Gehl—Reverse Engineering Social Media

Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism

by Robert Gehl

[Gehl, Robert. 2014. Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.]

Annotation Summary for: Gehl – Reverse Engineering Social Media

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Introduction Looking Forward and Backward”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Maria Elena Martinez- Torres notes that “a paradox has emerged from the revolution in communications: the same technology that has taken world capitalism to a new stage of development—corporate globalization—has also provided a significant boost for anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements.”4”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Drawing on Karl Marx’s iconoclastic “Fragment on ma- chines” in the Grundrisse,8 Dyer-Witheford argues that the Internet has simultaneously enabled extensions of the Taylorist domination of labor and the very means for labor to short-circuit global capital.”

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Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In O’Reilly and Battelle’s vision of Web 2.0, companies that were appropriating the socially articulated energies, passions, and labors of users—wher- ever those users might go with them—were not only surviving in the world of online commerce; they were building new media empires.”

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Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “social media are the corporate response to the mass creativity, collaboration, and desires of networked peoples. It is a tacit admis- sion by large media companies: when given a choice, people prefer content produced and recommended by themselves and their friends to that recommended by editorial authorities.”

Page 18, Underline (Magenta): Content: “social media are the corporate response to the mass creativity, collaboration, and desires of networked peoples.”

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Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Clearly, social media outlets are new media capitalism’s attempt to absorb and capture this explosion of user-generated content as objectified surplus value.”

Page 18, Underline (Magenta): Content: “Clearly, social media outlets are new media capitalism’s attempt to absorb and capture this explosion of user-generated content as objectified surplus value.”

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Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the central argument of this book: social media need to be understood not just as a collection of sites that place the users at the center, nor just as a radi- cal reform to the top-down, authoritarian model of mass media. Social media also have to be understood as software engineered to privilege and enhance certain users while closing off others.”

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Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” contradiction: on the one hand, social media allows for users to “be the media” and thus influence mass culture; on the other hand, social media sites are rigidly hierarchical, allow-ing certain uses and discouraging others, while site-owners constantly watch users’ movements and exploit users as what Tiziana Terranova has aptly described as “free laborers.”14 As she argues, free labor is rife with contradictions: it is freely given yet exploited; it is done for love, yet hypervalorization haunts and directs it; it is work, but it is play”

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Page 19, Underline (Magenta): Content: “site-owners constantly watch users’ movements and exploit users as what Tiziana Terranova has aptly described as “free laborers.”14”

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Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “this book is a contribution to the growing field of software studies.”

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Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Software is an obvious part of our daily lives as we use computers and smartphones, but it is also a hidden substrate operating out of view: running auto-mobiles, controlling infrastructure, algorithmically calculating credit and finance, storing data on myriad human and nonhuman flows, and collecting evidence of past behaviors.”

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Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “this book draws on three engineering metaphors, using them as methodological win- dows into social media software: software neering, and heterogeneous engineering.”

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Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost argue that software engineering’s emphasis on code and the organization of labor in the production of code provides a”

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Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “rich set of concepts for a critical study of software platforms.34”

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Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While software engineer- ing is the production of an abstract architecture followed by its im- plementation, reverse engineering starts with the final, implemented product and takes it apart, seeking clues as to why it was put together in the way it was and how it fits into an overall architecture. I see three good reasons to engage with this metaphor. First, re- verse engineering helps when we are confronted with closed code and proprietary formats.”

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Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second, to reverse engineer is also to move back through time. Reverse engineering is thus a forensic process,38 taking small parts of a system and their creators may have intended.”

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Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Finally, reverse engineering provides a healthy perspective on the well-worn (and yet always compelling) debate about structure and”

Page 25, Note (Custom Color: #fc7f08): But you don’t do this in your history.

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Page 25, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “agency, particularly in terms of technology’s relationship to agency.”

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Page 25, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here, I turn to the science and technology studies theory of heterogeneous engineering, a subset of actor-network theory41 that is certainly useful to software studies.42 Law argues that social analysis should start with the “metaphor of heterogeneous network . . . a way of sug-”

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Page 26, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “gesting that society, organizations, agents, and machines are all ef- fects generated in patterned networks of diverse (not simply human) materials.”43”

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Page 27, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This theory reminds us that we cannot simply uncritically accept the proclamations or products of software (or reverse) engineers.”

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Page 28, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “new media capitalism as prac- ticed by such sites as Facebook, Google, and Twitter has had terrible consequences: it reduces online interaction to binary declarations of lance systems operating underneath its surface; it relies on the free labor of its users to build its content while the site owners make ization (which always seems to be part of the political economy of tion, innovation, and competition) provides an all-too-easy means by which states can gather data on citizens; and it promotes a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth. In short, contemporary social media hardly seems compatible with”

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Page 28, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We begin to realize that these new associations can be heterogeneously engineered to reflect different values—specifically, those of the much-longed-for Habermasian public sphere of demo-cratic debate and decision making. ”

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Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “this book critiques social media by rigorously analyzing the ideas of social media engineers, reversing them to trace the path from concrete software to abstract desires, seeking contradictions among them, noting where meanings shift as audiences and interests shift, contrasting them with the underlying architecture, and looking for new, progressive possibilities and shapes within this structure.”

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Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I propose the concept of the “real software abstraction,” a synthesis of the software engineering practice of ab- straction and Marx’s concept of the real abstraction.”

Page 31, Typewriter ((null)): Comment: Ideal / material – that’s it…

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Page 32, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Wikipedia is radically different from other social media sites. Clearly, this Spanish Fork was a labor strike; the participants in the strike were able to heterogeneously engineer a “class for themselves” out of the typical social media capitalist production of the user “class in itself.””

Page 32, Note (Custom Color: #fc7f08): Wikipedia is not social media. He only uses it to justify his manifesto.

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Page 34, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “1 The Computerized Socialbot Turing Test”

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Page 36, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I then connect this history to the concept of noopolitics. “Noo- politics” is a term coined by Maurizio Lazzarato to describe our con- temporary emphasis on the politics of attention and memory.8 “Noo” derives from nous, the Greek word for mind.”

Page 36, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““Noo- politics””

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Page 36, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I suggest that social media’s “culture of confession” is produc- ing a massive dataset of the internal states of mind in human beings.”

Page 36, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““culture of confession””

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Page 44, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““culture of confession””

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Page 46, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “for me to connect to a friend on Facebook, I must cut through the clamor of my friend’s social stream. A strategy for doing so is to be “real,” to express details of my personal life. If my audience is larger than a single friend, then authenticity is far more necessary to “stand out from the crowd,” as the personal branding literature often puts it. ”

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Page 46, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Importantly, a major outcome of transparent, confessional so- cial media communication is the public production of patterns of”

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Page 47, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “textually encoded, discrete states of mind.”

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Page 47, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In sum, the “big data” produced by a massculture of confession are a boon to computational analysis”

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Page 50, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I want to suggest that the ability of so- cialbots to pass as human might be more a function of the a priori reduction of human activity to predetermined datasets than due to the coding skills of socialbot engineers. And with such reduction in place, the modulation of perspectives, thoughts, and communication among publics is a much simpler task.”

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Page 51, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “rather than confine knowledge workers in factories or pris-ons, institutions of noopower make them productive by shaping the protocols and contours of their emotional and cognitive interactions.”

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Page 53, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The existence of socialbots demonstrates that social media users are producing enough discrete states of mind to be imitated by Turing’s Universal Machine. It should be clear that any system in which such user activities as expressions of opinion, desire, and emotion can be standardized and typified to the point that even robots can do the work of friending, liking, and relationship management is a boon to a highly rationalized system like social media capitalism.”

Page 54, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “2 The Archive and the Processor”

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Page 54, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If we take them at “interface value,” such sites as Twitter, Google, YouTube, and Digg and such formats as the blog privilege newness over other forms of organization. These sites are exemplars of the “Web as platform,” where the Web is treated as an operating system, and social media sites are applications built on top of the Web.”

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Page 56, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Jacques Derrida,2 Michel Foucault,3 Marlene Manoff,4 and Geoffrey Bowker5 are right in arguing that control of the archive leads to social power, then social media site owners are becoming quite powerful indeed, because they have the ability to pull data from their archives to produce knowledge. contradiction between the immediate and the ar- chived,”

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Page 57, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Von Neumann Architecture, calls for computer designers to store data and programs in a memory core and to process that data and execute those programs with the proces- sor.6 The processor is thus a mechanical/electrical replacement for the collected labor of large groups of human computers, a prior form of information processing used since the 1700s.8”

Page 57, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Von Neumann Architecture,”

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Page 60, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “often when we talk about a computer, we discuss two con- trasting facets: how fast can it process, and how much data can it store? According to technologist Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 is the practice of getting users to add value to a website by having them build its con- come dynamic, constantly updated sources of new material.22”

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Page 61, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Editors of blogs and news sites realize this, pushing content far ahead of fact-checking and accuracy simply because it reflects what is happening right now.”

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Page 63, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As Adrian Mackenzie argued in the 1990s, the focus on the new was part of the two dialectical processes of the Internet: the emphasis on “real-time drives” and the archival impulse.27”

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Page 64, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As Turkle argues, “We live a con- tradiction: Insisting that our world is increasingly complex, we never- theless have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think, uninterrupted. We are primed to receive response.”32 However, this is not just a structure determined by the computer’s technological architecture or by the users’ actions and desires; it is also determined and extended by the needs of the heterogeneous engineers of social media. These engineers are operating within a particular mi-lieu: late capitalism. ”

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Page 71, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Despite its reliance on human processors, the Amazon Mechanical Turk’s marketing literature abstracts the human processing that takes place during HITs. Amazon wryly calls this “artificial artificial intel- ligence,” referencing the interface, which makes human work look mechanical.”

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Page 77, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Mark Zuckerberg explains: If you had asked people . . . ten years ago, “What would be the best way to take a big set of photos and identify the people in them?” most people would have said, “You should have a face recognition algorithm,” or something like that, and kinda crunch all the photos. But it turns out that it is a lot easier to let people tag the photos of their friends, and create a good in- terface where you have your friends list there and you can do that. It works really well. . . . One person and they do the work for the network.69”

Page 84, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “3 Architecture and Implementation”

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Page 85, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As scholars of science and technology studies (particularly in the social construction of technol- ogy school) argue, a critique of a failed technology allows us to avoid reifying successful ones as the natural result of technological devel- opment.9”

Page 86, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Two Forms of Abstraction: Software Engineering and Marx’s “Real Abstraction” fundamental conceptual division between the architecture of the program and its implementation. “By the architecture of a system,” he writes, “I mean the complete and detailed specification of the user interface. For a computer this is the programming manual.”

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Page 86, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “architecture implementation.”

Page 86, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Im- plementation involves what is popularly thought of as the work of”

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Page 87, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “making software: coding. Brooks argues that this is when software is “realized.””

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Page 87, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “software abstraction. ”

Page 87, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “in computing means shifting from the particu- larities of the machine (the specific configuration of its hardware) to general software that works on that hardware:”

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Page 89, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the act of constructing a large program and the act of managing labor are one and the same; decomposing abstractions into modules is the same as decomposing a large workforce into individual workers or small teams who answer to the architects of the system.18”

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Page 89, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Karl Marx’s assertion that “it is not the conscious- ness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness,”22”

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Page 90, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This leads to Sohn-Rethel declaring the money-commodity to be a “real abstraction,””

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Page 90, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “these abstractions are not mental categories that ideally precede the concrete to- tality; they are real abstractions that are truly caught up in the social whole, the social relation.25”

Page 105, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “4 Standardizing Social Media”

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Page 106, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This chapter takes its inspiration from studies of social media that connect technical standards and technological politics. However, I take a different tack: I discuss the less-acknowledged role of advertis-ing technical standards in the history of social media. ”

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Page 107, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” here I argue that these standardized templates are, in fact, glistening façades hiding what increasing numbers ofmedia scholars recognize as the infernal machinery of surveillance”

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Page 107, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “infernal machinery of surveillance.”

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Page 107, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “start by exploring the role of contemporary standards consortia, outlining their typical three-part ideology. First, they present themselves as solving a user problem Second, standards consortia argue that their work creates new markets. Finally, standards consortia draw from the larger discourse of neoliberalism to present themselves as privatized regulatory bodies that are far more re- sponsive to technological change than are government regulators. This ideology of self-regulation I argue that the IAB formed to solve a classic marketing user problem: the inability to gauge the return on advertising investments. The IAB’s production of standardized ad- vertising, ad-exchange networks, and surveillance technologies and”

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Page 108, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “metrics gave rise to a new market: contemporary social media. Social media’s template-driven shape reflects the underlying standards pro- duced by the IAB. Finally, I address the question of structure and agency by using the IAB’s self-regulatory ideology as a means to dis- cover possible avenues of resistance to this political, economic, and social structure.”

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Page 123, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The sovereign interactive consumer equates con-sumption with freedom and as such takes caveat emptor to heart as heor she chooses which social network to sign up for. He or she is not a laborer; the sovereign interactive consumer is a producer (or prod-user?),85 but he or she does not “work.” Instead, the sovereign inter-active consumer self-produces via the playwork of ludic interactions with digital artifacts, such as chunks of data (text, images, videos, audio, etc.) or fetishes (avatars, profiles, user names, logos, brands, etc.). ”

Page 130, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “5 Engineering a Class for Itself”

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Page 130, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Free labor is an act of love, but it is also reduc- ible to the cold logic of exchange: we make and maintain relation- ships on Facebook and YouTube, and the emotions associated with those relationships are powerful, and yet in the end these linkages become reduced to nodes in a social graph.”

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Page 132, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the case of Wikipedia and what I call the Spanish Fork Labor Strike. I call this incident a “labor strike” because this is an instance when free laborers (largely located in Spain) recognized their status as such and withheld their labor to have greater say in the shape of the nascent Wikipedia.”

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Page 133, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Beginning in Chapter 1, I have taken for granted the idea that the users producing content within the social media frames are a class of free laborers.”

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Page 134, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Given that users’ labor is geared toward processing the new, that the products of this processing are alienated from them (via Terms of Service agreements) and stored in rationalized archives, and that interactions within social media are shaped via templates and pro- tocological containers to better produce users as interactive ers, it is clear that users relate to social media as laborers.”

Page 154, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “6 A Manifesto for Socialized Media”

Page 154, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “this chapter attempts to syn- thesize two things: a design for an ideal social specific, material efforts to build such a system.”

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Page 155, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I argue for a system that involves true two-way communication, decentralization, free and open-source software, and encryption.”

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Page 157, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “First, to my design speculation: I offer a feature set for socialized media. Equal capacity to receive and transmit.”

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Page 158, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” socialized media must be at its core designed to provide equal transmission and reception capabilities, and its software must be built so that inequalities between these two can be avoided orworked around. A decentralized architecture. ”

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Page 158, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “socialized media must be decentralized and, more im- portantly, decentralizing, always threatening to dissociate nodes of”

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Page 159, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “power, such as server farms and delimited access points.”

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Page 159, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This leads to the need for an open-source architecture.”

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Page 160, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the software, protocols, and power structures of socialized media must be open to inspection, alteration, extension, and distribution. this requires a peer-to-peer, distributed structure as op- posed to the client-server architecture.”

Page 161, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the architecture of so- cialized media also needs a radical democratic pedagogy at the interface. the shift from batch to personal computing has fit well with ideologies of neoliberal individualism that elide both the proprietary software running un- derneath the surface and the material, social, and ecological impact of the craze for individual gadgets.14”

Page 161, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the architecture of so- cialized media also needs a radical democratic pedagogy at the interface. the shift from batch to personal computing has fit well with ideologies of neoliberal individualism that elide both the proprietary software running un- derneath the surface and the material, of the craze for individual gadgets.14”

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Page 162, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This radical interface pedagogy would aid in creating a collabora- tive collective of users with and without technical skill.”

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Page 165, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The war on piracy, a corollary to the larger, growing regime of surveillance within social media, brings me to another point: the so- cialized media need encryption.”

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Page 166, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Socialized media software must also be platform independent. In fact, socialized media not only should be platform inde- pendent and open source but also should run on free hardware.”

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Page 168, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We want to eradicate the reduction of individuals to consumerbots operating under the gaze of surveillance systems, and yet we value social me- dia’s public performances of identity and affect.32 To navigate this, we will also need a culture of fluid identities, with anonymity, pseu- donymity, identity shifts, and play.”

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Page 169, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We can imag- ine metadata that do not persist but rather die after a short period of time—metadata with Time to Live. some antiarchivism in socialized media is much needed. Examples include, but are not limited to, Diaspora, GNU Social, Freedombox,”

Page 170, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “TalkOpen, Tor, Facebook Resistance, meshnets, Yacy, Ixquick, Crab- grass, Creative Commons, Move Commons, Riseup, Zurker, and Lorea.”

Page 204, Underline (Red): Content: “Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” September 19, 2006. Available athttp://www.marxists. org/reference/archive/adorno/1944/culture-industry.htm.”

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