Less Fun Than the Usual Walk of Shame

Though to be blunt I don’t really believe either article brought anything earth-shattering to the table this week, I at least enjoyed Vaidhyanathan’s piece on “The Googlization of Us.” (Castells’ essay, somewhat oddly written and with the most head-scratching references to date, reminded me more of a tautological text better suited for one of our undergraduate courses.) Vaidhyanathan’s look at Google’s strategic deployment of default choices and the enumeration of five basic privacy interface classifications made for interesting reading, though of course I do need to take one for my team and raise issue with his casual (and in this case quite literal) defamation of reality television as demonstrating “a positive relationship between the number of cameras and observers pointed at a subject and their willingness to act strangely and relinquish all pretensions of dignity” (595). While the last decade has been kind to my fair reality television’s seemingly eternal quest to earn a seat at the table of ‘legitimate’ media scholarship, we don’t need to look any farther than the audience at Dr. Patrice Petro’s talk last Tuesday (unquestionably loaded with academic all-stars) and their titters of laughter as The Bachelor and other reality shows were name-checked during the discussion. I concede that reality television has and continues to be home to ‘ordinary’ citizens behaving extraordinarily and at times almost certainly with an eye for the camera, but its positioning as a concrete example of Vaidhyanathan’s larger point here seems to me highly unfair.

Getting more to the point of the ‘cryptopticon,’ I was reminded of a New York Times article from a year ago about Justine Sacco, a communications director who offhandedly tweeted a stupid joke about Africa and AIDS to her 170 followers and then found herself the top worldwide trend on the site (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0). The article, which I highly recommend, goes on to document other people who have becomes targets of public outrage over some controversial post, and describes in detail how they’ve lost their jobs and had their social lives destroyed. Most interesting though is the connection author Jon Ronson draws with America’s history of public shaming in the 18th and 19th centuries, writing that it thankfully fell out of favor because “well-meaning people, in a crowd, often take punishment too far.”

These cases interest me because I think they get to the root of what’s problematic about social media and internet privacy; while the role of institutions like Google and explicitly stated privacy policies are important, in my view the malice of the anonymous masses and their cruel manipulation of what becomes made public is far more sinister than the dispassionate commercial interests of Internet authorities. Whether or not I agree that Google has too much power, I hate the notion that information and opinions will of course be immediately attacked if made public has sadly become an unchallenged given.


pictured: me after most grad seminars

Less Fun Than the Usual Walk of Shame

Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions

This week, as I took in the readings I was simultaneously in the Collaboratory messing with Crimson Hexagon, trying to get it to work for my purposes, trying desperately to get a dataset that was most interesting to my needs, trying to exclude the tweets I didn’t want, getting annoyed with my search for verses of the Qur’an online, because no matter how many times I thought I had figured out to get just quoted verses, or I had taken precautions to avoid the bigots spouting  racist diatribe against Islam, or those responding to them, I kept finding tweets that didn’t fit my needs.

And then of course, I keep stressing out and pulling out my hair as I’m trying to zero in on the overall point of this exercise— yes, I have a research question (more like several) that are fueling my overall efforts, but I keep worrying about how much I keep manipulating my own perception of the data in order to see what I wanted to see.

“In short, failure is a phenomenon to overcome, while a glitch is incorporated further into technological or interpretive processes.” (27)

I want to see glitches.  But the failures keep piling up.  A glitch, as Menkman says, “refers to a not yet defined break from a procedural flow.” (27)  And this is exactly what I want to find.  Where is the break in the flow from oral or aural text to written to digital to short-without-context tweets.  I want to see the shift in experience of the Qur’an on social media, on Twitter specifically, perhaps Facebook, or even youtube.  I want to see what happens when certain verses make it to the online platform while others don’t.  When certain translations make it and others don’t.  When certain voices dominate.  When the essence of the Qur’an and its esoteric meaning/flow is disrupted, but somehow reaches a much larger audience than ever before at greater speed and regularity.    But I can’t help but think, perhaps this idea of glitch doesn’t quite work with oral traditions.  Perhaps oral traditions don’t really care about glitch.

The stuff I’m reading right now, about the compilation of the Qur’an, hadith, and Arabic poetic traditions seems to think so.  The readings criticize the Western focus on accuracy, seeing this as being irrelevant.  For religious texts, this may sound ludicrous.  And it kind of is, I suppose.  But maybe not so much.  Menkman writes “The first encounter with a glitch comes hand in hand with a feeling of shock, with being lost and in awe. The glitch is a powerful interruption that shifts an object away from its flow and ordinary discourse, towards the ruins of destructed meaning.” (29)  When looking at the Arabic poetic tradition, there are constant glitches or even failures according to this terminology, in that little was written down, and therefore the poems themselves would be retold, “rewritten,” re-mediated even, sometimes even “improved” upon, sometimes made worse, catered towards different locales, and therefore became living things.  The glitch that would disrupt this normal flow of things then, is when the primarily oral tradition comes into a head on collision with the dominant written culture, or the need for written culture, so that the oral tradition won’t die out.  Could I say then, that the glitch in the data I’m looking at is that it has been re-contextualized and re-mediated so much that the oral tradition of Qur’anic recitation itself has been infringed upon, disrupted to a certain extent.  People are learning the proper recitation (tajwid) through youtube videos and websites rather than with a teacher.  People are reading the Qur’an, or at least taking in bits and pieces of daily inspiration through twitter accounts and chopped up verses that sound nice.  Is modernity itself the glitch in the oral traditions of Islam?  Perhaps I’m going way too off the deep end here… I feel like I’m rambling.

“A glitch is the most puzzling, difficultt to define and enchanting noise artifact; it reveals itself to perception as accident, chaos or laceration and gives a glimpse into normally obfuscated machine language. Rather than creating the illusion of a transparent, well-working interface to information, the glitch captures the machine revealing itself.” (29-30)


According to the quote above, maybe modernity and social media aren’t the problem.  Maybe the Qur’an via Twitter is actually allowing the “machine [to reveal] itself.”


My project (and career in academia) is still coming together, or falling apart depending on  how you read this rambling piece, but perhaps the fogginess in my own thoughts is merely setting the stage for clarity:


“Noise turns to glitch when it passes a momentary tipping point, at which it could  tip away into a failure, or instead force new knowledge about the glitch’s techné, and actual and presumed media flows, onto the viewer.” (31)


I’m thinking this quote means there is a real purpose, perhaps even potentially incredibly interesting end to my project.  Or perhaps, and excuse my language, I’m just writing convoluted and unecssary bullshit and I need to shape up.

Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions