The Rebirth of the Blog?

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I quipped the other day on Facebook, “Thank god blogs are dead!” — thinking of some particularly toxic moments and scenes from “back in the day.” Facebook must have heard me… I wanted to post the rough scrap of writing above to that piece of … social media today (with the clever caption: “Brian O’Blivion makes a surprise cameo appearance in my book! Was not expecting this…”), but FB won’t accept my image or post my comment. I know that the network is having major difficulties today, difficulties that will likely pass quickly, but this episode has gotten me thinking (somewhat romantically) about the possibility of a different Internet. The blogosphere was often horrible, but could it ever be as bad as Facebook? Could #FacebookDown and #InstagramDown spark a mass migration and a revival of blogs? Probably not… But leave a comment if you’d like to see it happen! (Or if not, why not.)


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My review of Dominic Pettman’s short book Infinite Distraction: Looking at Social Media is up now at the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB). In the review, I explore particularly the stakes of “distraction,” which Pettman borrows from Kracauer and Benjamin, and the way that their concept of Zerstreuung might help us to understand our age of “scatterbrained” multitasking and develop an appropriate response. With a nod to Marshall McLuhan and his notions of “hot” and “cool” media, I try to understand Pettman’s politics of distraction, which itself responds to Bernard Stiegler’s phenomenology of mediated temporality: “In the face of ultra-cool media, we have to learn to be ice cold. In the face of the always already ‘meta’ relation of social media to our divided, distracted attentions, we have to learn to be infinitely more distracted. Hypersynchronization and hypermodulation call for nothing less than hyperdistraction.” In the end, I am critical of what I refer to as the book’s “humanistic vision” and its “communicational bias,” but I certainly recommend engaging with Pettman’s thought-provoking and in many ways open-ended book, which I see sowing seeds for future thinking and action in the realm of social media.

Read the whole review here.

Creating Social Media

The following info about the Master’s program in “Creating Social Media” reached me recently, and I thought it might be of interest to readers. Note that the deadline for applying is quickly approaching!

What does social media look like in the future? What will you create? At Goldsmiths, University of London, we offer an MA/MSc in Creating Social Media that provides students with practical and critical skills to shape the future of social media. The MA/MSc is a collaborative theory/practice programme across the Centre for Cultural Studies and the Department of Computing.

Based on global examples, we explore the technological and intellectual questions that have risen to prominence with the social web. We critique existing approaches and tools, and plan, develop, hack and implement new applications and campaigns. We not only analyse: we create.

New social media platforms, at their best, develop new online forms of connecting, relating, sharing and organising. Effective and innovative social media creation, therefore, involves deep theoretical and practical knowledge of both software development and social processes. Participants in the MA/MSc will become proficient in

– Computing skills in software development for new social media platforms, mashups, apps, and tools.
– This includes both coding and data skills, and a hacker approach
– Students with non technical background are brought up to speed with a specially developed bootcamp

– Theories of social processes and methods to research them.
– Adapting social media to a variety of technological contexts and to the needs of specific communities.
– Creating social media interventions that address social processes in new ways.

– Surfacing the assumptions and limitations embedded in software.
– Critically assessing contemporary discourses about social media and change.
– Building software tools that enable different forms of social practice, and launching them successfully.

The course draws together students from all around the globe, and from a wide spectrum, some with a technical background, and others whose main focus has been communications, culture, society or politics. We accept applicants until August 31 – but best apply as soon as possible.

Start: Sep 2012 (for those without technical background) or Oct 2012 (with)
Apply by: August 30 2012 latest
Duration: 1 Year full-time or 2 years part-time
Final Degree: MA or MSc (depends on focus of the thesis)

RT #OccupyWallStreet or: Social Media against Cute Cat Pictures

In case you’ve missed it in the news (and it was easy to do so for the first two weeks), a number of more or less loosely organized protesters have come together under the title #OccupyWallStreet – the Twitter hashtag that many believe is artificially being prevented from becoming a so-called “trending topic” on the social media site – and set up camp near Wall Street to demonstrate against the disproportionate concentration of wealth, the role of the financial sector in propagating poverty, and the protection of the wealthy few’s interests at the expense of the poor. People like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky have come out in support of the occupiers, and lots of academics have expressed their sympathies as well.

News media ignored the topic at first – even after video of unprovoked brutality on the part of the police went online – but after 700+ people were arrested for blocking the Brooklyn Bridge, Occupy Wall Street has turned up in the mainstream media as well. The phenomenon is complex, and it’s still developing, so it’s hard to say what will  happen next. But this is certainly something that should be of interest to media researchers of all stripes. I don’t wish to suggest any particular parallels, but the role of social media in Egypt and North Africa and the use of Blackberries in the London riots, for example, have sensitized us to the role of alternative media in social action. Currently, there are efforts underway on Twitter to popularize a larger “movement” (though movement is probably the wrong word, as McKenzie Wark points out): #OccupyAmerica.

#OccupyWallStreet and its viral offspring constitute, as Wark claims in an article on Verso Books’ blog, a “media event.” I highly recommend reading the full text of Wark’s essay, but I want to quote a few of the more directly media-related bits here nonetheless.

The occupation extends out into the intangible world of the vector, but not in the same way as Wall Street. The cop who was stupid enough to pepper-spray some women who were already cordoned off behind orange mesh was quickly identified by hackers, and all his information appeared on the internet for all to see. The incident on the Brooklyn bridge where the police let people onto the roadway and then arrested them for being on the roadway is on the internet from multiple angles. The occupation is also an occupation of the social media vector.

The so-called mainstream media doesn’t quite know how to deal with this. The formalities of how ‘news’ is now made is so baroque that news outlets descended to weird debates about whether the occupation is ‘news.’ It doesn’t have top tier publicists. It didn’t issue free samples. It doesn’t buy advertising space. It started without any celebrity spokesmodels. So how can it be news? The occupation exposed the poverty of reporting in America. And that in itself is news.

The abstraction that is the occupation is then a double one, an occupation of a place, somewhere near the actual Wall Street; and the occupation of the social media vector, with slogans, images, videos, stories. “Keep on forwarding!” might not be a bad slogan for it. Not to mention keep on creating the actual language for a politics in the space of social media. The companies that own those social media vectors will still collect a rent from all we say and do—not much can be done about that—but at least the space can be occupied by something other than cute cat pictures.


By now what we have here is what I would call a weird global media event. It is an event in that nobody knows what will happen next. It is a media event in that it’s fate is tied to the occupation of the double space of Zucotti square and the media at the same time. It is a global media event at least since the NYPD arrested people on the Brooklyn Bridge and handed the occupation great free publicity. (Thanks guys!) And it is a weird global media event in that it has unprecedented elements that set it outside the staple stories of now boredom, dissent, utopia and all that other stuff is usually managed and assuaged.

In diesem Sinne: RT & keep forwarding!