Robin Camille Davis
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Some notes from Theorizing the Web 2014

April 28, 2014

On Saturday, I went to Theorizing the Web, held in a lovely Williamsburg studio on a gorgeous spring day. I didn't get to see Friday's panels, but even seeing half the conference was pretty mind-exploding. See the program + full videos posted online. The #TtW14 hashtag was very active, too.

I'm still turning over a lot of what was said at TtW14. In a couple days, the panels took on feminism, race, activism, hacktivism, surveillance, privacy, code studies, publishing, archiving, and a lot of other biggies that are the major (if not always the most-talked-about) issues of the state of the internet today.

I planned poorly charge-wise, and both my laptop and phone died pretty quickly. So I relied on pen + paper to take notes. Perhaps you'd be interested.

The notes below are for:
Panel: Discipline & Publish
Symposium: –––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse
Keynote: Race & Social Media

Intro image

Panel #c6: Discipline & Publish

Feminist discourse in digital publishing

Ana Cecilia Alvarez: Feminist discourse in digital publishing

Alvarez brings up great questions about how feminism is being used online — to further the cause, in many cases, but also to bump up an organization's cred. Is it okay for a monetized online publication to collect the "20 best tweets about [feminist issue]" when they aren't paying the tweets' authors? This came up later during the keynote, too.

Rethinking the Thinkpiece

Joseph Staten: Rethinking the Thinkpiece

Thinkpiece : politics :: review : art, and the twain do not meet. The goal is art that is just and high-quality. Staten made it seem like this is pretty rare, but aren't the most talked-about artists doing just that? Maybe the problem he's addressing is that there's no catchy word to describe an essay about a work of art by Ai Weiwei or Molly Crabapple (who actually spoke on an earlier panel).

Rethinking Technology and Culture: Digital Technologies and Neoliberalism in the Literary Field

Matthew Clair: Rethinking Technology and Culture: Digital Technologies and Neoliberalism in the Literary Field

Clair's presentation was very interesting. We see technological marketing techniques being used by literary folks more for connecting with readers and building prestige, rather than money-driven marketing ends. Also, I now realize I did not close my paren. Here you go: )

The impact of e-books on culture

Mathias Klang: Is that your book? The impact of e-books on culture

I got a little bored with this one. He held the room's attention, but it was like a teeny tiny version of what librarians have been talking about in greater depth for a long time. I'm actually not sure if he mentioned libraries...? But just in case he didn't, let me say that libraries have been fighting for your rights for ages. We support your right to privacy (many libraries don't even keep the hashed records of who checked out what, or allow cameras) and to free self-education. Public libraries support their communities by providing free, stable, untracked access to content. The community-property model is radical and totally weird and would never be invented or allowed today.

Symposium #c7: –––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse

This symposium was a conversation between James Bridle (one of my fave tech voices), Olivia Rosane, Adam Rothstein, and Eleanor Saitta, moderated by Sarah Wanenchak.

I was extremely psyched for this one. Bridle's writing and artworks over the years have made me think much more about the invisible network (codespace) we all inhabit and use and coopt — and kill with. I now see digital literacy as a major component of my work as an instructional librarian.

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (1/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (1/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (2/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (2/4). Stop Killer Robots is an actual organization, btw.

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (3/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (3/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (4/4)

–––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse (4/4)

I also want to note that part of why I'm here and have a great education and made it to a fantastic job is because of drones (UAVs). When I was in college, my father worked for a defense contractor, building software for observational drones. Around the time that the drones were getting bigger to include weaponization as a feature, he left his job. I greatly admire his courage. (Side note, he went on to develop crash-avoidance [life-saving] software for a car tech company and is now retired and making cool apps & playing music. Go Dad!) But it took me a while to realize even I, with my lefty politics, have benefited financially from the weaponized drones whose use I condemn. And that makes me feel pretty squicky.

Keynote: Race & Social Media

The keynote speakers were Jenna Wortham, Ayesha Siddiqi, Lisa Nakamura, and Latoya Peterson, moderated by André Brock. So very excellent. Mashable has the video and a write-up.

These speakers knew their shit and had convictions that I value and respect. I sort of thought that race was on my radar because of a frequency illusion on my part. But the keynote panel agreed that 2014 is the year when race has bubbled to the top of a lot of online discourse. It was so good — watch the video, for real.

Race and Social Media (1/3)

Race and Social Media (1/3)

Race and Social Media (2/3)

Race and Social Media (2/3) — uh, upper left should read 'Twitter: a record of our daily lives before 2014; now a venue for complex, far-flung conversations about racism in 2014'

Race and Social Media (3/3)

Race and Social Media (3/3)

My librarian ears perked up when Peterson & Wortham agreed that it was a risk to have these dialogues on tools that were (A) not built by us or in general people like us, (B) built to make money for the company, and (C) may not always be there and may not always be "neutral" (not that they ever were). When an internet company is bought up or shuttered, what happens to the important content that people created in having a dialogue on the site? For an answer, let us turn to notes I took at the JCDL conference in 2012 about Jason Scott's keynote address, which was titled "All You Cared about Is Gone and All Your Friends Are Dead: The Fun Frolic of Preservation Activism."

A theme in the publishing panel and in the keynote was that explainer sites (like Vox and The Upshot) are an example of traditional authority trying to reassert itself amid the stream of everybody. Explainers were seen as people trying to tell other people's stories (one extreme example). However, many of us in the audience (and on stage) were also explainers — journalists, professors, librarians — who seek to guide and elevate. There's a general anxiety over curating content online (and in classrooms): whose voices do we amplify?

I also would never have thought that I would have to bring my worry about surveillance (drones or otherwise) and the strange social patterns of the internet and the prevalence of inherently exclusionary code into my job at a university. But now I return to my role as a librarian, wondering: how do I even begin to think about introducing these heavy-duty concepts to students who come to the library for a five-minute question or 30-minute workshop or hour-long class session?

kermit flail.

P.S. How crazy is it that Snapchat donated the space for a theory-heavy conference? I mean, dang. The weirdness of the web.