Another one of my troublemaking role models: Margaret Cho

Just read Margaret Cho’s amazing post, Being Mad on Twitter. I wish I had time to detail all the ways I really appreciate this post and Cho as a troublemaker. Since I don’t, I want to make sure and archive it for later. For now, I just want to highlight a few themes for revisiting–all of which speak to my own vision of virtuous troublemaking and all of which Margaret Cho practices in her twitter exchange + blog post:

  • valuing and refusing to suppress/hide/ignore rage and anger
  • using twitter for authentic expressions (of rage, anger, love, strength, vulnerability) and truth-telling
  • talking back and refusing to accept
  • giving (self) care and expressing (self) love
  • showing/modeling for others how to be brave, honest, refuse to accept hate, and kick ass!

I love this tweet:

Live-tweeting Halloween (the movie) with @room34 (STA)

For the past 6 years, STA and I have watched Halloween on (or around) Halloween night. Sometimes we make it through the whole movie (like this year!) and sometimes one of us (usually me) falls asleep before it ends. This year I thought it would be fun to try live-tweeting our viewing of it. STA came up with the equally brilliant idea to use a hashtag for our tweets, #hlt11 (Halloween Live Tweet 2011). To document our attempt, I did screen shots of all of the tweets. You can see them below. Make sure to read the tweets from top to bottom.

Troublemaking with social media?

Just saw this photo from the Occupy London facebook page. Very fitting, considering I’m currently trying to finish an article on how twitter might enable us to be more engaged citizens. In my article, tentatively (and very boringly–is that a word?) called “Twitter, Authenticity and Ethical Engagement,” I plan to examine three different twitter projects from (or that started) last year that were used to spread awareness and transform understandings about abortion: Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February of 2010; the hashtag #ihadanabortion, first used in the fall of 2010; and the twitter handle, @IamDrTiller. One of my key arguments is that these three examples need to be taken seriously and closely examined to explore their potential for encouraging us to be more engaged, caring and ethical citizens. Originally I had planned to focus only on Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion (via the RU486 pill), however after doing some more research, I’ve decided to also include the hashtag and twitter handle, both of which were created by Stephanie Herold from abortion gang (we’re talking about this issue and Herold in my feminist debates class this semester). I want to think about these three examples in relation to Joan Tronto and her feminist ethic of care (specifically, her ideas of caring about, giving care and receiving care). It is interesting to think about this idea of caring about and giving/receiving care in relation to the image from occupy london. Revolution seems to be about disruption, destruction and struggle while Tronto’s definition of care is grounded in care, repair and the maintaining of the world (see my discussion here). Is it possible to think about these things together? Well, that’s one thing that I’m trying to do in my own work by (re)imagining troublemaking as a form of care and maybe care as a form of troublemaking?

On another note, I’m planning to discuss the occupy movement (is it a movement? what else should we call it) in my queering theory class next week. We’re discussing the concept of the abject and reading some Butler (from Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter), Dorothy Allison (“A Question of Class”) and various online sources about occupy wall street (including this awesome site: History is a Weapon). In that discussion, and in my own critical reflections on the occupy phenomenon and the ethical/political value of twitter, I want to think more about what it might mean to use twitter as a revolution tool? How? And in tandem with what other tools? What are its limits as a tool? Possibilities? How specifically has it challenged/disrupted/made trouble for the system?

Okay, I need to finish a draft of my article soon. I better start writing!

Is twitter bad for our souls?

I just finished an abstract for a special issue on online social networks and ethics. I put it together pretty quickly because I found out about the call for papers just a few days ago and the deadline was today (19 june). It’s partly inspired by my recent post on Bill Keller’s The Twitter Trap, more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’. Here it is:

Does twitter turn us into distracted, uncaring, apathetic, disengaged, unethical citizens? Many critics seem to think so. In “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell dismisses twitter as being unable to incite revolution and radical change and as only generating superficial, weak connections between individuals and communities. In “I Tweet, Therefore I Am,” Peggy Orenstein charges that twitter encourages us to become packaged selves who instantly and unthinkingly publicize our experiences and, as a consequence, are alienated from our own humanity. And in “The Twitter Trap,” Bill Keller laments that twitter reduces us to soulless narcissists who care more about spreading information and gaining notoriety than experiencing intimacy and forging authentic connections.

In all three of these articles, twitter is indicted as an online social network that threatens our ability to be ethically and politically engaged citizens. According to these authors, not only does twitter lack any ethical value, but using it can actually do harm to our ethical selves, making it increasingly difficult for us to think deeply and reflectively and to act responsibly and ethically within the world.

Is this an accurate assessment? Does twitter usage lead, in the words of Bill Keller, to the erosion of our souls? Yes and no. While twitter can encourage us to be superficial,apathetic or disengaged, it can also enable us to communicate meaningful narratives about our lives and to share those narratives with each other. And it can enable us to cultivate authenticity through how we express ourselves and document our experiences, how we engage with the world and its inhabitants, and how we create connections and form alliances with each other.

Challenging the claim that twitter is only a threat to our ethical selfhood, this essay explores how twitter participation–through posting tweets, following other twitter users, participating in online twitter conversations, sharing resources, reading others’ tweets to gain social/critical/ethical awareness–might contribute to ethical development and help guide online (and offline) practices in ways that are more engaged, authentic and ethical.

This essay will be divided into two main parts. In the first part, I will offer a brief overview of twitter, some of its key features and who (based on factors like race, class, age, and gender) is using it and how and why. I will also provide some background on four ethical perspectives from which to assess the ethical potential of twitter: the dignity and human rights perspective, the justice perspective, the virtue perspective and the feminist ethics of care perspective. Then, I will describe some general ways in which twitter might contribute to authentic expression, engagement and connection. In the second part of this essay, I will ethically evaluate three current examples of twitter usage, using the four ethical frameworks that I introduced in part one, and raising critical questions about whether or not they contribute to the fostering of ethical selfhood, especially in relation to authenticity. These three examples are: 1. Authentic expression and Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February, 2010; 2. Authentic engagement and the use of hashtags, like #WeAreAlabama, to spread awareness and information about the tornados in Alabama in April 2011; and 3. Authentic connection and Joel Johnson’s promotion in Gizmodo of “stalking a sexy black woman” on twitter in order to learn more about people and cultures very different from your own in July, 2010.

Each of these examples raises important and difficult questions about ethics, authenticity and twitter. In live-tweeting her abortion, Angie Jackson claims that her goal was to honestly document her experiences using RU-486 in order to “demystify” abortion for others. Is this live-tweeting an authentic expression of someone striving to grant dignity to her experiences (and the experiences of other women) of having an abortion or is it as an example of someone with “bad manners” whose only interest is in gaining public notoriety?

Hashtags like #WeAreAlabama were used to spread awareness and mobilize individuals and communities who wanted to learn more about how they could help victims of the Alabama tornados. Do these hashtags enable twitter users to have authentic engagement with those communities, allowing them to bear witness to the devastation and to contribute in meaningful ways to the relief effort? Or do these hashtags, and the information they provide, encourage twitter users to remain passive and disengaged as they falsely believe that merely reading stories and donating money via twitter links enables them to think that they are “doing their part”?

Finally, Joel Johnson encourages us to follow the twitter feeds of people who aren’t like us in order to “experience the joy of discovery that can come by weaving a stranger’s life into your own.” Does following a stranger on twitter and reading tweets about their life enable us to learn more about them and care about and for them, thereby resulting in the development of an authentic connection with them? Or does following someone on twitter resemble stalking and only lead to the most superficial of connections?

So, that’s it. Like I said, I put it together pretty quickly. I’m not happy with my abrupt ending, but I like the argument and analysis that I’ve come up with–although I don’t like how the questions I pose about the three twitter “moments” create an either/or binary. In ethically evaluating these moments, I am not interested in drawing such easy conclusions–that they are either good or bad, this or that. Instead, I would like to explore the ethical difficulty of understanding these moments as possibly allowing for authentic and inauthentic expressions, engagements and connections. Oh well, I will change these questions in my extended draft. Whether or not this article is accepted, I will have fun writing it!

more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’

On Monday, I came across The Twitter Trap via hastac and Cathy Davidson’s It’s Not the Technology, Stupid!. Davidson does an excellent job of critically responding to the many (and I mean many) problematic claims made in this brief editorial. I feel compelled to add a few my own thoughts to this conversation by engaging in some direct talking back (see this post by KCF for more on bell hooks and “talking back”) to a few of Keller’s statements. As an aside, I am looking forward to Davidson’s new book, coming out in August, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live and WorkAnd I am very appreciative of the great work she and the other amazing scholars at HASTAC do.

Bill Keller opens the essay this way:

Last week my wife and I told our 13-year-old daughter she could join Facebook. Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth.

Wait a second? The title of this article is “The Twitter Trap,” yet he opens with a discussion of facebook. When did facebook = twitter? Like many authors who hate on social media, Keller conflates facebook with twitter.* They are not the same. Here’s one (very brief way) in which I distinguish between facebook and twitter (read the full post here):

How is twitter different from facebook?

  • Twitter is a public site. There is not an expectation of privacy.
  • People who read your tweets are your followers, not friends.
  • Twitter has a 140 character limit.
  • Twitter relies on crowdsourcing and how it is used is driven more by how people are using it and experimenting with it. Example: hashtags

In addition to these structural differences, twitter and facebook often appeal to and are used by different groups of people (influenced by gender, age, race, ethnicity, class, global positioning). While I am in favor of critical engagements with the limits of social media, those engagements demand that we provide specific critiques to the various media as opposed to over-generalized, hyperbolic statements that equate participating in social media to using crystal meth. While Keller’s flippant remark is probably intended to get a laugh, what it really does is shut down any serious (as in deep, thoughtful, meaningful) discussion about what various forms of social media do to us and what we can do with them.

*note: Keller does distinguish between twitter and facebook, at least briefly and somewhat superficially, later in his essay. However, his opening conflation still speaks to how social media is frequently represented as a monolithic threat; it becomes SOCIAL MEDIA as opposed to various forms of social media.

mini-rant: In addition to conflating twitter with facebook in this opening, Keller also invokes the tired old trope of the internet/social media as dangerous predator. Lock your doors! Shut down your computers! The interwebz are coming for your poor, defenseless children! Don’t even think about letting little Johnny go on facebook. Just like Jim Ignatowsky in Taxi when he take his first bite of the marijuana brownie and instantly becomes a drug addict, all Johnny needs is one click of the like button and he’s hooked forever. But seriously, I don’t want to dismiss the potential dangers of facebook (cyberbullies, privacy violations, posting private thoughts/images that shouldn’t be public, inordinate amounts of time spent in front of the computer instead of outside or with other people). Instead, I want to shift the conversation away from envisioning social media as a threat that children need to protected from.  We need to spend more time focusing on how to guide children in using social media effectively and critically/creatively. We (adults/parental figures) might also spend time learning from our kids about using social media.

Later on in the editorial, Keller writes:

Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud. The upside is that this frees a lot of gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and “Real Housewives.”

Claiming that the only upside to using online technologies/social media is that it provides us with more time to do Farmville and watch/discuss “Real Housewives” ignores (or actively suppresses) the wide range of critical and creative ways that lots of people are using social media–like facebook or twitter–to share ideas, connect with others and create and document authentic expressions of selfhood. From:

  • live-tweeting conferences and workshops I was just following the hashtag for #racialequity and the plenary with Peggy McIntosh. See below for one of my favorite lines:

  • to mobilizing others to action check out mashable’s post on How Egyptians Used Twitter During the January Crisis
  • to documenting/sharing stories/spreading the word on the devastating tornado damage in Alabama and Missouri On both facebook and twitter, I was able to bear witness to first-hand accounts of the devastation and determine reliable ways to donate much-needed supplies to those communities.

Finally, Keller concludes:

There is a growing library of credible digital Cassandras who have explored what new media are doing to our brains (Nicholas CarrJaron LanierGary Small and Gigi Vorgan,William Powers, et al.). My own anxiety is less about the cerebrum than about the soul…

Throughout the essay, Keller spends some time describing the ways that social media (and here he particularly targets twitter) serves as a threat to our souls:

  • twitter is an enemy of contemplation, demanding that we pay attention to it and other tweeters at the expensive of our own thinking and reflection
  • erodes “our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity”
  • encourages us to unlearn “complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy”

I don’t totally disagree with Keller’s assessment of the potential effects of social media. Yes, various forms of social media (I tend to focus on twitter and facebook), can create distractions and encourage uncritical ramblings. But, that’s not all these social media can (or actually) do. Perhaps Keller will dismiss my claim, just as he dismisses the anonymous “tweeter” in his article who suggests that the value of social media “depends on who you follow/who your friends are.” But, I want to echo Davidson in her essay and suggest that “it’s not the technology, stupid!” but the people who use the technology that plays the most significant role in whether or not twitter erodes the soul.

Also like Davidson, I was initially reluctant to waste time responding to Keller’s “plaintive, yet hyperbolic critique of all social media.” However, since one focus of my current work is on how blogs and twitter can potentially enable us to cultivate authentic moments of (moral) selfhood and help us to create spaces for deep critical, creative and ethical reflection, I couldn’t not talk back to his claim that social media was a threat to our souls.  I plan to spend a lot of time this summer working through what it might mean to use blogs and twitter in tandem to cultivate and practice virtue and to (a la Foucault) care for the self. For now, check out my post on the undisciplined self via twitter.