Category Archives: Uncategorized

Must-Read Journal Articles of 2017

I like to do a mass PDF printing before the holidays of any “must-read” journal articles in the communication, technology, and society space published over the past year that I may have missed or filed away for later reflection. (I read plenty on screens all year, and like to wind down over winter break with pens, paper, and lots of underlining.)

After soliciting suggestions from my aca-social network, I’ve compiled a list below for 2017 (one that is by *no means exhaustive*). Besides journal articles published in 2017, there are a number of white papers on the list, as well as articles published at the end of 2016 that may have flown under the radar.

The “General” must reads are the kinds of pieces that I could envision finding a place on a Communication Ph.D. student’s qualifying exams lists, while the “Personal” must reads are those that speak to my particular scholarly interests (disability and digital media, mobile communication, and kids/family technology use.)

I’m open to any feedback, as well as further recommendations based on these. Happy reading (and underlining)!

General

Adrienne Shaw, Encoding and decoding affordances: Stuart Hall and interactive media technologies, Media, Culture & Society.

Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online, Data & Society.

Angèle Christin, Algorithms in practice: Comparing web journalism and criminal justice, Big Data & Society.

Bonnie Ruberg, What is your mother’s maiden name? A feminist history of online security questions, Feminist Media Histories.

Caroline Jack, Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information, Data & Society.

Fred Turner, Can we write a cultural history of the Internet? If so, how?, Internet Histories.

John Durham Peters, “You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong”: On technological determinism, Representations.

Megan French and Natalya N. Bazarova, Is anybody out there?: Understanding masspersonal communication through expectations for response across social media platforms, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Nabiha Syed, Real talk about fake news: Towards a better theory for platform governance, The Yale Law Journal Forum.

Sandra K. Evans, Katy E. Pearce, Jessica Vitak, and Jeffrey W. Treem, Explicating affordances: A conceptual framework for understanding affordances in communication research, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Simone Natale, There are no old media, Journal of Communication.

William R. Hobbs and Moira Burke, Connective recovery in social networks after the death of a friend, Nature Human Behaviour.

Personal

Benjamin Burroughs, YouTube Kids: The app economy and mobile parenting, Social Media + Society.

Elisabeth L. Miller, Literate misfitting: Disability theory and a sociomaterial approach to literacy, College English.

Heather A. Faucett, Kate E. Ringland, Amanda L. L. Cullen, and Gillian R. Hayes, (In)visibility in disability and assistive technology, ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing.

Leon J. Hilton, Avonte’s Law: Autism, wandering, and the racial surveillance of neurological difference, African American Review.

Marleena Mustola, Merja Koivula, Leena Turja, and Marja-Leena Laakso, Reconsidering passivity and activity in children’s digital play, New Media & Society.

Pooja Rangan, In defense of voicelessness: The matter of the voice and the films of Leslie Thornton, Feminist Media Histories.

Rayna Rapp, Big data, small kids: Medico-scientific, familial and advocacy visions of human brains, BioSocieties.

Cover Story: How “Giving Voice” Got Its Design

The way I feel about book covers speak volumes about me.

In second grade, each person in our class spent weeks writing, illustrating, and designing our own hardcover books (a big deal compared to “little kid” paper books barely held together with tape, staples, and spit). As you can tell from an original (and only) copy of Rainbow Forest below, I relished the process.

rainbow-forest

As a Ph.D. student procrastinating while writing my dissertation (entitled Home Screen Home: Disability, Distinction, and Domestic Access), I drafted an imagined book cover for it: an embroidered sampler, but instead of having a traditional wooden frame, using the hard metal rim of an iPad.

ipad-home-screen-home

As someone who cares deeply about how books are written, designed, and used as design elements in a space, I eagerly anticipated working on the cover for my recent book, Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality.

giving-voice_cover

The cover was designed collaboratively with the folks at MIT Press, who were receptive and responsive to my input at each step. Stylistically, I was inspired by several images and existing book covers:

The pattern of sound waves, photographed by scientists at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1950 (Library of Congress).

soundwaves-banner

Vintage book covers about sound from George Giusti in the late 1950s/early 1960s such as Echoes of Bats and Men (1959) and Waves and the Ear (1960).

echoes-of-bats-and-men

waves-and-the-ear

Other scholarly works about disability and/or communication, such as those by Laura Maudlin and John Durham Peters.

made-to-hear

the-marvelous-clouds

We tried to convey several of the book’s core themes in a single book cover. This encompassed:

  1. Voice as motion, and not as a static or solid entity to give
  2. Axis of intersectionality and inequality
  3. The outline of different sizes of mobile devices, created through negative space, and finally,
  4. To consider disability in relation to all three

The cover of Giving Voice also appears one twist away from a hypnotic spiral, a drowsy trance. For while the book’s manuscript was completed months before Trump’s election, the cover was finalized afterwards, casting some shade onto the light.

“Please Read the Article”? Please Cite Women Academics.

I’m not an expert on cyber warfare, nor do I play one on TV—or on Twitter for that matter.

I have, though, published academic research about the cultural claims to legitimacy that policymakers have historically used when responding to perceived threats of youth hackers—work, I should note, that popular journalists have covered and properly attributed here and here.  And as a Faculty Associate with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, I’m well aware of thoughtful scholarship on how popular culture and technology policy directly and indirectly shape one another.

In doing that historical work on youth hackers, I was thankful for the heavy lifting done by communication scholar Stephanie Ricker Schulte in her 2008 article “‘The WarGames Scenario:’ Regulating Teenagers and Teenaged Technology (1980-1984)” in Television & New Media, as well as her 2013 book Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture, published by NYU Press.  Schulte argues that the 1983 movie WarGames was more than just fun cinematic fare and a box office smash; it also had serious cultural implications for U.S. internet policy during the Reagan administration.  Schulte makes the claim in both the article and her book that WarGames made certain images of cyberwarfare more salient and set the stage for particular solutions to alleged internet security threats.  For her work, Schulte received coverage in press outlets such as CNET, won the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ 2010 Dissertation Award, and garnered rave reviews in top communication journals.

I say all this to preface the fact that on the morning of February 20, when I read a New York Times article that UVA media scholar (and think piece aggregator extraordinaire) Siva Vaidhyanathan had posted to Facebook, entitled “‘WarGames’ and Cybersecurity’s Debt to a Hollywood Hack,” I was alarmed both by the author Fred Kaplan’s claims to covering entirely new ground on the topic—that ground being WarGames’ cultural influence on U.S. internet policy—and by the glaring omission (at least, glaring to internet and society scholars) of Schulte’s work.

I went to Twitter to bring this oversight to Kaplan’s attention, and also to alert fellow scholars who’ve been down this road before.  Loose recycling of academic research into trade books and pop journalism—and the tendency for the academics in question to be women and for the journalists to be men—is a serious and systemic problem with professional and political implications.  I wrote about the issue in 2014 when tech journalist Evgeny Morozov penned a New Yorker article on Chile’s cybernetic system under Salvador Allende that heavily minimized the contributions of Indiana University professor Eden Medina and her award-winning MIT Press book Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile.  (Professor Lee Vinsel also helped here and here to describe Morozov’s failings, as well as document additional cases of similar behavior by other journalists.)  I couldn’t help but read Kaplan’s piece without wincing—keeping in mind both Schulte’s arguments and this troubling trend of rendering invisible women’s academic labor, specifically critical research about male-dominated fields like computing and gaming.

In response, Kaplan chastised me to “Please read the article, not just the headline”— a response I found belittling, an attempt to undermine my critical literacy skills and dismiss the validity of my objection to the piece.  In other tweets, Kaplan claimed “my book has nothing to do with hers (which I hadn’t heard of till now).”  Not having heard of Schulte’s book says more about Kaplan though, and his failure to do his research before publishing a piece in the Gray Lady, than about the significance of Schulte’s own.  I also never said, as Kaplan insinuated, that he was “sexist” and never once used the term “plagiarism.”  Those kinds of responses quickly foreclose meaningful engagement with difficult issues like the public attribution of ideas online.  But when someone claims that a book is “completely different” from their own, without having actually read said book, I can’t help but find such an answer, well, incomplete.

To repeat, my read of Kaplan’s thesis in his NYT article is that WarGames was culturally influential to the Reagan administration’s cybersecurity policy.  Why would I identify that as Kaplan’s primary claim, besides a cursory glance at the headline?  The lede paragraph of the article reads, “Movies rarely influence public policy, but Washington’s policies on cyberattacks, computer surveillance and the possibility of cyberwarfare were directly influenced by the 1983 box-office hit ‘WarGames.’”  In the conclusion, Kaplan restates the idea that WarGames “sparked the first public controversy over the tensions between security and privacy on the Internet, as well as the first public power struggle about the subject between the N.S.A. and Congress — a debate and a struggle that persist today.”  Even the subtitle on the WarGames film still that accompanies the article reads, “The film led to the nation’s first directive about computer security.”  Kaplan may be the first person to write on the topic this week (a week with heightened anxieties about cybersecurity due to tensions between Apple and the FBI over unlocking the iPhone of the deceased San Bernardino shooter), but timeliness should not be conflated with novelty.

One could go deeper, reading Kaplan and Schulte’s work side-by-side.  For example, Kaplan writes that in 1983, “The first laptop computers had barely hit the market; public Internet providers wouldn’t exist for another few years.  Yet [national security decision directive] NSDD-145 warned that these new machines—which government agencies and high-tech industries had started buying at a rapid clip—were ‘highly susceptible to interception.’”  Schulte similarly frames her story in relation to the general populace’s experiences, or lack thereof, with personal computers and the internet at time.  She writes on p. 489 of her Television and New Media article that, “Although home computer ownership surged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, modem use did not.  As a result, in the early 1980s most Americans learned about the internet through popular culture, like WarGames, and news media outlets, before they experienced it personally.”

When a thoroughly researched and well publicized treatment of a narrow topic exists, I believe that anyone writing on the topic—be it a tech journalist or a historian of technology— is obligated to acknowledge the existence of that source.  (As a helpful reference, MIT student J. Nathan Matias has written a blog post on acknowledging other scholars’ work for a public audience, and worked with Atlantic staff writer Adrienne LaFrance to analyze gender bias in tech reporting too.)  In a highly visible forum like the New York Times or the New Yorker, where one stands to financially profit from plugs for an upcoming mass-market book (as is the case with Kaplan), supplementation of prior work should be made transparent for readers, who are unlikely to come across academic press titles like Schulte’s while mulling about the airport book kiosk.  Even if Kaplan’s own primary sources led him in the same direction as Schulte, she scooped him.  And in journalism, if you’ve been scooped, you give proper credit to the original reporter.  Yet it’s usually well-established men with wide readerships and banked up cultural capital who stand to benefit the most from ambiguous journalistic standards.

In short, the next time I get implored by a male journalist to “please read the article,” I will kindly suggest please citing the work of women whose fascinating and creative scholarship clearly precedes them.

WarGames-Sheedy-and-Broderick-on-computer

Considering the overall gender problems of “WarGames,” with Ally Sheedy mainly resigned in the movie to looking over Matthew Broderick’s shoulder as he types on the computer (as pictured here), this photo is particularly apt for a discussion of systemic gender bias in source referencing.

 

 

 

VIDEO: UC Irvine Talk (10/24/2014)


I had the pleasure of visiting UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics on October 24, 2014 and delivering their weekly Friday Informatics Seminar.  The title of my talk was, “Augmenting Communication for Non-Speaking Youth with New Media and Popular Culture.”  Thanks to Gillian Hayes for being a wonderful host, and to the faculty, students, and guests for being a receptive and engaged audience.

Abstract

The language of “deficit” dominates popular conceptions of disability, as well as discussions of children’s recreational media use.  The deficit model of disability emphasizes what people with disabilities are thought to lack, and this absence becomes their defining trait.  In the deficit model of children’s recreational media use, popular culture is defined by its lack of value for children.  In this talk, I discuss the limitations of both of these models, based on my fieldwork with parents of children with significant communication impairments and developmental disabilities (most of whom are on the autism spectrum).  Parents spoke at length about how recreational media and technology use helped their non-speaking children reveal a side of themselves that the scientific, medical, and educational communities did not acknowledge.  I propose an asset model of non-speaking children’s engagement with media, and discuss broader implications for understanding the role of communication technologies in the lives of historically marginalized youth.

“Borrowing” Shiny Intellectual Bicycles: Thoughts on the Morozov-Medina Affair

When I first read Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker article, “The Planning Machine,” it seemed to me as though Morozov had metaphorically “borrowed” Eden Medina’s shiny intellectual bicycle—her award-winning book, “Cybernetic Revolutionaries” (2011, MIT Press). In “The Planning Machine,” Morozov largely summarizes Medina’s summary of Project Cybersyn, a socialist project undertaken by the Chilean government in the 1970s to distribute decision-making among factories via computers.

“Cybernetic Revolutionaries” is a bicycle that was built to last—built by Medina—and the envy of young and old scholars alike. Morozov rode it around, and liked it so much that he decided, like a petulant child or neighborhood bully, not to return it. I’ve always been the kind of person to chase down the bike stealers. Twitter is a really great tool for rallying friends to challenge people, like Morozov, who really mean “take” when they say “borrow,” so I’ve been speaking out on that platform.

Yet, it seems to me that Morozov stripped the bike and left much of the good stuff intact. He completely glanced over the important issues that Medina raises in her book about how Project Cybersyn was inherently gendered and classed.

For example, take the very first line of Morozov’s article: “In June, 1972, Ángel Parra, Chile’s leading folksinger, wrote a song titled ‘Litany for a Computer and a Baby About to Be Born.’” On p. 134 of her book, Medina also discusses the song, but does so in order to highlight how it was inherently problematic to describe Project Cybersyn as a “pregnancy” (Parra, qtd. in Medina, p. 134) when women had very little power to make decisions effecting Chile’s future.

Medina is not mentioned in Morozov’s “The Planning Machine” until paragraph 10.

Take another line that appears in Morozov’s article, in paragraph 4: “Beer was building the future, and it had to look like the future.” Throughout her book, Medina discusses the politics of designing the “future” through technology, and lead project architect Stafford Beer’s role in that design. On p. 138, she draws attention to the values associated with particular futures, futures largely planned by men. She writes, “The design of the [Project Cybersyn] operations room reveals gendered limits of power distribution on the Chilean road to socialism and how preexisting ideas about gender and class restricted the way historical actors imagined the future, even when their visions bordered on science fiction.”

Medina is not mentioned in Morozov’s “The Planning Machine” until paragraph 10.

When I read Morozov’s article, not only am I reading a piece that poorly attributes ideas from Medina, but I’m reading the absence of Medina’s well-researched arguments about the history of power differentials in knowledge production and distribution.

Finally, in paragraph 10, when Morozov does mention Medina, he merely writes, “As Eden Medina shows in ‘Cybernetic Revolutionaries,’ her entertaining history of Project Cybersyn, Beer set out to solve an acute dilemma that Allende faced.” When challenged by other academics to explain Medina’s erasure from the piece, Morozov posted on Tumblr, chronicling how he scoured the internet for material on Project Cybersyn, as well as rare library books and archives housed in the Global North. Medina spent a decade traveling the world (especially Chile), interviewing members of the international cybernetics community. Unlike Morozov, Medina tried to find Chilean factory workers who might remember Project Cybersyn. Considering the project’s socialist ideals, one might think that factory workers played a significant role. Medina found few who remembered the project—and she insists that this silence is itself meaningful. Writes Medina (p. xi), “That the project is remembered by technologists, not factory workers, is historically significant.”

In short, when I read Morozov’s article, not only am I reading a piece that poorly attributes ideas from Medina, but I’m reading the undercutting of her feminist and anti-colonial work.