Experimenting with a new interpretive methodology, Memeography, this article constructs an account of media experiences that go toward the construction of a sophisticated understanding of one’s place as a participant within the vast, confusing, globally networked media apparatus. The author works with the premise of Dawkin’s famous theory of memes as agents of cultural reproduction, and Aunger’s theory that electronic memes exist independently within the cybersphere. The goal of Memeography is, then, to document and understand the experiences, ideas, and sense-making processes of human actors within this complex machinic life-form, from a qualitative perspective. The work turns McLuhan’s theory of media as extensions of human beings on its head, claiming instead that humans are now appendages of the apparatus. The popular movies Artificial Intelligence, Surrogates, Caprica, Battlestar Galactica, District 9, and Avatar are used to exemplify key ideas.
This article argues that media memes have arisen as a unique media phenomenon in the context of our globally networked condition, which manifests in the physical world as hugely disproportional effects. Thus, memes invoke unique ethical implications, perpetuating issues such as hipster racism and slactivism. The author works forward from Godwin’s statement that we have an “obligation to improve our informational environment” (Godwin, 1994). Deconstructing several examples of memetic disproportional effect, the article argues that Godwin’s “counter-meme” solution alone is not enough to correct damage done by harmful memes. Examining memes through several traditional communication theory lenses, the author concludes by suggesting several principles that could ethically improve online behavior and address the unique ways memes perpetuate social ills. Continue reading
Even though technological equipment terminates remoteness, it does not actually gather things closer or move one nearer. The initial distance between things is implanted in the media themselves. For example, television brings remote things within view, but at the same time it conceptually holds them away and keeps them from being closer. Whether equipment or art, a thing is something that does what it is meant to do, presencing by gathering what it gathers to do its work. However, with modern technology, instead of bringing far things near to be authentically experienced, everything becomes imbued with “uniform distancelessness” (Heidegger, 2001, p. 164). Conversely, there is no longer a distinction possible between near and far; the words become meaningless, obliviating the requirement of distance needed for conceptual isolation and abstraction.
The context of this study is the confluence of three distinguishable phenomena: the network, the media, and the everyday performances of culture that bring these into play with each other and with human actors. Globalization is often described as constituted to a significant extent by networks, places, and mobility. Castells (2000) goes as far as to state that network is what makes globalization possible, while Hardt and Negri (2000) theorize politics of the twenty-first century to be a globally net- worked circumstance even in the minutia of interpersonal relationships. Within this global network array, “place” is used to name localized sites of activity and agency. “Network” is thus a spatialization of relations between places, giving rise to the conditions that make globalization possible. The third component, mobility, portrays movement between places of people and/or information and other goods within networks. Altogether, a pic- ture emerges in keeping with Doreen Massey’s description of “power geometry” (1993), in which places, networks, and movement produce geometric spatializations reflected in geographic arrangements of power.
Back in the summer of 2007, I was employed under the title “Senior Editor” by a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) publisher in Beijing. The idea was to create a free monthly executive class magazine reviving the stolen “That’s China” brand. The premier print issue of the new That’s China magazine by China Intercontinental Press was meant to launch the magazine to national prominence. Instead, authorities killed it and ordered all copies be destroyed because the map on the cover was deemed too controversial for public distribution. I kept a couple of copies, which I am now making available here. I’m guessing there will be some interest in this as a historical and archival curiosity.
Two things stand out to me when I look back on this experience. First, the organizational fiasco that a Chinese SOE actually is, and which I’ve written about previously. Second was the genuine unbridled optimism and innocence most Chinese folks seemed to share in those days leading up to the 2008 Olympics. The corruption, intentional deception, intense exploitation, ethical and moral deficits brought on by the frenzy of Chinese capitalist expansion were yet to be seen and understood for what they are post 2008.
Even while contending with the newly discovered vulnerability of being networked and actively fighting “the terrorist network,” new “social” network technologies have continued to proliferate, enabled by Web 2.0 programs such as Facebook and YouTube, MMORGS like World of Warcraft, convergence across and between various media platforms, and ever increasing levels of global economic and cultural networks. In spite of its known vulnerabilities and dangers, the masses have continued to cavort with the enemy. We fear it and fight it, even while we crave it and embrace it as a positive force in our lives. In spite of this tension (perhaps even assisted by it), network has come into its own as a state of mind and a way of life—in sum, a cultural norm. From Barackobama.com to GoogleHealth to Twitter, a multitude of cultural and individual activities have become seamlessly reconfigured and woven into the ever-shifting spatial ambiguity and temporal presence of our hybrid global network. As a result, it is no longer fitting to examine the network as an external force, but rather as a somewhat banal aspect of our everyday environment. We not only performatively inhabit and enact moment to moment, we have also embraced the reality of being globally networked as a prevailing logic in our everyday experiences. Network, therefore, should not simply be conceptualized as a singularity or a technological entity, but rather as an always-already amorphous condition of life itself. As crucial as the chips and wires that comprise and connect the appliances we use, we everyday users are a fundamental component of network. So complete is its weaving into global economics, communications and our everyday lives—indeed, even our ontology —that we here claim to be living in a state of post-global network.
Employing Actor-Network Theory as an analytical framework, this article explores presumptions of reality, power and authority expressed by the Bush collectif. The article demonstrates both successes and failures of the Bush administration’s attempts to define the terms and contexts of its actions. The author discusses the Obama administration’s success in building of a strong network of alliances and challenges towards its maintenance.
Researching BDSM and its relation to Internet technology has revealed the development of a transgressive global community and subculture through online coordination over the past twenty years. Along the way, numerous aspects of this subculture have become intentionally mainstreamed through the very same medium that enabled its inception. This mainstreaming process seems to involve at least three steps: first, the steady commodification of what began as a derelict virtual commons populated by deviants; second, the enclosure of virtual spaces that were considered “profane” until their appropriation by capitalism; and third, the legitimation of certain erotic practices, many of which, until recently, were considered perverse and even symptomatic of mental illnesses. The development of Kink.com as a prominent corporate entity exemplifies these steps in both the nurturing and capitalist appropriation of a subculture: in its rise to online dominance in BDSM pornography, as an advocate for the acceptance of BDSM by mainstream society, and in its corresponding growth as a formidable physical communal presence in the city of San Francisco. In effect, Kink.com has developed into a node centering a particular network assemblage of peoples, technologies, and practices within what I suggest is a neotribally defined BDSM community. McLuhan (1995) described the phenomenon of “neo-tribalism” as a tribal formation structured through the use of electronic media. While Maffesoli (1996) is often referred to as introducing the term to sociological parlance, Bauman’s (1998) rendering of McLuhan’s original idea on a global scale is the notion at play in this analysis. Through its commodification and mainstreaming of previously transgressive erotic practices coalescing around the exchange of erotic aesthetics, Kink.com thus exemplifies the perfect smudging of virtual and physical environments into a singularized reality.
We have entered a new era of labor. This new era calls for a new theoretical tool to understand how capitalism appropriates labor even while such laboring entails an act of consumption. Capitalist agents achieve this through a techno-evolutionary re-appropriation of what we have traditionally thought of as privacy. One might argue there is nothing genuinely new about this emergent condition. Capitalism first created and then has steadily commodified leisure time throughout its evolution. A new spike in capitalism, however, is apace. What has begun to change since the 1980s and has recently exploded with the Web 2.0 social networking storm that began approximately 2007 is the very category of participation in the commodification of leisure. The leisure consumer has, in effect, become a leisure-laborer, who produces his or her own commodities along with and as part of the consumption of spectacle. This type of production doesn’t happen alongside or in dialectical relation to consumption. It is not a simple blurring of the line between production and consumption; it is instead complexly bound up with the consumerist act itself.