Tagsocial media

Mindful Cyborgs: E-Waste Redux and the Early Days of Social Media

This week on Chris Dancy and I talk about my e-waste in the Internet of Things article, “organic reach” on Facebook and how today’s social web is different from the social software of the early days of the net, such as IRC and Usenet.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: From IRC to E-Waste Rapid Communion begets Complexity

Physicists Fail to Find Time Travelers on Social Media

The Atlantic reports:

Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, two researchers at Michigan Technological University, thought they might. In a study released online last week, the two scoured Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and a few other websites to find “prescient information”—that is, tweets and statuses about current events posted before the events became current. The only way someone could write such a post, they reasoned, is if they were visiting… from the future. [...]

The study, alas, turned up no time travelers. But that doesn’t quite mean anything. The authors admit that the study might have failed for many reasons: Time travelers might not have the ability to physically adjust the past; they might not have posted about the events the authors were looking for; they might have posted about the events but not turned up in a search. Time travelers might have also read the study or this news story about it, and been sure to making avoid any careless mistakes.

Full Story: The Atlantic: Can Physicists Find Time Travelers on Facebook?

You can also read the full paper, which hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, on Arxiv

(Thanks Skry!)

For more on the difficulties in using social media for academic research see my recent Wired piece on the lack of peer review of social data.

Mindful Cyborgs: Dark Night of the Cyborg Soul

In the latest Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy comes out of the Buddhist closet, we talk about the Dark Night of the Soul, the Abyss, and more. Here’s a taste:

CD: Yes, outcome attachment is probably my number one suffering point. The scariest things that I found at the conference was that over the 3, almost 4, years that I’ve been practicing awareness or contemplative practices or being in a beginners mind or meditation, impermanence, love and kindness. All these things, I’ve had periods where I’ve just felt really disconnected from the people around me and these are highly intelligent people or very, very tense people, much like myself. You kind of hang around people you are. So much so that at times I’ve felt profoundly sad, just profoundly depressed.

It comes during after periods of great meditation or just prolonged periods of awareness and I found that there’s something called dark night of the soul, which is a state and there’s actual terminology for this, which is a meditative psychosis. But it’s where people actually become unhinged or removed from the world that they perceive because they get so in touch with being aware that they physically feel disconnected to actually have a soul collapsing experience. Which I thought I was really along but when you get in a roomful of Buddhists and they start talking about their journey you’re just like, wow, I just thought it was me and I never would have admitted so loudly and now it’s actually pretty common.

KF: Yes, I had a similar experience when I was much younger, around 20, and I didn’t know what was going on with me for about a couple of years. I ended up hearing about a similar concept called the abyss. It’s part of cabalistic and part of western occult, a tradition as of western esotericism. But it’s a very similar idea of just becoming- I think they describe it as knowledge without understanding.

The situation where you start to understand and kind of go back to sort of Buddhist terminology, like you start to not to understand but to be aware of impermanence and to be aware of the malleability of certain aspects of reality but you haven’t really come to terms with it yet. You haven’t truly grasped the wisdom of that yet and it leaves you fairly unhinged. At least that’s my understanding of it and there’s probably a lot of people out there that would tell me that I’m completely wrong or that I’m equating things from two very different religious or spiritual practices and everything, but I don’t know. I see them as related, very similar and related aspects.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

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If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

New article from me at Wired:

In one episode of Black Mirror — the British television series that explores the near future of technology with an edginess reminiscent of The Twilight Zone — a woman’s husband dies, and she replaces him with a robot.

This walking automaton looks like him and talks like him, and it even acts like him, after plugging into his Twitter account and analyzing every tweet he ever sent.

Yes, that’s a far cry from reality, but it’s not as far as you might think. With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation offers a means of digitally cloning yourself through a series of personality tests and data from your social media profiles. The idea is to create an online version of you that can live forever, a digital avatar that even future generations can talk to and interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these avatars into walking, talking robots — just like on Black Mirror. And today, it provides a more primitive version, for free. [...]

But Dale Carrico, a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, is skeptical. To say the least. He says that the folks at Terasem and other “transhumanists” — those who believe the human body can be radically enhanced or even transcended entirely through technology — are pursing pipe dreams. He doesn’t even give them create for trying. “The trying is evidence only of the depth of their misunderstanding, not of their worthy diligence,” he says. Simply put, an avatar isn’t a person — in any meaningful sense.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

My avatar is embedded in the story so you can chat with it.

Mindful Cyborgs Interviews Alex Soojung-Kim Pang on Contemplative Computing and the Distraction Addiction

The Distraction Addiction

This week Chris Dancy and I interview Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul. We talked about contemplative computing, the history of meditation and more. Here’s a taste:

KF: One other thing I wanted to ask you about, Alex, it was one of the more surprising things in the book to me was that you pointed out that contemplative practices seem to have started somewhere between 800 and 200 BC as a response to colonialism, global trade and urbanization. That actually does kind of bring us back to that idea of the technologies that causes this sort of problem aren’t hammers and bows and arrows but they’re network technologies like social media comes back to that comparison of urbanization and economics and so forth. I would have thought those practices would still have developed much, much earlier in history so I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit about the research you did in that area of the history of contemplation.

ASP: There’s not a huge literature on this yet, I mean people definitely are working on it but I think that what’s distinctive about that period which historians of religion refer to as the Axial Age is that it’s the first time that contemplative practices stopped being a secret. They stopped doing things that are for initiates that are part of … It’s the first time that we begin to see people like Buddha arguing that these are and should be accessible to everyone. That they’re open, they’re public sort of in a sense that they go from or they continue to the network metaphor they go from being proprietary to being open source. Anyone can do them. Anyone can improve upon and add to them.

You can find the episode on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher, or download it directly.

Transcript and show notes

Oh, and see also my article on Pang’s book.

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Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson Interviewed On Mindful Cyborgs

Nathan Jurgenson This week cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson joined Chris Dancy and me on Mindful Cyborgs. Nathan is the co-founder of the site Cyborgology, co-founder of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor at The New Inquiry and a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland.

You can download or listen to it on Soundcloud or on iTunes, or just download it directly.

Here are a couple highlights from the transcript:

If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.

That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.

What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?

Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.

More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.

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Behind The Scenes At TEDxSummerisle

TEDxSummerisle slide

Weird Shit Con co-organizer Adam Rothstein writes about his role in the TEDxSummerilse hoax:

I was never personally concerned about the potential consequences of staging of an act of violence on Twitter, because the moment anyone attempted to ascertain where precisely this violence was occurring, they would see the Wikipedia page revealing that Summerisle is a fictional locale. On the other hand, with the TEDx conference, we all exploited the trust of our social networks. Our fake Twitter accounts prattled away, posting silly observations and chatting with each other, as we enjoyed mocking some of our less favorite (real life) personalities. But with our real Twitter accounts, through which we typically voice our real opinions and observations in a way that we hope people will generally take seriously, we retweeted the postings of our fake Twitter accounts. By association, we shared our followers’ trust of us with these non-persons, these digital patsies. Among all of our past tweets—the articles we’ve shared with our real Twitter accounts, the experiences we broadcast, the history-making events we’ve witnessed, the photos of breakfasts we’ve taken—are these lying tweets like black marks in our streams. They are not ironic “retweets do not imply endorsement” posts, but as precisely the opposite. We knew that retweeting these tweets implied reality, and we used that to give our fairy tale the weight of truth.

And a fairy tale is what it was. The talk titles and subject matter were ridiculous, each a parody in and of themselves.

Full Story: Rhizome: The Strange Rituals of TEDxSummerisle

Previously: Performative Group Horror Fiction: TEDxSummerisle

The CIA Using Sentiment Analysis to Gauge Regional Stability

human geopolitical chess

From The Atlantic:

How stable is China? What are people discussing and thinking in Pakistan? To answer these sorts of question, the U.S. government has turned to a rich source: social media.

The Associated Press reports that the CIA maintains a social-media tracking center operated out of an nondescript building in a Virginia industrial park. The intelligence analysts at the agency’s Open Source Center, who other agents refer to as “vengeful librarians,” are tasked with sifting through millions of tweets, Facebook messages, online chat logs, and other public data on the World Wide Web to glean insights into the collective moods of regions or groups abroad. According to the Associated Press, these librarians are tracking up to five million tweets a day from places like China, Pakistan and Egypt.

The Atlantic: How The CIA Uses Social Media to Track How People Feel

See also: Predicting the future with Twitter.

DARPA Looks to “Counteract” Propaganda in Social Networks

Egyptian bloggers

The Pentagon is asking scientists to figure out how to detect and counter propaganda on social media networks in the aftermath of Arab uprisings driven by Twitter and Facebook.

The US military’s high-tech research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has put out a request for experts to look at “a new science of social networks” that would attempt to get ahead of the curve of events unfolding on new media.

The program’s goal was to track “purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation” in social networks and to pursue “counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations,” according to DARPA’s request for proposals issued on July 14.

Physorg: Pentagon looks to social media as new battlefield

See also:

The Air Force’s “persona management” project and its blog comment propaganda project.

Cass Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltration” proposal.

Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.’”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?’”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

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