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Archive for April 2012

Would Plato’s Cyborg be male?

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I do this philosophy course at the university of Utrecht. Fascinating (and not in Spock’s connotation). The professors make us compare texts and write no more than approximately three hundred words about it. That is a challenge. Have a look of what I cooked up from the texts of

  1. Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Phaedrus[1]
  2. Jos de Mul’s chapter 1, part four of Filosofie in Cyberspace[2] (in Dutch) and
  3. Donna Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto[3].

Is there any coomunality in the texts and if so, what is it. If not what is the common difference? Etc. So, after a couple of work-through-the-nights, I came up with my common denominator: would Plato’s Cyborg be male? Make up your own mind!


Would or could Plato ever have wanted to ideate the Cyborg; as Haraway says: a hybrid creature, a cybernetic organism, a creation of both social reality and fiction; half apparatus, half human and socio-technological imaginary of the rhetorical strategy of (socialist) feminism?

Can Cyborg be grasped in a rhetorical concept; one of Plato’s five Rhetorics, as he teaches us in his Phaedrus (as the Phaedrus is about rhetorics in essence): 1- the false rhetoric, 2- love or inspiration of beauty, described as madness, 3- dialectics, the art of composition and division, 4- true rhetoric based on dialectics and the art of seduction rooted in truth and knowledge of character, and 5- superiority of the spoken over the written word? Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto reads is a rhetorical roller coaster of techno-feminist discourse, a deterministic discursive construct with social consequences and implications through technology (De Mul p.33).

In his introduction of the Phaedrus, Jowett quotes Socrates who says that true rhetorics is like medicine, and the rhetorician has to consider the natures of men’s soul as the physician considers the natures of their bodies. Such and such persons are to be affected in this way, such and such others in that; and he must know the times and seasons for saying this or that. This is not an easy task, and this, if there be such an art, is the art of rhetoric.

Then what is truth? Is it embodied in our current days in which technology is an object to think with, in the rhetoric of technologized man and in which De Mul comprises presumptions about technology and society to a golden main path of technological interactionism; a bit of technological determinism and a bit of social constructionism? Considering that technological interactionism holds the middle in the polarity of determinism and constructionism and is therefor genderless, Plato’s Cyborg will never be female and Haraway’s Cyborg never male.

Written by Kees Winkel

April 29, 2012 at 15:08

Frictionless Sharing: a critical view on automated sharing of media texts in social media

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On Februari 16 of this year, Volkskrant[1] published an article called “The future of social media is automated sharing; handy but sometimes a bit embarrassing” in which the author Heleen van Lier notes that the future of sharing media texts lies in automated sharing. Central theme in her article stands Frictionless Sharing; a phrase introduced by social medium Facebook a couple of months ago. Representatives of Facebook, Reuters, Nokia and Microsoft debated Frictionless Sharing (FS) during the Social Media Week in London. The debate panel came to the conclusion that FS is here to stay. Use of the technology is simple; after agreeing once, the user starts sharing his data with other in linked media.

Van Lier’s article has a discourse of, let us say, tempered techno-optimism and it represents the opinion of the mentioned soft-critical panel.

In this short essay I’ll try to analyze the phenomena of FS in social media using the concepts of Technological Determinism and Social Constructivism as compasses with the objective to gain insight in the usability. The reason for using the two concepts lies in the central theme of this writing: Frictionless Sharing: a critical view on automated sharing of media texts in social media. Or to put it in a question: Who profits from Frictionless Sharing?

Frictionless Sharing, automated sharing of data in social media, is a relatively new phenomenon and can be regarded as a form of automated hyperlinkability; de user agrees to the Internet provider’s service to publish certain data (information) on other Internet services. Think for example, of the announcements on your Facebook page that a friend is listening on Spotify to a song by some band.

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced the conception of Frictionless Sharing during the 2011 F8 Developers Conference. His explanation was that it would enable a “real-time serendipity[i] in a frictionless experience” (Sheilla Shayon 2011[2]). In his AdAge column of January 30, 2012, Dave Williams[3] explains that Facebook’s core mission is to help people share their lives and their favorite things, such as branded products, music, films, etc.

Williams also implies an economical objective for the introduction of automated sharing. Van Lier also touches the issue as she cites the Spotify example.

Whether Frictionless Sharing comes as handy is one out of a series of similar questions through which people try to explain the role of technology in society. These questions have different discourses running from academic neutrality to the rhetoric of marketing. Within these discourses long lasting and divers debates are carried out, all with one central question: is technology the determining factor for the development of the society (Technological Determinism) or does society cooperates to construct and shape products and services using technology (Social Constructivism).

Lister et al. (2009 p. 429[4]) state in their glossary that Technological determinism remains, as Mackenzie and Wajcman ([1985] 1999) argue, the ‘dominant account’ of technology in everyday or ‘common sense’ culture. So according to Mackenzie and Wajcman technology is the driver of society in the sense that social arrangements are determined technological arrangements. Yet opposite to Technological Determinism we face the conception of Social Constructivism in which Social Shaping of Technology is the key perspective. It is all about the ‘makeable society. Technology as such is not the goal, it is a mere auxiliary plea – or perhaps even, as McLuhan might have gimmicked, a medium – to make a better world. Up to recent days, a fitting example has been Kony 2012[5], the global viral attempt to trial the former Uganda guerilla leader Joseph Kony before an international jury. This action, using FS through mainly Facebook and Twitter disseminated at warp speed[6] as the Australian Times reported. Let us conclude that, at least for the initiators of this action, the available and dominant technology was used to accomplish a human (charity) goal.

Brussee and Hekman (2010) state that social media are highly accessible media; users need not have much (if any) knowledge of technology in order to use them. (Perhaps in this sense, it is more relevant to say that users need not have much literacy, media-usage-literacy that is. There is still overwhelming popular discourse in which social media are disputed leading to Netherland’s sovereign Beatrix who neatly copied the words of the Dutch government that social media lead to non-social behavior? In my opinion a rather dystopian technological deterministic fallacy.)

High accessibility results in fast groups of people having access not only the original role of the (media text) user, or better consumer, but also to the functionalities of these technologies that actually provide control of other parts of media chain, i.e. aggregation and publication. High accessibility and ubiquity of the Internet (wired, wireless and mobile) are most likely the reason why so many people use the Internet and social media in particular. Or, as the voice over in the Kony 2012 video states: “There are people who have a Facebook account today than the amount living on the earth two hundred years ago”

According to the debate panel members in Van Lier’s article, automated sharing through social media is here to stay. In fact, it becomes a second nature to users. According to Facebook’s Trevor Johnson, one of the panel members, this may cumulate in Facebook being spammed with way too much uninteresting information. Facebook tries to clear this problem by offering users to personalize their profile pages according to ones likings en preferences in order to specify data streams. As Van Lier states in her article: “every website can be personalized on the basis of ones preferences and what friend suggest’.

Personalizing on the basis of preferences and deliberate admission of information of people certainly will limit the amount of information with which Facebook users are confronted currently. Whether Johnson’s approach bears the characteristics of Social Constructivism or Technological Determinism can only be made clear if we get a proper answer to his statement in which he says that Facebook is concerned about the people, not the company: “If one thinks of Facebook than not think of Facebook.com but at three million sites and hundreds of thousands of apps with which we are integrated. At first sight that seems pretty much SC but considering the intrinsic technological imaginary I am convinced that a company like Facebook, their representatives included, are rather techno-optimists and put technology in an (imaginary) position as shaper of (their) society.

Mark Zuckerberg’s “real-time serendipity in a frictionless experience” also sounds as a zenith of Social Constructivism. In my opinion it even bears a touch of a connotation of a utopic ideology (Facebook constructing a better world in which all are related as friends). Nice thought yet was it not Dave Williams who peoposed in his earlier mentioned article that “Because the new breed of apps measure actions and mentions, they make it easier for marketers to measure when people are talking about certain brands, activities, news stories, or other content. This improved insight onto the social graph gives marketers a far greater picture of users’ interests, helping them shape relevant ad experiences that can be used to drive engagement”. In this quote perhaps lies the thought of affordance of Frictionless Sharing in the context of both Technological Determinism and Social Constructivism. Lister et al. Summarize the difference between the two perspectives as: ‘[…] to be a realist about technology entails asking what technology really is’. This is the realism for which this concluding section pleads: we should attend not simply to the social constructedness of technological phenomena, but to the extended effects they create, the causes they exploit and the rearrangement of parts and processes they effect”.

For me, FS – Frictionless Sharing –min terms of marketing is a scrupulous tool to hyper-profile potential customers. I think I should start reading Pariser and Sloterdijk. They might clear my mind on matters of tech first or society first.

So, what do you think?

[1] http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2694/Internet-Media/article/detail/3185440/2012/02/16/De-toekomst-van -sociale-media-is-geautomatiseerd-delen-handig-maar-soms-ook-genant.dhtml

[4] Lister M., Dovey J., Giddings S., Grant I., Kelly K. (2009). New media: A critical introduction second edition (second edition ed.). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Written by Kees Winkel

April 1, 2012 at 19:02

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