Skip to content

SMC media roundup

February 4, 2016

This is a collection of some of our researchers’ quotes, mentions, or writings in mainstream media. Topics include Facebook’s supposed neutral community standards, sharing economy workers uniting to protest, living under surveillance and relational labor in music.

Tarleton Gillespie in the Washington Post –> The Big Myth Facebook needs everyone to believe

And yet, observers remain deeply skeptical of Facebook’s claims that it is somehow value-neutral or globally inclusive, or that its guiding principles are solely “respect” and “safety.” There’s no doubt, said Tarleton Gillespie, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in New England, that the company advances a specific moral framework — one that is less of the world than of the United States, and less of the United States than of Silicon Valley.

Mary Gray in The New York Times –> Uber drivers and others in the gig economy take a stand

“There’s a sense of workplace identity and group consciousness despite the insistence from many of these platforms that they are simply open ‘marketplaces’ or ‘malls’ for digital labor,” said Mary L. Gray, a researcher at Microsoft Research and professor in the Media School at Indiana University who studies gig economy workers.

Kate Crawford’s (and others’) collaboration with Laura Poitras (Academy Award-winning documentary film director and privacy advocate) in the book about living under surveillance in Boing Boing.

Poitras has a show on at NYC’s Whitney Museum, Astro Noise, that is accompanied by a book in which Poitras exposes, for the first time, her intimate notes on her life in the targeting reticule of the US government at its most petty and vengeful. The book includes accompanying work by Ai Weiwei, Edward Snowden, Dave Eggers, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Lakhdar Boumediene, Kate Crawford and Cory Doctorow.

(More on the upcoming book and Whitney museum event on Wired)

Canadian Songwriter’s Association interview with Nancy Baym –> Sound Advice: How to use social media in 2016

When discussing the use of social media by songwriters, Baym prefers to present a big-picture view rather than focusing on a ‘Top Ten Tips” approach, or on one platform or means of engagement. Practicality is key: “I’d love for 2016 to be the year of people getting realistic about what social media can and can’t do for you, of understanding that it’s a mode of relationship building, not a mode of broadcast,” says Baym.

 

 

#trendingistrending: when algorithms become culture

February 1, 2016

trendingistrending_frontpage_Page_01I wanted to share a new essay, “#Trendingistrending: When Algorithms Become Culture” that I’ve just completed for a forthcoming Routledge anthology called Algorithmic Cultures: Essays on Meaning, Performance and New Technologies, edited by Robert Seyfert and Jonathan Roberge. My aim is to focus on the various “trending algorithms” that populate social media platforms, consider what they do as a set, and then connect them to a broader history of metrics used in popular media, to both assess audience tastes and portray them back to that audience, as a cultural claim in its own right and as a form of advertising.

The essay is meant to extend the idea of “calculated publics” I first discussed here and the concerns that animated  this paper. But more broadly I hope it pushes us to think about algorithms not as external forces on the flow of popular culture, but increasingly as elements of popular culture themselves, something we discuss as culturally relevant, something we turn to face so as to participate in culture in particular ways. It also has a bit more to say about how we tend to think about and talk about “algorithms” in this scholarly discussion, something I have more to say about here.

I hope it’s interesting, and I really welcome your feedback. I already see places where I’ve not done the issue justice: I should connect the argument more to discussions of financial metrics, like credit ratings, as another moment when institutions have reason to turn such measures back as meaningful claims. I found the excellent essay (journal; academia.edu), where Jeremy Morris writes about what he calls “infomediaries,” late in my process, so while I do gesture to it, it could have informed my thinking even more. There are a dozen other things I wanted to say, and the essay is already a little overstuffed.

I do have some opportunity to make specific changes before it goes to press, so I’d love to hear any suggestions, if you’re inclined to read it.

LA Times Op-Ed: Your job is about to get “taskified”

January 10, 2016

I’ve got a small Op-Ed from our crowdwork research in the Sunday’s Los Angeles Times’ print edition, published on January 10th, 2016 . It reflects on the challenges that workers face in a world of “taskified” labor—particularly the problem of getting paid when no one’s legally on the hook for sending you your last paycheck. Full text below:

The global digital assembly line has arrived. Its workers labor at computer keyboards, performing the behind-the-scenes tasks that make the Internet appear intelligent and functional. They assign labels like “family” or “theme park” to photos, check that Web URLs work, verify addresses on Yelp, review social media posts flagged as “adult.”

Corporations, from the smallest start-ups to the largest firms, can now “taskify” everything from scheduling meetings and debugging websites, to finding sales leads and managing fulltime employees’ HR files. Instead of hiring help, firms just post their needs to the Web.

This online piecework, or “crowdwork,” represents a radical shift in how we define employment itself.

The individuals performing this work are of course not traditional employees, but neither are they freelancers. They are, instead, “users” or “customers” of Web-based platforms that deliver pre-priced tasks like so many DIY kits ready for assembly. Transactions are bound not by employee-employer relationships but by “user agreements” and Terms of Service that resemble software licenses more than any employment contract.

Researchers at Oxford University’s Martin Programme on Technology and Employment estimate that nearly 30% of jobs in the U.S. could be organized like this within 20 years. Forget the rise of robots and the distant threat of automation. The immediate issue is the Uber-izing of human labor, fragmenting of jobs into outsourced tasks and dismantling of wages into micropayments

In the U.S. and overseas, crowdwork payments can mean the difference between scraping by and saving for a home or working toward a degree. But as Riyaz Khan, a 32-year-old from a small town in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh in India, discovered, doing work on spec posted by someone you’ll never meet and who has no legal obligations to you has serious disadvantages.

My team at Microsoft Research spent two years studying the lives of hundreds of American and Indian crowdworkers like Khan to learn how they manage this nascent form of employment and the capriciousness that comes with it. Khan, when we met him, had spent three years finding work on Amazon Mechanical Turk. AMT is one of the largest online marketplaces that connect “providers” from around the world like Khan with “requesters,” typically U.S. or European businesses or individuals. He did tasks for companies as big as Google and as small as neighborhood print shops.

On good days, he made $40 in 10 hours — more than 100 times what neighboring farmers earned. He soon found more tasks than he could complete himself. So he hired locals to work with him out of his living room. In exchange for a cut of their pay, Khan helped his crew create their own accounts, taught them how to complete tasks efficiently, and ferreted out tasks that best matched his workers’ skillsets. He also handled any final queries after the completed task was submitted. They called themselves Team Genius.

Three years in, now dependent on this income to support family and friends, Khan heard worrying tales of Indian workers’ AMT accounts being shut down. One by one, members of Team Genius lost their accounts.

Then it happened to him. An email from Amazon’s Customer Service Team offered no explanation beyond: “I am sorry but your Amazon Mechanical Turk account was closed due to a violation of our Participation Agreement and cannot be reopened. Any funds that were remaining on the account are forfeited, and we will not be able to provide any additional insight or action. You may review the Participation Agreement/Conditions of Use at this URL: http://www.mturk.com/mturk/conditionsofuse. Thank you for trying Amazon Mechanical Turk. Best regards, Laverne P. We value your feedback, please rate my response using the link below.”

Using a “Contact Us” link, Khan sent several messages pleading his case. He received auto-replies thanking him for his patience, but no information about how to appeal or retrieve the funds he’d banked with AMT for completed tasks over the last two months. Instead, he was referred to the agreement’s “Restrictions and Limitations” clause, which grants AMT the “right to terminate or suspend any Payment Account… for any reason in our sole discretion.”

Six months later, without explanation, Khan received his final paycheck. Other members of Team Genius, unsure how to pursue resolution, got stiffed. None ever found out exactly why AMT suspended their accounts, although I suspect they know what parts of the Participation Agreement they broke. Practices such as automating the acceptance of tasks, or transferring an account to another person violate AMT’s rules but are widespread among those in the United States and India alike who are trying to cobble together a full-time living.

Khan’s experience should be a warning to us all. Crowdwork may seem like a small eddy of employment, contained to those who work on computer code and Web development. But it looms like a tsunami of change for anyone whose routine work — filing forms, drafting standardized reports, coordinating events — can be broken into bits and farmed out online.

We must recognize that crowdwork sites are not just technologies that deliver convenient services. They are sites of employment that encompass the globe. Yet there are no clear rules for how this new form of employment should operate. As Team Genius’ case demonstrates, the right to be paid for one’s labor is no longer guaranteed. Centuries of global labor activism, from child labor laws to workplace safety guidelines, are left vulnerable.

The Amazons, GrubHubs, Upworks, and Ubers that profit from brokering this new work relationship certainly bear some responsibility. More broadly, state and national governments need to reset their labor rules and reweave social safety nets. This is not a simple matter of re-classifying crowdworkers as employees; rather we need to move beyond the fulltime-freelance divide. Businesses (and their customers) demand an all-hours, at-the-ready workforce. But to get that, workers need portable healthcare, a basic income, paid leave and retirement plans.

Corporations and governments would be wise to underwrite portable benefits plans; after all, companies stand to profit the most from a flexible, on-demand workforce. With comprehensive universal benefits, more individuals could absorb the risks of letting their 9-to-5 jobs go. Governments and corporations could stabilize on-demand work, boosting productivity and global economic growth. Without such benefits, on the other hand, we have a recipe for further financial insecurity, underemployment and social unrest.

As the nation with the greatest number of tech companies dependent upon and profiting from the global digital assembly line, it’s up to the United States to set the bar for what gainful employment looks like in 21st century. We must do so with our own children in mind, as well as children in Andhra Pradesh, for their futures are intertwined. And neither deserves an emailed pink slip that makes collecting a paycheck a customer service nightmare.

kudos for upcoming SMC visitor Paul Dourish

December 21, 2015

Now that we have said goodbye to our most recent long-term visitor, Henry Jenkins, we can look ahead to our next, Paul Dourish. It’s a fine time to do so, as he has just been awarded two honors that testify to his important contributions to the study of computation and society. His 1992 paper “Awareness and Coordination in Shared Workspaces,” co-authored with Victorial Bellotti, was awarded the Lasting Impact award at the upcoming CSCW conference. And he was just chosen as a 2015 ACM Fellow, “for contributions in social computing and human-computer interaction.” Paul will be visiting the SMC group and the Microsoft Research New England lab in spring 2016.

Henry Jenkins, on “Comics and Stuff”

December 18, 2015

We have had the distinct privilege of having Henry Jenkins visit our research group for the past few months. Give the immense impact of his work on the study of digital culture and digital industries, fan communities and the creative repurposing of media texts, and political participation and new forms of online activism, it was an enormous treat to have him with us. The semester was an opportunity for him to make progress on his latest book project, provisionally titled Comics and Stuff. As we say goodbye to him today and send him back to sunny Los Angeles, we thought we would offer a recap of the colloquium he gave on the topic. This is in the style of liveblogging (though its hardly live, given that we sat on it for two weeks) so any lack of clarity is likely ours rather than Henry’s. Nevertheless, it offers a glimpse of the thinking that is animating this latest project. (Many thanks to Nathan Matias, who took copious notes and drafted this post; I merely proofed and posted.)

 

Comics and Stuff: An Introduction

Henry starts out by explaining that the use of the term “stuff” in his title is not a casual one, that it does actually matter for his early explorations of comics culture. He opens up by showing a comic strip from Mr X that shows an apartment with so much stuff that the background detail overwhelmes the rest of the scene.

== Comics ==

Henry begins by noting that comics have become an increasingly specialized medium, having at times been a mass one. He quotes Art Spiegelman in an interview in Critical Inquiry, referencing Marshall McLuhan, who said “when something matures, it either becomes art or it dies….. I thought of it very literally as a Faustian deal that had to be made with the culture, and it was fraught one and a dangerous one…. I figured it was necessary.” [[ A participant asks: are there any media that failed to become art and died? Jenkins argues that there are no dead media, just dead delivery platforms. Vaudeville and Burlesque might be examples of something that died and is coming back as an art form. ]]

Henry goes on to detail the historical trajectory of U.S. comics, beginning with the immense newspaper comics of in “The Yellow Kid” and “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” At the time, comic artists owned their page — they could do whatever they wanted. The Yellow Kid was full-page, while Little Nemo used panels. Next, Henry talks about comic strips emerging as comics pages, then printed monthly magazines, often published by people who were publishing pulp magazines.

The first “killer app” of comics is Superman: the thing that makes comics commercial viable. In the 1930s, 97% of girls and 98% of boys in the U.S., were reading comics book. As these young fans grew up, they expected that comics would grow with them and take on their concerns, with things like crime or horror comics. The comics panics of the 1950s came from the mismatch that followed, between the assumption that comics were for kids, and the way they were increasingly addressing and being marketed to adults. The industry responded by self-regulating, but also prices went up (from 12 cents to 2 dollars, due to rising paper, ink, and shipping costs) pricing many kids out. In response, comics increasingly became limited to specialty shops. The result is that now comics are almost exclusively sold in specialty shops, that are cut off from ordinary markets. The market shifted entirely to adults, but it was constrained by the codes that required comics to be for kids.

People also started to buy comics as an investment– because comics had been made to read and discard. Every mom who threw away their kids’ comics made everyone’s comics more valuable. But in response, comics were created to be collected, making the bottom fall out of the market. And that’s the context in which Spiegelman is writing, asking how comics will survive.

In parallel, we saw the rise a network of alternative comics self-published by artists, part of the rock and drug culture of the 1960s and 1970s, largely regulated and taking part in a period of experimentation with what comics could do. Emerging from this context, Art Spiegelman published Raw, a yearly comics anthology that introduced waves of new artists across different cultures. It was in Raw that Spiegelman first published Maus, the piece that many people think of as the pinnacle Spiegelman’s vision, and the explosion of graphic novels into mainstream public awareness. Before that came Will Eisner’s “A Contract with God,” which while it wasn’t the first graphic novel, is seen as the first of that time.

Spiegelman and Eisner offered one vision of how comics could go forward into the future. Will Eisner argued a different direction, arguing that comics should be totally reconfigured by being published online, without requiring paper or ink. Online, there has been a remarkable flowering of online comics, but most of them still look to print as a way to reach commercial markets. Yet another future is represented by Marvel: the idea that comics are run as research and development wings of the entertainment industry, or as places to test ideas that then get translated to other screens– the comics run at a loss, but the films make up the profit.

Henry argues that there are now parallel comics markets. Today, the top selling comics are almost all from DC or Marvel. The top selling graphic novels, on the ither hand, include a wider range of second-tier publishers. Compared to the New York Times list of bestsellers are a completely different picture: featuring Fun Home, Persepolis, Maus, and some media tie-ins (like Mad Max). Seven of the top 10 titles in the New York Times list are by women. Beyond the comics shop and bookstore, there’s a different kind of thing, something more diverse represented by the graphic novel market, Henry tells us. Almost all of this wider work has been conceived of as graphic novels developed from end-to-end rather than a serial.

What happened? Graphic novelists courted librarians, who are now key advocates of graphic novels and building new readers of contents. Much of the young adult content is by women, which is diversifying comics.

Henry notes that there are two other cultural configurations of comics beyond this U.S. story: Japanese and Euro comics (French/Belgian). Many of these models don’t apply to Japan or Europe. In Europe, for example, its cultural status has never been in crisis in France or Belgium, where they have been seen as art all along. However, it’s possible to talk about American, Canadian, British, New Zealand, and Australian comics.

Henry argues that we can see a shift from comics to graphic novels; from floppy to bound; from a disposable medium to one intended to be collected and preserve; from specialty shops to bookstores and libraries; from the idea of specialty fans to a wider public audience; from “trash” to art; from a focus on superheros to a new attention to everyday life; and from mostly masculine perspectives to a greater diversity.

As that happens, contemporary comics are not just looking forward, but also looking backwards. Jenkins cites Bill Watterson, who argued that “much of the best cartoon work was done early on in the medium’s history…. it increasingly seems to me that cartoon evolution is working backward…..Not only can comics be more than we’re getting today, but the comics already have been more than we’re getting today” (1989). Comic artists like Watterson are advocating for an earlier tradition in order to position themselves as part of an important tradition. In some cases, notable comics artists curate and support reprints and curatorial interventions to share and bring forward work from the past, positioning comics artists as people who do that kind of work.

Comic artists can feel ambivalent about this. What made Maus striking was not only that it was telling a story of serious import, but that it was using the form of funny animal comics– bidding for the status of pop culture, while also bidding for respectability. As they reach for a tradition, they find themselves drawing from and distancing them from this.

== Stuff ==

Henry notes that comics are stuff, in that they are objects we consume, keep, or diascard, and they represrent stuff, in that they include in their images the material element sof the life of their characters. Because of this dual relationship to stuff, comics can tell us a great deal about the lived materiality of contemporary sociality. The term “stuff,” says Jenkins, is part of a larger trend to consider the things in life, including Appadurai’s work on “the social life of things” and “the world of goods” discussed by Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, as well as Daniel Miller’s “Stuff” and “The Comfort of Things.” Anthropology and art criticism have also considered objects, in work by Orhan Pamuk (The Innocence of Objects) and Peter Schwenger, Bill Brown’s “A Sense of Things,” and Freedgood’s “The Ideas in Things,” as literary and art critics are responding to anthropologies of stuff.

Bill Brown frames his work by asking “why and how we use objects to make meaning, to make or re-make ourselves, to organize our anxieties and affections, to sublimate our fears and shape our fantasies.” Most of that work focuses on 19th century literature. In our current time, stuff isn’t something that will be passed along, itis designed to be discarded. Yet at the same time, we use our material things to make meaning around and of ourselves: adults are holding on to toys that were disposable, posing with images of their collections, sahring them online. This fits into a larger pattern of sentimentalizing stuff, to use it to remind ourselves of places we’ve lived and people we’ve known.

This valuing of stuff becomes a driver of sites like Ebay. Henry shows the following ad from Ebay: what nothing was ever forgotten or ever lost?

We can think of this stuff as something we’re trying to make sense of as a culture. We have things like Antique Roadshow, shows like Hoarders, or even books about “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” The result is that we end up with homes that are full of clutter, conflicting symbols of identity and history, bids for meaning jumbled together. We get the cultural call to keep and to discard. But tis doesn’t look like post-modernity, it’s not surface. People are deeply invested in stuff, and thinking about it as clutter or simply surface doesn’t get at it.

To summarize, “stuff” is a lifestyle choice. There’s been a shift from inherited objects (19th century writers) to personal selection — the stuff we own as a reflection of us rather than our family, tribal, or national history. There’s a shift from “possessions” to “belongings” — it belongs to us and signals what we belong to. There’s a shift from the disposable to the collectable, and then from trivia to expertise. Collectors are not just people who own stuff, they’re people who desire stuff and know stuff, creating forms of knowledge that former generations might have thought as trivial.

== Comics and Stuff ==

Comics artists are part of this. Jenkins notes the Canadian film “Seth’s Dominion,” as well as photographers hurriedly taking photos of art deco buildings that were about to be taken down, telling stories about those buildings, and then creating versions of those buildings in cardboard that then gets into art galleries.

The digital becomes a gathering point of this kind of thing. For example, Hip Hop Family Tree inspires media collectors to find and reassemble the pieces that are mentioned in it. Steampunk is another example of a collector culture that builds futuristic objects in the aesthetic of older objects. Retrofuturism is a similar example of this, people who are obsessed with 1930s images of tomorrow, with films like Terminal City, Tomorrowland, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. These all represent an attempt to reclaim the material objects and material imagination of the 1939 world’s fair.

Henry talks about the emergence of the still life in the early modern world. There’s a shift from paintings that are epic in scope, works funded by church and state, to a focus on everyday stuff. In Dutch capitalism, wealth is growing, yet there’s not a tradition of civic giving or charity; wealthy merchants wanted something to spend their money on, so they paid for beautiful paintings of their objects. It was a way that people displayed their own stuff and showed their appreciation of all kinds of stuff, and images of people collecting and gathering stuff. Art historians of the still life argue that there’s a shift from the crown or church to private collectors, a shift from the epic to everyday life. In the case of early modern painting, the shift to everyday life was seen as a lowering of status, unlike comics, where the shift was from lower to higher status.

Now, so with graphic novels. Jenkins shows us panels from Asterios Polyp that were designed to tell us things about a person’s life from the state of someone’s living quarters: an apartment with modernist furniture piled high with stuff. Across the book, there are six panels that show the history of a relationship. In the beginning, it’s a purely modern place. And then, there’s a moment of crisis: will his girlfriend’s belongings fit? Does she have a place in his life, as we see encated through the placing of her stuff. They integrate her furnishings into the space, then we watch is her aesthetic begins to takes over. After the relationship sours, remanants of her things linger. Readers learn to make sense of the scene by flipping back and forth between these moments. And it’s also part of a narrative.

Jenkins next compares comics about collectors with early modern about paintings that they would like to own and bring together– very similar to the kind of thing that collector comics creators are doing. Remember, says Jenkins, that everything drawn by the artist has a personal cost — they don’t get paid any more or less based on how much detail they include.

In Alice in Sunderland, Talbot introduces “cabinets of curiosity,” bringing back to the early modern practice of collecting oddities in cabinets and displays that are cornucopias of fragmented curiosity, dispersed attention, and personality. Ghost World is very much about why people own things. In two poignant moments, a teenager weeps over stuff that is important to her. There are things about stuff that shows us aspects of character that become turning points.

Compared to comics by men, female comic artists are focusing less on collecting stuff and more on the burdens of stuff and the process of getting rid of it. In Fun Home, Bechdel has problems with her father’s aesthetics that hide who her father is. It then focuses on the mother’s willingness to get rid of all the things after her father’s death. Special Exits is similarly about the death of parents, the emotional demands of getting rid of clutter, what’s left behind, with a blind mother-in-law asking if there are still ink smudges on the door frame left by her husband’s routine. Even though she’s blind, she can still guess that the stain and removal of stain is still there — something that expresses the relations in the family. Roz Chast’s “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant” includes a section on Grime and what collects on stuff.

To wrap up, as Henry reads these books, he’ll be patying attention to “Mise-en-scene as a site of virtuoso performance,” the social skills of reading stuff as key to understanding characters, collecting stories, and stories about culling through stuff (especially as men and women write about them differently), and stuff as key for thinking about memory, nostalgia, and history that run through these books. Often there’s a kind of “critical nostalgia” running through them, that is revealing of the genre and the cultural moment.

Reminder! MSR Social Media Collective PhD Intern Call, Cycle 2016!

December 16, 2015

APPLICATION DEADLINE: JANUARY 29, 2016

Microsoft Research New England (MSRNE) is looking for advanced PhD students to join the Social Media Collective (SMC) for its 12-week 2016 Intern Program. The Social Media Collective scholars at MSRNE bring together empirical and critical perspectives to address complex socio-technical issues. Our research agenda draws on a social scientific/humanistic lens to understand the social meanings and possible futures of media and communication technologies. The ideal candidate may be trained in any number of disciplines (including anthropology, communication, information studies, media studies, sociology, science and technology studies, or a related field), but should have a strong social scientific or humanistic methodological, analytical, and theoretical foundation, be interested in questions related to media or communication technologies and society or culture, and be interested in working in a highly interdisciplinary environment that includes computer scientists, mathematicians, and economists.

MSRNE internships are 12-week paid internships in Cambridge, Massachusetts. PhD interns are expected to be on-site for the duration of their internship. Primary mentors for this year will be Nancy Baym, Tarleton Gillespie, and Mary L. Gray, with additional guidance offered by our lab postdocs and visiting scholars.

PhD interns at MSRNE are expected to devise and execute a research project (see project requirements below), based on their application project proposals, during their internships. The expected outcome of an internship at MSRNE is a draft of a publishable scholarly paper for an academic journal or conference of the intern’s choosing. Our goal is to help the intern advance their own career; interns are strongly encouraged to work towards a creative outcome that will help them on the academic job market. Interns are also expected to collaborate on projects or papers with full-time researchers and visitors, contribute to the SMC blog, give short presentations, attend the weekly lab colloquia, and contribute to the life of the community through weekly lunches with fellow PhD interns and the broader lab community. While this is not an applied program, MSRNE encourages interdisciplinary collaboration with computer scientists, economists, and mathematicians.

PEOPLE AT MSRNE SOCIAL MEDIA COLLECTIVE

The Social Media Collective is comprised of full-time researchers, postdocs, visiting faculty, Ph.D. interns, and research assistants. Current projects in New England include:

  • How does the use of social media affect relationships between artists and audiences in creative industries, and what does that tell us about the future of work? (Nancy Baym)
  • How are social media platforms, through algorithmic design and user policies, adopting the role of intermediaries for public discourse? (Tarleton Gillespie)
  • What are the cultural, political, and economic implications of crowdsourcing as a new form of semi-automated, globally-distributed digital labor? (Mary L. Gray)
  • How are predictive analytics used by law enforcement and what are the implications of new data-driven surveillance practices? (Sarah Brayne)
  • What are the social and political consequences of popular computing folklore? (Kevin Driscoll)
  • How are the technologies of money changing and what are the social implications of those changes? (Lana Swartz)

SMC PhD interns may have the opportunity to connect with our sister Social Media Collective members in New York City. Related projects in New York City include:

  • What are the politics, ethics, and policy implications of big data science? (Kate Crawford, MSR-NYC)
  • What are the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development? (danah boyd, Data & Society Research Institute)

We are looking for applicants to focus their proposals on one of the following seven areas (though, you may propose a project that speaks to more than one of these):

  1. Personal relationships and digital media
  2. Audiences and the shifting landscapes of socially mediated entertainment
  3. Affective, immaterial, and other frameworks for understanding digital labor
  4. The social and political consequences of popular computing folklore
  5. The politics of big data, algorithms, and computational culture
  6. How emerging technologies shape countercultures, identities, and communities of difference
  7. Histories of computing and the internet that focus on the experiences of people from marginalized social, economic, racial, or geographic groups

Applicants should have advanced to candidacy in their PhD program by the time they start their internship (unfortunately, there are no opportunities for Master’s students or early PhD students at this time). Interns will benefit most from this opportunity if there are natural opportunities for collaboration with other researchers or visitors currently working at MSRNE. Applicants from historically marginalized communities, underrepresented in higher education, and students from universities outside of the United States are encouraged to apply.

For a complete list of all permanent researchers and current postdocs based at the New England lab see:

Which is: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/labs/newengland/people/bios.aspx

Previous MSRNE interns in the Collective have included Amelia Abreu (UWashington, information), Stacy Blasiola (University of Illinois, Chicago, communication), Jed Brubaker (UC-Irvine, informatics), Aleena Chia (Indiana U. communication and culture), Jade Davis (University of North Carolina, communication), Brittany Fiore-Silfvast (University of Washington, communication), Scott Golder (Cornell, sociology), Germaine Halegoua (U. Wisconsin, communications), Tero Karppi (University of Turku, media studies), Airi Lampinen (HIIT, information), Jessa Lingel (Rutgers, library and information science), Joshua McVeigh-Schultz (University of Southern California, interactive media), Alice Marwick (NYU, media culture communication), J. Nathan Matias (MIT Media Lab), Jolie Matthews (Stanford, learning sciences), Tressie McMillan Cottom (Emory, sociology), Andrés Monroy-Hernandez (MIT, Media Lab), Laura Noren (NYU, sociology), Nick Seaver (UC Irvine, anthropology), Jaroslav Svelch (Charles University, media studies), Katrin Tiidenberg (Tallinn University, Institute of International and Social Studies), Shawn Walker (UWashington, information), Omar Wasow (Harvard, African-American studies), Sarita Yardi (GeorgiaTech, HCI), and Kathryn Zyskowski (University of Washington, anthropology).

For more information about the Social Media Collective, visit our blog: https://socialmediacollective.org/

APPLICATION PROCESS

To apply for a PhD internship with the social media collective:

  1. Fill out the online application form: https://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/jobs/intern.aspx

On the application website, indicate that your research area of interest is “Anthropology, Communication, Media Studies, and Sociology” and that your location preference is “New England, MA, U.S.” in the pull down menus. Also enter the name of a mentor (Nancy Baym, Tarleton Gillespie, or Mary Gray) whose work most directly relates to your own in the “Microsoft Research Contact” field. IF YOU DO NOT MARK THESE PREFERENCES WE WILL NOT RECEIVE YOUR APPLICATION. So, please, make sure to follow these detailed instructions.

Your application will need to include:

  1. A brief description of your dissertation project.
  2. An academic article-length manuscript (~7,000 or more) that you have authored or co-authored (published or unpublished) that demonstrates your writing skills.
  3. A copy of your CV.
  4. The names and contact information for 3 references (one contact name must be your dissertation advisor).
  5. A pointer to your website or other online presence (if available; not required).
  6. A short description (no more than 2 pages, single spaced) of 1 or 2 projects that you propose to do while interning at MSRNE, independently and/or in collaboration with current SMC researchers. The project proposals can be related to but must be distinct from your dissertation research. Be specific and tell us: 1) What is the research question animating your proposed project? 2) What methods would you use to address your question? 3) How does your research question speak to the interests of the SMC? and 4) Who do you hope to reach (who are you engaging) with this proposed research? This is important – we really want to know what it is you want to work on with us and we need to know that it is not, simply, a continuation of your dissertation project.

On Letters of Reference:

After you submit your application, a request for letters will be sent to your list of referees, on your behalf. NOTE: THE APPLICATION SYSTEM WILL NOT REQUEST REFERENCE LETTERS UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE SUBMITTED YOUR APPLICATION! Please warn your letter writers in advance so that they will be ready to submit them when they receive the prompt. The email they receive will automatically tell them they have two weeks to respond but that an individual call for applicants may have an earlier deadline. Please ensure that they expect this email (tell them to check their spam folders, too!) and are prepared to submit your letter by our application deadline of Friday 29 January, 2016. Please make sure to check back with your referees if you have any questions about the status of your requested letters of recommendation. You can check the progress on individual reference requests at any time by clicking the status tab within your application page. Note that a complete application must include three submitted letters of reference.

TIMELINE

Due to the volume of applications, late submissions (including submissions with late letters of reference) will not be considered. We will not be able to provide specific feedback on individual applications. Finalists will be contacted the last week in February to arrange a Skype interview before the internship slots available to us are assigned (note: number of available slots changes year-to-year). Please keep an eye on the socialmediacollective.org blog as we announce the 2016 PhD Interns on the blog by the end of March.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Mary Gray at mLg@microsoft.com and include “SMC PhD Internship” in the subject line.

PREVIOUS INTERN TESTIMONIALS

“The internship at Microsoft Research was all of the things I wanted it to be – personally productive, intellectually rich, quiet enough to focus, noisy enough to avoid complete hermit-like cave dwelling behavior, and full of opportunities to begin ongoing professional relationships with other scholars who I might not have run into elsewhere.”
— Laura Noren, Sociology, New York University

“If I could design my own graduate school experience, it would feel a lot like my summer at Microsoft Research. I had the chance to undertake a project that I’d wanted to do for a long time, surrounded by really supportive and engaging thinkers who could provide guidance on things to read and concepts to consider, but who could also provoke interesting questions on the ethics of ethnographic work or the complexities of building an identity as a social sciences researcher. Overall, it was a terrific experience for me as a researcher as well as a thinker.”
— Jessica Lingel, Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

“Spending the summer as an intern at MSR was an extremely rewarding learning experience. Having the opportunity to develop and work on your own projects as well as collaborate and workshop ideas with prestigious and extremely talented researchers was invaluable. It was amazing how all of the members of the Social Media Collective came together to create this motivating environment that was open, supportive, and collaborative. Being able to observe how renowned researchers streamline ideas, develop projects, conduct research, and manage the writing process was a uniquely helpful experience – and not only being able to observe and ask questions, but to contribute to some of these stages was amazing and unexpected.”
— Germaine Halegoua, Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Not only was I able to work with so many smart people, but the thoughtfulness and care they took when they engaged with my research can’t be stressed enough. The ability to truly listen to someone is so important. You have these researchers doing multiple, fascinating projects, but they still make time to help out interns in whatever way they can. I always felt I had everyone’s attention when I spoke about my project or other issues I had, and everyone was always willing to discuss any questions I had, or even if I just wanted clarification on a comment someone had made at an earlier point. Another favorite aspect of mine was learning about other interns’ projects and connecting with people outside my discipline.”
–Jolie Matthews, Education, Stanford University

The internet(s) as metaphor, the internet(s) as craft

December 4, 2015

Like most people who read this blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about the internet. I’ve come to realize that there isn’t really one internet, there are many, and these many internets are the result of the different practices and workarounds that individuals and communities have developed to make the internet meet their needs.  As part of the Digital Culture Symposium at the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn, I organized a workshop called Meta/Hacking the Internet.  I wanted the workshop to open up a way of thinking about the many-ness of the internet. At the same time, I wanted to think about materiality, partly because there’s a stubborn tendency to think of the interent as abstract and cerebral, partly because traditional academic settings are often themselves abstract and cerebral.  So I invited four people – activists, artists, academics and social media practitioners – to share their favorite metaphors for the internet.  Sean Brown used the metaphor of fire to talk about the utility and dangers of the internet. Sara Leavens talked about the transition from cyberspace to web as a metaphor, while tracing connections between poetry and the internet. For Damien Luxe, the internet is best thought of as an open mic, while Hector Postigo​ likened the internet to play doh.

digital_Panorama1

(All photos by Kyle Cassidy)

Read more…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,676 other followers