What is the Internet for?

8:32am | 5/17/2019
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.

Signs of Life

2:43pm | 1/18/2019
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

3:20pm | 5/2/2018
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

6:43pm | 4/27/2018
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

8:56pm | 4/25/2018
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...

There is certainly something to be gained from books— real, thick books— that probably won't ever be found on the Web. But how often can I find a book that's really as cutting and new as the material I read online? A book is special because it organizes information differently, and forces a commitment to actually sit down— to gather and reinforce a coherent set of ideas over the course of a few days, or weeks. But not always— it's not easy to find a book that does well to be a book when we have the Internet. I'm sure that's something the author has to learn to understand and evaluate, and presents an interesting challenge.

Anyways, Cass Sunstein did a wonderful job with #republic, and it was a set of ideas that required a good, sizeable book. I would say "fake news" isn't really an appropriate or popular name for the crysis, that it's more of a "crysis of freedom". Part of the analysis that Cass made conveys a sense that digital information and communication technologies (ICT) primarily create choice. We have a great many of choices today, and not enough are real— let alone particularly useful by way of deliberative democracy.

The New News

7:40pm | 4/11/2018
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

6:42pm | 3/28/2018
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 | 3/11/2018
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 | 2/18/2018
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 | 1/31/2018
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...