Something Wicked This Way Comes

Cyb/urbanism.

Posted in thesis by Christina Jenkins on July 5, 2009

So much for 1:1. Round two. I think I’m too slow (with words, with thinking) for blogging. Or, undisciplined.

File Not Found.A few months ago, Jacob was telling me about this idea of online blight. Abandoned URLs, neglected web sites, content that hangs in this kind of digital purgatory (inbetweenspace, not hell-like) between life and non-life. Would my own blog have been that, if I’d let it be forgotten? I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between how our habits play out in cities and online. Urban “blight” (a term that sounds like the 70s to me) also implies poverty and graffiti and brownness (not whiteness). Is there really an online equivalent, or are we just talking about 1996 web design? (And if we are, I’d like to see it – not via the wayback machine, but truly abandoned web sites, with rotating gifs and all.) Or, is there actually a situation of, say, online squatting here? It seems that there’s a phenomenon of registering domains, eventually abandoning them, and returning to find them taken over by spammers.

And then, more – thanks, Paul. A few days ago, Danah Boyd gave a talk about how the migration from MySpace towards Facebook represents a white flight, and signals the ghettoization of a space that’s been abandoned by the rich, white and educated. And sure enough, there’s that language again: Facebook as safer (“predators” live in MySpace, apparently), cleaner (design-wise), classier (used for networking, instead of dating or finding sex).

So are these new media things – in this case, social networking sites – all about democratization, or do they embody the habits we tend to exhibit in the non-cyber world? (See tech determinism vs. the social construction of technology.) I have the same trouble with Danah Boyd as I do with Malcom Gladwell and other people I distrust because I tend to agree with them too quickly. (I used her work at Berkeley when I was thinking about Alice.) But, there it is, and I’m wondering if this idea of a digital divide – which, in the world of ed/tech, refers to the access to technology that’s also characterized by richness, whiteness, geography, etc – will move, at least in the United States, from being a problem of access to one of segregated cyber spaces.

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