
-Publishing some of my creative writing and poetry in hyperlinked-labyrinth form.
-Addendum chapters to my thesis, The Virtual Campfire, in which I will reflect upon: the uses of Facebook post-college; the role of Tribe.net in the formation and display of subcultural capital; and the role of social networking sites in the 2008 Presidential election.
-A collaborative web-based art project centered on connecting the art, music, and writing of talented friends and acquaintances, and potentially engendering new forms of creative expression in cyberspace.
I suppose it all still falls within the somewhat-undefined umbrella term "Webnography," but for now and as of late I have been merely musing. The only thing that ever remains the same, is my name.
Jenny Ryan (.net!)
July 21, 2008
For as much as we are conduits of culture, we are also its composers. Being as it is the dawn of a new era of mediated communication, we are in prime position to create new memes for future generations. This is imperative, for as anyone tapped into the collective neural net knows (and that's everybody, to varying forms and degrees), the world is in a deep malaise that, while it may never be undone, must be remade. Degunk the junk and foster the funk.
Through the mirror, darkly sinister forms abound. The websites I have been researching glamorize "stupid spoiled whores," revel in misanthropy, and celebrate self-mutilation. This is the ugly underbelly of a jaded generation, saturated with the soulless machine of a media industry gone mad. Eventually, one would imagine, we will reach satiation and revolt against this funhouse mirror of our society. That is to say, we may and must remake the mirror.
Here we stand, poised at the precipice of a new era of information flow. The simple existence of these websites is telling: with the ever-evolving tools of the interweb, the ever-increasing population of the digitized can join the conversation. Little surprise it is that we converse online in the same way we converse offline: we gossip about others, consume media and talk about it, create representations of ourselves through performative acts, confess our darkest secrets and innermost longings in the sanctuary of like-minded others...
And, like in life, some clamber for soapbozes where they may espouse prolifically to a mostly unseen (but potentially vast) audience, while many lurk about, not wishing to be heard but willing to absorb. Though most of us be sheep, theories regarding the wisdom of the crowd contend that diluting and diversifying such a crowd will increase the chances of its survival.
In order to survive, we need to be critical producers of alternative points of view. This post was originally inspired by the research I'm conducting on pro-self harm websites; having sussed out the black-and-white, the extremes, I've moved on to the nuanced middle ground. In this space that is neither supportive of self-destruction nor condemning of such a perspective, there are emerging voices that seek to not only reflexively examine the issue as it stands, but to redefine the very definition of "pro-self harm." Not supportive of the disordered habits that are the coping mechanisms for our culture, but supportive of those who are clearly in need of support most of all. Effective support entails not only empathy and understanding, but strong voices (herders, if you will) with the capacity to critique our disorderly conduct and call new memes into being. So clamber on up, to the top of the search results, redefine the folksonomy, and remake that mirror (repetition numero tres).
Consider this a call to action.
mamaVISION: Highly controversial (read: popular) personal blog of a 30-something ex-model turned mother, dedicated to spreading awareness of our eating disordered society and empathetically communicating with the sufferers themselves.
We Bite Back: Post-pro-ana - Postmodernizing the discussion of eating disorders and encouraging recovery.
Suicide: Read This First: Another form of "pro-suicide"- offering empathetic understanding and resources.
Self-Injury: A Struggle: Longstanding site devoted to spreading awareness and cultivating a community of support for self-injurers, created by a fellow self-injurer.
July 18, 2008
is typed alone to a page near the end of this novel.
What Winterson makes abundantly clear is the true process of storytelling, a process that abstracts the past and remaps the future. Our heroine, Ali, taps out stories for her customers, sent through the ethereal interweb in pursuit of such an impact: "freedom, just for one night."
As much as the story shifts so does she, hurtled through the lives of fairy tales past, retold again and again in various guises. Through such shifting of the story, for which the screen is a conduit, we find a metaphor for the ever-fluxing selves in which history and memory are contained:
There are so many lives packed into one. The one life we think we know is only a window that is open on the screen. The big window full of detail, where the meaning is often lost among the facts. If we can close that window, on purpose or by chance, what we find behind is another view.
This window is emptier. The cross-references are cryptic. As we scroll down it, looking for something familiar, we seem to be scrolling into another self- one we recognize but cannot place. The coordinates are missing, or the coordinates pinpoint us outside the limits of our existence.
If we move further back, through a smaller window that is really a gateway, there is less and less to measure ourselves by. We are coming into a dark region. A single word might appear. An icon. This icon is a private Madonna, a guide, an understanding. Very often we remember it from our dreams. "Yes," we say, "Yes, this is a world. I have been here." It comes back to us like a scent from childhood.
These lives of ours that press in on us must be heard.
We are our own oral history. A living memoir of time.
Time is downloaded into our bodies. We contain it. Not only time past and time future, but time without end. We think of ourselves as closed and finite, when we are multiple and infinite.
This life, the one we know, stands in the sun. It is our daytime and the stars and planets that surround it cannot be seen. The sense of other lives, still our own, is clearer to us in the darkness of night or in our dreams. Sometimes a total eclipse shows us in the day what we cannot usually see for ourselves. As our sun darkens, other brilliancies appear. And there is the strange illusion of looking over our shoulder and seeing the sun racing towards us at two thousand miles an hour.
What is it that follows me wherever I go?
Not that the self be shaken loose, but that it be found, reassembled, in the process of remembrance itself. Which is to say: I am the sum of parts, artifacts of time, indulgent fantasies and messier proclivities. And in this space, here and now, I am neither man nor woman but as yet an alien voice, hanging in makeshift space.
That said, I must say that this novel is reminiscent of my adolescent online diary: a tangled, messy, yet occasionally brilliant jumble of bits and pieces devoted to the wistful myth of romantic love. While the perfect companion to 20-minute subway rides, the writing here is oft redundant and cliched. Still, an inspiration for a new era of writing and reading.
July 16, 2008
where within the screen do we find our mirror neurons firing forth?
to the data.
taken together in infinite intricate interactions
of form and meaning,
we create a tapestry of makeshift sighs, high fives, smiles, shared laughter;
we remake the mirror daily.
intrigue takes us to the source.
swim liminal we shall through life's watery edges,
and take time and care to trim the hedges.
(so coax and buzz the furry fuzz,
for useless is as useless does)
July 8, 2008
The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople-- it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism. Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they'd improbably call it dying--
you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now'and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.
Life,for mostpeople,simply isn't. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by "living"? They don't mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has succeeded in selling their wives. If science could fail,a mountain's a mammal. Mostpeople's wives could spot a genuine delusion of embryonic omnipotence immediately and will accept no substitutes.
-luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal. The plusorminus movie to end moving,the strictly scientific parlourgame of real unreality,the tyranny conceived in misconception and dedicated to the proposition that every man is a woman and any woman is a king,hasn't a wheel to stand on. What their synthetic not to mention transparent majesty, mrsandmr collective foetus,would improbably call a ghost is walking. He isn't a undream of anaesthetized impersons, or a cosmic comfortstation,or a transcedentally sterilized lookiesoundiefeelietastiesmellie. He is a healthily complex,a naturally homogenous,citizen of immorality. The now of his each pitying free imperfect gesture,his any birth of breathing,insults perfected inframortally milleniums of slavishness. He is a little more than everything,he is democracy;he is alive:he is ourselves.
Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn,a human being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a brush "tie it to my hand"--
nothing proving or sick or partial. Nothing false,nothing difficult or easy or small or colossal. Nothing ordinary or extraordinary,nothing emptied or filled,real or unreal;nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. Everywhere tints childrening,innocent spontaneaous,true. Nowhere possibly what flesh and impossibly such a garden,but actually flowers which breasts are amoung the very mouths of light. Nothing believed or doubted;brain over heart, surface:nowhere hating or to
fear;shadow,mind without soul. Only how measureless cool flames of making;only each other building always distinct selves of mutual entirely opening;only alive. Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno,impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong;never to gain or pause,never the soft adventure of undoom,greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence;never to rest and never to have;only to grow.
Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question
July 7, 2008
It would seem those who choose not to identify as "his" or "her" has become an issue of some urgency for Facebook. They've written a blog post about the issue:
As Facebook grows in other languages, we are learning a lot about what the "Facebook Experience" is like for people around the world. One of the first challenges was getting words that are really long in other languages to fit on the screen properly. Recently, we've been figuring out how to deal with a new challenge—grammar. Ever see a story about a friend who tagged "themself" in a photo? "Themself" isn't even a real word. We've used that in place of "himself or herself". We made that grammatical choice in order to respect people who haven't, until now, selected their sex on their profile. However, we've gotten feedback from translators and users in other countries that translations wind up being too confusing when people have not specified a sex on their profiles. People who haven't selected what sex they are frequently get defaulted to the wrong sex entirely in Mini-Feed stories. For this reason, we've decided to request that all Facebook users fill out this information on their profile. If you haven't yet selected a sex, you will probably see a prompt to choose whether you want to be referred to as "him" or "her" in the coming weeks. When you make a selection, that will appear in Mini-Feed and News Feed stories about you, but it won't be searchable or displayed in your Basic Information. We've received pushback in the past from groups that find the male/female distinction too limiting. We have a lot of respect for these communities, which is why it will still be possible to remove gender entirely from your account, including how we refer to you in Mini-Feed. We hope this change will make the Facebook experience even better across the world. Let us know if you have any thoughts about this on our suggestions page. Naomi is a Product Manager at Facebook.
Apparently it's an issue of being lost or, as the case may be, misconstrued in translation.
I didn't select a sex, just clicked 'close'; confusion regarding such things has a salubrious effect on consciousness, methinks.
July 4, 2008
The best studies I've read so far call for a middle-path approach. Rather than continuing to enforce the black-and-white thinking of pop journalists and those who subscribe to the disease/illness paradigm of self-harm purported by the medical industry and the field of psychiatry, these scholars call for a dialectical approach that involves empathic understanding and collaborative participation in reconstructing the meaning of "pro self-harm" from within the communities in question. In a word, ethnography.
In other news, The Virtual Campfire been getting hits from all over the world! Roger that, interest in online social networking has reached pandemic proportions :):
I seek not to conclude my research of online social networking, but to extend its implications and apply it toward understanding the interconnected mysteries that keep me captivated by anthropology. The literature of cyberspace has quite literally predicted the future now within which we are currently living. The first step, then, is to become familiar with this literature, ranging from science fiction books and films to new ways of crafting contemporary folklore through the use of modern media technologies.
I've been chatting with James Curcio, author of Join My Cult! and, more recently, Fallen Nation. They're also on my summer reading list, and fit quite neatly into the literature I'm looking to submerge myself in (indeed, our chats have been a substantial part of the inspiration behind this post). I'm hoping to contribute to one of his new projects, Mythos Media, which seeks to produce contemporary myths in new ways through the use of new media. Thus, the second step is my own active participation in storycrafting, immersing myself in the mythology of the future-now and constructing parables utilizing new technologies.
From the open source culture of the Internet to the gift culture found at Burning Man and psytrance parties, the mythological legacy of California depicts all the essential dramaturgical elements: a paradisiacal land of angels and devils replete with struggles for power, legitimacy, and authenticity in an age where the world stands poised on the brink of apocalypse, anxiously awaiting salvation in the form of a charismatic prophet, a new world order, scientology, etc;
Or global consciousness.
The third and simultaneous step is a paper I am currently writing for an edited collection on psytrance culture, entitled Weaving the Underground Web: Neotribalism and Psytrance on Tribe.net.
Essentially, I'm building on the segments of my thesis that dealt with Tribe.net and subcultural capital theory, discussing the ways in which members of Tribe.net utilize the site as a facilitator of local scenes as well as a conduit for the spread of a global subculture.
The culture of the New Age (defined by Steven Sutcliffe  as "a diffuse collectivity of questing individuals") circulates through the intersection of a wide array of beliefs and lifestyles that coalesce with the aid of such liminal spaces as the internet and international psytrance gatherings. Today, this mythology pervades in American popular media, which circulates readily on a global scale. Proper experience of this "global underground" is thus twofold, entailing both online ethnography of Tribe.net as well as adventures around the world- but that will probably have to wait until I find a Ph.D program suitable for this project. That would be step four.
Comments, suggestions, conversation welcome and encouraged.
June 9, 2008
Liberated from the demands of academia, I can finally feel my mind slowly unwind. Someone was describing to me how they've felt like they produced a lot more than they took in/experienced this past year, and I couldn't agree more. Gotta live life to have anything to write about in the first place.
I'm down for that.
My reading list for summer:
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), by Mark Baurelein - Someone recently told me I should "know my enemy" and therefore read The Cult of the Amateur. While it's probably true that I should get a handle on the arguments of the technophobes, it's hard for me to read a description like this without wincing:
According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.
Black and white thinkers always lose in the end, but I guess they make for good headlines. In case it needed to be said: the ways in which my generation acquires knowledge and information have changed. I'm looking into the Transliteracies program at UCSB that examines these changes in information-gathering behaviors, toward a process of aggregation, organization, hyperlink-hopping, public posting, and personal bookmarking.
Okay, so I'm probably not ever going to think about that book again, much less read it. But I thought I would at least shame the author publicly in the blogosphere for being such a propagandistic sellout. Straight from the mouths of the dumbest babes.
Speaking of "the dumbest generation," not to make this an ageist or political debate, but I did receive this little gem through virtue of my Facebook newsfeed. Top-quality filtering, right here:
The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution, by Paul Levinson.
A brilliant science fiction writer and pop media pundit, Levinson's book Digital McLuhan has been one of the most influential references in my research. The Soft Edge looks to be a fascinating take on the role of communication technologies in shaping the history of man. Paul Levinson embodies everything that I hope to draw out in my own career as a writer: as intelligent as he is witty, his work as fun to read as it is thought-provoking, as prone to citing Habermas and McLuhan as he is to quote Battleatar Galactica.
Everything on the syllabus for a course by Kristen Scott called Literature and the Culture of Cyberspace, which includes James Joyce, HG Wells, William Gibson, Jorge Borges, Neal Stephenoson, and Ursula LeGuin.
May 20, 2008
I've been a bad blogger recently, and hardly a functional human being- this state of total liminality is both extraordinarily liberating and incredibly frustrating. I graduate on Sunday. If you would like to experience the fruits of my yearlong labors, I encourage you to check out the electronic version of my thesis, which I plan to add interactive features to in the future (I'm thinking more along the lines of a wiki than this rather average website). If you do read it, drop me a line and let me know what you think! I'm always eager to hear fresh perspectives and related stories.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Wesleyan University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Anthropology.
Based on five years of participant-observation on the social networking sites MySpace, Facebook, and Tribe.net, The Virtual Campfire explores the increasingly blurred boundaries between human and machine, public and private, voyeurism and exhibitionism, the history of media and our digitized future. Woven throughout are the stories and experiences of those who engage with these sites regularly and ritualistically, the generation of "digital natives" whose tales attest to the often strange and uncomfortable ways online social networking sites have come to be embedded in the everyday lives of American youth.
February 20, 2008
Several months ago, someone told me about social networking sites that function as matchmaking tools for arranging marriages- a cultural practice that is common for nearly half the world's population, including India, China, and Indonesia, as well as Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. In a fit of brainstorming for my next research project, this conversation came to mind and I quickly discovered Shaadi.com, an Indian version of an online dating site. Curious, I filled out a profile of my own to see what kinds of categories one could choose amongst for self-representation.
Well, first of all, it's clear that most of the profiles on the site are filled out by parents, who are traditionally responsible for the search for and approval of potential husbands and wives. Among the more salient identity markers are Religion/Community (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist, Jewish, "No Religion," "Spiritual- Not Religious," and "Other), Education, Profession, and Lifestyle (diet, smoking and drinking habits). Arranged-Marriages are ideally between two members of the same caste or sect, and Shaadi.com certainly covers the gamut. Potential matches are also frequently judged by education level and profession, as well as the aforementioned "lifestyle habits," which are heavily informed by religious beliefs.
A few other things I learned about while creating a profile on the site:
• The alignment of the stars at one's birth determines if a person is a Manglik, and Shaadi.com inquires as to one is. In Indian astrology, Mangliks are destined for difficulties in marriage. In order to balance out these negative forces, it is often suggested that a Manglik marry another Manglik, based on the idea that two negatives make a positive. Astrology in general is quite important for many Indians, especially Hindus, when it comes to marriage, and Shaadi.com users may incorporate a variety of astrological readings in their profiles.
• Like pretty much every social networking site, one can fill in an open-ended "About Me" box. However, on this site, there is also a significant section called "About My Family." Shaadi.com offers a few pointers for users filling out this section, the first of which suggests describing the family's outlook and approach towards life. Early on in the registration process, one could select whether her "Family Values" are traditional, moderate, or liberal. Clearly, the degree to which one's family embraces more traditional or more liberal attitudes and values has a significant effect on the matrimonial process.
• Admirably, the site also inquires about users' HIV status. Though figures place the percentage of HIV-infected people in India at a seemingly minute 0.36%, with the country's enormous population this amounts to between 2 million and 3.6 million Indians living with HIV. While there is some evidence that the rate of infection is currently declining, likely due to successful prevention and awareness campaigns, there is also plenty of evidence to the contrary. Given the rampant fear and stigmatization of HIV-positive individuals in communities everywhere, marking oneself as HIV-positive on the site likely drastically reduces one's chances at finding a spouse. However, as with both Mangliks and "Special Cases," another profile category wherein one can indicate mental and/or physical handicaps, the site makes finding others who share their "condition" a much easier process in many ways.
This semester, I am taking only one class as I complete my graduate thesis, the last class I will ever take at Wesleyan: Nationalism and the Politics of Gender and Sexuality with Professor Kauanui. Like most of the classes I've taken, I'm to conduct a semester-long research project, giving me the opportunity to conduct another mini-ethnography related to online social networking. As such, I'll be regularly posting my most pertinent and interesting findings. Stay tuned!
February 7, 2008
In fact, I was recently hired to join a team of bloggers, helping to create the "meat" of a pre-beta social networking site, iggli. You can check out my blog here, or by clicking on the title of this post. It's where I've been writing regularly these days. Original writing, at that.
Having shaken myself free from the noxious syndrome of reading "research" and creating headers beneath which I can conveniently categorize the perspectives of others into "anxieties" and "utopias", I have now reached what will be the butter on the bread of my thesis. That is, that which makes the dry foundation delicious. Not that ethnography is ever dry. My first chapters are rife with the stories, anecdotes, personalities, ideas that propelled me to do this research in the first place.
But now, allow me to be indulgent. I embark on a chapter I've hesitantly entitled "A Phenomenological Exploration of Online Social Networking." This is where I tell my own story, where I deeply investigate my own integration of anxieties toward and utopic visions of the Internet and its potentials and failures.
And everything else.
The past week has consisted of moving into a new apartment (where I will no longer bother touchy neighbors with my entirely nocturnal rhythm and proclivity toward human interaction and [god forbid!] music), sleeping 10-12 hours a night, and battling the obvious onset of ill health with my finest vegetarian cooking, isolation, and relaxation.
I sit before the screen now resolved to put forth a testimony founded on inner truths, desires, sadnesses, attempts to bridge the increasing divide I see between individuals and community. The Internet, for me, is the "final frontier" in which we may remake ourselves, and in so doing, contribute to the remaking of this severely damaged world.
Though, as severely damaged as it is, it is because of my overwhelming love of the stories, personalities, and lives of others that I have become so enamored with the potential for anthropological research to promote human understanding, empathy, and that elusive yet all-empowering ultimate pursuit: community, connection, the sense of belonging and the extension of selfhood.
This has been a manifesto.