Sunday, February 27, 2011

Off a Cliff

Among feminist friends there has been a lot of talk about the valorization of so-called "Facebook stalking" in the Chevy Superbowl ad, talk that has even made it onto watercooler conversation websites like this one.

Now my fellow CAA New Media Caucus presenter Joseph DeLappe has created a delectable parody almost certain to be hit with a takedown notice in a matter of days. Check out what happens to our mixed reality Romeo in DeLappe's version of events.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Not Your Mother's VJ

Recently Henry Jenkins has highlighted the work of Egyptian-American Laila Shereen Sakr, otherwise known as VJ Um Amel in a posting called "Media-Making Madness: #Arab Revolutions from the Perspective of Egyptian-American VJ Um Amel (Part One)." Sakr uses certain alienation effects in her video remixes of political crowds that have drawn praise from Alexandra Juhasz:

I'd like to reflect on the differences between the video you made that is a more abstract data visualization and the mix tapes of live "realist" footage. I have written about how viral YouTube videos of protest move quickly because of their simplistic, iconic effect which is often easy to consume and as easy to misunderstand given that it flows without context and because of the strong associations linked to verite images. For this reason, I think your experimentation with non-verite renditions of revolution are really exciting (for communicating across difference, as well as to communicate more complex ideas then, say, "freedom," or "courage," or "arab" that iconic images can reduce themselves to)

(Juhasz was a guest in my online rhetoric class this week, and like me she seems to be struggling to keep up with fast changing social media events in the Middle East and North Africa.)

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ballet at BART

Two years ago I wrote about the shooting of Oscar Grant as an example of the way that police brutality videos shot by cell phones circulate through both broadcast news and YouTube. This video adopts a different series of generic conventions that draw viewers who watch either vernacular dancing videos or "improv everywhere" style clips.

The filmmakers also make an interesting decision in choosing not to incorporate footage of the actual shooting of Grant at the Fruitvale BART station or depict anything other than a highly stylized representation of the event. Unlike many of the human rights remixes that Sam Gregory and I will be talking about in our DML workshop Thursday that use gory images of graphic violence, those who memorialize Grant in this case do so in a highly abstracted hip hop ballet.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

People Who Live in Glass Houses

My UC San Diego colleague from the Department of Engineering Joe Goddard once taught a course on glass, rubber, and steel in the Culture, Art, and Technology program that I now direct, so it is interesting to see how glass as a material intimately tied to technological advantages considers to shape the cultural imagination and the aesthetic ideologies of consumers.

In this clip called "A Day Made of Class" from Corning we see an ideal professional family with children in private school go through a day of transportation, consumerism, and social interaction in a world of heads-up displays and urban screens.

If Vannevar Bush imagined the Memex as a kind of desk-computer, it is interesting to see that the coffee table and the large, plate glass window -- the icons of mid-century modernism -- are imagined to be the computational furnishings of the future.

It is interesting that the company has not disallowed responses, which now include over 4,000 comments that include witticisms and jibes like "A Day Made of Greasy Fingerprints" and "The World is my iPad." What I find surprising is that most viewers don't point out how obviously the technologies shown are merely the product of digital visual effects.

Thanks to my wonderful former student from my UC Irvine digital rhetoric class, Heather Pedrami, for the link.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Attackers and the Bystanders

In "Stars and Sewers," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd points to misogynistic Internet comments posted about the brutal gang rape of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt's Tahrir Square, comments that appeared on Twitter, in blogs, and anonymously on Yahoo! For Doyd, this abusive online verbiage serves as more support for Nicholas Carr's high-profile anti-Internet argument that networked computer technology is "rewiring" our brains. Dowd also cites a number of other social media skeptics in rapid fire succession: Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, and Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, with whom she ends her editorial.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

In "Adding insult to Lara Logan's injury," once controversial blogger Amanda Marcotte, whom I write about in the chapter on blogs and Photoshop in the Virtualpolitik book, focuses on a cast of conservatives in the blogosphere.

Popular rightwing bloggers Debbie Schlussel, Robert Stacy McCain, and Sister Toldja were among those who immediately used the attack to reinforce their anti-Muslim, anti-revolution arguments. But the real cause of sex crime is power, and its abuse, and that is a problem in all the nations on this planet.

Meanwhile, anti-Republican journalist Nir Rosen has been apologizing for Tweets that maligned Logan's character in "How 480 characters unraveled my career." From a rhetorical perspective, it is interesting to note that Rosen drops in a reference to WikiLeaks in explaining his lapse into Internet cynicism.

With 480 characters I undid a long career defending the weak and victims of injustice. There is no excuse for what I wrote. At the time, I did not know that the attack against Lara Logan was so severe, or included apparent sexual violence. Even so, any violence against anyone is wrong. I've apologized, lost my job, and humiliated myself and my family. But I, at least, don't want to go down looking like a sexist pig. I am not. I am a staunch supporter of women's rights, gay rights and the rights of the weak anywhere in the world. . . . So why did I write it? It was a disgusting comment born from dark humor I have developed working in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Lebanon -- and a need to provoke people. I have a few think tank friends on Twitter, and we often banter about the morality of WikiLeaks, counterinsurgency and other issues. When I first heard the news about Logan, I assumed she was roughed up like every other journalist -- which is still bad -- but I was jokingly trying to provoke one of my think tank friends on Twitter, thoughtlessly, of course, and terribly insensitively. Stupidly, I didn't think the banter between myself and a couple of other guys would amount to anything.

Now, Twitter is no place for nuance, which is why I should have stuck to long-form journalism.

Logan's own journalistic practices have had a complex relationship to social media. As I write in this article, the cell phone footage that she used in her reporting on the Iraq war caused her story on the Battle of Haifa Street to be rejected for broadcast; subsequently Logan complained about having been exiled to the station's webcast as a result.

I might suggest to Dowd that online comments left last year on a 60 Minutes story done by Logan about Green Berets who shot two boys accidentally provide an example of much more substantive counter-discourse and civic engagement. Even if the tone of some of those postings was caustic and cynical, viewers were able to question the powers that be

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Monday, February 21, 2011

To the Victor

The digital rhetoric surrounding the victory of artificial intelligence in a match against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter seems to benefit both the corporate sponsor, IBM, and a last-century television gameshow that is now hoping to promote its various digital brands, which range from a Wii game for at-home family entertainment to an iPhone app for would-be contestants on the run.

The heavily hyped "man-machine" competition designed to garner ratings and media attention seems to have had its desired effect. It even has merited its own TED talk to narrowcast to the digerati, and the company is declaring broadly that "humans win" in presenting its own teary online drama about the computer scientists behind the scene.

Certainly the technical challenges faced by the IBM team grappling with the rule systems of human language and knowledge representation made former victories by IBM computers against human chess champions seem like relatively simple feats by comparison. Based on the company's triumph on the game show, their corporate public relations is now promoting the machine's efficacy in fields like health care, although those who remember the computer's bungled answers might not yet be ready to place their lives in its care.

In a statement, longtime Virtualpolitik friend and former Jeopardy winner Jerome Vered doesn't give as much credit to the technology as he does to the way that the game itself is structured as a competition between self-interested agents that unfolds according to the logic of an individual game.

Note also that "Watson" is not named for Sherlock Holmes' famous sidekick in solving crimes, but for the father-son successive IBM heads "both named Watson," as Peter Lunenfeld tells us in his "genealogy of digital visionaries" in The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Virtual Auschwitz

In yesterday's New York Times, an article on how "Auschwitz Shifts From Memorializing to Teaching" notes that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which is slated for a major renovation and overhaul of its exhibits, will avoid incorporating digital technologies in its galleries.

There will be few bells and whistles, Mr. Cywinski insisted, few if any videos or touch-screens in the main galleries, which would be impractical for masses of people.

Unlike the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is known for its interactive passport experience and banks of multimedia portals, curators feel strongly that the mute testimony of piles of hair, luggage, and shoes needed to continue to have a central place in what many describe as a "shrine." Apparently the abstraction of online installations like the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands in which Anne Frank is reduced to a mere flickering pixel on the display seems inappropriate to the caretakers of the heavily touristed site in Oświęcim, Poland where visitors come in pilgrimage.

Reading the story I think of the words of my former UC Irvine colleague Ruth Klüger, who was so critical of the "museum culture" that surrounds the genocide of the Jews. For Kluger, as a survivor, it was impossible to imagine that anything be learned from the Holocaust; it defied any pedagogical logic that she could see.

My own grandparents spent their honeymoon in the Weimar Republic. In seeing the sites of what was then still cosmopolitan Berlin, they elbowed their way through a crowd to see Hitler. In retrospect, their cultural tourism seems in obvious bad taste. But thinking about that particular historical moment of peeking at the bogeyman of totalitarianism and the racial state, I think about all the digital Hitlers that we peer at on the Internet, whether the Führer is walking on sunshine with parading admirers or complaining about consumer electronics in one of the thousands of videos in the Downfall meme.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Toasting with Water

They say that it is bad luck to toast with water, but you wouldn't know it from this image of corporate jollity. This photograph, from the official White House Flickr stream, shows Obama toasting at a dinner in Silicon Valley at the home of John Doerr, a member of the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board. To Obama's left is Apple's famous former CEO, Steve Jobs, who has appeared less hale and healthy in the tabloids of late, and to Obama's right is Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and not up for an Oscar this year, although his thespian Doppelgänger Jesse Eisenberg is.

Assembled around the dinner table are many other tech gurus: Carol Bartz, president and CEO of Yahoo!, John Chambers, CEO and chairman of Cisco Systems, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle, Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix, John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, Art Levinson, chairman and former CEO of Genentech, and Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google.

Although this photograph has circulated widely in the tech blogosphere, the other photo on the White House Flickr page from the dinner, which shows Obama in a tête-à-tête with Zuckerberg, has received much less attention. In the image, the visual rhetoric shows the President literally talking down to the social media entrepreneur, as what appears to be a blurry Eric Schmidt hovers in the foreground.

These shots are typical fundraising fare with a clear messages about inclusion and the president's social graph. In contrast, Michael Shaw at BagNews Notes argues that the visual rhetoric around Obama's "Sputnik moment," on view at the White House page for "Winning the Future," may be much more compelling to his constituents.

Obama's latest corporate tour features the Intel corporation, which Obama chose to be this week's site of his weekly online address. Of late, I've been writing a lot about the ways that Obama appears with computational media, and the ways that he is rarely shown facing a screen. Often computer monitors surround the president in scenes of what I have called "transparent mediation/mediated transparency" that draw attention to the apparatus of his online media presence, but when he is captured actually facing a screen (at his secretary's desktop machine or peering at his Commander in Chief Blackberry) we are signaled, by either the awkwardness of his body language at workstation or his use of mobile devices outside or in the dark, that such engagement with technology as an actual user is unpresidential.

(Thanks to Garnet Hertz for pointing out the photo.)

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching Writing as an Information Art

Webinar: Teaching Writing as an Information Art
Feb. 28, 9am PST/12pm EST
50 minutes. Cost: FREE
Online or on campus (@ USC ACB 238)
Twitter: #infoarts

Katherine D. Harris (San Jose State U), Elizabeth Losh (UC San Diego),
Mark Marino (USC), and Dave Parry (UT Dallas)

Sponsored by
University of Southern California Writing Program,
The Center for Scholarly Technology,
& The Center for Transformative Scholarship

Contemporary writing courses have been taking on computational tools, from word processors to wikis, for over two decades now, and for a large portion of that time, the tools have taken center stage. However, contemporary talk of media “literacies” has changed the place of tools in the classroom — or rather, has reframed the role of language as information. When students begin to study the role of words as tags, metadata, or search optimizing keywords, they are studying not just semantic structures but the logic and rhetoric of the flow of information. This panel discusses the idea of reframing those courses and their lessons under the title of Information Arts.

Come join our round table discussion as we explore the implications of this reconceptualization of the contemporary writing course.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weigh Station

I've never been a person of religious sentiments, so it has been difficult for me to have much faith in dieting. Much like systems of spiritual belief, confidence in different ideologies of weight loss have always struck me as suspect.

However, thanks to the advent of online video, it is hard to deny that there really should be less of me. For example, the difference in size between a performance in 2008 at the Annenberg Center and one in 2010 is particularly marked.

So I find myself polling people at the university, from an administrator who swears by consuming only brussels sprouts for a month to a faculty member in the Math department, who has posted his conversion story online.

I'm tempted to solve this problem of daily life with my iPhone, as I do most everyday needs. So I downloaded a pedometer app and soon went out to walk, jog, and run to burn calories and participate in a new culture of self-monitoring where people track stats from the most intimate aspects of their lives. Each day of personal surveillance I can peruse charts where my vital signs have been tracked from second-to-second much like an intensive care monitor.

After testing out this application, I soon discovered a number of technical flaws. First, like many apps, the pedometer seems to turn off when the phone rings or a text message arrives. As someone who often checks e-mail while waiting for a crosswalk to be greenlighted, this is a significant design flaw. I'm not sure that one can listen to the mp3 player on the phone while exercising and still keep track of one's steps. Second, it measures distance much more accurately if stored in a pants pocket rather than the pocket of a sweater or jacket. This led me to a frustrating search for exercise pants with pockets, which were strangely unavailable at a number of retail outlets. I actually found a number of pairs with fake pockets merely for decoration!

If only I could download an iPhone app like the music recognition app Shazam where I could point my phone at a plate of food and be told the calories it contains.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rigor Mortis

More and more often when I teach blogging, I feel like I am teaching Latin.

It seems as if blogging is now considered a discourse essentially dead in its vernacular practice, but the language of blogging still holds some recognizable pedagogical virtue as a way to build students' communication skills with public audiences and as a gateway for understanding related digital practices that might appear more demonstrably alive in the present day.

Today I found out that I will be part of a roundtable discussion titled "Is Blogging Dead? Yes, No, Other" at the Computers and Writing conference at the University of Michigan. The proposal from Steve Krause begins as follows:

In one fashion or another, the short history of blogging has always been about dismissal. Blogging has consistently been labeled a fad, discredited as little more than amateurs keeping public diaries, criticized by mainstream media for their shoddy writing (compared to the mainstream media), and so forth. And yet Rosenberg (2009) argues that blogging was “the first form of social media to be widely adopted beyond the world of technology enthusiasts,” a development that provided a “template for all the other forms that would follow” (p. 13). Blogs perforated the borders between author and audience, reporter and reader, diary and pulpit in ways that launched careers, destroyed campaigns, and illustrated, perhaps, the communal philosophy of the digital age. That said, as Facebook and Twitter have eclipsed blogs, perhaps the death of blogging has finally arrived. Perhaps the medium that showed the way has been superseded by the forms following. Or not. Or maybe it has become something else. Something other.

Of course, the news of blogging's demise is not a terribly stunning announcement. A year and a half ago, a report from the Pew Research Center announced that it was already judged an archaic practice among the young.

Yet the blogs in this quarter's digital danse macabre continue to show a certain vitality conceptually, rhetorically, stylistically, and even technically. Offerings from my students like Eat Dirt, San Diego, Greener Strides, Cinesia, Digirights, and The Social Documentary speak of students continuing desires to have their voices heard by the public. The class blog is full of suggestions for alternative lectures that I could have given with the same subject matter.

I can't imagine trying to get to know my students otherwise in a lecture hall of over two hundred souls. I may be a schoolmarm essentially drilling them on their conjugations and declensions, but at this point I don't know what else to do.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Social Contract

In today's White House press conference, President Obama credited technology for mobilizing dissenters in Tunis and Egypt to topple authoritarian regimes.

You can’t maintain power through coercion. At some level, in any society, there has to be consent. And that’s particularly true in this new era where people can communicate not just through some centralized government or a state-run TV, but they can get on a smart phone or a Twitter account and mobilize hundreds of thousands of people.

There are three things that immediately strike me about this response to a reporter's question: 1) It follows a discussion of "young people" and a "young, vibrant generation," which suggests a belief in a "digital generation" as central civic actors, 2) Twitter must be thrilled with being credited in so many news organizations with the overthrow of governments, particularly at a time when its own user base in the United States may be moving on to new technologies at the same time that the young seem not to have chosen to adopt this particular microblogging platform in the first place, and 3) Obama's use of the language of the social contract has its ironies, given that the actual user agreements of most mobile technologies and social media platforms require consent unconditionally.

This last point is important for understanding how the issue of "Internet freedom" has been championed this week by the Obama administration. In a speech given today by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she compared the divergent outcomes of digital activism in Egypt and Iran to argue for "the power of connection technologies" as both an "accelerant of political, social, and economic change, and on the other hand as a means to stifle or extinguish that change."

Clinton presented a much more sophisticated argument than many cyberutopians, one that focused on how technology can service both liberation and repression. Unlike the President, she also seemed to mock associating particular Web 2.0 brand names with civic participation and political change.

Egypt isn’t inspiring people because they communicated using Twitter. It is inspiring because people came together and persisted in demanding a better future. Iran isn’t awful because the authorities used Facebook to shadow and capture members of the opposition. Iran is awful because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its people.

She then launched into a familiar Habermassian reading of cyberspace before defending the concept of a cosmopolitan, multinational structure of governance.

The internet has become the public space of the 21st century – the world’s town square, classroom, marketplace, coffeehouse, and nightclub. We all shape and are shaped by what happens there, all 2 billion of us and counting. And that presents a challenge. To maintain an internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what rules exist and should not exist and why, what behaviors should be encouraged or discouraged and how.

The goal is not to tell people how to use the internet any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public square, whether it’s Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their vegetables, to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform, and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.

One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision by calling for a global commitment to internet freedom, to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs – these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.

Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I’ve called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same. Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom. We also support expanding the number of people who have access to the internet. And because the internet must work evenly and reliably for it to have value, we support the multi-stakeholder system that governs the internet today, which has consistently kept it up and running through all manner of interruptions across networks, borders, and regions.

When thinking about what "Internet freedom" might mean, however, Clinton draws limits on "access" and "transparency" to defend the "private" as well as the "public." What I find interesting is that much like the recording industry and how it defends intellectual property, Clinton focuses on the rhetorical figure of "theft."

Now, I know that government confidentiality has been a topic of debate during the past few months because of WikiLeaks, but it’s been a false debate in many ways. Fundamentally, the WikiLeaks incident began with an act of theft. Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase. Some have suggested that this theft was justified because governments have a responsibility to conduct all of our work out in the open in the full view of our citizens. I respectfully disagree. The United States could neither provide for our citizens’ security nor promote the cause of human rights and democracy around the world if we had to make public every step of our efforts. Confidential communication gives our government the opportunity to do work that could not be done otherwise.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

E-Literature Without the E

Since beginning to teach my digital poetics class this quarter, I find myself spending a lot of time actually trying to make it less digital. First, I brought them into the rare books archive to think about twentieth-century forms of paper-based experimentation with the page, analog recorded sound, and non-serial modes of orientation. By this point in the class, when students are working on their hypertext poems, I'm willing to accept paper prototypes, once as Ted Nelson once mocked up hypertext with "card file, notebook, index tabs, edgepunching, file folders, scissors and paste, graphic boards, index-strip frames, Xerox machine and the roll-top desk."

I was also fortunate to have Jeremy Douglass and Mark Marino come in for a day with a "locative corpse" exercise that involved objects in the room, writing on paper, and tape. See this entry on WRT for more about the exercise.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Flight to Cairo

In preparing for leading a workshop on "Remixing Human Rights: Rethinking civic expression, safety, privacy and consent in online and mobile video" for the Digital Media and Learning "Designing Learning Futures" conference, the seeming potency of Internet practices that have toppled authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunis during the past month make staying current difficult.

My workshop co-organizer, Sam Gregory of Witness has already weighed in on the situation in a posting on "Our Responsibility to Bear Witness," but as a more provincial educator who knows Egypt largely as the place where I once won a dance contest cruising down the Nile as a tourist, I am still trying to filter information to understand the role of social media in mobilizing protesters in the streets and to interpret how agents of dissent used multiple platforms, as in the case of Speak2Tweet, shown above, which fostered broadcasting on the World Wide Web via land-line telephone when the Internet was turned off in Egypt.

As Beth Coleman has pointed out, the Western press doesn't always locate the local flashpoints of conflict correctly, even with English commentary and crowd sourcing able to point the way. For example, although much has been made about the self-immolation of fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunis, Coleman claims that the dissemination of YouTube videos of civilian massacres outside the capital shot with cell phones also played a critical role in civic revolt. (See "Please tell the world Kasserine is dying!" and use "Kasserine" as a search term on YouTube for relevant videos.)

In Egypt there was a Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who organized protests and then disappeared for eleven days (with a final Tweet about preparing for death) before he reappeared in public triumphant at the downfall of his captors. Ghonim had become famous for creating the "We Are all Khaled Said" Facebook page, which commemorated a young man who was dragged from a cyber café and murdered for video recording corrupt, drug dealing police officers. A number of testimonies from witnesses were posted on YouTube after his death, which contested the official story of supposed accidental suffocation caused by Said from hiding drugs from authorities. Now Said's Facebook page shows a joyous illustration of patriotic celebration rather than the profile picture of the murdered witness journalist.

In thinking about "Hacktivism and the Humanities" in another project, I've also been thinking about how the digital humanities sometimes is willing to reorient itself in relationship to political change in rethinking its role of cultural preservation. For example, the Hypercities project, which documented election protests in Tehran and the otherwise ephemeral expressions from social media that accompanied them now has a somewhat similar Egypt Hypercities page.

For more on the Egypt situation, see the full rundown from David Parry which includes his postings on the subject at Profound Heterogeneity, background, what he calls "a useful framework," two postings (1, 2) from Zeynep Tufekci, two postings (1, 2) from Jillian York, explanations on how the Internet was shut down from Wired and OpenNet, and reflections from Ramesh Srinivasan.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

"When I Was One, I Learned to Smell for Explosives"

This blog began six years ago, when it was dedicated to analyzing the rhetoric of e-government, e-learning, and e-business and the inherent contradictions between digital regulation and digital content-creation from which institutional public relations must suffer. The daily stories here eventually formed the material for a scholarly monograph and then contributed to the creation of another book that is in process. But in the last several months the coverage has been much more sporadic, as its once diligent author adjusted to a new post directing the Culture, Art, and Technology program at Sixth College in UC San Diego and cranked out a number of articles more obviously valuable to her c.v.

However, since the very first postings of Virtualpolitik were devoted to mocking the awfulness of government websites under the Bush administration, it only seems appropriate to come out of hiatus by giving some column space to the stunning news that the CIA has a revamped official website that includes a YouTube channel and a Flickr stream. Over the years, the CIA's website has been a particularly spectacular example of good reasons for misgivings about the virtual state, like many secret agencies forced by the Internet to put forward a public face. It began with a fun-filled offering of virtual paper dolls to get tykes excited about both espionage and dress-up. Soon it featured a loveable mascot, Ginger the adorable blue cartoon bear.

In the past the CIA website was so consistently terrible that it won one of my coveted Foley awards in 2006, the "prizes" that I give for the worst examples of official online communication every year. Although it was spared such recognition in 2007, 2008, and 2009, it continued to be a regular runner-up in my mind.

Now that it is 2011, the CIA's revamped version certainly seems to merit a full return to the Foley hall of fame, since it manages to ignore almost every one of my "12 Don'ts."

Sure, you can find CIA Factbooks and Freedom of Information Act documents if you browse the site's "library," but the navigation largely directs citizens to whitewashed institutional advertising rather than serious resources for civic research.

The site includes a dreary Flickr stream of all the bad official photo ops on the director's calendar. Particularly dismal is the CIA YouTube video embedded below, which stars "Bradley" the bomb-sniffing dog, who is voiced by a perky, high-pitched voice actress imitating a pre-pubescent girl. This YouTube canine obviously cast in an attempt to get the views normally devoted to pet antics tells an incoherent version of his life story, which starts with a rushed mention of being raised by Puppies Behind Bars, before launching into an industrial tour of the Langley facility.

Thanks to Jeff Brazil for the link.

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