Monthly Archives: August 2004

back to school

School started today. I feel like a giddy girl. I did my hair, i got all dressed up. Yeah yeah, i know that it’s my 21st year of first day, but still. I am such a sucker for the back-to-school rush. There’s something critically crucial about it as a time marker.

One thing is missing though. For the last ?11? years, i’ve travelled back from somewhere to begin school, had a long road trip, returned for some adventure or otherwise had a symbolic break between summer and the school year. I went to work on Monday. I went to school on Tuesday. Felt weird.

So… i decided to go to Burning Man. I’ve already given away all of my gear since i didn’t intend to go but a nice angel bestowed upon me a ticket and i figured that i can survive anything for 3 days as long as i have water and beef jerky. More than anything, i’ll get a mini-road trip, some good dancing and a climate change. That’ll make school feel more real.

Of course, i’m *STOKED* about this semester. I’m taking this wacky “Sociology for Geeks” class that Yuri and i have been plotting. Marx, Engels, Weber, Durkheim… Classics. I’m taking a class on Performance Theory and Method in the Performing Arts department. And i’m taking Lakoff’s seminar on language and politics. That one is particularly strange since there are like 16 of us taking it and 60+ people auditing it. But it’s definitely the time to take the class… and how cool is it to have the NYTimes be required reading?

Anyhow, more will invariably come about this semester. In the meantime, i’m going to do some cleansing activities like take the kittens to the vet, the car to the shop and the danah to the desert.


I abhor 80s culture. Yet, while i lament high heel converse shoes, two aspects of the 80s rival for my complete intolerance: Reagan/Bush administration and cocaine. As Burning Man preparation rushed through San Francisco, i got to overhear lots of shopping lists. In the past, it used to humor me that acid was placed on the same shopping list with gas masks and ballerina skirts. With acid completely gone and ecstasy usually tainted with DXM, it doesn’t surprise me that other drugs are serving as replacements. The psychedelic club scene saw a shift to meth and alcohol. The psychonauts shifted to research chemicals. But why on earth are some Burners shifting to blow?

Filthy nostril hair
Impairs my cocaine habit
I must blow my nose

(from 1999 Haiku4Beer camp)

First off, the idea off a Burner trying to snort coke in one of the dustiest BMs ever humors me to bits. Have a line – 2/3 coke, 1/3 playa. But it really breaks my balls to think that some people see Burning Man as an experience that requires ego-enhancement. Gah. Then again, i deplore the people who drink on the desert as well (particularly those whose drunkenness forbids them from comprehending “leave no trace” as they shout misogynistic taunts at the naked women).

Why oh why is cocaine back? I know… it’s about culture and Barlow does a good job of clarifying on his discussion of the Republican Drug:

Once again, one can see clearly what the War on Some Drugs is really about. It’s the culture, stupid. It certainly isn’t about public safety, since coke and booze are the perfect combination for social depravity of all sorts. Instead, it provides a beautiful opportunity to jail the blacks and hippies who prefer the non-Republican drugs. It makes huge bank for one’s wing-tipped colleagues.

I’m an adamant believer in entheogens and the opportunity to explore one’s mind and soul through altered states. There’s nothing empathy building about drugs like cocaine, meth and alcohol. This trio is notorious for an increase in domestic abuse, rape and general violence. They often bring the dissociative power of self-indulgence and cruelty, bringing out the worst of humanity by allowing the psyche to be distanced from the body. I’m still not a fan of bars because it makes me twitch to watch aggression come in bottle form, but i can handle a drunk far better than a meth or coke addict.

But as much as i can intellectually understand that this is a cultural battle, it absolutely boggles my mind that any “compassionate” culture would prefer the wreckage and hatred of meth, coke and alcohol. While i’ve met many people who have found religion and connection through entheogens, i’ve only seen religious and familial carnage emerge as a result of the deadly trio. There’s a reason that MDMA was used in marital therapy, not cocaine. How can a political party be known for family values as well as family-destroying drugs?

::sigh:: Of course, i have to remind myself that life – and especially politics – are ripe with inconsistencies. Still, that doesn’t make me feel better. Can we resurrect the 90s yet? I’ll cope with flannel and cords again.

teens bullying via IM and blogs

Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar is an article in the NYTimes today about how teens are using IM and blogs to bully other teens. The whole article focuses on the psychology of teen bullying, about how it’s so much easier to engage in such cruel behavior from a distance.

One thing that caught my eye was the gender differences in bullying: “Online bullying had a particular appeal for girls, who specialize in emotional rather than physical harassment and strive to avoid direct confrontation.”

There’s something about this behavior that is not really explained, something very psychological. The closest explanation we have comes from Milgram’s obedience experiments where he noted that people are more comfortable executing cruel acts when they don’t see the ramifications. But i really want to have a clear psychological explanation for emotional distance and digital behavior. Nothing that i’ve read gives a full explanation for this phenomenon.

That said, i really love NYTimes articles like this that don’t try to explain everything, but just open up a situation and explore it through anecdote.

Thoughts on Mobility: Walmart Nation vs. Starbucks Nation

One purported benefit of industrialization is mobility. With the advent of transportation and communication tools, people became more mobile and were able to move further from the city. My grandfather was involved in the airline industry throughout his career and whenever we’re together, he tells me stories about that aspect of mobility; it always makes me smile to think that my mother was born in Gander, Newfoundland because that’s where planes had to refuel before going on to Europe. Today, i’m able to communicate with anyone in the world instantly and complain when my flight is delayed by 30 minutes.

One thing that makes this globalized world operate is the eerie duplication of chain culture resulting in a Walmart nation. If you look at any town in the States, you will find the same selection of brands, offering their wares in the same layout and with the same feel. Small towns collect chains like they’re going out of style. Aside from the wedding venue, i don’t think i entered a single establishment this week that wasn’t a chain, from the Tuxedo Shop to Jillian’s to the CVS to the McDs. I visited multiple malls and they all contained the same establishments and fit into one of a few possible mall layouts. The smaller the town, the more obvious the key retail establishment becomes: Walmart. It is the one place open 24/7 to serve all of your emergency needs (strappy shoes: $4.83).

When you live in small-city or town culture, mobility means being able to go from one town to the next and get the same services. As long as you stick to the same size town and same socio-economic level, you’re bound to have everything that is always available.

Living in a city is not like that. When people land here, they often ask where one gets one’s groceries, one’s hardware, one’s underwear. There aren’t really shopping centers in cities, or at least nothing compared to Retail Row in Walmart Nation. Things are scattered.

Of course, cities come with their own brands, brands that capitalize on the disdain of city residents to Retail Row. These “lifestyle” brands (from No Logo) help us define ourselves not as bargain consumers, but sophisticated, cultured consumers. A fucking Starbucks latte costs almost as much as my Walmart shoes. No wonder it’s easy to jump from San Francisco to New York to London to Chicago: Starbucks Nation.

Mobility is no longer about transportation or about communication: it’s about consumption and values. Starbucks Nation exists in pockets connected by airplanes while Walmart Nation fills in the rest, negotiated by cars and interstates. It’s the blue nation vs. the red, cemented by lifestyle consumption vs. bargain shopping.

my baby brother

Tehehehe. My baby brother got married yesterday. It brought me such joy to be able to be there with him and his new wife on their day of celebration, especially after such an intense family week.

Don’t get me wrong… i’m still not a huge fan of marriage (::cough::choke::) because of its political, religious and patriarchal legal overtunes. That said, i’m learning a scary lesson as i get older: sometimes, family has to come before politics. Actually, sometimes family just has to come first.

It was definitely a week spent exercising patience and a zen no-comment attitude as i choked down rubbery meat and iceberg salad in Walmart Nation. Damn it’s good to be back in San Francisco.

Election Protection Volunteer

They fought. Now it’s your turn. In the last presidential election, millions of votes were never counted. Voters in minority communities were disproportionately disenfranchised through illegal disqualification, intimidation, and faulty voting machines. The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition needs you to stand up and defend voting rights on November 2.

Working Assets, People for the American Way Foundation and The Election Protection Coalition are asking for Election Protection Volunteers to go to states where voting rights are at greatest risk. In particular, they are seeking lawyers, law students and clergy.

This appears to be a great program to help support disenfranchised voters.


Sometimes family has to come first. I’m a workaholic and i don’t slow down. Ever. This really caught up to me this weekend. My grandfather is ill and the reality of mortality hit me like a rock in the face. I’d always assumed that he would always be around and just going on with my life, focusing on work and the chaos that i’m good at managing. Everyone was in town for ASA and i felt this weird sense of betrayal when i went to work, when i went to the conference. I realized that i needed to go east and so i swallowed hard, bailed on my talk and caught the first flight out. Sometimes family has to come first.

I don’t want sympathy from this entry. But i do want to encourage those of you who read apophenia (since many of you are also workaholics) to check in with your family. Please. So you don’t regret it.

CFP: Representations of Digital Identity (CSCW Workshop)

At Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) this year, i will be teaming up with two of my favorite colleagues (Michele Chang and Liz Goodman) to organize a workshop called “Representations of Digital Identity.”. We want to bring together interesting people working on how people represent and manage identity in a digital environment. We are looking for designers, technologists, theorists and other invested individuals.

A workshop of this type is where people working on the same problems come together to brainstorm and tackle confounding issues. For this workshop, we are asking people to submit sketches representing digital identity and discuss those in the context of the issues that interest them the most.

If you’re interested:
– Read the Call for Participation
– Check out the Proposal we submitted
– Ask questions or send submissions to cscw04-identity AT googlegroups DOT com by September 20