Monthly Archives: February 2006

no CHI for me

The workshops at CHI this year are *unbelievable* and it was hard to choose. In the end, i agreed to be a discussion leader for Social Visualization Workshop. As the registration deadline loomed, i was hoping that i would find funding, but both are kinda tangential to both my research and work. I decided to look and see if i could afford it on my own and was shocked to see that the cost of registration (including workshops) is $650. And that’s the student price! ::gulp:: So, sadly, i will not be attending CHI this year.

I have to say, i’m also quite shocked at the hike in fees. [For those who are used to industry fees, this is quite expensive for an academic conference where even the presenters pay.] I thought i was going mad until i saw Jofish’s visual of the registration costs over time:

I know that putting on conferences is expensive but i really wish i knew what registration fees went towards. I also wish monetary-related decisions were more transparent, particularly for conferences that are not-for-profit. Are there reasons to keep attendees in the dark about what their fees pay for?

Like Jofish, i also wonder about the implications that this fee hike has for interdisciplinary discussions when members of less-funded disciplines cannot attend. Making CHI only affordable to the CS folks is not a good thing. And i cannot even imagine what it must be like to be outside of the Euro-American corridor where most of these events occur. Or to be a graduate student who has no funding and never has the privilege to attend. It’s scary to think about the ways in which the academy work creates fundamental biases in knowledge production.


When American called me up to tell me i’d made Gold, i groaned. It was official – i spend too much time in airports. This is of course magnified by the fact that i spend too much time praying that the person sitting next to me is at least relatively sane, doesn’t smell too badly, isn’t carrying some sneezable illness and doesn’t cry during takeoff. Of course, i have had good experiences on flights. In fact, i’ve had great ones. When working for V-Day, i sat next to a woman interested in what we were doing. I told her all about what was going on and at some point, we exchanged business cards. She sent me a check for thousands of dollars to support the cause. Of course, what i’d really like is to have more great ones. I love running into people i know in the airport or finding other interesting humans. I will never forget when Jimmy popped up his iTunes to find that Clay was somewhere within the airport. Or when i Dodgeballed that i landed and found Iggy had too. Or when i plopped down next to Jesse Jackson. Strange moments.

Social software *should* be able to help but there are so many barriers to this. You need to articulate too much and who has time? Still, as broken as they are, i’m interested in exploring the tools that might lead to entertaining interactions or at least to the development of better systems to do so. One of the ones i’m curious about is AirTroductions. Yeah, it kinda has dating overtones to it, but i’m still curious if it’d ever work. At the very least, who else is en route to Etech or SXSW or IASummit when? I have to imagine that lots of folks i know will be passing through the same airports in the next month. Anyone else willing to give it a try just to see?

Note: one of the options is: “someone who won’t talk to me at all (I just want to read/sleep/work).” You don’t have to be stuck sitting next to a chatty person even if you want someone to share a cab with at the airport. You also don’t need to change your seats to use the service – i intend to use it just to find out who else is in the airport with me.

what is vulgar in academia?

Last night, a friend told me about a kid who had his dissertation censored by their school. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what on earth one could write that would get censored and failed. So i responded with puzzlement and i was told that he had written an entire chapter on how his department’s drama had detrimental effects on his research (this was part of the methods section). Needless to say, this did not go over well.

Today, i was told that i could not submit an abstract with “MySpace whores” in it and was encouraged to change it to “MySpace prostitutes.” Of course, i was like no no no… that’s not the term people use. I think that it is wholely inappropriate to alter cultural terms when trying to talk about the culture. I unhappily agreed to remove the entire segment from my abstract but made it very clear that i had every intention of talking about “MySpace whores” given that the talk is on friending practices in MySpace and the term comes up in almost every conversation i have with people. The response? “i don’t care how vulgar you get in your talk. that will be only a reflection of you and not of me.”

Wow… that was harsh. Am i vulgar to be using the terms that people use? Sure, one could make an argument that their terms are vulgar to elitist ears, but i’m studying a culture filled with all sorts of shall we say… interesting… terminology. If i were speaking to an audience of anthropologists or gender studies folks, no one would bat an eye. Why am i suddenly lacking decorum when i move to disciplines filled with mostly straight white men? Because hegemonic decorum doesn’t recognize the language of less privileged populations? Hrmfpt.

call for Blogher speaker on sensitive topics

As Elisa wrote, i’m leading a panel at Blogher on blogging about sensitive topics and we’re looking for potential panelists who are willing to talk candidly about the most sensitive of topics – depression, addiction, self-injury, eating disorders, illness, suicide attempts, infertility, etc.  We’re looking for people who’ve written about these topics and those who’ve tried to support loved ones.  We want to talk about the values of writing about sensitive issues, the challenges of being read, the concerns about responding to someone’s intense writings.  Especially around issues self-injury, eating disorders and suicide attempts, we’d like to get into how writers feel when they are reported by concerned loved ones. 

We know that support happens. But we also know that that there are those who believe that bloggers and online community members can become enablers, or at the very least, get in over their heads.

Rather than reaching out to people with a "So, you talk about suicide a lot, wanna talk on a panel?" type question, we wanted to throw it out more broadly and see who might be willing to talk.  So, this is a call for speakers who would be willing to discuss their experiences handling the touchy topics online. And please note: we are open to only identifying you by a a pseudonym in conference materials.

If you’re interested, feel free to email me or Elisa.

Update: To those who have responded, i will get back to you shortly – we need to meet and figure out exactly what we want and how we want to balance speakers. Please be patient.

“Academics: Get to work!”

I’m not sure if i should be offended or excited by John Dvorak’s latest post Academics: Get to work!. On one hand, he argues that “we need social studies about the Net and computers” which is great because i couldn’t agree more. Besides, that sounds like a statement that will keep me in business for a while… But on the other, his example is the lack of analysis on MySpace and blogging. Uhh…. ::raises hand:: There are quite a few academics studying this stuff from all sorts of different angles. People from communications, linguistics, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology… Now, whether or not anyone is listening to them is still an issue up for debate. But at least on a personal note, i would argue that there are a few people listening to me about MySpace and i’ve been rattling on about it since 2003, albeit on a limited basis on my blog in an attempt to not be accused of corrupting my data. And there’s no doubt that i’ve been rattling on about blogging, LiveJournal, Friendster, tagging and quite a few other “Web2.0” schtuff. So, i’m a bit confused by Dvorak’s column. Anyone closer to him have a sense of what that’s about?

AAAS presentation on MySpace data

Today, i did my first proper presentation of the data i’ve been collecting on MySpace. “Identity Production in a Networked Culture” looks at how youth use MySpace for socialization, identity production, and hanging out. In particular, i investigate how and why youth are (re)creating a public in digital space. I’ve uploaded a rough crib of the 15 minute presentation that i gave there since i suspect some of you might be curious what i’ve been thinking about with respect to MySpace.

This talk was part of AAAS in a panel called “It’s 10PM: Do You Know Where Your Children Are… Online!” The panel was an unbelievable collection of quant and qual researchers thinking about these issues from all sorts of perspectives: Justine Cassell, Amanda Lenhart (PEW), Henry Jenkins and David Huffaker.

This talk went over exceptionally well (much to my surprise). Two teenagers who whispered to each other the whole way through the talk came up to me afterwards to tell me that what i said was true. A mother told me that her 15-year old son would surely thank me because she now understands that there is a positive side to the Net and she wants to start a conversation with her son about it (she had been banning access). Other parents told stories of their teens and quite a few thanked me for putting the scare issues into perspective. I have to say… it was one of the most rewarding talks i’ve given. I feel like i might have done some good in the world…

Bradley Horowitz is blogging!

Bradley Horowitz (one of my bosses over at Yahoo!) has the most interesting things to say about the emergence of social technologies. Because we felt as though he should share this brilliance, Jeremy and i have been on his case to blog for quite some time. Now he’s gone and done it! Yay!!

In his opening post, he addresses how sites like, and Flickr will scale, talking about value creation and the need to recognize that not everyone needs to be a producer for these things to work. In triangle form, this means:

Anyhow, check out his blog to read more brilliant insights…

[Oh, and all of you bloggers out there… get your bosses to blog… it’s quite a hoot!]

knowledge systems and collective questioning

Icarus Diving has the most hysterical post called Google the Magnificent which addresses the peculiarity of a “how do you use” search on Google resulting in the following suggestions:

As he puts, “Wow! That’s amazing! I had no idea I wanted to know any of those things! And wasn’t that a great example of what Web 2.0 has to offer? Well, keep at it guys. Any month now you’ll be making the same impression on people that paper clip thing on Windows did.” I cannot duplicate the humor of his post, so read it in full.

I reference this because i think it is a really important issue. We often talk about the power of collective knowledge/questioning and the transparency of such information without thinking about the moral issues. On one hand, it’s a fascinating insight into what people are looking for. On the other, it’s kinda disturbing. What if the queries were “How do you use a machine gun?” or “How do you use a hanger for an abortion?” ::shudder:: Regardless of where you stand on these issues, such queries would make you want to reach out to the person asking them, to see if you can help them. But you can’t. Does the machine have a moral responsibility to prevent people’s dangerous acts? Most people would probably say no. But what if the machine makes its knowledge transparent to people? What happens when those people feel responsible but only the machine has the ability to communicate back to the person in trouble?

Furthermore, how would you feel about your own query (or about the system) if a suggested query like that came up? The things that disturb our moral senses stick with us; they are hard to get out of our heads. Sometimes, there are costs to making the knowledge of a machine visible to people unrelated to the interaction between the person and machine. It’s eavesdropping and it’s not always wonderful to overhear things.

from the future looking backwards

A friend and i realized that there are numerous historical perspectives that we cannot imagine believing. The idea that people of color are a different species from white people. The idea that the world is flat. It just seems so foreign.

So i started to wonder what commonly held assumptions of today’s society will we look back on with absurdity? Any ideas?

lessons from the WoW debacle

When i first heard of Blizzard conflating advertising queer-friendly guilds with sexual harassment, i was pretty upset and blogged about it. Since then, numerous groups have spoke eloquently about the issue, Lambda Legal got involved and Blizzard apologized. It is always good to see digital demonstrations work. Given this, i will re-order WoW and check it out shortly.

While i should celebrate this positive change of affairs, my sunny spirits have been dampened by the ways in which participants justified Blizzard’s decisions in the commentary of many blogs, on mailing lists, and in person. It has been a real eye-opener at how much unchecked homophobia swirls around me, both from within the queer community and from without. I’m not talking about the overt “faggot” homophobia; i’m talking about the homophobia that comes from failing to recognize systems of oppression and privilege. When i wrote my post, i made some assumptions about my readers, about the people around me. I feel the need to explain the assumptions under which i am operating.

Imagine a world where a woman is told that they can’t talk about being a female because that would be encouraging people to attack her and thus it would be not permitted and would be deemed sexism. My hope is that most people can recognize that this is absurd. Of course, the funny thing is that we live in that world anyhow. In technical fields, we are often told that if we talk about being women, we are complaining. We are told that we live in a meritocratic world where women are welcome so they should just stop complaining. Yet, the reality is that being female is not just about the XX chromosomes, the estrogen, the boobs and hips. It’s a situated identity that cannot be untangled from experience. Sure, we can try to out-male the men (and many of us do indeed try) but the standards are still separate. We are still read as women when we walk in the door, whether we like it or not. We live in a sexist culture and pretending sexism doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Tis the reason that i have much appreciation for Malcolm Gladwell for using narrative in explaining research to make this issue more visible – even when we think that we aren’t looking at race and gender, we are. If we said that we should not talk about being female, everyone would be assumed to be male and judged on that manner. You don’t create equality by removing the experiences that alters embodied identities… in those terms, the oppressed will always be oppressed, systemically. There’s a huge amount of sexism in WoW – even in watching over others’ shoulders, i’ve seen my fair share of “don’t be such a girl” and comments about the femininity/masculinity of particular characters’ representations. Would a sexism-free space be acceptable to the majority of users? I have to imagine that few people would say that is oppressing sexist bastards.

Sexuality has always been a more complicated picture because the debate is rooted in issues of morality. I will never forget the first time i was asked why gay people had to highlight their butt-fucking to everyone by marching down the streets. ::shudder:: This is when i realized that from a heterosexist point of view, “gay” is read as a set of practices, not an identity. It is assumed that when a group of queer people gather, they do so to fuck. This is just as stereotypically problematic as saying that when a group of women gather, they do so to bake. Sure, it does happen, but it is by no means the sole reason to gather… Gatherings happen based on identity, based on a set of shared values and views about how the world works. It’s about creating safe space where you don’t have to have your walls up high, have to be on constant guard for attacks, don’t have to constantly defend your view of the world. It’s a way to keep sane more than anything else. And it’s a way of being able to cope in a culture of oppression.

The problem i have with people saying it’s equivalent to a hetero-friendly guild is that hetero-friendly is the norm. Heterosexuals are not an oppressed population; they can walk proud on the street, show their love on TV without question, bring their partners to the company picnic without fear, have children without worrying how their love will affect their children. They don’t have to worry about feeling silenced by comments such as “you’re such a straightie.” It’s simply not the same.

Of course, i’m totally in favor of Blizzard keeping it a PG-13 (violence permitted) environment. I totally understand why watching two characters fuck would not be appropriate, but i don’t think that the gender of the characters matters. The thing is that is fundamentally different than eliminating identity. And queer is an identity first and foremost. Fantasy worlds may not need to have sex, but they do have to have identity. And people’s lived identities seep through whether we like it or not. To silence only the oppressed individuals in a system is beyond dangerous; it promotes a society that i can never support.

I also understand why some people are afraid to reveal their sexuality to young people for fear of being attacked, perceived as a pedophile (although more straight folks abuse children than gay folks), or thinking that sex should not be mentioned to children. The problem is that we’ve all been taught that to talk about our sexuality, our identity, is the same as bringing sex to the conversation. That’s a dangerous dangerous thing to internalize and i implore queer folks to stop doing that. No one should be talking about their sex life to children, but that doesn’t mean you should hide your identity because people have told you to be shameful of yourself. Young people need to know queer people as regular people – this is how tolerance is formed.

I respect that Blizzard has made the economically responsible decision to stop this tomfoolery. But i think that this issue is also critical for general societal reflection. Silencing people because of their identity is a dangerous proposition. We’ve done that a few times in our history to deadly ends. Let’s not do that again.