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I turned in my own absentee ballot (Ohio! Yeah!) over two weeks ago, but that hasn’t really stopped me from being 100% distracted by the sheer weight of today’s importance. Could I IPban myself from Twitter, maybe?

I’ve lived through three election days already in the United States. I barely remember Clinton vs. Dole, but I remember Bush vs. Gore and Bush vs. Kerry entirely too well. In 2000, the circus that was the election seemed more like a weird spectater sport than something of international importance to a 12 year old, so I was amused rather than outraged at the total shitshow the electoral process had turned into. In 2004, I was not only old enough to understand, I was old enough to be outraged. I remember sitting in the senior commons of my high school with the other liberals, hurling obscenities that could only have been generated by years of living on the internet at my home state of Ohio and at America in general. How in the world could they have messed up so badly? What. The. Fuck??

This year is different. This year, it’s not they, it’s us: I’ve earned my turn to vote not just through adulthood but also through citizenship.

The context has changed over these last four years, inside and out. I’m not in swing state Ohio, I’m in blue-as-you-please Cambridge–I haven’t even seen a McCain/Palin yard sign since my trip to Colorado over the summer. I’ve become a much more extreme liberal. I understand so much more about the significance of the elections, the workings of politics, the role of corporations, the corruption, the lies. I’m not half as innocent as I was in ’04, but I’m now at least four times more angry.

The Chinese name for America literally translates to “Beautiful Country,” and it really is. Americans, most of you don’t even realize how blessed you are. This summer made me realize how vast and diverse and wonderful this country is despite all the really messed up stuff, and I’m not sure that I would want to move anywhere else even if McMaverick wins. That actually makes me hope extra hard that he doesn’t. I’m not ready to give up on this country for another few elections yet, so please, please, please guys: let’s elect Obama so that we can spend the next few years fixing things instead of cutting losses.

In an attempt to wake my blogging up from the deep, deep hibernation it’s gone into, I’m going to start posting old papers.

This one, originally written for Kelty’s “History of Software and Networks” in the Fall of ’07 but much cleaned up since then in bursts, is an ethnography of the place I grew up: the GameFAQs message board Random Insanity. If you’re thinking “holy shit you are SUCH a dork,” you are totally and completely right. I just read Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: Story of My People (to be blogged about later?) and, tragic as his nerd past was, it’s got NOTHING on mine.

But, unlike Nugent, who turned tail at 14 to join the hipsters, I embrace this past fully (as evident by the amount of time I spend writing papers and organizing conferences about it). This paper was written to try to look critically at a community that was of utmost importance to me growing up, and I hope that personal ethnographies of this sort will become more popular because, yo, these communities already are.

(Caveat: this paper was written a year ago and does not necessarily reflect the further-developed-thoughts of my further-developed-self. That said, if you find anything really whack & disagreeable, let me know! I like to talk about my problems.)

Download: RI Ethnography

So I was on Twitter during tonight’s debate, plugged in to the global network a la Charles Xavier with Cerebro, when I noticed a strange disturbance in the force. Namely, that there were more pro-McCain tweets than usual. And that some of these comments sounded really…uhh…fake? And were coming from the same accounts? So I started checking out the profiles of people who were pro-McCain.

Obviously there are republicans on the internet, and most of these accounts were just that: people with real profiles and histories and friends and snarky remarks, just pointed in the other direction. However, a few accounts seemed more than a little sketchy…
I found 7 accounts that had been created either tonight or on the date of the last debate, who had 0 or very very few followers/following, and who seemed to be having serious repost issues. Of course, I have no proof that any of these are actual astroturf–they may very well be exceptionally predictable people who were mavericks and decided to join Twitter for the sole purpose of talking about the debate despite not having any friends. Shit, maybe they’re even jokes that are over my head. But I’ll let you be the judge: (I’m offended on behalf of the state of Ohio)
And my PERSONAL favorite (The name, the really generic updates…hypoallergenic for sure?)
Hey, if you find this post because you own one of those Twitter accounts, please let me know you’re a real person. Until then, I have to say…ASTROTURF FAIL.

I’ve been a really irresponsible blogger, I know–it’s amazing (and slightly pathetic) how much of my blogging is fueled by academic procrastination. As both excuse and reparation, I’ll start describing some of the shenanigans I’ve gotten involved in for summer “break.”

It’s common (and accepted) knowledge that my friends are way, way cooler than I am, so I’m always pretty grateful when they let me hitch a ride on their awesome-wagon (or van, in this case) and live vicariously through them. That’s why This American Summer is so fricking cool.

The basic concept is delicious because it is so simple and classic. Three college kids–in this case, my friends David, Danbee, & Alex from MIT–get in a van and explore the country. Not quite the quintessential American summer because few get the guts to actually do it, but certainly the quintessential crazy American idea for how to pass a summer. Not only did they follow through where others have gotten lazy, though, the gang has actually gone beyond by documenting–and even planning–their adventures extensively online. They are Twittering, Flickring, blogging, vlogging, and doing all kinds of other buzzwordy things that are cooler in practice than they are to talk about. Best of all, they’re planning to release all the stuff under CC so that others can share it and remix from it to their heart’s content. Vicarious living made legally sound.

Alex riding a horse for the first time!
Alex rides a horse for the first time!

My minor part in all of this, other than intense envy and admiration, is as part of “Mission Control,” a small but loving team that helps them do the stuff they can’t do on the road. Like designing their website. This was my first foray into web design, so if you have any suggestions (or bug reports, teehee), please let me know!

They’ve been on the road for almost a month now, traveling from Colorado through the Midwest and the South. They’ve broken tent poles and van windows, but they’ve also tried honeysuckle dew and driven through sunflower-covered hills. They’ll be in Miami tonight: if you know of anything cool to do there (or anywhere else they’re going), please let them know through their forums!

I spend most of each exam time promising myself a land of milk & honey afterwards, one where I can laze around and read without papers and other academic pressures looming. However, this is mostly a lie–the beginning of summer is, as usual, much more hectic than I ever imagined it could be. Between moving in, starting my new job, and hanging out with soon-departing friends, I’ve been spending much less time at my new summer home than I hoped. Bizarrely, however, I have found time to do plenty of rollerblading.

Rollerskating is a Barrel of Fun

Yes, that’s right, I rollerblade. I not only rollerblade for fun, I rollerblade for transport: I’m bad on a bike, and besides I just really like the sensation of whizzing down a street on 8 wheels. Save your strength if you’re going to mock me in the comments: I’m sure I’ve heard anything “clever” you were planning on saying.

This past week, I went late-night rollerblading like three times with sensei Dean (who sadly departed for NYC on Saturday. Cambridge will miss you!), clocking in miles all around Cambridge. Then, Mako somehow talked me into doing Critical Mass. This month’s ride took ~200 bicyclists, one guy on a skateboard, and me as far as Roxbury and back, so it was the longest and hardest I’d ever skated in my life. But so much fun! Earlier this evening, I (finally) took the time to service my skates and rid my bearings of much hair and sand (eww). All of this adds up to WHOAMG so much skating in my life.

So what better time to post the paper I wrote about rollerskating for Prof. Stilgoe’s Modernizations class that I wrote this past semester? The paper is yet another one where I skim the surface of many subjects, furtively dipping my toe in and sampling the water without committing to a full analysis of any one of them. These topics include: gender & rollerskating! Class & rollerskating! Jam skating! Rollerblade barbie! The history of rollerskating! Madonna! Rollerskating & childhood!

Read the rest of this entry »

(Note: Sorry about the blog constipation lately! ROFLCon + Finals + Recovering from finals + Packing != productive writing time. I’m working on a ROFLCon postmortem which will be finished someday…until then, I’ve been posting lots of short, unpolished thoughts and links to cool stuff on my Tumblr.)

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to smooth out my thoughts about “the gentrification of the web.” A short and simplified summary is: web 1.0 was jankity and was somewhat ruled by jankity people; web 2.0 is smooth and polished, and people using it don’t have to know about the jankitiness underneath. Expect something more detailed…sometime this summer.

I found something that, in my opinion, really resonates with this today. I’ve been trying to use Twitter in the last 24 hours, and as part of my habituation process I’ve been using the “Find & Follow” thing on various email accounts.

* When I did it on my “college” email address, the one that I use to contact everyone I’ve met since coming to Harvard: 62 people used Twitter.

* When I did it on my high school social address, the one I’ve had since I was 13 with all the contact info of my high school friends and my internet friends: 0 people. Zip. Nada. Not a one.

So even though I’ve been active in internet communities since I was like 13, it’s clear that the communities I’ve been in have shifted. The weird thing is, all those people on my old email account? They’re still active online, probably more so than my college friends. In fact, they’re active in the places where a lot of internet culture gets produced. But they’re not on Twitter. And the people who are on Twitter are mostly unaware of their existence.

Weird, huh?