Mobile Bodies

“strange bodies are produced through tactile encounters with other bodies: differences are not marked on the stranger’s body, but come to materialise in the relationship of touch between bodies…. it is the very acts and gestures whereby subjects differentiate between others that constitutes the permeability of both social and bodily space”
– Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters (2000, page 15.)

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A excerpt from Jonathan Franzen’s review of Sherry Turkle’s new book titled ‘Reclaiming Conversation’

Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral. The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute.

 

Mobiles, Memories and Image

Captured in a searingly real and beautiful photo essay, photographer Grey Hutton (vice.com) shows how memory, migration and mobiles are entangled. In the context of the migration crisis in Europe, mobile phones embody mobility on a massive scale – across oceans not just cities. And with mobility comes memory, travelling as mobile background images. Vice.com

Embedded in the captions are significant narratives about cultural integration: “Nobody wears jeans there”; surveillance “At night, the police could see the light” and affect as a motivator “It’s a reminder of a great moment”.

Smartphones and refugees

 “This is a picture of me and my Christian friend fishing in Kurdistan. It’s a nice memory and I like to have it with me.”

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 “This is a photograph of my wife’s mother. She was killed by IS in Libya. I’ve had this phone for 10 years. I only use it for important things, really.”

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“The journey would never have been possible without this phone. I used it all the time, both on land and at sea.”

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“I used the GPS to navigate the boat to Greece. Only during the day, though. At night, the police could see the light.”

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“This is the son of one of my friends. The photo was taken in Hamburg at a camp we stayed in. It’s a reminder of a great moment.”

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“This is the traditional dress of the Pashtun. It reminds me of where I’m from in Pakistan. Nobody wears jeans there.”

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“We used balloons and tape to protect our phones from the water.”

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“I lost my smartphone in the ocean on the journey. I’m going out buy a new one as soon as I have money.”

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“This is my four children. The phone was really useful for teaching them a few German words and keeping them busy with games while we were travelling.”

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“This picture was the background on my old phone. I don’t know how to transfer it to the new phone my mother gave me. It’s a picture of my brother, who was killed by IS. My other brother was killed by Assad’s forces.”

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“This is my daughter. She’s still in Syria, but we talk every morning, evening and night.”

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“This is a Lebanese pop star called Elissa. During my trip, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music. Now that I’m in Germany, I feel like it again.”

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“Our phones are extremely important to us.” (Somali couple)

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“I chose this background because it reminds me of my mother. I’m 16 years old and this photo is my only way of staying in touch with my family and friends.”

Migration & Mobiles

Disturbing but not unexpected narratives are circulating about migrants and refugees traveling to Europe, centered on nationalist fears, job losses and worst of all – skepticism about the severity of refugee plights. Some narratives find expression in social media memes circulating on Twitter and Facebook like this one…

Australian Body builder not refugees

Vice.com

Props to writer Philip Kleinfeld and Vice.com for exposing the paranoid bullshit content of these memes – which are often blatantly falsified.  The image above has nothing to do with European refugees, in fact it were taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia.

Some narratives have centered on the crippled logic that smartphones are a sign of prosperity and are in conflict with refugee life. While the veracity of memes cannot be trusted, the content of these narratives – specifically the relationship between people and technology and what this signifies – are still incredibly interesting to analyse, succinctly done by the blog Everyday Analysis:

Migration Meme

The horrible meme makes out that fleeing a war zone and the traumas associated with that is not enough to deserve our sympathy if you have a Samsung phone. Possess a symbol of capitalist success and modernity, manage a smile of relief and, in our unforgiving political climate, a traumatised refugee is be deemed a fraud….in the eyes of the British right, why should a refugee not have a mobile phone? …why should a refugee not take a selfie?

In the end this meme shows us three things. First, it quite simply and obviously shows how much hateful fascism there is in our society. Second, it shows how these structures are still supported by a colonial ideology that sees the passage to modernity as the natural course of events and does not want to admit that this trauma and devastation is a modern problem that our own brand of modernity is responsible for. Third, it warns us of the danger of our preconceptions and expectations when it comes to refugees and shows us how deeply ingrained in right wing ideology some of our assumptions may be.

everyday analysis See the full feature on Everyday Analysis.

The Internet of Things Meets Barbie

“Hello Barbie” was released on 14 February at a toy fair in America- she’s wi-fi enabled and records kids conversations to develop authentic, real-time responses to them. While the tech press and others are dubbing her “eavesdropping Barbie” and “creepy” she’s not the first doll to be internet enabled.  See Cayla, a talking doll that uses speech-recognition and Google’s translation tools, that was subsequently hacked. Besides the obvious questions around privacy and safety, what does this mean for the future of play?

Cruel Algorithms

This post originally appeared on Slate.com written by Eric Meyer
Slate.

I didn’t go looking for grief on Christmas Eve, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it. In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook.

I know they’re probably very proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed, and deservedly so — a lot of people have used it to share their highlights of 2014. I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by various friends, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Which was, by itself, a little bit unsettling, but I didn’t begrudge my friends who’d had a good year. It was just a weird bit of copy to see, over and over, when I felt so differently.

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Still, it was easy enough to avoid making my own Year in Review, and so I did. After all, I knew what kind of year I’d had. But then, the day before Christmas, I went to Facebook and there, in my timeline, was what looked like a post or an ad, exhorting me to create a Year in Review of my own, complete with a preview of what that might look like.

Clip art partiers danced around a picture of my middle daughter, Rebecca, who is dead. Who died this year on her sixth birthday, less than 10 months after we first discovered she had aggressive brain cancer.

Yes, my year looked like that. True enough. My year looked like the now-absent face of my Little Spark. It was still unkind to remind me so tactlessly, and without any consent on my part.

I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them a selfie at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.

But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or foreclosure or job loss or any one of a hundred possible crises, we might not want another look at this past year.

To show me Rebecca’s face surrounded by partygoers and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring. It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems. It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

Where the human aspect fell short, in this case, was in pushing the preview image into my Facebook timeline without first making sure I wanted to see it. I assume Facebook only showed the ad to users who hadn’t already created a Year in Review, in an attempt to drive more adoption. So the Year in Review ad kept coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds but always showing Rebecca, as if celebrating her death, until I finally clicked the drop-down arrow and said I didn’t want to see it any more. It’s nice that I can do that, but how many people don’t know about the “hide this” option? Way more than you think.

This whole situation illuminates one aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design. In creating this Year in Review ad, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or really anyone who had a bad year. The ad’s design was built around the ideal user—the happy, upbeat, good-life user.

It didn’t take other use cases into account. It may not be possible to reliably predetect whether a person wants to see their year in review, but it’s not at all hard to ask politely—empathetically—if it’s something they want. That’s an easily solvable problem. Had the ad been designed with worst-case scenarios in mind, it probably would have done something like that.

To describe two simple fixes: First, don’t prefill a picture into the preview until you’re sure the user actually wants to see pictures from their year. And second, instead of pushing a preview image into the timeline, maybe ask people if they’d like to try a preview—just a simple yes or no. If they say no, ask if they want to be asked again later, or never again. And then, of course, honor their choices.

As a Web designer and developer myself, I decided to blog about all this on my personal Web site, figuring that my colleagues would read it and hopefully have some thoughts of their own. Against all expectations, it became an actual news story. Well before the story had gone viral, the product manager of Facebook’s Year in Review emailed me to say how sorry he and his team were for what had happened, and that they would take my observations on board for future projects. In turn, I apologized for dropping the Internet on his head for Christmas. My only intent in writing the post had been to share some thoughts with colleagues, not to make his or anyone’s life harder.

And to be clear, a failure to consider edge cases is not a problem unique to Facebook. Year in Review wasn’t an aberration or a rare instance. This happens all the time, all over the Web, in every imaginable context. Taking worst-case scenarios into account is something that Web design does poorly, and usually not at all. If this incident prompts even one Web designer out there decide to make edge cases a part of every project he or she takes on, it will have been worth it. I hope that it prompts far more than that.

It’s Funny Cause It’s True

Original Article courtesy Gawker

In a clarion call that will likely rival his insta-legendary “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” diatribe delivered nearly five years ago on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, comedian Louis C.K. explains — to Conan, once again — exactly why he dislikes the culture of smartphones and why he would never get one for his kids.

C.K. starts off by suggesting that smartphone usage is the reason kids today are meaner:

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’

From there, C.K. moved on to expound on the larger issue: The negative emotional effect that smartphones have on grown-ups.

While C.K. agrees that smartphones can help create a sense of community, he believes that therein lies the problem:

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Finally, C.K. brings it all together with an anecdote about the time he was in his car listening to a Bruce Springsteen song (“Jungleland“) that made him really sad:

And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die. So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

5 Things I’ve Learned About Life Through Text Messaging

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Original article from Thought Catalogue.

1. People are passive aggressive

When text messages were invented, passive aggressive people around the world rejoiced and said, “THANK YOU JESUS! There’s now yet another medium I can use where I don’t have to express my true feelings to someone and can make them feel bad in a variety of subtle (and not-so-sublte) ways!” Text messaging has now become the # 1 way to find out if you’re in the dog house with a friend or lover. For example, if they reply to your texts curtly with a simple “okay.”, you know you’re up shit creek without a paddle. That period after the okay might as well be a fucking Bazooka gun. YOU ARE DEAD. (Being pissed over texts has become so common that people have become paranoid that a friend is angry at them when they’re, in fact, fine. “When you said “yes” to my “see you later tonight?” did you mean that in a bitchy, “I don’t really wanna see you” way” or were you actually just saying yes?”)

2. People are scared of intimacy

In the past few years of my life, I think I’ve had more meaningful “breakthrough” conversations over text messages than in real life, which is actually very sad. A lot of the milestones in my romantic relationships have transpired over text messages, like telling someone that you really like them and that they’re special and that you had an AMAZING time last night. My heart goes pitter patter over a sweet text message, more so than it does in real life. This is the new age of romance everybody, coming to the screen of an iPhone near you! Also, when there’s a problem in a relationship, people are more prone to first bring up the issue via text message than they are in real life. This makes more sense to me because with texting, you can carefully gather your thoughts and increase your chances of not being misinterpreted. No risk for verbal vomiting here, although text vomiting has been known to happen on occasion. Who here has had INSANE knockout fights over text message? They can be fucking brutal and oftentimes you say hurtful things you would never say in person because you don’t have to see the hurt expression on your partner’s face.

3. We are a bunch of horny and sexual monsters

When it comes down to it, it’s actually SO EASY to see someone naked. Texting is always thisclose to sexting. There’s something about the act of typing down thoughts and sending them over to someone that feels inherently sexual. Perhaps because it feels anonymous in a way? Again, it goes back to not having to face the person, so you feel like you can be more honest. Between Grindr, Vine, and SnapChat, it seems like a VERY sexy time to have a smart phone these days. Unfortunately, I still have a $10 Radio Shack phone that can’t even receive pictures. One time this guy sent me a picture of him in his briefs and my phone couldn’t load it. It literally had a seizure when the picture was downloading, so I had to lie and tell him that the picture was great and gave me an orgasm. SIGH.

4. Karma is a bitch

Have you ever been shit-talking someone with your friend over text message and then accidentally sent it to the person you’re bashing? I haven’t but so many of my friends have and it’s pretty much your worst nightmare come true. Like, there is no graceful way to get out of that situation. You’ve been caught red-handed. Your digital footprint is all over this scathing text. Do you ever get the feeling that your phone is a total mean girl that’s out to ruin your life? Between this and butt-dialing someone you’re currently talking about, I can’t help but wonder if your phone has a diabolical mind of its own.

5. We are sensitive beings

Technology hurts my feelings on a daily basis. Whether it’s because someone I like doesn’t follow me back on Twitter or I can tell if someone has read my Facebook message and has NOT responded, I basically need a bulletproof vest around my brain every time I sign online. However, nothing hurts more than waiting for a text message that will never come. Or it does come but it’s not exactly the text you had in mind. Then it’s hello tears, hello alienation and devastation. As embarrassing as it is to admit, we are all ruled by our phones. Receiving a good or a bad text can make or break our day. It’s so frustrating and yet there is no clear solution. We’re already in it deep. We made a deal with the devil when we agreed to have our lives “simplified” with technology. Now we’ve discovered just how raw and sensitive we really are.