MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing » podcasts An innovative program that applies critical analysis, collaborative research, and design across a variety of media arts, forms, and practices. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:55:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Podcast: Science in Fiction Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:23:49 +0000 A Communications Forum featuring authors Hanya Yanagihara and Alan Lightman and moderator Seth Mnookin.

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Hanya Yanagihara’s first book, the widely celebrated The People In The Trees, is loosely based on the life and work of Nobel Prize-winner physician and researcher D. Carleton Gajdusek. She joined author and physicist Alan Lightman, the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities, to discuss the unique challenges of respecting the exacting standards of science in fictional texts. Forum Co-Director Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, moderated.


Hanya Yanagihara 300x200 Podcast: Science in Fiction

Hanya Yanagihara. Photo by Greg Peverill-Conti.

Hanya Yanagihara began this Communications Forum event by summarizing her critically acclaimed first novel, The People in the Trees. Based in part on the life of the infamous Nobel Prize-winning scientist, D. Carleton Gajdusek, the novel tells the story of a scientist who travels to a remote island in the South Pacific, where he finds a mysterious tribe of indigenous people who live for hundreds of years. Like Gajdusek, Yanagihara’s protagonist becomes an instant star for his discovery. Several decades later, he is charged with the abuse of an indigenous child that he had adopted. One of the questions the book poses, Yanagihara said, deals with “the line between a great scientist and a great man.”

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Alan Lightman. Photo by Greg Peverill-Conti.

Seth Mnookin, Associate Director of the Communications Forum, next introduced Alan Lightman. Lightman, the first professor at MIT to hold a joint appointment in the sciences and humanities, has written award-winning novels as well as numerous non-fiction books. His bestselling book Einstein’s Dreams describes a series of imaginary worlds, each of which represents a different conception of time. One of Lightman’s inspirations, he said, was Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which each chapter describes a different city. “I wanted to do for time what Calvino had done for space” Lightman said.

After these introductions, Mnookin asked the writers whether they felt a “responsibility for accurately describing scientific details” in fiction. Yanagihara, whose father was a research physician at the National Institute of Health when she was growing up, said that she wanted to pay homage to the bureaucratic, status-oriented culture she witnessed as a child. Yanagihara said that she wanted to recreate a very particular scientific culture, and in this way to pay homage to the bureaucratic, status-oriented culture of her childhood. Although People in the Trees is a work of fiction, the novel describes in realistic terms the culture of science in this period. Yanagihara said she thought it was necessary to include accurate scientific descriptions of, for instance, telomeres, because such details added plausibility to the story. She contrasted this approach to the genre of science fiction, which creates fantastic worlds. While People in the Trees has strong elements of fantasy, Yanagihara contends that truth and fact are important for “giving the reader something to hold on to.”

Lightman agreed with Yanagihara that accuracy in the depiction of scientific facts helps bolster believability in a fantastic world. He observed that when you’re basing a piece of fiction on a real scientist, the writer needs to take into account the fact that readers will possess biographical knowledge of the scientist. But, Lightman added, “when you’re creating art, you don’t have any obligations to anything.” To him, literature does not need to be a place to teach science; its purpose is to create an emotional response in the reader.

Seth Mnookin1 300x200 Podcast: Science in Fiction

Seth Mnookin. Photo by Greg Peverill-Conti.

Mnookin asked about scientific illiteracy in general and the writer’s responsibility to communicate scientific ideas clearly to the public. Yanagihara agreed that scientific illiteracy is an enormous problem. One cause of this, she said, is the decline of “core curriculums” at liberal arts colleges. For instance, she said, despite attending a top school — Smith College in Northampton, MA — she had not received any math or science education since she was sixteen. Learning science is not only incredibly important in itself, she said, but it is important because it gives people different ways of looking at the world around them. Lightman elaborated on Yanagihara’s point, arguing that ways of thinking in the arts and humanities were fundamentally different from those in the sciences. To Lightman, the sciences are solutions-oriented, with research into “the well-posed problem.” The humanities and arts, on the other hand, pose questions that don’t have easy answers, and gravitate toward enduring questions of importance.

With respect to Lightman’s point about disciplinary differences, Yanagihara observed that there is a huge diversity of approaches even within the scientific community. In her childhood, she said, she saw a stark transition in her father when he switched from research to clinical work. As a research scientist, Yanagihara said, her father would talk about the “beauty” of a virus. But as a physician, he couldn’t focus on a virus and its structure; he had to attend to the patient. To Yanagihara, the difference between a research scientist and a clinician is like the difference between a philosopher and a priest: the philosopher is interested in knowledge for its own sake, whereas the priest is interested in helping people in the real world.

Q & A

Angela Harring, a science writer at Northeastern University, said she was writing a story about a fictional scientist who wins a Nobel Prize. She asked about the appropriate amount of real science to include in her story and wondered how to create the impression of scientific plausibility in a fictional world.

Yanagihara replied that a story about a Nobel Prize-winning discovery doesn’t necessarily need to be peopled by real scientists. She said that one narrative strategy that has proven productive for her is to imagine the life a minor character in a major discovery (i.e. Rosalind Franklin and her role in the discovery of DNA). Scientific discoveries are frequently accompanied by these interesting “footnotes,” Yanagihara noted, which can provide rich material for fiction writing about science.

Lightman suggested one way to create the impression of scientific plausibility is to interview real researchers in the field. If, for instance, one was writing about a prize-winning chemist, the writer should talk to chemists to learn what problems are currently regarded as most important and exciting in the field.

Mary Fuller, Professor and Head of Literature at MIT, challenged Lightman’s notion that scientists are interested in solving problems and humanists are interested in tackling unanswerable questions. Some humanists, she said, are interested in solving problems, just as some scientists may be interested in vast and potentially unanswerable questions.

Lightman responded by clarifying his distinction between the two kinds of thought. He said that in the sciences, researchers break big problems down into smaller ones, which can then yield well-defined answers. While a cosmologist like Alan Guth might be interested in large scale, fundamental questions as the nature of the universe, Lightman pointed out that his theories are founded on answers to smaller problems that can be quantified and measured.

While the humanities may use evidence to address problems, Lightman said, humanists do not “solve” problems in the same ways scientists do. He pointed to William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience as exemplary of research in the humanities. The evidence James presents in the book, Lightman said, is meant to articulate the human experience of God rather than to provide an answer to the question, “What is the nature of God?”

David Thorburn, Director of the Communications Forum, asked about other contemporary fiction that incorporates scientific material. Were there other books the panelists thought particularly compelling?

Lightman replied that Richard Powers, Rebecca Goldstein, and Andrea Barrett were good examples. Yanagihara said that she admired Margaret Atwood for the way that she was able to take the germ of the real in the present and extrapolate its consequences into the near future. Mnookin said he admired Allegra Goodman.

Yanagihara returned to an earlier distinction between science fiction and science in fiction. She argued that science fiction is fundamentally more interested in world-building, whereas most literary fiction is more character-based, grounded in observation of how people think and act. Lightman agreed that some science fiction focuses more on technology and science than on character, although he noted that many science fiction writers have produced rich, character-driven work, citing Ursula Le Guin as one notable example.

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Podcast: Susan Murray, “‘Natural Vision vs. Tele-Vision’: Defining and Managing Electronic Color in the Post-War Era” Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:26:03 +0000 The discourses that framed and managed color use and reception not only in the standardization period, but also during RCA and NBC's early attempts to sell color to consumers, sponsors, and critics.

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The standardization of color television in the US during the postwar era was, in large part, discussed and determined in relation to historical developments in color theory (philosophical, psychological, and physical), colorimetry, color design and industry, psychophysics, psychology and, of course, what had already been established industrially, culturally, and technically for monochrome television. In this presentation, Susan Murray explores how these various threads of scientific, aesthetic, philosophical, and industrial knowledge were built into the standards, processes, and procedures for and around the technology and use of color television from the late 1940s and into the early 1950s. This presentation is less about color programming itself, and more about the discourses that framed and managed color use and reception not only in the standardization period, but also during RCA and NBC’s early attempts to sell color to consumers, sponsors, and critics.

Susan Murray is associate professor of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU. She is the author of Hitch Your Antenna to the Stars! Early Television and Broadcast Stardom (2005) and the coeditor (with Laurie Ouellette) of Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture (2004, 2009). She has received fellowships from the ACLS and NYU’s Humanities Initiative for 2013-14 and is currently writing a history of color television from 1929-1970, which is under contract with Duke University Press.

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Podcast: Barry Werth and The Antidote: Reporting from Inside the World of Big Pharma Fri, 21 Mar 2014 14:09:19 +0000 Barry Werth's "The Antidote: Inside the World of Big Pharma" gives a behind-the-scenes look at how a startup became one of the great triumphs of bio-tech.

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Barry Werth 200x300 Podcast: Barry Werth and <em>The Antidote</em>: Reporting from Inside the World of Big Pharma

Barry Werth

Journalist and author Barry Werth has been writing about the business and practice of the pharmaceutical industry for more than two decades. The Billion Dollar Molecule, his 1995 book on Vertex Pharmaceuticals, was named one the “75 Smartest Books We Know” by Fortune. His sixth and most recent book, The Antidote: Inside the World of Big Pharma, revisits Vertex, offering unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to a company that that went from cash-starved startup to a triumph of American bio-tech innovation. Werth has also written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Technology Review, among many others publications.

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Podcast: Henry Jenkins Returns Mon, 10 Mar 2014 17:12:19 +0000 Legendary former MIT professor Henry Jenkins returns to the Communications Forum for a conversation about his time at the Institute and the founding of CMS.

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Legendary former MIT professor and housemaster Henry Jenkins, now the Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California, returns to the Forum for a conversation about his time at the Institute and the founding of CMS as well as his path-breaking scholarship on contemporary media. Forum Director David Thorburn, Jenkins’ longtime friend and colleague, moderates the discussion.

Henry Jenkins is Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California. He taught at MIT from 1990-2009 and was the founding director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Institute. He has written many books on film, popular culture and media, including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008).

David Thorburn is a professor of Literature and Director of the MIT Communications Forum. He is the author of a critical study of the novelist Joseph Conrad and many essays on literature and media. Among his publications: Rethinking Media Change (2007), co-edited with Henry Jenkins.

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Podcast and Liveblog: “Play in the Age of Computing Machinery” with Miguel Sicart Fri, 14 Feb 2014 03:47:16 +0000 Miguel Sicart looks at the culture, aesthetics, and technological implications of play in the age of computers.

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Miguel Sicart is a games scholar based at the IT University of Copenhagen. For the last decade his research has focused on ethics and computer games, from a philosophical and design theory perspective. He has two books published: The Ethics of Computer Games; and Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay (MIT Press 2009, 2013). His current work focuses on playful design, and will be the subject of a new book called Play Matters (MIT Press, 2014). Miguel teaches game and play design, and his research is now focused on toys, materiality, and play.


Play is at the center of our culture, but we don’t really know what it is. What can play be, and how does it relate to computers? Play Matters (Miguel’s forthcoming book) is a manifesto, a romantic take on play. It takes on three modes of expressing play in the world: play as submission, play as resistance, and play as (computational) expression. Instead of talking about the engineering part of play, Miguel thinks we can take lessons from literature. His background is in philosophy and comparative literature (before he moved to game studies), and books are a very good lens for seeing the relationship between play and computers. There are three in particular that guide this talk.

Don Quixote is the story of a man who goes crazy because he reads too many books. His reality is constantly clashing with fiction. It’s a sympathetic book, though. The book ends with him recovering his sanity, and for a reader it’s a sad ending–he should have died in the world that he created in his imagination. As such, Don Quixote is a metaphor for creative and resistive play.

Toby Shandy is Tristram Shandy’s uncle. He is an empathetic character, because his too-logical attempts to understand the world break down. Toby Shandy helps us explain gamification.

Finally, Ulysses is an attempt to create the reality of one day in one particular location, using language. But instead of using language to show what the world was or is, it uses language to create reality: it generates the world. Ulysses explains many things about the way we understand computing and computation in the world.

These are three lenses through which to explain the relationship between play and computers.

Play and Computation

As soon as we had computers, we start wanting to play with them. If it weren’t for World War II, games would probably have been the first thing we made with computers, and we would have started making them even earlier.

 Podcast and Liveblog: Play in the Age of Computing Machinery with Miguel Sicart


SpaceWar! happened very early on in the history of computing machinery. Then as soon as we had network computers, we had text generating games like Colossal Cave. And as soon as networks became better, we had MUDs. Once we had 3D rendering, we had Myst. Then when networking technology got even better, we had MMOs like Ultima Online. We then used these networked computers to create social networks, and games for them (e.g. Farmville). And with even more increased bandwidth, we now broadcast the games, performing them for other people ( This evolution in the way that we play with computers has happened because computers themselves evolve.

 Podcast and Liveblog: Play in the Age of Computing Machinery with Miguel Sicart


The evolution of technology and computation is always hand in hand with play, and the things we do with play. Network games are always about the spectacle (showing how good you are), but changes the game because you can broadcast it. Computing and play are still hand in hand.

What can computers do? Computers are very silly, dumb machines. They can do four things: they can perform calculations really fast. They can store and manipulate data. They can sense the world (translate analog input into digital data)–it’s no longer a dumb box; it’s fairly aware of where it is and what kind of environment it’s in. Finally, computers can network, increasing their capacities.

These four capabilities drive us to think about reality in a very particular way, in a way I will call the Ulysses paradigm. We’re thinking about them in the same way Joyce thought about language. We are thinking about a world can be sensed and translated. It is the same ontological reduction that Joyce wanted to use with language; he pushed language to create a reality (i.e. Dublin in 1916). We need to let computers create that world, or we need to create that world for them. They are ontologizing machines.

Interestingly enough, that’s the same thing that we do with play. The purpose of play is to create a sensible and translatable world. This the a historical idea of the magic circle. The magic circle would be a formalized structure that helps us see what play does, but it’s more an idea of a creation than a space, or a co-creation. We create this world together. So there is an analogy between Ulysses, computers, and play, as each is creator of reality. With each, we generate a world in which some actions are relevant, some are irrelevant, and these actions are meaningful within that context; they are upheld by their own nature. The Ulysses paradigm is a connection between ontological machines and play as a creator of worlds.

What happens when we play games with computers? When humans and computers overlap, we get Huizingan games. The danger of the Ulysses paradigm is that rules are epistemologically invulnerable. You cannot change or modify the rules; anyone who breaks the world is outside the game, as it destroys the reality. It’s much the same with computers: if you don’t give it the necessary rules, it cannot compute. Computers need to operate in that way, because they are fairly dumb machines. We are not dumb machines, yet we are creating Huizingan games. We are borrowing from computing rules and translating them to the rules that we play by. This is a problem.

Computable worlds tend to be playable worlds because they have clear rules, similar to the rules we use when we play. Both play and computation reduce the world; they create these circles of magic, bounding the world. It’s not only a reduction of the world, but it’s a required reduction for the creation of worlds. We reduce and create. It is also interesting to think of play as a language. Computers require languages to generate the world, and computers have the same traits as language, the same ontological capacities.

The Seductions of Computable Play

In both theory (game studies) and practice (game design), there is a deep fascination with computers and play, and this is slightly problematic.

Toby Shandy can help explain. In the Battle of Namur, Toby Shandy injures his leg. So in the novel, he is constantly creating a reproduction of the Battle of Namur. He insists that if he can reproduce the battle, he can understand the reason for his injuries, and therefore heal. Likewise, if we reduce the world to buttons we can press, we think we can understand the world. But this submission to computational play is a negative thing.

There are three particular seductions. The first one is that the world is computable. This is what Toby Shandy is doing. It assumes that computation does not have social, political, or ethical implications. If we want the world to be computable, we can’t bring in those kinds of messes; these are at odds with computation. We presume that we can build models with predictability, that models will respond to our predicted behaviors. Computers are so good at storing and producing data that seems clear and incontrovertible that anything that can be modeled will be predictable.

The second seduction is that play is akin to computation, that it can reduce the world to repeatable patterns, with clear goals, behaviors and rewards. The world of play is extremely clear because it’s very close to computation. This type of play is always engaging: the world is dull and complicated, but if we reduce it to these patterns of engagement, compulsion, and pleasure, then we will engage and play with the world in different ways. Since play has a history of being a positive thing, we will get all the benefits of it.

The third and perhaps most dangerous seduction is that we can solve problems by computing them, that computational play can be an agent of change. We can engage and motivate if we play; what would happen if, instead of work, we could play? If we earned our promotions as badges, and explored via rewards and points? What if we could actually change the world through play? This takes the idea of a computational world, couples it with play, and results in real change.

But What is Play?

A Brazilian critical theorist named Paulo Freire wrote about the banking model of education, saying the problem with education is not in the teacher or student, but in the system. The teacher is the bank, and we go to the teacher to extract knowledge. Similarly, the game is an authority; the computer is an authority. A banking model of play is a submission of ourselves to material reality. We are not really playing, but giving a lot of agency and epistemological value to a computerized vision of the world. We go there to extract knowledge and get value out of it. Do we really engage or play with games, with computers?

This is defining play as epistemically invulnerable. Computers can’t deal with ambiguity, but we submit ourselves to that seduction, to the idea that rules cannot be questioned or contested. That is a marginalized, bounded type of play. The very authority of the computer game would mean that questioning it would break its own validity. Toby Shandy was gamifying his injury; he had a logic, and once the world was logically reproduced, he would be able to understand his injuries and therefore heal.

Maybe these are actions that change the world. We can call it play, but it’s more like computational play. It is a reduced, uncritical type of play. This particular understanding of play is limiting our understanding of play, falling into the Huizingan form of play, in bounded environments. But what if these rules are not invulnerable? What if play is like a language, and we use the capabilities of play differently?

Quixotean Play

The first part of Don Quixote was published in 1605, and it immediately took off. It became a universal novel, a universal way to understand the world. In 1614 Cervantes published a sequel, because somebody else had written an apocryphal sequel. In Don Quixote 2, Don Quixote meets characters that have not only read part 1, but also the fake sequel.

What transpires in part 2 helps us understand the world of play and computers. A group of dukes decide to build the world that Quixote envisioned–they built the medieval world of chivalry that he had dreamed of. But Quixote is not happy, because it’s not the world he’s created. Somebody else is putting worlds in his own madness, and he’d rather create the fantasies on his own. The dukes were just constructing this alternative world, one in which he had no agency or creative capacity. It was a banking model of insanity. He wanted to create the world he imagined, and this is what we do in Quixotean play; we are creating worlds, and not strictly by the rules we are given, but by acts of submission and rebellion.

One great example is Twitter bots. Twitter is a wonderful social network, but we build automatic machines that post in it. We take over a social network, and turn it into an antisocial network. We do not embrace the insanity of having to express ourselves; instead we take over that world and show its own foolishness. We feel and project love, sorrow, humor, creativity, and passion in these bots. The act of building a bot is a window into the world of Twitter, and it helps us to understand it; that is play.

There are four characteristics of play that help us to rebel, in a way, against computational play.

Play is appropriative. To play is to take over a particular situation, to modify and spin it. Sometimes we submit, but sometimes we build a new world around it. Skater culture is a good example of appropriation; even when skate parks are built for them, they continue to skate outside of the parks, showing that the world is always playful.

Play is also always expressive. It has the capacity to create worlds through expression. It is a language. Therefore, it is always deeply personal. There is no detachment, no magic circle.

Finally, play is always autotelic. It is always for a particular purpose that stops when we are not playing. We think of play as being for play’s sake, but actually we are playing through a negotiation and engagement. The purpose of play is to play, but we are always discussing what play is. We know when we cease to play.

This helps us see where play exists far beyond games, in other activities that are much more interesting. Computing history has been about submitting to the machine, but in other fields, we find playful appropriation of technology. Contemporary artists like Nam June Paik can help us think about a more subversive way to play. We don’t have to submit to play, but we can engage with technologies in a playful way. We can play based on the characteristics of play, rather than the characteristics of the devices; by using play as a way of creating the world, sustained or supported by computers, rather than by submitting to them.

Computers themselves are machines of play. Computers are playing with machines. The Turing machine is a machine of appropriation; it takes binary processes and turns them into a machine. So even computers are appropriative, by definition.

 Podcast and Liveblog: Play in the Age of Computing Machinery with Miguel Sicart


Newstweek is an art project by Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev. It is a small, self-made device that is designed to be placed in public, open wireless networks. It then modifies the headlines of news sites for any computers on the network. Isn’t this what computers should be doing? We are relying on computers to process the world for us, trusting that they are true, but any computer can be appropriated. Newstweek has a strong political and aesthetic message, but also a playful one. They play with the computer, but not against the computer; it requires deep technical knowledge (therefore collaboration with a machine), but not submission. Play allows us to see computation as production, and not just consumption.

Play is probably the dominant way of being in the modern world. We have positive associations with play, we put it on a high pedestal. If this is true, and we can claim that we see play in this way as a dominating interaction with the world, then we should also see computation in itself as play. Information ethics reontologizes the world. One argument is that computers have done that, but this is a dangerous idea; instead we can think about play as a reontologizing activity. Play is a way of taking over the world and making sense of it, of putting deeply complex assemblages together. In the era of computing machinery, we need to think about play as a way of constructing these realities. We need to live in the era of Quixotean computation. Even if computers are epistemologically invulnerable, we always need to try to crack them, to play with them.


Jason Haas: I’m confused as to how, in front of computers, humans are suddenly submissive. Is it really the computers? Aren’t capitalist institutions and computers are being fused in this model?

Miguel: I’m reacting to the idea of submitting to the game as an object from which we have to derive truth from. We are not seeing an idea of negotiation of rules when it comes to computers; because of their computational nature, we cannot discuss it. We can streamline the behavior so we are no longer obsessed with this. This is why HCI is obsessed with seamlessness. Play is always negotiating with materiality, but it should be made aware and present rather than hiding it.

Eduardo Marisca: In Jorge Luis Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Menard painstakingly rewrites Quixote word for word. Isn’t that a form of play that is limiting? Isn’t trading banking play for Quixotean play just a slightly larger box?

Miguel: It might be, but Pierre Menard is also about interpretation. It’s doing an act of appropriation in an extreme, radical, artistic way. It’s taking an original text and reshaping it, reappropriating it, rereading it. It’s not quite following the model of authority.

Scot Osterweil: You talked about play broadly. What about non-game forms of play? Do we need to privilege those?

Miguel: What I’ve presented today is a rhetoric of play. It does not think about games as the privileged form of play, but as one more incarnation of play. What I’m saying is that we live in this culture of games, and I don’t want to play.

Sasha Costanza-Chock: Wouldn’t the opposite of a banking model of play be a pedagogy of play? To teach people to create play systems?

Miguel: That’s exactly the type of play I’m interested in. I grew up with RPGs rather than computer games; here the act of negotiation is crucial to this approach. Given the boundaries we face with computers, can we have that type of playful relationship with them?

Sasha: So Newsjack might be a better example than Newstweek because it’s more bottom-up, inviting users to subvert the system themselves.

Miguel: Maybe, but I like the “dark play” aspect of Newstweek.

Erik Stayton: What about computer viruses as play?

Miguel: I’ve been thinking about the boundaries of play with regard to botnets, and perhaps they are play devices of a dark kind. It’s a type of play we are not used to. We create worlds with play, but computer viruses are destructive machines. It’s hard to unroot play from a positive, creative angle. Newstweek is not completely negative, whereas viruses are.

Todd Harper: Saints Row IV is a very “meta” game. Your goal is to break the VR world by playing within and with its rules. The simulation gets weaker as you get farther. But you’re still submitting to the machine. What space is there in this rhetoric of play for play that is not necessarily transgressive?

Miguel: Here we are negotiating what kind of submission we are engaging with. This is sometimes very satisfying. The extreme of submission is competitive play; it is the deepest submission of rules you can imagine. There is a pleasure in this, because you’re better at reading/performing the rules than anyone else.

T.L. Taylor: I’m surprised that you don’t use the term “actor.” Computers can’t be cultural actors. They can shape culture, but they’re not interpretive. But you shied away from that language.

Miguel: For me it’s obvious that computers are fairly dumb machines.

T.L.: Your model of play is much more individualistic than mine is. I think of play as a cultural act even when you play alone.

Miguel: I agree, even though I come from a collectivist culture.

Todd: But can computers be social actors in the sense that we can empower them to be social actors?

T.L.: They are social actors, but maybe it’s another thing to be a culturally interpretive actor.

Miguel: I agree, but on some occasions we can give cultural agency to computers within frames that we have agreed upon and that are predefined. The object is not a cultural agent, but we’re allowing it to be.

Jason: I’m curious about how you see Newstweek as something different from a Toby Shandy act. It is a remediation of the world that the designers of Newstweek want, a similar imperial act.

Miguel: The reason Newstweek works is because we already live in an imperial world where we accept these computers. Newstweek forces us to reread the world from a non-Toby Shandy world. So for the designer it might be, but for the user it’s the opposite. If it were in an art gallery, it definitely would be a Toby Shandy act. It can only work if it’s non-consensual, hidden, and disruptive.

Wang Yu: The divide between submission and transgression reminds me of Stuart Hall’s preferred reading theory.

Miguel: Sometimes there is pleasure in submission to whatever the creator has given us, and acknowledging that the creator exists. But I don’t want this to be a universal model.

Wang Yu: In Minecraft, creativity is acceptable.

Miguel: I don’t think of Minecraft as a game, more as a playground. It’s a space where you can build games; it has some rules but it is not a game. It’s an environment created so you can play.

Yu: When paratext comes into the playground, is that Quixotean?

Miguel: Don Quixote doesn’t go against the rules all the time, just when they negotiate the extent of his madness. We need to negotiate the extent of our involvement with play.

Yu: Isn’t any textual analysis of a game a renegotiation?

Miguel: I have a problem with the idea of games as texts. A text implies a particular mode of interpretation, but we don’t play texts. Play is a way of making meaning that we don’t have with texts. I would define the object by the activity. Games are anything we play with, whereas texts are things that we read.

Todd: I’m interested in the intersection between Stuart Hall and fan work. What about fan work that supports rather than fights an existing canon? What about non-productive play?

Miguel: I share your skepticism about non-productive play. It comes from Kant, who thinks about it in binaries, where work is productive and play is non-productive. Huizenga takes this uncritically. Play is nonproductive but at the same time the generator of culture. In the “serious games” movement, there is a lack of critique of these two positions. The productive side is not tied to the activity of play, but instead an externalized notion of it.


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Podcast and liveblog: “Long-form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic” Wed, 11 Dec 2013 19:48:20 +0000 James Fallows and Corby Kummer on long-form journalism and why ground-breaking articles requiring months of research and writing continue to appear.

The post Podcast and liveblog: “Long-form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.


Some have called long-form journalism an endangered species. But ground-breaking articles requiring months of research and writing continue to appear. Why is such work important? How is it created? James Fallows and Corby Kummer of The Atlantic chart the journey of a major feature story from conception to publication and speculate about the future of long-form writing in the digital age.

Tom Levenson, Professor of Writing at MIT, served as moderator.


Long Form Journalism panel 650 Podcast and liveblog: “Long form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic”

At Thursday’s Communications Forum, James Fallows and Corby Kummer began by discussing one of Fallows’ most famous pieces, “The Fifty First State.” Published in 2002, the piece dealt with the potential consequences of initiating a pre-emptive war in Iraq. Although The Atlantic published his article in the fall, Fallows emphasized that he began research on the piece a full ten months earlier. He conducted extensive interviews with “spies, Arabists, oil-company officials, diplomats, scholars, policy experts, and many active-duty and retired soldiers.” His interviewees were from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East and encompassed the entire political spectrum. To ensure the quality of his coverage on this important issue, Fallows opened his piece by disclosing to the reader the depth and breadth of these sources. Kummer joked that this “I-did-my-homework lede” was one of Fallows’ favorite writing strategies and was a testament to his skill and expertise as a reporter.

Fallows and Kummer also discussed the art of profile writing, comparing two vastly differently pieces by Fallows on Jerry Brown and Barack Obama. In his piece on the California governor, Fallows implied that he tried to cover both the personal and political sides of the story: his article included details on Brown’s public persona as well as Fallows’ own personal investment in the governor’s work (Fallows was born and raised in southern California) in addition to his interactions with Brown as a person. Fallows implied that he also tried to tie Brown’s profile as an individual to events of larger political significance. He wanted to compare Brown’s current term as governor to his previous incumbency and to address Brown’s approach to problems currently crippling the sunshine state. He also wanted to emphasize how problems in California were in many ways a microcosm of issues currently plaguing the entire country. To Fallows, the profile was an opportunity to do something much larger than simply sketch a public personality – it was an opportunity to tell “America’s story in the history of California.”

James Fallows 300x199 Podcast and liveblog: “Long form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic”

James Fallows

Fallows took a different approach with his Obama profile in March 2012. Reducing the number of direct quotes from the president to a minimum, Fallows used the profile as an opportunity to explore why incumbents are often seen as prone to failure in their second term. In contrast to what he termed the quick-and-easy “catchphrases of the foreign policy cabal,” Fallows sought to take a broader historical stance, looking at the ways the press and the public have assessed presidents at the end of their first term throughout the twentieth century. His profile described Obama’s calm and controlled personality in times of pressure a trait that Fallows likened to FDR, Truman, Clinton, and both Bushes. To Kummer, this approach to writing profiles of politicians has helped Fallows avoid the genre’s typical trap of reinforcing a “great man’s version of history.” Kummer argued that for this type of profile to work, it can’t just reinforce a cult of personality—the profile needs to use the individual as a starting point to talk about larger issues in society.

Corby Kummer 300x199 Podcast and liveblog: “Long form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic”

Corby Kummer

Besides discussing some of their favorite collaborations, Fallows and Kummer also talked about their approach to long-form journalism in general. Referring to the immersion required to write a well-researched story with tact and nuance, Fallows stated that he focused “not on breaking news, but breaking ideas” – using the tools of investigative reporting to synthesize and make sense of big picture trends. Fallows also confessed that he tries not to write about topics that he is wholly unfamiliar with and finds it difficult to write about a place until he has actually visited it. To Kummer, this immersion required for success in long-form is particularly difficult in a landscape rife with budget cuts and time constraints, which force journalists to settle for “the best approximation of truth with deadlines.” And yet even with the minute-by-minute and atomized approach to journalism that has overtaken most of the web, Fallows and Kummer remain generally optimistic. Despite the budget cuts and competition, they persist in their opinion that long-form, well-researched journalism will continue to play an important role well into the digital age.

Q + A

A questioner from the Sloan School of Management asked how The Atlantic is tackling the future of video and multimedia journalism. He also wondered how these forms could approach the level of research and quality which are displayed in The Atlantic’s long-form written pieces.

Fallows mentioned that he has been engaged with documentary work for a number of years, having produced a series on China for PBS and having won a New York Emmy for his documentary work. However, he also believes that the jump from being a writer to a video journalist is difficult, because they require entirely different skill sets. According to Fallows, the leap from writing to radio work is less difficult, as the skill sets are more related.

Moderator Tom Levenson agreed with Fallows, adding that it makes a lot more sense to have a team with dedicated videographers rather than a journalist who tries to take on multiple skillsets. While multi-skilling is an important trend in the journalism profession now, Levinson asserted that gaining a professional level of expertise in multimedia journalism can take a lifetime.

Seth Mnookin, Co-Director of MIT’s Science Writing Program, said that, in his experience as a journalist, it has often been a demeaning profession. He asked how Fallows and Kummer felt about that situation.

Fallows responded by saying that he thought journalism was by far the best job in the world. He cited the ability to live fifty lives within your own, travel the world, and share your opinions with a wide audience. What Mnookin calls “the demeaning factor” in journalism, Fallows actually sees in a positive light. When interviewing subjects, Fallows enjoys continually being put in the ignorant position – encountering people who know more about a subject than he does. To Fallows, this ritual ignorance is “one buffer against the big head.”

Kummer also agreed with Fallows, adding that he receives enormous pleasure from his work as an editor. He enjoys the process of being exposed to finer minds than his own and learning from his writers, in the same way a doctor learns from her patients or a teacher learns from his students.

Catherine Guthrie, a freelance science writer for fifteen years, asked Fallows and Kummer about journalism’s working poor. Listening to them reminisce about being able to jet set all over the world, she couldn’t avoid comparing those experiences to her own economic situation and those of her journalist friends who often write online articles for free. She wondered what Fallows’ and Kummer’s views were on this situation and how we can help close the gap.

Fallows agreed that this is a very serious question and reiterated that he feels lucky to have been able to support himself as a journalist over the years. However, he also thinks that the current web-model of “self-exploitation” has been a feature of the profession since its beginning. He cited his own early years as a reporter at the Washington Weekly, pointing out that the publication went bankrupt the day after he started. In any profession with a supply/demand imbalance (from journalism to entertainment to sports), Fallows argues, a period of self-exploitation is often necessary to break-in. Kummer agreed, adding that, in the future, journalism jobs that pay for jet-setting to China will probably be non-existent.

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Podcast: “MIT Alumni in the Game Industry” Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:41:24 +0000 The MIT Game Lab has invited a number of local MIT alumni in the game industry to talk about their experiences entering the industry.

The post Podcast: “MIT Alumni in the Game Industry” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.


Via our MIT Game Lab…

MIT Students: Are you curious about how to get a job in the game industry as an MIT graduate? What kind of jobs can MIT prepare you for? What should you expect from your first job?

The MIT Game Lab has invited a number of local MIT alumni in the game industry to talk about their experiences entering the industry.

These alumni have experience working at large game studios (Harmonix, Blizzard, Bungie Studios), educational game studios (Muzzy Lane, Learning Games Network), and independent game studios (Fire Hose Games, MoonShot Games). Their jobs have included programming, level design, game design, sound design, music composition, and writing.

Panelists include:

Ethan Fenn

Fire Hose Games

Ethan graduated in 2004 with a double major in Courses 18 and 21M. Soon after graduating he joined the team at Harmonix, where he worked as a programmer with an audio focus on several titles, including Karaoke Revolution Party, Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero II, and Rock Band. After a few years at Harmonix, he met Eitan Glinert, who had recently finished his graduate work at GAMBIT and was working on starting up a new game studio, Fire Hose Games. Ethan jumped right in at the start of the studio and has been with Fire Hose since. At Fire Hose he’s worn many hats, being responsible for the composition and sound design in Slam Bolt Scrappers and Go Home Dinosaurs, as well as plenty of programming and game design.

Naomi Hinchen

Flash Programmer, Learning Games Network

Naomi Hinchen graduated Course 6-3 in 2011 and finished her MEng in 2012. While at MIT, she was on the teams for Poikilia and The Snowfield at GAMBIT (now the MIT Game Lab). Until recently, she worked at Learning Games Network, primarily on the language learning game Xenos.

Damián Isla

President, co-founder, Moonshot Games

Damián has been working on and writing about game technology for over a decade. He is president and co-founder of Moonshot Games, purveyors of fun and innovative mobile gaming fare.

Before Moonshot, Damián was AI and Gameplay engineering lead at Bungie Studios, where he was responsible for the AI for the mega-hit first-person shooters Halo 2 and Halo 3.

A leading expert in the field of Artificial Intelligence for Games, Damián has spoken on games, AI and character technology at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), at the AI and Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference (AIIDE), and at Siggraph, and is a frequent speaker at the Game Developers Conference (GDC).

Before joining the industry, Damián earned a Masters Degree with the Synthetic Characters group at the M.I.T. Media Lab. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science, also from M.I.T.

Patrick Rodriguez

Game Designer, Muzzy Lane Software

Patrick Rodriguez graduated from MIT in 2012 with a degree in Comparative Media Studies. He now works for Muzzy Lane Software in Newburyport, MA, making educational/serious games. His most recent project is a corporate training game for a retail chain in mexico that trains employees how to talk with customers to recommend the best product for them.

Rob Stokes

Senior Level Designer, Harmonix Music Systems

Rob grew up in Marshfield, MA, before heading off to MIT for undergrad. While there, Rob earned a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, which has proven largely useless in his career, except when doing back-of-the-envelope terminal velocity calculations for space stations falling into the gravity wells of gas giants.

After MIT, Rob attended the American Film Institute in LA, while he earned his MFA in writing. He next worked at Bungie for five years, working as a mission designer on Halo 2 and one of the design leads on Halo 3. He also led up the story development process for Halo 3 and got to do most of the early writing for missions and cinema tics.

After Bungie, Rob co-founded a small startup called Moonshot Games, where he served as Creative Director. He currently works at Harmonix Music Systems in Cambridge, despite not being able to carry a tune, bust a move, or play chopsticks.

Mark Sullivan

Harmonix Music Systems

Mark Sullivan has been working in the games industry for just over two years, during which time he’s been working as a gameplay programmer at Harmonix Music Systems on the 2014 title Fantasia: Music Evolved. Prior to that, he completed his undergrad in course 6 at MIT in 2010, and then his MEng in 2011. He worked as a UROP and eventually a research assistant at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab for most of his time at MIT, from Summer 2007 to Summer 2011.

Presented by the MIT Game Lab and Comparative Media Studies | Writing.

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Podcast and liveblog: Sonia Livingstone, “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” Tue, 12 Nov 2013 19:56:37 +0000 LSE's Sonia Livingstone on how powerful forces of social reproduction result in missed opportunities for many youth in the risk society.

The post Podcast and liveblog: Sonia Livingstone, “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.


Sonia Livingstone is a full professor in the Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science. She is seconded to Microsoft Social Research for fall 2013 as well as being a faculty fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Her talk will be based on her current book project, “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age”, based on her ethnographic research with the MacArthur Foundation-funded Connected Learning Research Network. With a focus on young teenagers, Sonia will examine how powerful forces of social reproduction result in missed opportunities for many youth in the risk society.



Sonia’s in the middle of writing the book The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age. She’s been thinking a lot about connection, and connected learning. She shows pictures of various ads around Boston that use the term.

The notion of connection is becoming a core societal value. We’re celebrating connection; we think of connections as agentic and creative. We think about how they overcome barriers. Connection doesn’t necessarily mean digital, but it resonates well in the digital age. It’s easy to say connection is good, disconnection is bad. Sonia wants to challenge this simple opposition.

It’s been useful for various reformist agendas, including educational reform. It’s important in childhood studies and children. In late modernity, children are sequestered away from adult spaces, streets, everyday life, to keep them from being ”corrupted.” Keeping children out of the public has been a sign of affluence, so now many are trying to work to reconnect them to civics.

But Sonia has been interested in the perspective of the ordinary child. The risk society, anxiety, indeterminacy, are very strong, but participatory opportunities have not yet been realized. The class is set in ordinary life. In the Connected Learning network, it provides a ground-truthing of some of the ideas.

In the academy, we’re not thinking about connection alone. Government and commercial bodies are also thinking about how to harness the value of connection. How do we harness some of the beneficial values of connection for the public sector?

Sonia also works on child protection and safety. She won’t talk about it that much here, but the idea of protecting children has become increasingly visible. Ulrich Beck calls this the “risk society.” Beck or Giddens or Bauman were right about traditional structures fading away and new indeterminacies assailing us on all sides. But for now Sonia wants to keep a wide framework that includes uncertainty and risk, which also includes safety mechanisms for children, and build new forms of networks. There are agentic ways of thinking about this that could be child led, but government and commerce are also interested in this space.

Connected Learning in the Risk Society

In this talk, Sonia will focus on one class of children she’s been working with. It’s a concrete story to place in the larger framework of risk society, as well as the intermediate framework of Connected Learning. Connected Learning is part of the digital and media learning network that the MacArthur Foundation is funding. We can see DML as a response to concerns about the risk society and the falling away of school, home, and community. The critique of the school and home as broken, produces responses like DML, focused on rebuilding enabling practices and patterns.

There is a discourse that we have “20th century schools for 21st century children” and that families don’t know how to support children to navigate the present society. The MacArthur-funded work, led by Mimi Ito, can be seen as a way of trying to build alternative structures. Not necessarily structures to replace the ones built during modernity, but child-centered structures. Ways of building networks and connections that have structural permanence and enable new kinds of opportunities. This approach has been inside radical education movements for most of the last century but is gaining new life now that we have access to digital networks even in the homes of many of the poorest children (in the global north). We can link school, afterschool, community sites, that will be child centered and will harness the benefits of what children know as they go about their daily lives.

So there’s a vision, with a lot of effort behind it. But what does it look like in an everyday setting? A lot of it is associated with kids at the leading edge: they’re entrepreneurial, they’re hackers. It’s stimulating and exciting. But Sonia has been interested in the perspective of the ordinary child. The risk society, anxiety, indeterminacy, are very strong, but participatory opportunities have not yet been realized. The class is set in ordinary life. In the Connected Learning network, it provides a ground-truthing of some of the ideas.

This project is a partnership with Julian Sefton-Green. The project is ethnographic. They spent over a year in the lives of a class of 28 children, ages 13-14. They are the “Facebook Age,” they’re the age that parents groan about the most. It’s an age that is beginning to look forward, taking steps towards independence. In the UK, options begin to close down at this age. It’s called the “lost year” in the school system because they’re not doing exams that count for their future. That also made it easier to do a study.

Study Site

A British school is a problematic place to research DML, because the first thing you see when you walk in is all the ways tech is kept out of students’ lives. Sonia shows pictures of all the ways ICTs are prohibited: “ICT rooms are not open in the morning,” no cell phones, etc. This triggers questions about disconnection, although Sonia emphasizes it’s not that no ICTs are allowed at all. The school is so anxious about tech, they wanted the researchers to help them better understand their fears. “are you going to advise us on Facebook, how long they should spend on the phone?” and so on. The risk framework was a good way in for researchers, but terrible for open thinking about connected learning.


They took the model of connected learning, which says students can generate learning anyplace, often not in school. Connected learning works well when students are vilidated for what they’re spontaneously interested in. They took the places: home, school, and peer group, and mapped them onto phases of the study. In the first time period, they spent lots of time in school: classroooms, hallways, computer clubs, etc. In the second phase they went home: talked to them at home, with parents, with siblings, online. In phase three, they tried to get more into the peer group. This was difficult since the researchers are over 50. But they did their best to connect with the kids in their social lives.

[Sonia shows a map of the geographic distribution of the study participants. Mentions Tales from Facebook by Danny Miller.]

Young people, parents, and teachers see opportunities for connection at a time of heightened risk. People are preferring the safe structures, and retreating, rather than pursuing new pathways of connection that may be open to them. There are new sets of established practices, forms of support, that provide certainty in an uncertain world. Simple transition from school to career no longer applies.

Sonia turns now to several case studies. As her team was looking at young people’s lives, Sarah showed her mobile uploads on Facebook. She makes objects with Play-Doh, uploads them to FB, her friends like them. Sarah is harnessing affordances of digital media interactive, networked, visible. She’s learning some things, creatively connecting different spaces. It didn’t turn out to develop any pathway for her. It wasn’t the kind of creativity that could lead to more complex forms of creativity. It’s typical of many of what they saw: blocked pathways, interests that weren’t followed up. Young people had interests, but they didn’t really go anywhere. It wasn’t clear who would be expected to step in and say “Hey Sarah, let’s connect you to a Makers Faire,” etc. This is typical. Nothing happens, the kid moves on. There are very subtle moments that got lost.

Q: Do you see this as a bad thing?

Sonia: Yes, I see the absence of a pathway as a problem. She was doing something she enjoyed, didn’t build on it.

Mass media and civil spaces

While in the school, taking notes in the back of the classroom, it was striking that old media, broadcast media, were constantly cited in the classroom to provide a way in to all kinds of lessons. She shows an image of a smartboard; most classrooms in Britain have one. In the image, the smartboard is being used to show the seating plan. This is typical. Something that could have been open and creative is often closed down. An interactive tool is used as a one-way medium. Smartboards are transformed into one-way communication Smartboards are often used to show bits of pop culture: clips from Hollywood films; something that was on TV as a prompt for creative writing, and so on. Popular culture was constantly referred to. Initially this bugged Sonia. Then she thought about civility. The class is divided by social class, and very divided by ethnicity. Kids are from many different backgrounds, no one dominates, including white English kids. At one point a teacher used a clip from Roots to intro a talk about slavery.

Half the kids in the room were black and had things to say. But the teacher wanted to hold on to the episode of Roots to illustrate her point. She was trying to develop a civil expectation of politeness and courtesy and not noticing difference because difference is difficult. Difference can be difficult and “unfair.”

Some teachers would try to set up a blog, or try to do something interactive, but generally this didn’t get very far. Sonia thinks this is because students were pushed to the margins of the class. The teacher would make a blog, put up math problems, and ask students to log on at home and comment. The students might be interested in blogging, but didn’t want it spreading into their home life.

The seating plan is emblematic of the teacher’s plan to manage the kids social presence in relation to each other. The researchers mapped the social network inside the class. The network showed the reproduction of gender, class, and ethnicity. They asked kids “who do you hang out with, do homework with, chat with online, turn to with a problem.” Sonia walks us through the network visualization. Middle class kids cluster at the network center, poorer kids around the edges. White kids at the center, ethnic minorities around the edges. There’s also a small cluster of gifted kids. There are isolated students who bully and get bullied, or whose English is not very good.

Pop culture in the classroom says “we all share something, we’re all equal.” Underneath it, in the friendship groups and social patterns of the kids, there was a reversion to a class/ethnic pattern that reproduces itself. There are exceptions, but not very many.


The coding club was a disaster, almost no one turned up, with the exception of the two “gifted” students. The boards were used top-down. But the school was doing well. It was rising up from the bottom towards the middle. In part they did this by using their school information management system incredibly well. The school staff were very competent. They engaged in routine data collection of the kids, their behavior, and entertainment. It was constantly entered into a surveillance system. At every class, the teacher would have a computer, and during the class, one or two observations were made about each student. “You’re doing good, you’re doing badly.” At the end of the day, each child had 2-10 data points, encoded by the teachers. The teachers would call out the student observations at the end of the day in the teacher room. There was a lot of talk about standards to reach, lots of coding going on.

The observation system dovetailed with a national system about attainment, and the discourse about the interaction between student and teacher. Sonia shows an example of discourse that is at the start of a music lesson. It’s designed by the national government, and defines levels students have to attain for every subject. “Raise your level!” is a constantly repeated theme. This kind of talk was seamlessly integrated. The content the students were learning, the kind of people they are supposed to become by doing this learning. This also becomes data within the school info management system. There was so much detail, you wondered whether anyone would learn music. The research team thought it was repressive, intrusive. But when they interviewed all of the students, parents, and teachers, they loved it. It provided them certainty that told them exactly what they had to achieve. It was a system that delivered, and could be seen to be delivering. It provided constant feedback and reflexivity.

They would explain the system with a certain kind of pleasure, not repeated in the way they explained any music they had learned (for examaple).

This is very difficult to reconcile with connected learning.

It’s a closed system. Very effective within the school. It doesn’t lend itself to managing learning across different kinds of spaces.

Home as Escape

The activities the students enjoyed at home don’t dovetail with what they’re learning at school.

The vision of connecting everything has to find a way to recognize people’s desire to disconnect. To escape the system of management, surveillance, supervision, that takes place at school.

The school is a carefully managed and surveilled space of civility. Sonia wants to link this to Facebook. FB has become a similarly civil space. It’s not the opportunity we thought of five years ago. Lots of people are now seeing this. Young people aren’t deleting profiles, but they’re moving to other spaces to really engage. When they were 7, “it was all about FB.” By the age they’re allowed to be on FB, they’re already jaded. They are withdrawing commitment.

They were all friends with their whole class on FB. They each had about 500 friends and 500 photos. They were there, but also moving away.

When doing interviews 5 years before, everyone was moving from MySpace to FB. They were all saying that MySpace allowed them to be expressive, but FB seemed adult and mature. Now, it seems standardized and constraining. A few of them messed with their names, or noted their friends as family, but not much. Mostly, on FB, you would be courteous. They were not commenting extensively, getting into big arguments. It seemed a bit like the classroom. Popular culture was a common language. People were polite to each other, “keeping the door open.” But when you leave the civil space you go to other spaces, more defined by gender and ethnicity. The parental concern about FB was missing the point. Basically they were saying “Hi, happy birthday, have you done the homework yet?”

Young people aren’t deleting profiles, but they’re moving to other spaces to really engage. When they were 7, “it was all about FB.” By the age they’re allowed to be on FB, they’re already jaded. They are withdrawing commitment.

Just as they leave the standardized space of the classroom and seek the home, they leave FB and seek other spaces online. It’s becoming clear that they’re going to many places. That is the point. They are not all going to the same place. Young people are not homogenous. Why would we assume they all go to the same space?

Sonia shares asking a young woman about Tumblr. She calls it “my space!” She spends hours there, posts thousands of photos, reflects extensively. But very few use Tumblr. Others are on twitter, Instagram. Boys on the Xbox are all chatting with each other. It’s diverse, and that’s the point: it’s getting away from the standardized moment.

Rational Disconnects

There’s a “world challenge,” where children are mobilized in schools to raise money through charity or other fundraising work, and they get to travel to a developing country and do some volunteer work. It’s a big enterprise. The school signed up for it. They talked about how students would sign up, document, get engaged, and so on. To make a long story short: a select group of young people were tapped to enter the challenge and raise the funds. They had to raise $2,000-$3,000 dollars, a big deal for a 13 year old. It was meant to be raised through social connections. Almost none of the digital side of it worked; the other side of it did work. The students went out, helped bag in supermarkets, babysat, washed cars, raised money, shared the pleasure of the process, met face to face with each other and teachers. All face to face. The digital stuff barely worked, until the last moment.

The book is named after the film The Class. The teacher decides to allow the students’ real lives into the class. It’s disrupted. The class becomes filled with students’ lives, racial tension, and so on. The structures are reasserted. It’s a quietly shocking story about how institutions reassert themselves rather than truly listen to the needs of students. The students are also happier before, in a secure space.

Like the film =, the school Sonia’s team studied preferred to revert back to well understood structures. The structures organize people’s lives in ways that fit with their vested interests. So we’re a long way from Mimi’s hoped-for model of connected learning.


When we did ego networks, “who is the important people in your life,” kids with 500 FB friends on average put about 16 people down on paper. A third were family. Just a few from those other activities. Friends, families. Constrained, local worlds. We talk about globalization, but they’re really living in a small radius, a group of a few people.

Desi: Sarah, who made amazing Play-Doh sculptures, didn’t move forward. What about the long view? Maybe she’ll take it up later in college. Is there research that looks at this, over the long run maybe these skills are used later?

Sonia: There are studies that say we see how people became creative, what are the steps they took to get there. Retrospective. But we can also look prospectively, and say very few carry it further. The school could have scaffolded that. When you look at surveys about people remixing and hacking, it’s just tiny.

Rodrigo: When you talked about the statistics being assembled, when you said they were called out?

Sonia: It was to the class. At the end of the day, the teacher might say “you were bad in 3rd, you were great in 5th.” Making it visible was extraordinary. I thought they would hate it, but they liked it. It diffused the emotion.

Rodrigo: That fascist process aside, and I came up through the […] system in Wales. I was amazed that if you take away the smartboard, the approaches are exactly the same. Attitudes to difference, tolerance to surveillance, it feels so British to me now. Have you looked across countries in ways that speak to that?

Sonia: Denmark is proud of the freedom it gives teachers, the lack of surveillance. They were more horrified. It was interesting seeing how they manage it. With smaller schools. It takes more resources. British schools are quite large. Folks in the U.S., it seems there isn’t the same, perhaps its very British that we try to have wealthy and poorer kids in the same school, and it’s heterogenous. The schools need practices to manage potential conflict in the classroom. The fear of what you could let in is present for teachers. In the U.S. you’ve managed this by segregating the schools.

Desi: I have a lot of friends who work in charter schools. It seems like they’re trying to manage this very closely. My niece is now at the same elementary school I went to, twenty years later. At the end of the day you get red, yellow green bones, depending on how you’ve been. It strikes my family as punitive. Private schools are more hippy dippy. The distinction is between public and private schools. Wealthier kids have a more free creative experience.

Todd: My grade school experience was in a lower class/lower middle class rural school district that covered an entire county. We had lots of gold stars, shame mechanics. They did split off people who were willing to engage in technology and learning.

Sasha: What about a praxis of critical digital media literacy? The “connected learning” approach decenters the possibilities of linking tech and the development of liberatory consciousness. I organized a youth social movements track at last year’s DML to try and surface this. We may be valorizing technical skills as the limit of possibility. Then, we get disappointed when it doesn’t play out that way, and at lack of civic engagement. It ends up fairly technodeterministic.

Q: The boys were at the center of the network. Can you talk more about that?

Sonia: The boys took the space, the white kids dominated the space. 13 is an interesting age. Some are children, and some are young adults.

Q: Would it be better to have a more equal gender distribution?

Sonia: Normally it is. The school said it was an accident. I think it was important that there was a lot of diversity but no one group dominated. There wasn’t an attitude of being loud young men together. The research would say the girls pushed to the edge in silence, but I didn’t see that.

Q: In the real world, it’s more 50/50, should the class resemble that?

Sonia: It was a fluke.

Jason: You talked about the opposition between the school and home. What about in between spaces like clubs, extracurricular activities. Is there creative, self directed work in those sorts of spacs?

Sonia: Yes, there was. It was so individual. that’s part of my story. When they leave the imposed democratic space of the class, they all go in different directions. The family is the key structure, more important than the school. There was such a strong discourse of “broken schools and broken families.” When we did ego networks, “who is the important people in your life,” kids with 500 FB friends on average put about 16 people down on paper. A third were family. Just a few from those other activities. Friends, families. Constrained, local worlds. We talk about globalization, but they’re really living in a small radius, a group of a few people.

T.L. Taylor: I love you fieldwork pictures. Did you find any places where the school was trying to reach into the disconnected space? Did the institution try to colonize these other spaces?

Sonia: The education community is torn about this. Few will commit to FB in schools. Often, they enter anyway. Kids go under the desk, find their ways around. The school was good at keeping it out, out of a fear mentality. I’m not sure how often police would visit a school. They’d be called once a week or so. It was an awesome visible presence. You see someone in uniform looking across the playground.

For the teachers the anxieties of social media were stronger than the learning possibilities.

Jim Paradis: I’m impressed with the concept of the school information management system. Where does it come from? Who enters the data, who manages it, how does it circulate? Also, having been a junior high teacher, this is a strange age group. Why did you choose this? It was an opportunity you took advantage of? Social formation is critical, at least in my experience in a city school in NYC, more than intellectual formation.

Sonia: It was chosen deliberately. My point about it being the lost years; they hadn’t entered the exam process. We chose them deliberately because they embodied the tension between being at home and the move to independence. All those freedoms would be most contested, both with parents and schools.

Jim: What about the information management system?

Sonia: there are several huge providers. Schools sign up for a contract. In this case, the database, curricular materials, and everything they’ll learn is precoded. The screen would show ‘you’re doing well in trigonometry, but you were late for class 5 times this week.’ There is big business behind the management of a process that is very difficult from the school point of view. The trend now is increased freedom in curriculum. But teachers don’t have any free time! So you can see why they would want a preprovided curriculum.

Jim: Does the info get shared with parents?

Sonia: There was a hope it would, but it never did. There was also a hope to gather the emails of all the parents. By the end of the year, the school hadn’t connected the emails of the parents. At first I thought “incompetence.” But then I thought there must be something at stake. The teachers were concerned about the flood of concerns from parents at home. They wanted to let parents access the system, but it would not happen, because too many entrenched interests against it.

One one day, parents came in one by one, school progress day (conference day). The teacher would read out the contents of the database. Parents would be so confused. A third were in a foreign language, to start.

Jim: But people reacted positively?

Sonia: The kids loved it. They could manage it. It was a game. Some of the extracurricular activities come in levels. “I’m a level 50 in science,” etc. The parents didn’t understand it, but the school was delivering results. Even if they didn’t understand it, they thought it was fair. Everything was coded on a system, it wasn’t teachers’ favorite. The visibility of the coding reassured people.

The post Podcast and liveblog: Sonia Livingstone, “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.

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Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:59:47 +0000 Artist and writer Coco Fusco on the critical responses to the Planet of the Apes films -- and as critiques of American race relations.

The post Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.


New York-based interdisciplinary artist and writer Coco Fusco will consider the critical responses to the original Planet of the Apes films, focusing in particular on the interpretation of the films as critiques of American race relations during the 1960′s and ’70′s.

She will also discuss her interest in exploring the strategies used in early sci-fi cinema, the ways that films such as Planet of the Apes employed speculative fiction to generate social critique.

Moderated by Professor of Writing Junot Díaz and Associate Professor Ian Condry.


Planet of the Apes Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics”

The safe way to give a talk is to talk about work that’s been done, but today we’re going to hear about work that’s in-progress. The research for this project comes from Visual Culture courses in Afrofuturism that Fusco has taught over the past few years. She mentioned that she leant a lot of afro-futurism from her students.

How to Talk About Social Issues in Art without Boring an Audience

A challenge today is figuring out how to put serious content into artwork in an engaging way. She poses the question:

How can we be critical about race when other topics such as warfare are often the object of critique today, and how to think about economic violence as the economic polarization appears.

“Things are worse than most people believe” – citing a Mother Jones article on inequality:

Fusco is interested in how to make art out of topics such as mass incarceration, racial disparity, economic inequality. It is a particular challenge to deal with these questions in the context of a neoliberal common sense understanding. Fusco has brought in science fiction as a tactic to address this conversation. She is looking at economic violence as an animal behavior, and asks “what happens if we consider the dominant attitudes and practices of neoliberalism via inter-species comparisons?” Using evolutionary psychology, behavioral ecology, primatology, and neuroscience. Fusco is examining the decline of empathy, deterioration of social cooperation among humans through the lens of primate studies.

She mentioned a successful research on Robert Sapolsky’s work on primates. Sapolsky’s work examines the highly successful hierarchy and modes of cooperation.

There are some who hate Sapolsky (he was a card-carrying member of the Socialist party); however, his insights about human aggression run in parallel with the critiques embedded within The Planet of the Apes. It is criticized as an example of fall of humanity under violence.

What is the biology of aggression in humans? Fusco examines the original Planet of the Apes as a text to explore this question. Konrad Lorenz’ books On Aggression and Civilized Man’s Deadly Sins.

Zoobiquity 191x300 Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics”

Fusco read a book called Zoobiquity when beginning research for this project. The effects of impoverishment on humans are very similar to that found in mammals in captivity, which provides good material to build out a work of science fiction from scientific research.

Why is American popular culture obsessed with Apes? She cited 19th century pictures that depict human like apes, and 20th century pictures of what humans did wrong to apes as experiment samples.

What does this tell us about our anxieties about what it means to be human?

Apes have been found in both cultural representation and as part of scientific research.

She shows us photos of Kokomo, Nim Chimpsky, Enos the Astronaut, Koko the Gorilla…all examples of primate depiction in pop culture.

Dr. Zira 300x200 Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics”

Dr. Zira

The imagery used within the representation of apes within scientific research draws parallels to human behavior and appearance. Fusco has been experimenting with a human who looks like an ape by creating a character “Dr. Zira’s Return”. The pragmatics of performance are affected by the physical prosthesis within the ape costumes.

The character of “Dr. Zira” examines the phenomena of a neo-liberal philosophy in the context of human behavior, modeling the practices of primate researchers.

Discusses distinctive characteristics of human aggression (from Robert Sapolsky):

  • Monetization of welfare: “jailing kids for cash”
  • Opportunist manipulation of intergenerational conflict
  • ex. neo-conservatives trying to get younger generations to opt-out of medicare programs
  • Hi-tech warfare – enacting violence without the hazards of direct engagement
  • ex. controlling drone strikes from Nevada Air Force Base

Fusco tries to take some of this research from science and bring it into a speculative fiction scenario, using the identity of Dr. Zira. What happens when we take these distinctly human behaviors and examine them through the lens of studying animal behavior?

She is interested in the territory protection behavior takes in form of use of languages. She found some sci-fi stories blurring the boundary of apes and man. Such as Jerry Is a Man by Robert Heinlein. The book makes the assertion that if the ape behaves as a man, he is a man. The book concludes with a judge making the final decision about the humanity of the ape. Jerry is found a man when he sings a “negro spiritual”, making the racial allegory of the story apparent. The inter-racial dynamic is expressed in the sci-fi fictions.

When the movie was remade in 2007, this allegory had been eliminated in favor of cyborgs.

Afrofuturism uses futuristic scenarios to explore social issues affecting black people. She sites the Wanuri Kahiu film, Pumzi, as one of the first films directed by a sub-Saharan director in which there is social commentary about global warming and other issues of global importance.

Another example is The Omega Man

Allusions to the use of black people for scientific experiments against their will (Tuskegee experiments).

Fusco compares and contrasts the post-human and the sub- human through afrofuturism. Fusco looks specifically at the images produced around the topics of alien abduction and slavery, the android and the subaltern laborer (examples: Metropolis (1927), I, Robot (2004), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1973)), to see how visual relationships are constructed between speculative fiction and race relations.

Planet of the Apes is a potent cultural myth because it speaks to many of the realities of racial anxiety we still experience.

The key themes Fusco pulls from Planet of the Apes films are:

  • moral critique of human tendencies that lead to destruction of civilization
  • conflict betweens scientific inquiry and desire/need for social control

These films are made palatable through inversion and allegory.

These films are understood now to be allegories for the racial conflicts of the era in which they were made.

Famous confrontation could be seen through the scenes of ape sci-fi films. Such as the riot scenes in 1960s.

During 1960-1970, there is a shift of concept of primates from sub-human beings to more human-like political and cultural beings.This was deeply disconcerting for many beacuse it began to blur the line between primates and humans: primates are seen as beings with culture and politics.

The Long Story of the End of Human Exceptionalism

There was a broad-based social anxiety about what it means to lose your exceptional status in the world

The film is based on the Pierre Noulle novel (1963) and adapted for film. The adaptation is about moving the originally French story into an American context. The apes speaks a different language in novel, which is difficult to subtitle in film. There is more technological element in the novel (different than the fear of technology reflected in the film).

She noted the difference of [the inversions of the films], and the radiation-crazed mutant humans in the film, the scene of ape revolt, and the final chapter.

Fusco uses the imagery and depiction of riots as a starting point for her script, which adapts this through the lens of economic conflict.


Ian Condry: What happens when you try to turn the work of social critique, found often in other spheres of academia, into art?

Fusco: Looking at cultural texts which have been so compelling to so many people is useful. There’s an episode in the sixth season of Mad Men when Don Draper takes his children to see Planet of the Apes. There’s a Simpsons episode about it. Something about these films depicts culture in a way that fascinates us. I want to use pre-existing texts as a way into this work. The power of the visual to create empathy is not to be dismissed. Though it may be seen in some contexts as unserious, it can be used to draw people in, to tell a story, and to guide people through a fictive space. Do more research about the background of the topic, so it is possible to talk around the topic. Art may not allow you to go as deeply into a subject, but it may provide a more immersive and enlightening experience where you can really enter another reality.

Audience Question: Could you talk about how these films embody an anxiety but also a utopian wish? How you play with balance of the economic constraint and your expression purpose?

Fusco: The intellectuals in the Planet of the Apes films reprimand humans for their excessive violence, obsession with growth. However, it’s pretty clear that the society the apes have created is also untenable. It’s too rigid. The forbidden zone’s existence creates curiosity about it. The existence of the rules creates the desire to subvert them. The colors of the films represent the social roles, and cement them. There’s no mobility between roles in the film, and this rigidity doesn’t appear in the novels.

Jim Paradis: What would the structure of your performance be? Instead of a book or a novel, you’re attempting a performance.

Fusco: I will perform Zira, as an animal psychologist as is represented in the film, but brought into our world. I will write as Zira, publish as Zira, lecture as Zira, etc. I will use this performance to create artifacts which are Zira’s observations of human behavior. It starts as a performance and then builds from there, it’s a modular style of work similar to the project I did before with female interrogators.

Q: When is your premiere date?

Coco will be debuting at Studio Museum in Harlem in mid-December.

Heather Hendershot: What are the gender dynamics you’re working with in this performance?

Fusco: There is a company in Hollywood that can make apes appears male or female by making up the hair of apes.

Q: Could you talk about gender dynamics

Fusco: Zira’s the only talking ape female. She is one of the most individuated ape characters. The book needs a female character to fall in love with Taylor, Ulysses. This connection explains why she will break so many rules.

But I‘m more interested in “professional Zira”. After being given truth serum, she begins to confess about the experiments she conducted on humans.

Desi Gonzalez: As an artist of social engagement, what’s your responsibility to making sure the audience understands?

Fusco: I’m known for this piece where I was in a cage.

The simple answer: Artists cannot control whether their audiences “get it” or not.

The long answer: ….

I don’t worry about the audience ‘getting it’ because that concern causes artists to simplify their work, and honestly sometimes artists themselves may not ‘understand’ all the implications of their work.

“I don’t even know if I get it.”

The most interesting aesthetic experiences are when people are confused for awhile.

Q: You’re using Planet of the Apes as a lens and Zira as a lens. How did you choose Zira? Would you have chosen a different character if she complemented your message better?

Fusco: I don’t think about the message come before the character. And what can I do to character is the topic.

Condry: seems like the themes that come up… could you talk about the advantages of having a character first?

Fusco: It’s a framing device, like being a draftsman and drawing a line. Gives you a language, a storytelling device. It’s also useful in a tactical sense because the character allows me to see things.

Fox Harrell: I love a lot of the works that have come uner the rubric of afrofuturism, at the same time, the concept has caused consternation. Afrofuturism is about using science and technology as an empowering metaphor: But this makes it appear as though the science cannot be produced by these communities. Have you found any instances of science and technology coming from subaltern communities.

Fusco: When digital technology exploded, the conversation was very focused on the digital divide. But the thing has changed a lot in recent 20 years. the conversation isn’t so much about the digital divide anymore.

Kojo Eschen. George Lewis at Columbia has a brilliant understanding of the interplay between experimental music, jazz, and digital technologies. I do think that some science fiction scenarios that are about race relations do position the subaltern as a victim of technology.

Q: Is dressing up as Zira like a ‘super-minstrelsy’ or ‘super-black-face’?

Fusco: Yes. So was getting in a cage and wearing a grass skirt. These are somewhat familiar tropes that i twist, which is not an uncharted territory in art.

Q: How will your work alter themes of Planet of the Apes?

Fusco: Critique made by that film is critique of social issues from that time period: Vietnam, atomic war, race relations. The world today looks Swiftian to me. My Zira has to talk about drone strikes, economic violence, that sort of thing. Zira can sit around and watch what politicians, what Wall Street bankers do, and talk about it in ways we’re not used to thinking about it.

Condry: Regarding the economic violence part, the big thing of anthropology is regarding neo liberalism – how it’s taking over our emotional life, etc. Might there be a more positive spin to say we’re misinterpreting what’s controlling our lives, giving the Wall Street guys too much power?

Fusco: I’m more interested in the way in which these economic systems have generated adapted behaviors in all of us. We are lying to ourselves if we don’t understand how capitalism has entered into the most intimate regions of our lives. As a mom, thinking about the relationship between child care and money – the quality of care is so dependent on amount of money. By the time you put kids in school at 5, the game is over. There are other ways to organize the work of care. We don’t have enough structures of care for anyone here. You’re either too young or too old or can’t find work – that’s 50% of the population. Those are the people Mitt Romney was talking about. From a purely ethical standpoint, this is a frightening world.

Q: How much of your character is based on Jane Goodall?

Fusco: I’ve watched Gorillas in the Mist, I’ve watched Jane Goodall, I’m trying to learn how these people talk. I’m also looking at Nim Chimsky.

It seems to me, as an outsider to this, that the field of primatology is divided between alpha males and very traditional maternal women.

The post Podcast and liveblog: Coco Fusco, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.

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Podcast and Liveblog: Zeynep Tufekci, “The Boom-Bust Cycle of Social Media-Fueled Protests” Fri, 18 Oct 2013 19:13:24 +0000 Zeynep Tufekci discusses features of boom and bust protest movements, drawing upon Gezi, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy and M15 movements.

The post Podcast and Liveblog: Zeynep Tufekci, “The Boom-Bust Cycle of Social Media-Fueled Protests” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.


About the Talk

Social media-fueled protests in many countries have surprised observers with their seemingly spontaneous, combustible power. Yet, many have fizzled out without having a strong impact on policy at the electoral and legislative levels. In this talk, Tufekci will discuss some features of such protests that may be leading to this boom and bust cycle drawing upon primary research in Gezi protests in Turkey as well as “Arab Spring”, Occupy and M15 movements.

Zeynep Tufekci is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Moderated by Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Head of MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures Ian Condry and Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the MIT Center for Civic Media.


This is not the first time that Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) has been at MIT. MIT Center for Civic Media director and event moderator Ethan Zuckerman shared the stage with Tufekci the last time she visited, and to Zuckerman, she represents a bridge between technology and social movements. She is a veteran of protests (in the past, Tufekci’s research on the Arab Spring took her to Tunisia and Egypt), and in many of these movements, she has noticed conceptual patterns.

Tufekci begins with an anecdote about the Hillary Step—the peak of Mount Everest—explaining that climbers have died due to a combination of cold, altitude, and mass crowding as people waited for their turn to ascend. Tufekci zoomed out, showing an image of the basecamp. In her analogy, she explains that climbers were so focused on the basecamp and the summit that they weren’t prepared to think about side effects and sufficient tools for the way there.

A similar situation can be seen in the Internet space, says Tufekci. She argues that some Internet-touted benefits have significant handicaps. There are more people in basecamps for Internet participation today that those that can make the climb; we are too busy mooning over the outcome to think about side effects. Tufekci suggests that instead of outputs, we should examine the potential for capacity building.

In the event that sparked the Gezi protest, the government decided to turn an anachronistic public property into yet another shopping center, complete with expensive housing. Protesters were furious and effectively utilized #OccupyGezi to expand their numbers from 30 to thousands. Twitter was an intentional protest platform so that #OccupyGezi news could bypass government-friendly television stations. Where CNN International broadcasted the protest, CNN Turkey showcased penguins to the local audience. Part of the reason, Tufekci explains, is that broadcast companies are owned by large conglomerates that primarily want to build favor with governments in order to gain contracts and other benefits.

Zeynep Tufekci 255x300 Podcast and Liveblog: Zeynep Tufekci, “The Boom Bust Cycle of Social Media Fueled Protests”

As a veteran of several protests, Zeynep packed sunscreen, a camera, walkie talkies, a gas mask and a helmet. The helmet, she explains, is crucial because while tear gas will hurt, cans landing on your head is what will actually kill you.

Coordinated mainly through social media, protestors occupied Gezi Park, which soon resembled many of the camps seen during Occupy; Tufekci describes the atmosphere as “Woodstock meets Paris commune.” While protests are often portrayed by media as angry mobs, the #OccupyGezi protest camp was actually a breeding ground for creativity, manifesting in libraries, flower shops, and other spaces. A local economy quickly emerged, and enterprising locals sold Guy Fawkes masks (locally produced), gas masks, spray cans, and other protest materials. The slogan for the movement became “#diren,” which is roughly the equivalent to #occupy in the United States.

The tent village became a common space for many groups, including feminists, soccer fans, and other interest groups. A typical soccer taunt is to call the referee or rival teams “faggots.” Feminist and queer groups quickly banded together to connect with their soccer fan allies. “No, we are the faggots,” they explained, shedding light on how the label was a disenfranchising rallying cry. They began to hold workshops to frame the issues.

Many of the messages and imagery coming from the protests directly critiqued the state media system, especially by highlighting the failure of Turkish media to cover the Gezi Park protest.

A major observation from Tufekci’s work highlights how coordination and logistics were under-emphasized on the Internet. The groups involved with the Gezi demonstration rejected formal leadership structures and delegation. Instead, protesters focused all of their capacity on shaming the government, so authorities did not interpret protestors as a real political threat.

Tufekci points to Nobel Laureate and economist Amartya Sen, whose research emphasized capacity building as a measure of economic impact instead of the narrow focus on gross domestic product. Sen’s research is in step with Tufekci’s caution to think critically about capacity building rather than focusing only on the outputs of the Internet. While the Internet has made greater lateral room for engagement, it can also hinder impact as a side effect.

Tufekci’s post-examination of the Gezi protest melted down to two general observations:

  1. The Internet has altered the relationship between what protests need in order to exist and what movements need in order to have impact.
  2. There has been a major shift in the way protest are carried out in the “Internet era.”

The post Podcast and Liveblog: Zeynep Tufekci, “The Boom-Bust Cycle of Social Media-Fueled Protests” appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.

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