Calling adults childish

Robert Pogue Harrison, “The Children of Silicon Valley“:

In “Change the World,” a splendid New Yorker article published in 2013, George Packer mentions an employee at a high-tech firm who refused to take time away from work to hear what President Obama, who was visiting the campus, had to say. “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make,” the employee reportedly told a colleague. There are not many places in the world—maybe only one—where an employee can expect an absurd utterance like that to be taken seriously, and where children, metaphorically speaking, believe that adults need their guidance and tutelage.

… and on and on. (I’m all for maximalist critiques of Silicon Valley, but politicians as adults is rich.)

(an ongoing series)

coming at you like spider monkeys

The clock is ticking. Those 16-year-old girls are coming at you like spider monkeys, and everyone else is going to feel left out. —Angelo Sotira, “Never Forget that 16-year-old Girls Run the Internet

I have read this weird advice/app review column by the deviantART founder/CEO so many times, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what the 16-year-old girls that bookend (and headline) the article have to do with the body, about new “secret-sharing” web apps. Is the advice about keeping 16-year-old girls out? Why does the advice not also apply to 16-year-old girl users? Will 16-year-old girls adopt any platform regardless of its merit? Will they destroy a perfectly good tool? There isn’t even a coherent passage to quote!

And don’t plenty of 16-year-old girls use deviantART? Is this column expressing Sotira’s resentment of his own client base? Is his the cautionary tale? When he writes, “Imagine that you’re in your apartment, scrolling through the latest confession/messaging/social app, and it’s full of woes of teenage heartbreak. You realize that this app doesn’t speak to you.” is he complaining about his own site? Because, um, go look at the stuff on the front page of deviantART (which is an amazing website—truly no disrespect or criticism there is intended, but the point is obvious I hope).

And if teenage girls run the internet, why WOULDN’T you want them on your site?

I guess I know it’s obvious that everyone hates teenage girls, but is it THAT obvious? Are they such a pure symbol of abjection?

cf, I guess. sigh

This new special issue of Differences, “In the Shadows of the Digital Humanities,” is great. David Golumbia’s article “Death of a Discipline,” in particular, is spectacular. It certainly confirms many of my biases so it’s a joy to read. But it is also really a pleasure to read after Matthew Kirschenbaum’s complaint in the same issue that critiques of digital humanities commonly refuse to address the actual works produced by scholars who identify as doing digital humanities. Kirschenbaum goes to some lengths to argue that DH scholars are just doing something different from “traditional” literary scholars, and the terms of its evaluation should be participation and membership in its own networks:

So it is with digital humanities: you are a digital humanist if you are listened to by those who are already listened to as digital humanists, and they themselves got to be digital humanists by being listened to by others. Jobs, grant funding, fellowships, publishing contracts, speaking invitations—these things do not make one a digital humanist, though they clearly have a material impact on the circumstances of the work one does to get listened to. Put more plainly, if my university hires me as a digital humanist and if I receive a federal grant (say) to do such and such a thing that is described as digital humanities and if I am then rewarded by my department with promotion for having done it (not least because outside evaluators whom my department is enlisting to listen to as digital humanists have attested to its value to the digital humanities), then, well, yes, I am a digital humanist. Can you be a digital humanist without doing those things? Yes, if you want to be, though you may find yourself being listened to less unless and until you do some thing that is sufficiently noteworthy that reasonable people who themselves do similar things must account for your work, your thing, as part of the progression of a shared field of interest. (55)

Which is to say that Kirschenbaum effectively defines DH as a separate field from “traditional” literary studies, to argue against ideological critiques of it from outsiders like theory-minded literary scholars. Which is an effective defense as far as it goes, but  it is almost completely unresponsive to the concern that DH may be threatening or encroaching on or trying to replace the existing practices and disciplinary formations of literary studies. In fact it seems to bolster those concerns. Kirschenbaum is also just weirdly dismissive of critics focus on the “discursive construct” of DH, as though that “construct” weren’t the thing that is making it possible for these people who apparently have entirely different professional networks and constitutive practices to claim the humanities and literary studies as their own.

The question, as Golumbia puts it, is “why professionals who are not humanists should be engaged in setting standards for professional humanists” (157). If practitioners of a field should be primarily responsible for defining their field and evaluating the work it produces, as Kirschenbaum says, and if DH is really a separate field, as Kirschenbaum says, then the terms of Kirschenbaum’s defense of DH ipso facto justify the skepticism that “traditional” literary scholars might have toward of its encroachment and claim of authority in their disciplinary and institutional settings.

In any event, Golumbia’s essay is fantastic for many more reasons than this.

[update: to be clear the goal here isn’t to add to a pissing contest but to point out that the same terms, and even apparently the same analysis, of disciplinarity, professional networks, etc, are being used to support pretty much opposite positions here, and that Kirschenbaum seems to be conceding Golumbia’s argument, and I wish he would actually engage with his implication that DH scholars really do represent an entirely separate professional network/discipline.]

Let it blaze

No guinea of earned money should go to rebuilding the college on the old plan; just as certainly none could be spent upon building a college upon a new plan; therefore the guinea should be earmarked ‘Rags. Petrol. Matches’. And this note should be attached to it. ‘Take this guinea and with it burn the college to the ground. Set fire to the old hypocrisies. Let the light of the burning building scare the nightingales and incarnadine the willows. And let the daughters of educated men dance round the fire and heap armful upon armful of dead leaves upon the flames. And let their mothers lean from the upper windows and cry “Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this ‘education’!”‘

—Woolf, Three Guineas

The university has not only casualized its own labor force: it operates as a kind of fusion reactor for casualization more generally, directly serving the casual economy by supplying it with flexible student labor (which is to say: by providing flex workers with the identity of “student”), normalizing and generalizing the experience of casual work. The casualization of the higher education teacher has been accompanied by the wholesale reinventing of what it means to be an undergraduate: the identity of “student” has been disarticulated from the concept and possibility of leisure and vigorously rearticulated to contingent labor. In the twenty-first century, “being a student” names a way of work. The graduate employee understands that the gen-x structure of feeling proceeds from the generational register of the economic order: insofar as casualization colonizes the experience and possibilities of “youth,” cheerfully extending the term of youth and youthful “enjoyment” into the fourth decade of life—because youth now delimits a term of availability for super-exploitation.

—Bousquet, “The Waste Product of Graduate Education,” Social text, 2002, p. 99

What I have found is that people who really need the science education are the adults. Adults outnumber children. They’re in charge. They wield resources. They vote. All of the things that shape the society in which we live are conducted by adults.


The challenge has never been children. The challenge has been adults. I don’t think you have to do anything special to get kids interested in science, other than to get out of their way when they’re expressing that curiosity.

All the adults are saying, “We need to improve science in the world. Let’s train the kids.” I’ve never heard an adult say, “We need more science in the world. Train me.” I’ve never heard an adult say that. It’s the adults that need the science literacy, the kind of literacy that can transform the nation practically overnight.

Kids Sharing Earbuds and “Social Media”

I’ve been circulating my piece about kids sharing earbuds since 2009. I’m very pleased to say the volume it was slated to appear in has finally been published: The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies. The whole volume (two volumes, in fact!) is excellent. At $150 it’s much too expensive for individual purchase, but you might encourage your library to purchase it, if you have such influence. My understanding is that a cheaper paperback version should come out in a year.

Here’s the abstract:

“Earbuds Are Good for Sharing: Children’s Headphones as Social Media at a Vermont School.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, vol. 1, edited by Jason Stanyek and Sumanth Gopinath, pp. 335–55. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. [pdf]

Working from ethnographic research with K–8 schoolchildren at a small public school in Vermont, this chapter examines one of the central practices of music listening of contemporary U.S. children: splitting the cheap earbuds that lately accessorize many consumer devices in order to share them and listen jointly with friends. At Heartsboro Central School, students used their portable music players to move through space, tuck into clothes, and link friends from ear to ear. MP3 players bundled with headphone cables circulated among lockers, desks, pockets, and backpacks. Wires threaded under clothing and tangled across crowded lunchroom tables. Hanging from a shoulder or shirt collar, maxed-out earbuds strained to liven up group spaces with portable, lo-fi background music. In class, students listened surreptitiously to earbuds concealed in sleeves and under the hoods of sweatshirts. Most often two friends would share a pair of earbuds—one for me, one for you—listening together with one ear as they participated in the dense overlap of talk, touch, and gesture that characterized their unmonitored peer interactions. By sharing earbuds kids activated and delineated relationships, and they solidified certain types of social bonds. With the same actions they enforced and regulated status hierarchies, excluding certain children from listening even while expanding access for others who might be limited by parental resources or restrictions. While a complex logic of genre, celebrity, and consumerism informed HCS children’s musical tastes and habits, most prominent was the intimate embedding of earbuds as social anchors among the complex networks and hierarchies of these elementary- and middle-school children. This chapter argues that through their listening practices children’s upset the rationalizing logics of privatization and isolation that accrue to headphones and portable music, as they creatively reimagined their music devices to fit within the persistent and densely sociable cultures of childhood, as tangible technologies for interaction and intimacy that traced out bonds and tethered friends together in joint activity.

Calling adults childish

John R. MacArthur, “Google’s Media Barons.” A classic of the genre:

Thus proceeds the infantilization of the American public, hooked more than ever on superficial, unchecked information sometimes rewritten from more reliable, though uncredited sources. It’s no coincidence that Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Yelp sound like toddler gibberish from the Teletubbies.

Whenever I hear these silly corporate names invoked with sanctimonious awe, I imagine Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, and Tinky-Winky singing their hit single “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh’ ” as they shake the change out of some two-year-old’s pocket. Come to think of it, Eric Schmidt’s new playmate, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, bears a more than superficial resemblance to Po.

Where will it end, as the dumbing down of America accelerates and Google becomes ever more dominant? A psychoanalyst friend tells me that listening to baby talk may be gratifying up to a point, but that constant subjection to it produces unconscious rage in adults.

(an ongoing series)

Calling adults childish (an ongoing series)

Felix Salmon, Netflix’s dumbed-down algorithms:

Television stations learned many years ago the difference between maximizing perceived quality, on the one hand, and maximizing hours spent watching, on the other. Netflix has long since started making the same distinction: it wants to serve up a constant stream of content for you to be able to watch in vast quantities, rather than sending individual precious DVDs where you will be very disappointed if they fall below your expectations. Netflix’s biggest fans tend to be parents of young kids — but in a sense, Netflix wants to turn us all into young kids, consuming an endless stream of minimally-differentiated material. (Note that Netflix doesn’t allow you to watch a trailer for a movie before streaming it; it just expects you to stop watching that movie, and start watching something else, if you don’t like it.)


Amendments to OUP contracts for handbooks and edited volumes

In the interest of sharing practical information, here are some notes on my  experiences over the last several years getting changes to the language in contracts for individual chapters in edited volumes from Oxford University Press. I have two pieces in Oxford Handbooks, for which I had similar objections to the contracts Jonathan Sterne discusses here, in particular that the agreements were “work for hire” rather than simple copyright transfer (see here for a good explanation of the difference). Like Sterne I was able to get them to add this language:

Notwithstanding the foregoing and subject to the Publisher’s prior written approval, provided that full acknowledgment of the Volume (including bibliographic details) is given and that such use does not affect prejudicially the sales or other exploitation by the Publisher of the Volume, the Contributor may rework some (but not the whole or a substantial part) of his or her contribution to the Volume as the basis for articles in professional journals, conference papers, training materials, newsletters and similar materials, as well as for chapters in books by the Contributor.

I’m not sure that really helps much, but I also was assured by email that this paragraph allowed me to include the chapter in my dissertation (something I specifically requested). In fact I find assurances outside of the contract itself to be pretty frustrating, since the standard contracts always include a clause that says something like “This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties regarding its subject matter and supersedes and replaces all prior discussions, arrangements, and agreements (whether written or oral) relating thereto.” Which has the effect of disavowing any email assurances!

In addition I was able to have the following clause added, which more or less replicates “moral rights” (or the author’s right to be identified):

It is hereby acknowledged and agreed that such likeness and biographical information shall be subject to the Contributor’s approval, such approval not to be unreasonably conditioned, withheld or delayed. It is further acknowledged and agreed that the Contribution shall be attributed to the Contributor in each instance.

One of the differences between work-for-hire and copyright transfer is that in the latter it is possible to claw back the copyright after 35 years, as I understand it. At that time horizon, who knows what will happen to these materials. You could easily imagine them being sold or repurposed or severely altered somehow, so it is nice to at least have a commitment that my authorship will always be identified.

I was also told that I was one of only two people out of 500 to question the wording of the Handbook agreements in music, and the only one to express concern over “work for hire.” If this is true it’s too bad (though Sterne also reports expressing concerns about work-for-hire, so there must have been at least two of us). But it does indicate that publishers aren’t getting much in the way of push-back from authors on their standard contracts, so the takeaway is that more people should ask for better contracts.

By contrast, I recently negotiated another contract for a chapter in an edited volume, through Oxford’s UK rather than New York offices, and I had a much easier time getting satisfactory changes made. The standard contract used normal copyright transfer rather than work-for-hire. I needed an up front commitment to be able to use the complete chapter in a future book. I was able to get the following added in an addendum:

3 Copyright and Permissions
3.1 The Contributor may reuse the following without obtaining permission:

• up to 10% of the Work providing that this does not exceed 1,000 contiguous words and up to 3 figures or tables.

3.2 The Contributor may:
• Post the Work on a personal website or in an institutional repository;
• Include the Work in derivative works, including extension of the Work into a book-length work;
• Reproduce the Work within coursepacks or e-coursepacks for teaching purposes, with the proviso that the coursepacks are not sold for more than the cost of reproduction;
• Include the Work within a thesis or dissertation.

3.3 Permission is granted on the following conditions:
• that the material reused is  own work and has already been published by OUP;
• and that the intended reuse of the Work is for scholarly, non-commercial purposes;
• and that full acknowledgement is made of the original OUP publication;
• and that reuse on personal websites and institutional repositories includes a link to the OUP website.
Clause 7.6 of Schedule II of this agreement is hereby revoked.

(Clause 7.6 reads “This Agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties regarding the subject matter hereof and supersedes and revokes all prior discussions, arrangements and agreements written or oral relating thereto.”)

In my view this is excellent. It covers basically everything I really want from a contract, and it was easy to achieve after a bit of back and forth and clarification. And it is much better than what I could get from the Oxford Handbook contracts. This may be a difference between UK and New York, or just that the Handbooks are using a different model. But I thought I should put it out there to let other people know what can be negotiated.