Monthly Archives: October 2006

December social software events

Yo young researchers! UNC is hosting a Social Software Symposium December 8-9. I unfortunately cannot go to this but i would strongly strongly encourage all researchers in the field to do so. This is mostly for researcher types but industry folks are welcome with special permission. It will be absolutely fab and Fred Stutzman rocks.

That said, i will be attending Le Web 3 in Paris the following week (December 11-12) after a (desperately needed) vacation getaway. I would be ecstatic if folks would come join me in Paris for some great social software conversing right before the holidays. (I certainly plan on doing some Christmas shopping between the sessions in addition to eating some yummy yummy food.) For all of you Americans, this is a great opportunity to think about social software beyond the norms of the US and there are some great speakers from North America, Europe and Israel attending. And besides, PARIS! (Did i mention Paris???)

the fabric of elephant society

I read the NYTimes’ article on shifts in elephant society a few weeks ago but BB’s post reminded me to post it. In short, elephant society is going haywire. The young males are not being properly socialized into the elephant herds because of not having older patriarchs and matriarchs to keep them in line. As a result, there’s massive amounts of unchecked violence and aggression. Violence is rampant now, as is what appears to be PTSD (resulting in more violence). Anyhow, read the article. It’s a fascinating look into the collapse of society. (And obviously, there are interesting questions of parallels…)

suckage explained

Every six months or so, i used to write these emotionally dramatic emails to all of my friends explaining how sorry i was about not responding to email, please forgive, i’m going to do better, i promise. And then, at one point, in writing that message, i shortened it to the equivalent of “i suck, i know it, it’s not getting better” and one of my dearest friends wrote back with something akin to “thank god you finally realized that cuz i’m sick of getting your apologies every few months.”

I’ve never really learned to stomach the fact that i can’t respond to everyone. I feel guilty. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, this wimpering sounds familiar because i now wimper here every six months or so. Lately, people have been getting angry at me for not being able to look at their project; others yell at me for not being able to find 15 minutes to talk to them for their news articles; still others go straight for the guilt trip. I’ve started not responding to email. I find that i’ve gotten snippy in emails and that sucks; i even read blogs about how overly curt i am. The problem is that i spend 16+ hours a day working and my #1 goal is to have a life somewhere here. I’ve started making up appointments as excuses so that i can have nights off or leave open the possibility of dinner with a friend. I’ve been home for 7 days and it’s the longest i’ve been home since i moved to LA. Anyhow, you know the exhaustion, depression, emo woe is me… that’s nothing new.

Well, last night, a dear friend of mine wrote with similar exhaustion. I didn’t get his message till this morning because i snuck out and saw a movie. In a theater! (I usually only see them on airplanes.) I wrote back with similar exhaustion and he sent me two pieces from Neal Stephenson that rang so true i wanted to cry. First, Why I am a Bad Correspondent. Second, My ongoing struggle against “continuous partial attention”. I’m nowhere near as cool as Neal but, like him, i need 4+ hours of writing time at a time. In fact, i usually need 6+. Otherwise, i get nothing done. I know this. And i’m preparing for everyone to hate me when i go underground next summer for as long as it takes me to write a dissertation and book.

At the top of Neal’s description is a quote from Umberto Eco: “I don’t even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.” What does it mean that i’m not even 30 and that’s my goal? I can’t help but wonder if the firehose of the Internet drowns a lot more people simply because a lot of people with good intentions can now reach them. I know that a lot of people think that i’m an uber bitch for complaining about the amount of attention that i get, but i really wish that folks could understand what a mixed blessing it is. Sure, i feel honored (and completely embarassed) by being called the high priestess. But the cost of such compliments is an inability to hang out with friends, an inability to lie on the beach staring at the stars without panicking about how i’m getting behind in work. Of course, i do make time, but often only under crisis. This week, for example, i’ve dropped the ball majorly because of making time for three beings that matter more than work.

I’m kinda concerned about the psychological costs here. I still remember the horror that i felt when i first learned that rescuers who are deemed heroes often commit suicide. Part of what happens is that they get spun into the spotlight for a brief period of time and then spit back out. Their identity is destroyed twice – first when they became a hero out of a passion that they believe in and second when their hero-ness is no longer significant. This is a form of micro-fame. You can have prolongated micro-fame (like many bloggers who are well known amongst niche audiences) or brief periods of mega-fame for a micro period (lottery winners, rescuers, people who the media spotlight). Unlike real fame, folks with micro-fame have no one to help them negotiate or handle all of the incoming attention that overwhelms their ability to cope. While that is exhausting, the rush is so exciting that you try really hard to take care of it all at first, to please everyone. In the process of coping, you take on that new role, the role of the center of attention. And then when the winds of attention shift, if you’re clinging too hard to it, you’re lost. There is no doubt that i’m affected by this (and thus, why folks are fair when they call me an uber bitch). There is part of me that loves the attention or else i would’ve walked away from this blog long ago. But i’m also trying to not get destroyed by it both in terms of exhaustion and in terms of shifting winds. Still, i’m curious both for myself and at a broader psychological level what it means that it’s so much easier to be thrown into micro-fame. This is also something that’s coming up with young people who suddenly get a surge of attention because of what they do online. I wonder what the costs of this are long-term. (Hmm… maybe that’s a post-dissertation project?)

Anyhow… in short, this is my semi-annual “i suck, i know it, it’s not getting better” message. I simply cannot get to all of the requests in my inbox so i’m super sorry. My primary focus for the next month is to finish a chapter for MacArthur, try to find teens to interview, and spend some time at home. I’m sorry that i suck cuz even if i can philosophize it, justify it, rationalize it, i still feel guilty.

guess who can’t vote in LA?

Gaaaah! So, check this one out. I moved to Los Angeles. When i did so, i changed my driver license and changed my registration. I never received anything so three weeks ago, i registered to vote again by filling out the form online, getting the paper thing that they send you with everything filled out and sending it back. Still, nothing. So i called the Secretary of State hotline who told me to call LA County. I called them and they told me that i improperly reregistered to vote when i moved back to LA. I was like, move back to LA? I didn’t move back – i just moved here. They then proceeded to tell me that i lived in some address in Long Beach and that the registration material they sent there bounced so i was not registered. I was like, i never lived in Long Beach, and they were like, says here you did. I said this did not make sense, that couldn’t be me. She responded by yelling at me that i was in the books under Long Beach. I asked if there was any way we could fix this and she said that i should send in another application or go to the DMV. I said that it was after October 23. She told me that was my problem, that i couldn’t vote in this election because i didn’t send in an application. I told her i did send in an application and that i even went through the process online so they’d have me recorded there. She said they didn’t. By this point, she was yelling at me and i was in tears so i hung up on her.

I called back to the Secretar of State (still crying) and the guy there said that the local jurisdictions have control over this so there’s nothing that he could do except that i could file a complaint. Damn right i want to file a complaint. I can’t even imagine what the Bob Smith’s of the world go through with people telling them they are someone else.

Luckily, i called up SF and i’m still on the books there (even though they didn’t send anything to my old house according to the people who live there who i asked last week). So i just need to fax in an absentee request and i can vote in SF. This pisses me off since i want to vote on local ballot measures but at least i can vote against the evil state measures.

But WTF? Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed i am with voting. Hell, in 2004, i flew my ass to SF to vote and then flew immediately back because i hadn’t received my absentee ballot. I drag everyone i know into registering. I register multiple times each election just to make sure i’m registered. Imagine the people who aren’t nearly as obsessive. How many people aren’t going to be able to vote because the city thinks they are someone else? How many people are not going to be able to vote because the city just didn’t receive their registration? How many people aren’t going to vote because when they tried to correct their registration the city’s reps yelled at them? Why does it have to be this hard to vote? The city certainly has no trouble finding me when it comes to taxes. In fact, every city i ever lived in finds me tax time. Gaaaaaah! vs. bookmarks

Does everyone use a complete replacement of bookmarks? I just learned the hard way how important bookmarks are to me. I was super stoked when i saw the new bookmarks Firefox extension. I desperately wanted the ability to go through my bits in my browser and so i immediately installed it without reading any fine print. And then i realized that it traipsed all over all of my bookmarks, including all of the bookmarks in my bookmarks toolbar.

Now, i don’t know about you but i have crazy folders and bookmarklets in my bookmarks toolbar. I have a folder of blogs that i stalk but would never tell anyone about. I have a folder of private things that i can only access when i’m VPNed in – URLs that i would never make publicly available because it would be a violation of privacy. I have bookmarklet scripts for storing details of MySpace pages and a link to bugmenot to get me through most stupid login pages. I have shortcuts to procrastination pages. I have a folder of temporary URLs that i use during my current talk. I have bookmarks to pages that aren’t even on the web (like the blog of research notes that is kept on my laptop or the local wiki that i have). None of this wants to be public, none of this wants to be in, none of this makes sense in And all of this went away when i installed the new toy.

Eeek. OK, so i had one of those complete heart attacks when i realized this – y’know, the ones that happen when you wake up and realize that the procmail script you wrote /dev/nulled your email instead of sent it to a nice safe place. Thank god it could be uninstalled and my regular bookmarks came back. But uninstalling it desparately made me want it back. I *want* to see my tags and bookmarks inside my browser but not on those terms.

So i’m curious… does anyone else use both bookmarks and for different reasons? If you only use, definitely check out the new toy. If not, you might be in for a big shock.

Prop 83: Sex Offenders is not what it seems. SAY NO!

California Proposition 83: Sex Offenders (“Jessica’s Law”) is an example of a terrible law that will pass because of good framing (who on earth is in favor of sex offenders?). I don’t believe that i can stop it from passing, but i want to beg anyone who can listen to please please please Vote NO on 83. Please continue on to read why; it’s really important.

On the outset, the law seems like a good thing. It would increase the length and severity of penalties for specified sex offenses, eliminate early releases, and extend parole. Here’s where things get tricky.. It would also require GPS devices for registered sex offenders (per Meghan’s Law) for the rest of their lives. It would also limit sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of any school or park. Again, these might not seem so bad, but here are some reasons for which they are:

  • Not all sex offenders are child molesters. Included on the list of registered sex offenders are: adults who rape adults (including domestic rape), people who commit sodomy (often used to go after gay men), people who engage in oral sex (including consensual oral sex and oral sex while in jail), and people who commit statutory rape. While rape is horrific, this punishment does nothing to prevent it from happening, but it punishes many in the process.
  • Schwarzenegger recently signed laws that expand the penalty for child rape and calls for the electronic tracking of high-risk sex offenders (i.e. child rapists) while on parole. The new laws even ban sex offenders from loitering around schools and parks which is much more effective than banning them from living close to a school. In other words, the meat of this bill has been signed in and the bill only expands it for all sex offenders over all time (even if they have done nothing wrong in 20 years). (see OC Register)
  • All of San Francisco is within 2000 feet of a school or park; most of Los Angeles is. This means that sex offenders cannot live in major metropolitan regions. This exports the problem to rural regions where there are less resources to handle cases. This also means that offenders will have a much harder time getting jobs and homes which means they are likely to commit violent acts again (remember: rape is not about sex; it’s about power). Syphoning perverts to suburban and rural regions (where most children live) does not do anything to help children. (see: CALCASA)
  • Residency restrictions do nothing to stop the 80-90% of cases where children are raped in their own homes. Furthermore, it reduces the likelihood that they will be reported. (see CJCJ)
  • The vast majority of rapists are known to their victims; this reduces the likelihood that domestic rape will be reported.
  • 86% of sex offenders are never reported; this will make sure that even more go unreported. (see: CALCASA)
  • Very few child molesters pick their victims from schools/parks and of those who do, it is almost never what they do the second time. Furthermore, keeping them from living near parks/schools has never actually stopped those that do.
  • A very common tactic of predators is that they marry single mothers to go after their children. This does absolutely nothing to stop this (nor would banning marriage).
  • This will cost the State upwards of $100M a year; this money could be better spent on prosecuting sick fucks who are found out (only a small fraction are actually prosecuted due to lack of funds).
  • GPS companies are rallying for it – they will make millions.
  • GPS does not work in BART. It does not work in parking garages. It doesn’t even work reliably in malls. There are other location-based technologies that could do the same job with more accuracy and reliability (such as mobile phone positioning), but Prop 83 only specifies GPS. (Tx Liz)
  • Those who want to get out of these devices will have an easy time – they can pound them, cut them, destroy them. They cost $3500 a piece and must be replaced every 6 months because they break so easily.
  • Many towns have laws regarding sex offenders that make sense for their towns; this overrides them in a one-size-fits all way that is not helpful for anyone and it takes agency away from local neighborhoods to deal with risks in their area.

This law does not make people safer; it only makes them feel safer.

I’m all in favor of doing things to stop crimes against children, but let’s use our money and efforts to do something that will actually prevent crimes rather than something that will make us feel like something is being done. Let’s make sure we prosecute these men (and jail them for a long long time); let’s make sure we educate young people to come forward. Let’s separate high risk (likely to repeat) sex offenders from one-time sex offenders.

Don’t get me wrong – i’m not in favor of child molesters and i’m all too familiar with the experience of rape. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life trying to stop violence against women and girls; i want to see real action, not politics when it comes to this issue. This is a terrible terrible terrible law that will not prevent crimes, but will cost the State money that could be used to really address this problem. The problem is that it’s passing 7:1. Please, if there’s any chance in hell of stopping this, please help me do so.

More Information:

For a fantastic panel discussion on Prop 83, please listen to NPR’s The Forum.

Many organizations are opposed to Prop 83, including the California Coalition on Sex Offending, Progressive Christians Uniting, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, various queer organizations, the ACLU, the Criminal Legal Justice Foundation, the Santa Cruz Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA). Check out CALCASA’s blog

Announcing the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative

The MacArthur Foundation has been an amazing source of inspiration for me. As many of you know, my dissertation research is funded through a large grant by the MacArthur Foundation to my advisors to investigate Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media. Well, the MacArthur Foundation has decided to take it to the next step. On Thursday, i had the fortune to be in New York for the launching of MacArthur’s broader initiative on Digital Media and Learning. All sorts of folks gathered at the launch – press, academics, educators, policy makers, non-profit leaders, corporations, etc. – to celebrate the new $50M launch. The President of the Foundation spoke and then three grantees – Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, and Nicole Pinkard – discussed the significance of this research. (I wrote up a synopsis for MacArthur if you’re curious.)

The significance of this is huge. As an academic, getting no-strings grant money is becoming more and more difficult. I’ve been pretty opposed to making moral concessions by applying for grants from DoD, CIA or Homeland Security. There are corporate grants but that complicates things because you have to explain how your work will help them make more money. This inherently clouds research for me. With my research on youth, there’s no doubt that i could get a corporation to sponsor it, but would i have the freedom to study whatever i felt was significant? Could i publish everything that i found? Would i be able to get data from competing companies? Probably not to all of the above. Because the MacArthur Foundation funds my work, no one owns it and i can speak freely.

The work that MacArthur is funding needs to happen and it crosses disciplines and institutions. We need to understand what youth are doing, not just how to control them. We need to understand from youth’s perspectives, not from the perspectives of those who wish to make money off of them. There is no doubt that our research will be used by governments, parents, educators, corporations, etc. but to do the research free from the constraints of those groups is a blessing. Furthermore, by gathering hundreds of researchers investigating these issues from different angles, the Foundation is starting to build a socially conscious field of scholarship.

I can’t thank MacArthur enough for recognizing the importance of this research and moving it forward. I want to publicly acknowledge their contribution and invite you to get involved as well. For those who wish to keep up with what’s happening:

Also, please spread the word about this project to those who are interested in youth, digital media, and (informal) learning.

this video is important

Please watch this video. It is a depiction of how beauty is crafted for print. It’s made as part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Below are the before/after images (tx to BoingBoing).

I will never forget the first time that i did a magazine shoot. It was for a glossy girls magazine and they dyed, curled, teased, plucked, shoved, stretched, and pinned me into a perfect static place. And then they airbrushed me to normalcy cuz i refused to cut off my raver neckless and my hair was purple. (Business mag shoots have always been a bit more civil.) During a bathroom break, i wandered the halls and found a Playboy shoot where i saw how unhappy the model was trying to sit perfectly still as wind was blown on her to keep her nipples perky. The plastic face looked perfect but her eyes showed how miserable she was.

This video depicts that process in the most compelling way i’ve ever seen. I’m not saying makeup is bad, but i think that it’s critical to understand what we’re modeling ourselves after. Girl power is a crafted narrative meant to make us consume. The images of perfection we’re sold are a fabrication. Most of us know this at some level, but do we really get it?

I realize i don’t own the copyright on this commercial but i think that it is too culturally important to stay locked down. Please watch it.

pre-election cynicism

When i used to bitch and moan in high school or college, my mother would often tell me to shush up and enjoy because “these are the best times of your life.” I used to snort at this comment in the same way that i used to roll my eyes whenever she started anything with “when i was your age…” or when she’d tell me that she understood. Yes, i was that pre-emo child who thought that no one could ever understand.

I imagined the future to be filled with opportunities. I counted the days until my 16th birthday when mobility would finally be mine! I anxiously awaited my 21st birthday so that i could feel legitimate without Photoshop and a printer. And i always thought that 25 was the last hurdle because then i could actually rent a car without paying an extraordinary fee. One of my main goals in growing older was the ability to access the world of scholars, politicians, press, businesspeople… i wanted entrance to the world of intellectuals who held so much power, who seemed so brilliant. All told, i haven’t done too badly. I’ve met so many people who traffic in knowledge, power, and fame. The problem is that they haven’t lived up to my fantasy of what they should be like.

As a girl, i genuinely believed that politicians had to be unbelievably brilliant. I thought that academic life was all about the pursuit of knowledge. I believed that the media was comprised of people who were determined to get truthful information to the masses regardless of whatever barriers. I believed that companies succeeded because they were the best. Although i never believed that people really started out on equal footing (it was clear to me from an early age that my friends of color got shafted and that i had to out boy the boys), i thought that meritocracy actually meant something. I truly underestimated the degree to which greed and self-interest control so much of society. Then again, i could never understand why people committed violent against against others unless they were sick. I failed to realize how unaware people are of their contribution to a broken system.

As my cynicism grows, i think of my grandmother. I used to always giggle about how she would turn off her hearing aid whenever the family started speaking badly against the church or against anything that she believed. My grandmother has an amazing ability to only see the positive side of things. I used to think that this was ridiculously anti-intellectual, but i’m beginning to appreciate her POV; regardless, her positivism has kept her alive for a very long time.

It’s election time in the States. I’ve been adamant that voting matters but i have to admit, i’m having a hard time really believing myself. I was listening to NPR discuss how the 2000 gerrymandering would effect this election and i started to cry. Recently, i met with a national politician whose views closely are aligned with mine. In our conversation, he exposed many of the concessions he has to make, actions he has to take because of how they look to his constituents not because they are best for his constituents. I know painfully well how people mis-interpret every word he says, every expression. He has to get elected based on impressions, not based on what’s really good for America. To say that DC is about political theater is an understatement. ::sigh::

A few weeks ago, i was talking with a media reporter about how she had to propose every story she wants to cover and if it’s not in the paper’s interest, they don’t cover it. She has to conform to her impression of their mandate. And then i opened up the New Yorker to see an ad for Ted Koppel on “The Price of Security” and i thought about how we no longer have the likes of Murrow and Cronkite, Koppel and Brokaw on our daily news. The correspondents are simply faces, not reporters. They must play by the norms of media organization. When i saw the wire report that Stewart/Colbert would not be running, i had to agree with Stewart: “Nothing says ‘I am ashamed of you, my government’ more than ‘Stewart/Colbert for 08’.” How is it that a news comedian is the only major reporter that is challenging the status quo when it comes to media? In many ways, i know the answer… freelance has killed reporting freedom. ::sigh::

At a benefit for Darfur this week, someone asked me if i would like to be introduced to Murdoch. I had actually been watching him and reading his lips for a half hour while trying to find my friend. I politely declined although i stood around while people i know talked to him. What could i say to him? Why did you do this to media? I know the answer… it makes economic sense. I mean, Fox News needed to cover the Foley scandal but it couldn’t do it in a way that would go after the Republicans so why not call Foley a Democrat, right? Then in my stewing, i started wondering why Murdoch was at a Darfur benefit. Did he really care or was it a business proposition? My questioning this made me sad. ::sigh::

In the last month, out of academic duty, i blind reviewed over 20 academic articles for various venues. For the first time in a review cycle, every article i was given was related to something that i was knowledgeable about; i knew all of the citations and in many cases, i had done similar work. I was horrified to find that three of those included danah-isms (weird fucked up/made up turns of phrases) without credit; i was also surprised to see one argument that followed the exact logic of one of my blog posts and another that had arguments that i’ve given during talks (complete with the same citations). I swallowed my pride and reminded myself that the reason that i engage publicly is because i want to get knowledge out there. Without publishing my material, i must not be surprised that others will do so instead and take credit. I couldn’t even bring myself to reference myself in the review because it would be so obviously from me. I tried to tell myself that maybe it was just coincidence. Even when i couldn’t convince myself of that, i tried to think of when a friend’s dad told her that whoever had stolen her car probably needed it more than she did; she could simply get another. And then, to my horror, i came into a situation where, for political purposes, i was not able to give credit in my own publication to someone who deserves credit. I still can’t figure out how to deal with that. But it has all made me realize that the incentives behind publications and the politics behind credit are so messed up that i feel embarrassed to be a part of that system. I know that i build arguments on the shoulders of giants and so much about publishing (academic or not) is about taking credit whenever possible (often to get grants/jobs). But still, it breaks my heart to see academia incentivized by external structures rather than a pursuit of knowledge and the desire to share it. ::sigh::

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a marketing organization spin a story based on problematic data. I should’ve read it like i read every USA Today Poll. But it definitely hit me as i think about the polling that is happening for the election. There’s no transparency in method, no transparency in data, no ability to really get at the flaws. In the last election, people foolishly believed the polls so they didn’t vote because they thought it didn’t matter. This all pissed me off but then i crumpled when i found out why an organization might validate inaccurate data that they know is inaccurate: it makes them look good. ::sigh::

Businesspeople, academics, press, politicians… All have destroyed my utopian fantasy of what intellectual life is supposed to be about. People are driven by money, by fame, by power. Of course, many have good intentions and those beliefs and hopes often work as a check and balance. Unfortunately, the institutions that have taken over have no such moral qualms. Corporations need to make money for their stockholders. All other systems are becoming corporations or corporate-driven. Political structure requires politicians get elected… which requires money… which requires corporations. Academia survives on grant money… which requires government (which requires corporations) or corporations directly. Media, well media has already become a corporation.

Mom was right. Life was far more fun in high school and college before my mythical ideals were shattered. There, i could believe in the moral high ground. I never really believed that man is basically good (hell, i got kicked out of class in 9th grade for arguing against it), but i didn’t really get how crowds of good individuals could really go wrong. I guess i should’ve given how much i’ve argued that Milgram’s experiment is more about everyday life than Nazis. But still, i wanted to believe that something could be done. Back then, i had infinite energy to fight injustice. But honestly, now, i’m exhausted.

How did we get here? How do we turn it around? It’s so much easier to tap into people’s fears, greed, and ignorance than it is to help them do good even when it’s hard. I have to admit that i’m really tired of fighting and anomie is creeping in like a dark cloud. I just want to wake up tomorrow and see the world do good by itself.

Anyhow, i have so many other complex and confusing thoughts going through my head but i’ll spare you. I’ve babbled too long but i wanted to explain my absence and confusion these last couple of weeks. And to ask you to help me regain at least one of my fantastical views of intellectual life: that voting matters. Deadlines to register to vote are appearing in every state soon. Please register. Please vote. And please help me try to believe that collective action can do good in at least one way. I don’t know if it can and i admit that i’m as disillusioned as most folks. But i do want to try. Cuz really, i don’t think that i can stomach another stolen election. And maybe if we can turn this around, we can turn around all of the other aspects of society that are disintegrating before our eyes. We have to have some hope, no?