Grief Revisited

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not writing in this blog that much this summer. It’s mostly because I’m working on another blog project that is consuming most of my time (The Farm). But it’s also because I’m not as interested in troublemaking right now. Instead, I’m focused more on storytelling. Which is still connected to troublemaking; I like to tell stories that disrupt and cause trouble. But, it feels like my interests don’t fit in this blog space. Am I right? Not sure.

I anticipated not writing in this blog at all this summer. What would I write about? Then, this morning, as I looked over my twitter feed and read about how Scott Simon was live-tweeting from his dying mom’s hospital bed. Wow. He tweets some powerful expressions of love, grief, sadness and gratitude. I definitely want to add his tweets to my archive of caring uses of twitter. Here’s one of the (many) Storify collections of his tweets. And here’s one of the tweets that especially resonated with me. I remember singing to my mom before she died:

Simon’s live-tweeting is not my first encounter this month with kids’ stories about losing their moms. I’m almost finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. It’s a powerful account of how she became undone by her mother’s death from cancer and struggled to make sense of her life and her grief by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon. I also just read a chapter in Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know For Sure about the death of her mom (again, from cancer). And, I’ve just started Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith. In the few pages that I’ve read so far, she recounts the final weeks before her mom dies (of cancer, of course). Am I forgetting anything? Probably.

While it might not seem like it, I didn’t plan to read so many books about moms, death and cancer. I guess it just happened. Maybe it’s because so many people are losing their moms to cancer. Maybe it’s because, now that my mom has died, I’m more aware of (and drawn to) stories about grief and loss. And, maybe it’s because I finally, after almost four years, have enough distance from my mom’s painful dying and death to read about other’s experiences.

The Impact of Twitter

While scrolling through my Tumblr feed, I came across a brief video on the role of twitter in journalism (via Explore):

It’s from PBS’ Off Book, which is “a web-original series from PBS Arts that explores cutting edge arts and the artists that make it.” It’s pretty cool. I think I might watch their video on animated gifs next.

In the video, four journalists discuss twitter’s impact on journalism. Jeff Jarvis argues that journalism needs to “move beyond the article” and think of journalism as not just producing content but as creating an ecosystem. Journalists can (and have/do) use twitter to not only report facts, but to connect and collaborate with others in discovering new voices, verifying facts and participating in the ever-increasing flow of ideas and information made possible through social media like twitter.

Mark Luckie expands on Jarvis’ claims, arguing that twitter is a global resource, an ecosystem of news in which a wide range of folks can participate and engage in creating and verifying news stories. Among other things, journalists can use twitter to find multiple accounts of a story and to crowd-source their fact-checking. He suggests, “journalists should not see twitter as a threat, but as a helping hand on the road to creating better news.”

As the contrarian, Craig Kanalley worries about what is missing when we rely too much on social media. Social media (interestingly, he never explicitly discusses twitter or its unique features, but talks generally about social media) filters our news; we frequently read what our like-minded friends/those we follow share. This provides us with a skewed perspective. Hmm…reminds me of the Filter Bubble. Furthermore, social media provides too much noise; it needs to be mediated by experts (journalists) who can discern what is important and what isn’t. If, Kanalley continues, “the majority of people” are left to their own devices, they will only want to read/hear about celebrities and “things that are funny.” Relying on “most people” to provide and shape news is, Kanalley concludes, “almost scary.” Wow…sounds like some elitism here. Kanalley also briefly discusses the importance of remembering that not everyone is on social media; journalists must take into consideration those people too. His final conclusion: “The important thing for journalists is that we filter through the noise and surface the most important things.”

Finally, Chris Anderson cautions against mythologizing how good news reporting used to be in the past. Using twitter in journalism is not about destroying old (and better ways), but about recognizing that there are all sorts of ways to do journalism and to be a journalist.

In the last minute of the video, each journalist offers a slightly contrasting view on what it means that twitter allows for a wider range of voices to participate in the news process:

Luckie: In journalism, there are isolated pockets of people who have stories to tell. Twitter really enables them to rise to the top.

Kanalley: There are so many voices out there and we need somebody to say, “this is factual information” or “this is what you need to know.”

Anderson: I don’t know if news organizations can honestly make the argument that we are the best anymore.

Jarvis:  It’s not about having professional journalists and citizen journalists, or paid people and unpaid people. Acts of journalism can be performed by anyone.

I love Jarvis’ last line about acts of journalism being performed by anyone, especially how it shifts the practice of news reporting away from an expert identity, The Journalist, and towards a wide range of practices. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have a problem with “experts” who supposedly serve as the gate-keepers and sources/controllers of knowledge. Maybe that’s why I really bristled in watching Kanalley’s part in the video. Not only does he suggest that most people aren’t critical thinkers and can’t be trusted to determine what’s important/newsworthy, but he continues to champion The Journalist as the ultimate authority. Moreover, his over-generalized comments about “social media” suggest that he doesn’t even understand twitter and its distinctive features. I’m disappointed that he serves as the critical voice of twitter. Twitter, like everything else, has problems that need to be addressed and explored. Why not have someone who knows and uses twitter to talk critically about its limits, instead of someone who offers up their surface-level, gut rejection of “social media”?

A Tentative Conclusion

I appreciated this serious look at twitter’s possibilities for journalism, but I wonder if some of them still hold true, especially in light of the recent, and very disturbing, changes to the platform by its owners. For more on these changes, see Room 34′s great post: On products, services, and the trouble with twitter. Also, check out Dalton Caldwell’s helpful discussion of how twitter is pivoting (which Room 34 links to). Caldwell concludes: “the future of Twitter: a media company writing software that is optimized for mostly passive users interested in a media and entertainment filter.” Again, my question: how will this pivot affect how journalists use twitter, and for what ends? And, how does it limit/shape who can commit Jarvis’ “acts of journalism”?

Live-tweeting Halloween, 2012

@Room34 and I did our annual live-tweeting of Halloween last night; this morning I turned it into a storify. I also included some of my history with teaching the movie in the story. There are a few lines that I’d like to revisit:

The first year that I taught feminist theory in a Women’s Studies department in 2006, I screened it on Halloween day. The class discussed it, along with Carol Clover’s classic theory on “the final girl” from her book, Men, Women and Chainsaws. I remember thinking that I had the coolest job ever; I got to watch and critically discuss Halloween on Halloween! I wish I still had that same passion for teaching in women’s studies. Oh well, that’s another story.

It’s nice to remember that there was a time when I really enjoyed the teaching. I wonder if that will ever come back or if it’s gone forever?

Continue reading

The trouble with pop accounts of scientific studies

A few nights ago, while reading through my Flipboard on the iPad, I came across this article: Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are brain candy, study says. I was immediately suspicious. So I decided to find the actual study to which they were referring. This, of course, made my brain hurt; as a humanities person, I am still struggling to make sense of scientific methodology and approaches. But, I read through it anyway.

In the study, Disclosing Information about the self is intrinsically rewarding, researchers out of Harvard (Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell) completed a series of 5 experiments involving self-disclosure. While I could try to summarize their introductory description and hypothesis, I think it might be safer to just let them explain:

Studies of human conversation have documented that 30–40% of everyday speech is used to relay information to others about one’s private experiences or personal relationships (1–4), and recent surveys of Internet use indicate that upwards of 80% of posts to social media sites (such as Twitter) consist simply of announcements about one’s own immediate experiences (5). Although other primates do not generally attempt to communicate to others what they know—for example, by pointing out interesting things or modeling behaviors for others to imitate— by 9 mo of age, human children begin trying to draw others’ attention to aspects of the environment that they find important (6), and adults in all societies make consistent attempts to impart their knowledge to others (7). Recently, a number of commentators have argued that such unusually high rates of disclosure derive from a species-specific motivation to share one’s beliefs and knowledge about the world (6, 7), suggesting that our species may have an intrinsic drive to disclose thoughts to others.

Here’s their hypothesis:

This account suggests the following hypothesis: To the extent that humans are motivated to propagate the products of their minds, opportunities to disclose one’s thoughts should be experienced as a powerful form of subjective reward. Here, across five studies, we used a combination of neuroimaging and cognitive methods to demonstrate empirical support for this possibility.

Well, maybe I should try to put this into my own words. After completing five different experiments, all of which involved analyzing the “neural regions in the brain associated with reward,” when subjects were disclosing information to self and to others, the scientists concluded that, just like wanting food or sex, people intrinsically want to share. And they share because it stimulates the reward center of the brain (as opposed to sharing for advantage or to be liked or for well-being). The scientists conclude their short paper by suggesting that this desire to share speaks to the “extreme sociality of our species” (5).

As I think more about this study, I am (at least a little) intrigued. It’s interesting to think through the neurological reasons why we might have a desire to share ideas, experiences, knowledge with others. I’m glad that I read the actual study instead of just the pop piece in the LA Times. While this study uses their conclusions to point to our desire to share and our fundamental sociality, the LA Times piece (mis)uses the study in order to explain why people might perpetually (and counfoundingly) overshare online. They write:

So perhaps all this explains the confounding behavior of people who over-share on the Internet, even to their detriment. (Think criminals who get arrested after bragging about their crimes on Facebook, the teenage girl whose online venting about her chores led to her dad shooting her laptop, the guy who almost went to jail for complaining about his wife.)

Really? What are they suggesting with this flippant statement? Don’t blame these idiots who share too much online; it’s their brains fault?! What a waste of an article and a study….

The more I think about, the more curious (or the curiouser?) I get about this study and its implications. In one of the experiments, they tested what difference it made in the reward center of the brain between subjects who revealed information about themselves privately, with the guarantee that no one else would ever see it, and subjects who revealed information about themselves publicly, sometimes with someone else in the room. Researchers determined that sharing publicly stimulated the reward center more. I wonder, does it make any difference whether or not they get a reaction (an affirmation? some feedback? a question?) from others? Is the reward center stimulated even more when there’s engagement? Is it the act of public self-disclosure alone that is intrinsic? Or could it be the social exchange, the process of sharing and engaging, that is intrinsic? I might be reaching too far with my questions. However, as I think through my own use of social media and the real and imagined audiences that I have when I share, I wonder what motivates my interest in expressing and engaging publicly?


Twitter, Care and Mother’s Day

Ever since my mom died–well, actually, ever since she got really sick–mother’s day has been hard. And, surprisingly, I never expect it to be. I’ve spent a lot of time developing ways to live beside my grief for my mom. And, as I’ve suggested on this blog and in my latest digital video about this blog, I’ve shifted a lot of my recent focus away from grieving over her loss and towards celebrating (her) life. Yet, even though I feel like I’ve come to some sort of peace with her death, I still woke up yesterday with that unsettled, irritable feeling that made me just want to be alone. When I feel this way, I don’t always immediately read it as grief. Grief is supposed to be waves of sadness and feelings of loss, right? Maybe not; my grief rarely comes in those forms.

According to J Butler (whom I’ve written about a lot on this blog), grief is about coming undone:

I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, aproject, a plan, and one finds oneself foiled. …Something takes hold, but is this something coming from the self, from the outside, or from some region where the difference between the two is indeterminable? What is it that claims us at such moments, such that we are not the masters of ourselves? In what are we tied? And by what are we seized (Undoing Gender, 18)?

In my case, what took hold yesterday morning were waves of irritation, anger, intolerance and a strong sense of coming undone as a mother, especially a mother without a mother. Luckily the feeling didn’t last that long, and much of the rest of the day–a beautiful one at a baseball game–was good. But, it always helps me to remember that Mother’s Day, much like my mom’s birthday or the day that she died, will probably always be difficult. And in ways that I might never be able to anticipate.

As I was reading through my twitter feed right before bed last night, I came across lots of RTs (retweets) by Xeni Jardin from people who were grieving because of cancer on mother’s day (kids who had lost their moms to cancer, or moms who had lost their kids to cancer, or moms who were living with cancer, etc). Jardin started the series with this tweet:


You can check out many of the tweets on this storify by Josh Sterns. What a powerful series of tweets! As I read through them, I was reminded of how I’m not alone and that plenty of people were having the same trouble I was with mother’s day.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post about Xeni Jardin and her use of twitter to practice an ethics of care. Since that post, Jardin’s use of twitter in relation to (her) cancer has continued to involve multiple caring practices. Her tweets on mother’s day are just one more example.

Tweetbombs, Community Guidelines, and Slacktivism, oh my!

Periodically I like to clean out my safari reader and my email and archive some of the more useful links that I’ve marked or emailed to myself. Today, I found some links about tweetbombs and the ethics of attention, The Nation and their new community guidelines policy and the subjectivity of slacktivism. These links are all from the month of April and all concern ethics and social media, two big interests for me in my own engagement with troublemaking.

The Tweetbomb and the Ethics of Attention

A blog post by Ethan Zuckerman.
In this article, Zuckerman reflects on the ethics of using twitter, specifically tweetbombing, to get the attention of key celebrities/personalities. He recounts how World of Warcraft gamer “Athene” and his ipowerproject.com targeted Xeni Jardin by sending her tons of tweets about “starving children in the horn of Africa.” When she tweeted back that the tweets “were not cool,” especially because they clogged up her feed and prevented her from engaging in her ongoing conversations with other twitter users about chemotherapy and living with breast cancer, the tweetbombs became increasingly abusive. Zuckerman wonders about the ethics of attention and how twitter users and Twitter (as a company and administrator of the platform) should/can address the issue of tweetbombing and the problems with demanding, not just requesting, the attention of others on twitter. This article is useful for learning more about the history of tweetbombing. And, as an added bonus, Zuckerman repeatedly describes the unethical actions of Athene and the twitterbombers he enlisted as those of “assholes.” Nice. Might be helpful with my own project of the troublemaking ethical imperative: Don’t be an asshole.

Community Guidelines: The Nation

A page on The Nation’s website.
I follow The Nation on twitter and couldn’t resist checking out the tweet they posted yesterday on their new community guidelines. While I haven’t done that much research on community guidelines/comment policies around the interwebs, I have been interested for some time in how various organizations/sites grapple with ethical issues concerning the management of online communities and conversations. (For example, yesterday, I mentioned Pinterest’s “be nice” rule in my blog post.)

Some interesting points that I found on their description:
1. They call people out for the classic, “I’m not racist, but…”

We do not welcome homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, anti-Semitism or other intolerance. Keep in mind that this does not always take the form of racial slurs. If you find yourself typing “I’m not racist but…” or “I’m not sexist but…” you should probably think twice.

2. They caution agains derailing a conversation. I like this idea, and think it’s important to keep comments focused, but this seems like it could be hard to manage…and very time consuming:

De-railing. Posts unrelated to the article at hand will be deleted. We define this loosely so as to encourage the free flow of conversation. However, if it’s obvious you didn’t read the post, and don’t care to, your comment will be deleted.

3. They encourage users to help out with the labor of managing the community by providing various ways for readers to guide/develop the community, like flagging inappropriate/abusive comments and liking particularly good comments. I suppose this partly answers my question in #2. 

Thinking more about these community guidelines has made me curious: Does The Nation hire someone full time to manage this community? How is the difficult labor of this job compensated? Thanks to a quick search on google, I have one answer to these questions. Check out this job posting for a comment moderator at the Huffington Post:

This is an entry level position and we will train you. If you can read quickly, make quick, impartial, decisions and want a foot in the door in community management or online media then this is a perfect job.
Preferred skills:
- Focused speed reading – our moderators read the equivalent of Moby Dick 18 times a month.
- Experience moderating blog or forum based communities a plus.
- Availability during weekends and evenings a big plus.

The Subjectivity of Slacktivism

An online article by Sarah Kendzior at ALJAZEERA
In this online article, Kendzior briefly summarizes the critiques leveled at slacktivists, especially those involved in the Kony2012 campaign, and then argues that what is missing in these discussion is the voice/voices of the slacktivist:

What the conversation on slacktivism is missing is the voice of the slacktivist. Their self-defence is often dismissed as irrelevant – who would confess to lazily clicking “like”? But slacktivism is not a “useless and harmful” way of describing online behaviour, as Tufekci has argued. Slacktivism is a real thing – it is one of the varied and often contradictory ways we engage with political material online. The same people who are slacktivists toward one cause can also be staunch and sincere advocates of others. The same people who engage in low-stakes, pointless actions – changing their profile picture to a cartoon to protect child abuse, turning their Twitter green to save Iran – could have a passionate commitment to the cause in question, but no knowledge of how else to participate.

She continues by comparing the Kony2012 and Trayvon Martin hoodie campaigns and then wonders, “whether it is the choice of cause, and not the method of media engagement, that gives slacktivism its ugly connotation?” I like her conclusion. She argues that we can’t just dismiss slacktivism without first closely looking at our motivations for slacktively (did I just make up that word?) supporting a cause, motivations like curiosity or sympathy and empathy.

A Dis/infographic: The Best and Worst Types of Tweets

If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest, you might be familiar with infographics; people love pinning and repinning them. An infographic or information graphic takes complex information and date and organizes and represents it in an easy-to-read graphic or set of graphics. As Reif Larsen writes in their “This Chart is a Lonely Hunter: The Narrative Eros of the Infographic,” infographics are everywhere:

our media are now saturated with such infographics, both on-and off-line, as a host of publications such as The New YorkTimesGoodTheGuardianWiredTime, The Economist, The Believer, and The Wall Street Journal all regularly depend on data visualizations to provide their readers with that on-the-spot, quasi-highbrow sociological analysis.

And many of the infographics created in these publications are pinned and repinned on Pinterest. Many people (myself included) are skeptical of the value and usefulness of these infographics. What exactly do they tell us about anything? Do they just look pretty on our computer or iPad or iPhone? I suspect that’s why they get pinned so much on Pinterest, which is often lauded for how “pretty” it is.

A well done infographic, one that allows us to make connections and understand complex data can be a wonderful thing. But what about the bad or fluffy ones? What purpose do they serve? And why do people want to pin them so often?

Lots of folks are discussing the limits and benefits of infographics. On my Pinterest board, Troubling Infographics, I’ve slowly been gathering articles about infographics and examples of (mostly bad) infographics. I’ve also added my own commentary, usually in the form of critical questions, to these infographics. After studying an infographic about twitter yesterday, I’ve decided that it was time to create my own infographic, or what I’m tentatively calling a dis/infographic, that troubles (challenges, questions, wonders about) the data on the graphic and how it is mis/represented. To create this dis/infographic, I’m putting my limited Pixelmator skills to the test.

Around 2 or so hours later…

Ugh. It’s a few hours since I began working on this dis/infographic, and I’ve finally finished. Let’s just say that I’m not good friends with Pixelmator right now. I’m happy that I experimented with making it though. I can’t decide if I want to try it again or not? Is it too much of a time suck or a useful exercise? If I could build up my skills some more, it might be a good way to trouble graphics, etc. Hmm…still not sure. For now, here’s my dis/infographic:

And, here’s the study that the original infographic (and my troubling of it) is based on: Who Gives a Tweet?

How I’m using social media for troublemaking, part 2: twitter

Last Monday, I discussed how I’m using Pinterest for my troublemaking. Today I want to discuss twitter. I’ve written a lot over the past few years on how I’m using twitter to make and stay in trouble. Luckily, so far I haven’t been in trouble by using it…yet. I noticed the other day that my “twitter” tag is one of my largest tags. Actually, with 28 posts, it’s second only to my “Judith Butler” tag, which has 40 posts. Here are a few highlights from those posts:

on live-tweeting 
tweeting your thesis? good. rethinking purpose of thesis? better
more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’
twitter and feminist pedagogy
the undisciplined self via twitter

While there are all sorts of ways to use twitter for making/staying in trouble, like sharing sources, posing/answering questions, connecting with other users, I use twitter primarily to document my notes, thoughts and reflections on the various ideas I encounter everyday. Sometimes I tweet my notes and questions as I’m reading an article. Sometimes I tweet my thoughts as I’m watching a show. And, while I haven’t really done it yet, I’d like to start tweeting my process of creating digital stories.

In addition to using twitter, I also am researching it. I’m particularly interested in how people/organizations are using it to practice an ethic of care. Imagining twitter as a space for deep and meaningful engagement (and care) is troubling for many; the general consensus (based on both anecdotal evidence and popular and academic articles on twitter/twitter and ethics) is that twitter is bad for our souls.

While many folks dismiss twitter as destroying (or at least weakening) our ability to be ethical, many (maybe some of the same folks?) encourage it as good for business and promoting our self-as-brand. I like the idea of people using social media for their businesses and for connecting with clients/communities, but in ways that are meaningful and more than just promotion.

Here’s an infographic that I came across (and pinned on my “Troubling Infographics” board last week) that seems (at least to me) to illustrate twitter-as-tool-for-promotion:

Okay, this infographic isn’t really that useful (well, isn’t that true of most infographics?) because there isn’t that much difference between the best and worst types of tweets and it’s organized very poorly. The more I look at it, the more confused I am about what I’m actually supposed to be learning about good tweeting practices. But, regardless of how bad this infographic is, it still is a helpful starting point for thinking through how many people use twitter to promote their own cleverness (“random thought”), their self-as-brand (“self-promotion”) and their expertise (“information sharing”). And this infographic is helpful in thinking through how my own practices of and reflections on/about twitter trouble these popular uses. In looking at the “worst types,” I am not surprised to see that many of my favorite twitter practices–”opinion/complaint,” “me now,” and “conversation”–are on there.

Studying this infographic closely makes me want to do my own dis/infographic with Pixelmator. Look for it soon, along with more analysis of how my tweets trouble the best/worst types on this graphic. 

Thanks Mom! Banksy Beside JennyHolzerMom

epic win photos - WIN!: Hacked IRL: Thanks Mom
see more epicfails

Thanks to Susannah for this image and her question about the link between troublemaking and care. I really like the idea of envisioning encouraging kids to make trouble (well, maybe not always or often in the forms represented in this image) as part of a parent’s caregiving practices. I’d like to read/reflect on this beside JennyHolzerMom’s tweets about the tension between rebelling and following rules:

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