Democratic Debates

10:49pm | 03/13/2020 updated
Daniel Tompkins

Episode 1, The Thunderdome... Was hoping for live comments along with the NBC live stream— disabled on YouTube👎. Take part in the discussion below, or find the subscribe button to get an email invitation for

Freego: WiFi Freedom Trail Tour

09:30pm | 01/12/2020
Daniel Tompkins

The Boston Freedom Trail is a major tourist attraction for exploring many of the important monuments and sites of our nation's early history. My collaborators (Alicia Valencia, Hüma Şahin, Mallory Nezam) and I were tasked to address this historical pilgrimage— to observe and reflect on these sites in their past and present contexts.

First, we purchased tickets and set off on the Trail. One of our immediate observations was a feeling of insincerity— the tour felt hokey. It also led us to question the role and meaning of Freedom in the context of the Trail, as well as in America.

Tour guides, often in costume— posing as "ghosts" of 18th-century political figures, lead you through the Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, the house of Paul Revere, the Old North Church... all the way to Bunker Hill (where the trail ends).

Rosie, the Roomba Remix

12:46am | 12/20/2019
Daniel Tompkins

You've probabaly seen the incredible kinetic artwork of Theo Jansen. In 2007, a TED video was released featuring the Dutch artist's Strandbeest— a skeletal-looking, beach crawler. Jansen's unique mechanical design allows the "beest" to walk across the sand, propelled by the wind.

Jansen is a brilliant mind in the science and art of applied physics. He invented the mechanical motion for what he calls the Legsystem in 1991. Since then, his curiousity for kinetic art has compelled him to breathe life into a long lineage of fantastical "beests".

Inhabiting an Other

02:00am | 11/20/2019
Daniel Tompkins

Empathy... involves a lot of respect towards others... a tolerance to otherness without the projection of our feelings onto others, without stealing their voice and narrative. There is total acceptance of the difference in the other's [object's] feelings. Empathy is the way to understand another human being's spirit and mind, not only his feelings. In a confrontation with the other, and in respect for his experience, we can compare our lives and relfect on our morality and values. Empathy with another person helps us to know ourselves. Knowledge of another human being is therefore a way of self-reflection.

Hot Tub Phone Repair

08:45am | 10/15/2019
Daniel Tompkins

You shouldn't be allowed to have nice things when you forget your phone in your swimsuit pocket— not once, but twice! The first time was a Motorola Razr. I was swimming at my grandma's condo and came out of the pool with a dripping flip phone.

Abstractions II

09:00am | 10/08/2019 updated
Daniel Tompkins

The schedule tool on was a little hard to use. The map also did not contain a legend, so I used this schedule picker (quickly thrown together by Think Co.) and made this improved map. This was also thrown together, but felt a little easier to read.

Bernie's Bills

10:45pm | 07/23/2019
Daniel Tompkins

Politics are in season. Theresa May has announced her resignation, and now Boris Johnson is building a "cabinet for modern Britain" as the next appointed Prime Minister. He's optimistic about building a new Brexit deal, and to "take advantage of all the opportunities that it can bring."

What the Blog?

09:57pm | 07/02/2019
Daniel Tompkins

H.264 of Homepages Quiet Blogs

Blogs?? That's right. You haven't time-traveled. We're 19 years past the turn of the millenium. People are giving up their writing to Medium, leaving Facebook (not MySpace), and YTMND is disappearing. It's not all bad...

Killing a Startup

04:13pm | 06/09/2019
Daniel Tompkins

Together with Sam Piecz, I co-founded a web application for visualizing personal financial data and test-building portfolios. Since 2016, I worked as a designer and— eventually— as the go-to Javascript (JS) coder, for CorrelatePro. Sam, who'd grown up on the Raspberry Pi, knew Linux and the command-line interface (CLI) like the back of his hand. He showed me how to navigate the terminal; how to use Vim, Tmux and Github; and got me setup with basic devops: in our case, a virtual environment and Docker. Any meaningful work I do on a computer today is because of Sam.

Sam and I met in the Boy Scouts— eventually we both went on to earn the rank of Eagle. When we were younger, Sam and I went to punk, metal, and electronic shows. We started skating together, went to some weird suburban parties, and got into some light-weight trouble. Sam started (and has since sold) an electronic cigarette "e-liquid" company— Heating Up Vapor. I designed the labels for his bottles, and had started working on some custom packaging. As we got older, however, almost every time we went to "hang out", we were really just sitting on opposite sides of the room coding on our laptops.

Reading List

04:56pm | 06/01/2019 updated
Daniel Tompkins

If you're interested in a decentralized Internet, if you wonder how technology infiltrates politics (for better or worse), or if you're simply itching for a good read— take a look at one of the titles below. You'll find a mix of the pleasurable and the scholarly; but undoubtably something interesting. For my own sake I split the list up into "Reading, To Read, and Read". If you see anything on the list that you recognize, let me know what you thought! If you have a recommendation, drop a line in the comments! Also take a look at my recent Bookmarks Dump for additional reading, tutorials, entertainment, and other content.

Bookmarks Dump

12:59am | 06/01/2019 updated
Daniel Tompkins

Exactly what the title says! I'll try to keep this page going with an updated dump of my bookmarks. You can export yours too— the tutorial's screenshots are outdated, but it still gets you to the right place. I used a couple simple Javascript functions to pull in the downloaded JSON file from Firefox, parse through it, and then styled the list with some basic CSS. Pretty cool! Browse through my troves of collected resources on the decentralized Web; links to new media art and artists; tons of exciting DIY projects; academic writing on technopolitics, privacy and surveillance— along with all sorts of other fun goodies. Go buck-wild. ♥

What is the Internet for?

08:32am | 05/17/2019 updated
Daniel Tompkins

This blog has been a cherished personal project. I've spent hours reading and researching, learning to code, and forgetting how to write. I thought someone on the Internet would like to read it. Apparently not— what are you even doing on the Internet? If you're having a nice shit, then I bet you're scrolling through Insta... Facebook isn't cool anymore— don't forget to wash your hands.

If you have a job, you probably use calendars and email and spreadsheets— maybe Trello or something. A ton of people listen to music and watch videos. But what is the Internet actually for? Oh, Amazon. People buy a 💩load of stuff on Amazon.

Signs of Life

02:43pm | 01/18/2019
Daniel Tompkins

FM radio headphones were given out at the door. Each set was tuned beforehand to receive a broadcast from my programmed station. Visitors were then invited to walk around the room, contemplating the artifacts of the exhibit. A V-dipole at one end of the room captures the broadcast and displays a real-time spectrogram of the radio waves on a small display.

Across the room, a satellite dish points back, creating an alignment across the projected GOES-16 "full-disk" im-age animation of the Earth. Along the back wall, a few dozen images show demodulated signals from the NOAA 15/18/19 satellites as they passed over Cambridge, Massachusetts in the months of October and November 2018.

Public Internet

03:20pm | 05/02/2018
Daniel Tompkins

Nearly a decade ago, Facebook pioneered the concept of social media. However, it wasn’t until recently— as the platform boasts 2.1 billion users— that the full consequences of such an ubiquitous network have burst into the public eye. Now, Zuckerberg’s famed motto, “move fast and break things,” may have in fact contributed to a broken democracy. In his recent testimony before Congress, it also became evident that our elected representatives' lack of digital literacy only serves to exacerbate the situation.

Technology has had an ever more intimate relationship with politics— and I'm appropriating the term technopolitics to describe this entanglement. It's a purposefully broad term, a hyperobject (to borrow a term from Timothy Morton) for reconciling disparate processes into discrete events and behaviors. Technopolitics could be i.e., using the Internet to influence political campaigns. It could be psychographically curated information on social media, policy and regulation changes (GDPR), net neutrality, and much more. My optimism is that "technopolitics" will also promote deliberation, especially in answering the following questions:

Public Domain

06:43pm | 04/27/2018
Daniel Tompkins

In the previous post, I took a quick look at Cass Sunstein's #republic— particularly, at the mechanisms of online polarization. I'm also empathetic to Sunstein's hopes for a dedicated online Commons. Here, I wanted to write some observations on the quality of designed spaces for shared experience— looking especially at the application of public art.

Sunstein calls for a public domain, designated to popular deliberation— a kind of incubator of social progress. I wonder how we might compare a sidewalk and a park in this capacity— or better yet, an old public house to a digital forum? In what way does art function in this space to provoke or curate shared experience? To approach these questions, I'd like to tell a story about an artist, David Powers.

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

08:56pm | 04/25/2018
Daniel Tompkins

Nicco's class Media and Journalism in the Digital Age is centered on what we're forced to loosely refer to as "news", or perhaps "news media". We talked about print news, which I feel (with the admitted naivety of a Millennial) conjures the most powerful image of News— or the ideals of a journalistic practice.

No doubt The Post (the recent film) has sought to reinforce that feeling. It had Spielberg's classic cinematic affect, but a healthy optimism for ethics in journalism— especially in parallel with the "fake news" crysis. In class, we did touch upon the physical speed at which printed news (despite those incredible machines!) lags behind digital; but, I'm curious about printed books as well...

The New News

07:40pm | 04/11/2018
Daniel Tompkins

Last year I wrote a first draft of a paper, The Internet of Anxiety, which essentially documented the growing pains of the universe of information and communication technologies (ICTs) from radio to the Internet. The present media ecosystem seems to be the result of a "coming of age" of the past 30 years of technological innovation. Though it can hardly be said to be a moment of rest, there is a sense that we are experiencing fewer paradigm-shifting changes in technology.

Facebook's infamous call to "move fast and break things" seems to have reached a point where everything is so broken that everyone's being forced to pick up the pieces, and take a retrospective look at how and when everything got so screwed up. It's an understatement to say the Internet has changed the way we live. In the last post, I talked a bit about the way in which the rise of digital advertising has devastated printed news— and what measures are being taken to revitalize those traditional news outlets which have managed to survive...

Mr. Baquet, Tear Down this Wall

06:42pm | 03/28/2018
Daniel Tompkins

In 2014, The New York Times released an internal innovation report (since leaked to the public) on how a shifting— increasingly mobile and social— media ecology is demanding the need for an agile business model to support their already exemplary foundations in journalism. The restructuring of their organization prompts a debate on how the typically walled-off newsroom is expected to interact with the commercial side of business— advertising, promotional outreach, R&D, and audience acquisition— all the while maintaining the valued integrity of its writing.

As their report shows, many of their younger competitors are digital-only publications— and the sustained growth of these new companies (HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media, etc.) has reinforced the importance of understanding and incorporating modern technology...

Shoe-Leather Politics

11:04pm | 03/11/2018
Daniel Tompkins

In The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, the closed curtains typically shrouding the inner-workings of campaigns are drawn open, providing an insider's view on voter acquisition and the organizational topographies that feed these intense mobilization efforts. With some exceptional first-person accounts from leading figures in political science and campaign management, Sasha Issenberg details an intimate narrative of how these election machines have evolved. What is particularly interesting is how political veterans are adapting old "shoe-leather politics" to incorporate modern and interdisciplinary strategies in data analytics, voter microtargeting, and predictive algorithmic modeling.

In the small town where I grew up, there was a traveling carnival that would setup rides for a week or two each summer. For someone with no practical experience in politcs, the electoral race feels somewhat comparable— an extravagant kind of political parade that pops up in the collective American consciousness every four years. In much of the literature, the campaign is portrayed as a high-stakes and nimble game...

Whole Citizens

11:28am | 02/18/2018
Daniel Tompkins

In the previous article, I took a look at David Karpf's Analytic Activism— examining how political campaigns have reacted to a hybrid media environment. In that article, I also imagined a public citizen, a parrhesiastes, to participate in the establishment of a digital public domain for vibrant political speech and discussion beyond social media's "echo chambers"— disparate information bubblees filtered of ideologically oppositional content. Karpf's collective analysis of how media and analytics function within the modern political arena is incredibly insightful and engaging — but how di we get here? Additionally, how can past political campaigns function as models for the strategic implementation of emerging technologies in future races and activist movements?

Daniel Kreiss, in Prototype Politics: Technology-Intensive Campaigning and the Data of Democracy, does well to address these questions— analysing the historic adoption of the Internet and the evolution of its involvement in political races. Kreiss looks specifically at the transfer of knowledge from one campaign to the next, and at how individual campaigns can function as explicit prototypical models for future elections— especially as their relationship with Karpf's hybrid media environment continues to mutate...

Public Citizens

10:44pm | 01/31/2018
Daniel Tompkins

At times, public domain renders itself as a physical environment— perhaps a park, or plaza. Conceptually, though, it has no explicit point of reference. The public domain is built on events— the intimate exchange of strangers. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, implies in his text— Fearless Speech— that the public domain is the engagement of space and dialogue.

In the Athenian democracy of ancient Greece, this was the stage— the "Pnyx"— upon which a parrhesiates— a "truth-teller"— could speak. Foucault describes this act of truth-telling, parrhesia, as a sacred right of the Greek citizen. This right is exercised with risk to the speaker's own reputation, perhaps against the will of authority— but it is committed out of necesity...