Wednesday 2 December

2:00PM ET Age Against The Machine

Whitney Erin Boesel
This episode of Theorizing the Web Presents is about misfits and outliers who are troubling dominant ways of being and doing on the Internet. First, Sonja Solomun & Victoria Simon use queer theory to problematize algorithms and algorithmic power. Next, Jack Webster considers why vinyl records are having a new heyday in an age of ubiquitous music streaming services. And, finally, Heather Fenby asks what it means to be old on an Internet where accessibility is an unglamorous afterthought, and personalization means incessant reminders of mortality, decay, infirmity, accident, painful illness, and utter irrelevance. This episode is moderated by TtW Presents Producer Whitney Erin Boesel.
[Age Against The Machine],

Queer Algorithms and Dis-Ordered Data

This presentation draws on queer theory to rethink normative algorithmic logic of recommendation systems and their core assumptions about users.
Victoria Simon, Sonja Solomun,
Victoria Simon
co-authored by Sonja Solomun

Slow Music: How the resurgence in vinyl music consumption is shaped by the accelerated availability of music in the streaming age

Why are vinyl records having a new heyday in an age of ubiquitous music streaming services? This presentation explores the recent vinyl revival, highlighting that vinyl music consumption can be seen as a privileged reaction to the accelerated availability of music in the streaming age.
Jack Webster,

Old On The Internet

I have not seen much about the actual lived experience of old people on a medium designed by young people for young people, in which accessibility is an unglamorous afterthought and personalization means incessant reminders of mortality, decay, infirmity, accident, painful illness, and utter irrelevance. Being old on the internet is a drumbeat of death: You can't make it stop; you can't reset and play as a different character. The internet knows who you are and wonders why you are still alive. This is the virtual world we have built for our future selves. I already live there.
Heather Fenby,

Wednesday 16 December

2:00PM ET All Eyes on You

Jonathan Flowers
Modern digital technologies enable all sorts of people to watch all sorts of other people -- but who watches whom, and to what end? In the last episode of TtW Presents, Priya Prabhakar examines biometric surveillance in India, where the world's largest biometric surveillance system is used to uphold caste purity, control and coerce marginalized bodies, and anticipate, suppress, and punish dissent against the Indian nation-state. Next, Joseph Meyer considers the consequences of (purportedly) unintended statements that illustrate a user’s privilege and ignorance -- and are then witnessed by millions of people via Internet media outlets. Finally, Marianne Gunderson looks at "creepypasta" horror to examine cultural anxieties about the ubiquity of machine vision surveillance (e.g. CCTV cameras, facial recognition, and nanny cams). This episode is moderated by Dr. Johnathan Flowers.
[All Eyes on You],

Tracing Biometric Assemblages in India’s Surveillance State: Reproducing Colonial Logics, Reifying Caste Purity, and Quelling Dissent Through Aadhaar

In this presentation, I seek to understand the historical conditions that rendered the nation-state of India as having the world’s largest biometric surveillance system: Aadhaar. Aadhaar champions biopolitical control used to uphold caste purity, control and coerce marginalized bodies, and anticipate, suppress, and punish dissent against the Indian nation-state. Aadhaar is also used as a means to achieve necropolitical control over those who fail to assimilate into the system and become disposable to the nation-state. How can we fight against the constant reproduction of techno-solutionism and biometric surveillance? In order to move towards a praxis of anti-surveillance, we must make political demands for dominationless societies where care, solidarity, and trust substitute surveillance.
Priya Prabhakar,

The Politics of Unintention: A Decade of “Showing Your Ass” on the Internet

What does the last decade of "showing your ass" have to tell us about the next decade of online discourse? Throughout the 2010s, publicly broadcast moments of racism, misogyny, and more have come to define the landscapes of discursive conflict that exist across contemporary online life. The unintended nature of  very explicit forms of oppression enacted by folks online speak to what I term the politics of unintention, the prerogative of power to protect itself in the information age.
Joseph Meyer,

The Internet of Eyes: Machine Vision in Digital Horror

Creepypasta is a genre of digital horror written within online communities in the tradition of folklore or urban legends, and many of them feature machine vision or surveillance technologies such as CCTV cameras, facial recognition, or nanny cams. Combining horror tropes with the idea of digital surveillance, these stories function as affective articulations that reveal the anxieties about being surrounded by machine vision. I argue that the fears articulated in these stories revolve around how these technologies mediate our relationship with reality and redistribute agency within human/machine assemblages.
Marianne Gunderson,

Thursday 16 July

7:00PM ET Surveillance of Black Lives

Apryl Williams
To kick off TtW Presents, we’re launching with a powerful and timely dialogue: Dr. Allissa Richardson and Mutale Nkonde will discuss the layered and multifaceted impact of surveillance on Black people in the context of the Movement for Black Lives and the Covid-19 pandemic. Moderated by TtW Committee member Dr. Apryl Williams, this talk will demonstrate how facial recognition systems used in policing; tracing software associated with the pandemic; and Black death imagery have created a treacherous techno-mediascape that extends both state matrices of power and systems of racialized, anti-Black oppression in the United States.

Wednesday 26 August

2:00PM ET Watching Me, Watching You

Zachary Kaiser
Today, everyone seems to be impacted by technologies of surveillance and pervasive data capture. And yet, systems ranging from Nextdoor to Palantir’s software reinforce asymmetries of privilege and power in surprising and often similar ways, shaping both the identities of their subjects and the discourses in which they engage. Whether you’re calling your neighbor a “terrorist” on Nextdoor or a Palantir algorithm has labeled your neighbor a “terrorist,” we are positioned in relationship to one another via both these technologies in ways that cater to authoritarianism and that reify prejudice and contribute to practices of oppression and marginalization.

The Moralisation of Predictivity in the Age of Data-Driven Surveillance

Technologies of datafication engender the belief that whatever can be predicted must be, and that whatever needs to be predicted surely can be. Yet this excessive faith in data is paradoxically leading to more uncertain and speculative technologies. I focus on the post-9/11 evolution of counter-terrorism surveillance, where longstanding biases and prejudices creep back into seemingly objective, data-driven efforts to predict and pre-empt the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist. For certain kinds of bodies, to appear ‘correctly’ in databases can be the unhappy obligation on which their lives depend.
Sun-ha Hong,

“What is Nextdoor for?” Spaces of Imagining and Politics of Performing Community

I examine the online platform Nextdoor with particular interest in my own community, Santa Cruz, California, a site of struggle over land, housing, resistance against big real estate, and the local ordinances that criminalize homelessness in particular and poverty in general. Nextdoor demonstrates how imagined communities online are sustained through mechanisms of exclusion that are built into the platform and mimic models of governance that prioritize wealth and private property. While users on Nextdoor share a common goal of building a sense of community, hinged on safety and genuine human connection, the virtual space for collective imagining and community building becomes a battleground to hash out ideals of belonging, inevitably amplifying racial and class biases, and sustaining ideals of authoritarianism upon which the suburban surround thrives.
Keli L Gabinelli,

Wednesday 9 September

2:00PM ET Bad Company

Apryl Williams
We use metaphors to get a grasp on the more intangible aspects of technology. From the ruthless loyalty demanded by startups to the rhythmic nature of a life shot through with technology, we reach for more familiar language like cults, music, immune systems and religion to understand our new society.
[Bad Company],

Ordering the (anti)social: How the advertising industry orders your mediated experience

In this talk I'm proposing a new media power theoretical framework which uses two sound concepts - processed listening and rhythmedia. Sound is better suited for networked territories like the web because of its ability to cross boundaries ofactors (users, workers, and nonhumans), spaces, channels and temporalities. As a case study I examine the web standardization process in the European Union (EU) in the early 2000s and show how the digital advertising industry and tech companies standardized different categories of behaviour, catering for their business models.
Elinor Carmi,

Can We Call A Startup A ‘Cult’?

The cultural power of startups is certainly a cause for alarm: they make striking claims to power through their founding stories and leaders, and, especially when they grow into massive tech companies, their values play a formative role in shaping the childhood experiences and embedded theologies of coming generations. But startups are not cults; in fact, the grave harms committed by the anti-cult movement should compel us to eschew the use of “cult” as a label in any context. Sustainable confrontations of startups’ harmful practices must avoid emphasizing "cult"-like alterity or unprecedented characteristics, and instead connect startups’ beliefs and practices to those of larger historical and economic trends.
Adam Willems,

Wednesday 23 September

2:00PM ET For the Gram

Jonathan Flowers
The next episode of Theorizing the Web Presents, "For the Gram," features two new takes on visual culture in social media. In "The Secret Life of Pet Instagrams," Dr. Jess Maddox demonstrates how pet content on Instagram provides joy and creates communities of care through a process of follower fragmentation. In "Century of the Selfie," Emily Stainkamp shows that, while selfies may be relatively new, cultural anxiety about what a "self" should be is at least 100 years old -- and is often connected to the emergence of new media.
[For the Gram],

The Secret Life of Pet Instagrams: Follower Fragmentation, “Warm Fuzzies,” and Digital Care

Why do we love pets on social media, and what would compel someone to make an Instagram account exclusively for their pet? Dr. Jess Maddox’s talk, “The secret life of pet Instagram accounts: Joy, resistance, and commodification in the internet’s cute economy” sheds some light on one of the internet’s most adorable phenomena.
Jessica Maddox,

Century of the selfie: On the cultural history of narcissism as a social problem

In this talk, I will propose a research program that examines the contemporary idea that social media have created a generation of narcissists. The work examines periods in twentieth-century American history where the proliferation of new media technologies was accompanied by increased scholarly, artistic, and cultural interest in the nature of the individual. I will propose that social anxiety about pathological selves has been connected to new media during Freud's heyday in the 1920s and 30s, as well as following the height of new Left social movements in the 1970s, and finally during the neoliberal turn toward self-esteem in the 1980s.
Emily Stainkamp,

Wednesday 7 October

10:00AM ET Diminishing Returns

Britney Gil
"Diminishing Returns" looks at how wealth is created in digital economies -- and at who does and does not profit. In "Software, Scanners, and Sharecroppers," Alif Ibrahim considers workers at the very bottom of the digital production chain. Although their work is deemed "essential for human culture," the workers themselves are largely hidden and poorly paid. In "Ambient Accumulation," Rob Arcand uses one band's lucrative prank album on Spotify as an opportunity to rethink forms of wealth creation that stem from the commodification of digital assets. This episode is moderated by Dr. Britney Gil.
[Diminishing Returns],

Software, Scanners and Sharecroppers – On the Boundaries of Digital Labour

In producing software, the user, programmer, software, hardware, network and protocol are seen as distinct contributors with different economic contributions. Those at the bottom of this production chain, people who receive minimal pay for relatively mechanical work, produce work that's deemed essential for human culture yet remunerated as if they were disposable. From studying patents, press releases news articles and official statements, we see how these workers are framed as empowered rather than hidden in this high-tech-low-pay phenomenon.
Alif Keenan Ibrahim,

Ambient Accumulation: Towards a Political Economy of the Stream

Ambient media is the preeminent mode of 21st century cultural production. From YouTube to Spotify, SoundCloud to Netflix to Amazon and beyond, recorded media objects are often no longer experienced as a series of discrete commodities, but instead through the interfaces of digital platforms, which rely on play counts and other metrics of user attention to determine how much to pay each creator. "Ambient Accumulation" is an attempt to think through this shift, using the robust framework of Marxist political economy to examine the changes that digital archives face in relation to contemporary streaming platforms.
Rob Arcand,

Wednesday 21 October

2:00PM ET Know Body

Whitney Erin Boesel
This episode puts medical and non-medical ways of knowing in conversation with each other to discuss two different somatic phenomena: endometriosis and ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Endometriosis is a medical diagnosis, but it is also understudied and poorly understood as a condition. In "'Hysterics' on the Web," Eileen Mary Holowka examines how people living with endometriosis use social media to navigate and manage their experience of living with gendered chronic pain. Conversely, current medical research can neither diagnose nor explain the experience of ASMR. In "ASMR in the Clinic," Nitin K. Ahuja considers whether placebo studies can explain the therapeutic impact of clinically themed ASMR videos -- and what clinicians can learn from such videos about delivering effective telemedicine during a pandemic.
[Know Body],

Hysterics’ on the Web: Posting about Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a devestating and painful condition that is overwhelmingly mistreated, underrepresented, and misdiagnosed, despite affeccting 1 in 10 women and non-binary/trans individuals worldwide. " 'Hysterics' on the Web" gives a brief window into my in-progress dissertation on the online lives of people living with endometriosis and how they use Facebook and Instagram to navigate, manage, and live with their illness(es). Using a mix of methodologies (including small data analysis, digital auto/ethnographic analysis, and qualitative thematic analysis) this presentation aims to open up a way of better understanding the present (and future) of gendered chronic pain and its mediations.
Eileen Holowka,

ASMR in the Clinic: Practice Analogs for Analog Practice

In the decade since autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) was communally defined, its associated media has become familiar audiovisual shorthand. While clinical research has yielded little insight thus far into the phenomenon’s underlying mechanisms, the emergent field of Placebo Studies suggests an underexplored analogy between clinically themed ASMR videos and sugar pills — medicinal in appearance, inert in composition. As a clinician, I argue that ASMR videos can serve as primers for optimizing real-world therapeutic practice, especially during the current pandemic, in light of a suddenly widespread telehealth paradigm that demands the performance of caregiving at a distance, on screens.
Nitin K. Ahuja,

Wednesday 28 October

2:00PM ET Street Smarts

David A. Banks
Two big additions to the Web have given in the power to transform cities: First, the advent of advanced sensor packages in smartphones means location and context-sensitive information can be adapted to services, data collection, and governance. Second, massive private equity investment has meant that private firms see real benefits to building entire city blocks in the Web’s image. Taken together, we are witnessing a new kind of city being built on a new kind of Web.
[Street Smarts],

I Agree: What Lies Beyond Terms and Conditions

Over the past few decades, reports of data breaches and ethical transgressions by tech companies have become so frequent as to be almost unremarkable, while policymakers struggle to catch up. Despite recent strides in privacy protection and regulation, our mental models of data governance remain predominantly focused on individualistic solutions, which neglects the fact that the benefits and harms of the data economy are inherently networked and collective. By drawing parallels between data governance and other movements in pursuit of public goods, such as environmental protection and public health, I hope to broaden the scope of our imagination in how to loosen the hold of datafication on our lives.
Jenny Zhang,

Meet Me in the Ball Pit: Pop-up Experiences and Algorithmic Urbanism

From the Museum of Ice Cream to Meow Wolf, the field of so-called "experiential" design offers a window into the transformation of the built environment by the social web. This talk examines the material conditions which have led to the proliferation of Instagram playgrounds as a spatial archetype, tracing the entanglement of design, algorithms, creative economies, and real estate. Using experiential spaces as a prominent example, I point toward a transformation in neoliberal urbanism by which the computational and financial logics of digital platforms have come to underpin urban development, planning, and design.
Leo Shaw,

Wednesday 18 November

2:00PM ET Networking in the Anthropocene

Tanya Lokot
This episode considers the complex role of human agency in our relationships with networked technologies in the Anthropocene. In “Abolish the User: Designing Against the End of History,” Melanie Bumpas examines how the ubiquitous design construct of “the user” constrains our experience of the web and forecloses the possibility of new kinds of online sociality. In “Web Theory in a Warming World,” Adam Boffa considers some of the implications of climate change for the future of digital media and highlights areas of digital media theory that might be complicated by the climate crisis.

Abolish the User: Designing Against the End of History

How does the ubiquitous design construct of “the user” constrain our experience of the web and foreclose the possibility of new kinds of online sociality? How can we learn to recognize—and begin to erode or short-circuit—the harms caused by this paradigm?
Melanie Bumpas,

Web Theory in a Warming World

This presentation considers some of the implications of climate change for the future of digital media. Its goal is to highlight areas of digital media theory that might be complicated by the climate crisis, as well as reexamine some assumptions in technology studies by bringing climate change to the forefront.
Adam Boffa,