In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I wrote:

“Producing internet content, rather than simply consuming or sharing it, feels productive; in this time of desolation and destruction, good feelings and actions have real use and value.”

As much as I believe this—I said it—I’d like to use this format, another blog post, to develop some of the contradictions that underwrite my cliché, starting with some of the founding illogics of writing and reading in various internet formats. This is to say, one of the deepest paradoxes for me in this, and every online effort, is how the tight grip of digital architectures, capitalism, and other infrastructural truths that seed these platforms also produce norms for digital cultural production and consumption that both enliven and deaden all that we do here, and all that it might mean or matter:

  • Twitter holds platitudes and their illustrative pix. Facebook is for emotion and its depletion. Instagram centers images and flattens their affect. And blogs are dead because the devil’s in the details (see the following two bullet points)
  • Every morning I wake up and work on this project. There’s a lot of steps: I read the news and my various other feeds, choose a subject, write a post, find images and links, then move it to Facebook, Twitter, its website. This all takes real time and effort. I have to think hard. I know some people will read it, that it will last, and perhaps might even be returned to in the future at the end of its 100-day cycle of high-speed production. By the end of the process I feel invigorated. It has given my 100 first days under Trump some shape and purpose. I honor this feeling. It is mine.
  • As the day continues, however, the underlying morass of truths regarding internet habits, uses, and infrastructures—and their linked contradictory feelings—begins to build. I am pretty sure only a small number of people engaging with this project actually read this far into the post (there’s too much other content competing for their precious time and energy, and it might not even be that interesting or useful to others. So be it. Plus, they’re finding it on platforms that dissuade their deep reading, but I was the one who put it there in the first place!). This makes me feel dejected and duped, like, why did I waste the time and energy? Then I think: do I write for others, anyway? what is it that I want or need from you? how much of this need and pressure and desire is baked into false promises of the internet, like I have or even need an “audience”? And why and how are those who are reading actually engaging with this, or any other internet project, anyway? I am pretty sure people only hit “like,” or maybe “share,” if I write a pithy title or share a meaning-rich photo, and also to signal to me that they are there (with me), which feels great for a second, with an intense buzzy warmness attached as good as caffeine, and then something sort of lousy, too, comes to bear, with a more lasting interior dig like a sucker-punch. I’d prefer for you to engage with me through my words, which we most likely will never do here (because of how the title or the picture that drew us together in the first place is such a small place from which to interact). So, I feel swindled, and worse still, that I am the biggest swindler of myself.
  • Having this place for expression, “audience,” friends, interaction, validation, non-validation, the production and consumption of knowledge and culture, feels like something. It’s not a nothing. Here I am doing it. Yet, I know it is a sorry substitute for the building, engaged, place-based, interactions that sustain me and other people and movements. I have often called it (the production, movement, and connecting to and through well-made digital words and images) proto-political, a step toward well-being and world-changing but not those things themselves. But here I’ll go farther, and name it is a kind of proto-being, a half-life pointing to great possibility.
  • Thus, the real use and value of producing internet content is the potentiality written into words and images and their reception: mine, yours, and ours. Online, alone together, we acknowledge to ourselves that we are here, and momentarily heard and seen, if not really in the ways that feel most human, or that might be most productive for change.

Now look at that! Without planing to, it appears I have just authored my own version of my 2nd #100hardtruths at halftime: Choose to know, name, and share your own internet truths. I feel good about that circularity for now.

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This #100hardtruths, the form of #100questions, was given to me by my friend, AIDS activist and cultural worker, Theodore Kerr.

“I have been inspired by the immense amount of activism emerging in the face of the Trump Presidency. But also confused by it and how it relates to other Presidencies. I find myself wondering, what can we do to ensure that our resistance in the future is as intense as it is now, even if we like future Presidents? Below are 99 more questions:

  • What did it mean when Van Jones and others in the media praised Trump for appearing more Presidential during his Joint Session of Congress address? If he plays the part better, will we become less offended by his Cabinet? His vitriol? The money he is making off the Presidency? The money he is wasting? The millions of lives he is playing with and ending?
  • Is part of the reason we don’t like Trump is because of hubris? Would he be less offensive to us were he to be humble?
  • A 2011 Gallup poll named Ronald Reagan the most highly regarded president of the United States in history; How did that happen? How did Reagan go from mocked and hated to beloved and revered? Are all presidential reputations salvageable?
  • Are we mad at the Muslim Ban? Or are we mad that we couldn’t ignore the violence of the Muslim Ban because of the in-your-face that Trump rolled it out? Why aren’t airports being taken over now with the Second Muslim Ban Executive Order? Is the intensity of our activism in direct relationship to Trump’s bravado? The more low key he is, the more readily we accept it?

  • Do presidential portraits tell us anything about the president and the times he lived? What is on the white paper that Presidents Adams, Pierce, Van Buren, Mckinley, Coolidge, Nixon and Bush 1, are holding in their official portraits? What are they hiding? Why isn’t there at least one portrait where we can see blood on the President’s hands?

  • Why did Clinton’s approval rating go up after his impeachment? Why was he even impeached? Were columnists and citizens, news anchors and pundits happy to see punishment delivered? Is that all is needed? What would happen if Trump tweeted: “you all are right. I am bigly horrible”? Would his approval ratings go up? Would we more easily accept the gutting of schools and health care?

  • Where was the mainstream press coverage of Obama’s record on deportation? Where was the mass outrage over him not closing Guantanamo like he promised? How are we determining the level of violence we are willing to accept from a president? Is there a calculation that media outlets follow? What am I missing?

  • What do we want in a President? What do people think about when they think of the President?
  • How does one even become President? Can anyone become president? What does it take? Is it the suit thing? Did Celine Dion ruin her chances of becoming president when she wore a suit backwards? Could Janelle Monae become president? What about Willie Lowman?

  • Why didn’t Shirley Chisholm became President? Or Ross Perot or Jesse Jackson? Or David McReynolds? How would we treat them if they had made it to office? What level of critique would they experience? How much would reporters just ignore? What aspects of their lives would the media fixate on?
  • Why isn’t Romney President? Or Hillary? Or Paul Ryan? Or Laverne Cox? Or Assata Shakur? Or Leonard Peltier?
  • How did Trump become President? Or the Roosevelts? What about Carter? Taft? Washington?

  • Scholars and pundits often say that politics changed after the first televised debate, the one between Kennedy and Nixon; Is that true? Did a clammy face lose Nixon the race? If so, how was he able to win a few years later? Did he learn to sweat differently? Has media savvy—in relationship to available technology—always been a prerequisite to become President?

  • How often did people think about the Presidency before newspapers? Before radio? Before TV? Before the Internet? How did people learn about Hooverville?

  • When was the first Presidential news conference? Who was there? What was said? Who called it? What was the impact?
  • Why is the President of the United States most often in a suit? When did that start? When will it end?

  • Is it a man, sitting behind a desk? Saluting other men? Walking on and off airplanes with a wife close behind? Is a President a man standing with microphones? Donald Trump does those things, so why do we have such a hard time seeing him as the president?

  • Is it because he is horrible? But, he is not the first horrible man to be president, is he?
  • Is it because he and his administration are racist, sexist, transphobic, ablest, xenophobic, classist? What about other administrations, weren’t they those things too? If we hate those things why did Ellen recently have George W Bush on her show to talk about his art work? Wasn’t his administration terrible? Didn’t he start wars on false pretenses and take advantage of world wide sympathy? And for what? What about all the lives he ended and ruined? But now he gets a pass? What is it about Trump that has wanting to see the softer side of a war monger?
  • Do people know that Medium is an unedited platform created by Twitter for folks to share thoughts longer than 140 characters? If so, why in some lefty circles are Medium articles shared as if they are the gospel yet often these same folks decry the spread of fake news on the right? What is the difference? When is the difference?
  • What will it take for Trump to get on Ellen? Would we like him better if he work a better fitting suit?
  • How can we ensure that our level of resistance in the face of the Presidency into the future, even when we like the President?

Celine for President!

Geert Lovink shared this hardtruth with me from his yet to be published paper, “Overcoming the Disillusioned Internet—Discussing Principles of Meme Design.”

“There is a crisis of ‘participatory culture.’ Let’s look at the example of danah boyd [I, too, refer to boyd’s self-criticism of media literacy in #100hardtruths #18] and how she’s deconstructing the ‘media literacy’ discourse about which so many of us had high hopes. A cynical reading of the news has overshadowed critical capacities. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, she asked if media literacy has backfired. Have trolling, clickbait, and fake news undermined the classic belief in the democratization of news production? Whereas, for the pre-internet babyboom generation, literacy was synonymous with the ability to question sources, deconstruct opinions, and read ideology into quasi-neutral messages, the meaning of literacy has shifted to the ability to produce one’s own content in the form of responses, contributions, blog postings, social media updates and images uploaded to video channels and photo-sharing sites. The shift from critical consumer to critical producer came with a price: information inflation (the well-meant prosumer synthesis never materialized). According to boyd, media literacy has come to resemble a distrust of media sources, and no longer fact-based critique. Instead of considering the evidence of experts, it has become sufficient to bring up one’s own experience, thus leading to a doubt-centric culture that can only be outraged and incapable of reasonable debate, a polarized culture that favors tribalism and self-segregation.”

image by Montclair State University

“The current situation demands a rethinking of the usual demands of activists and civil society players with regard to ‘media literary.’ How can the general audience be better informed? Is this an acurate diagnosis of the current problem in the first place? How can holes be made in the filter bubbles? How can Do-It-Yourself be a viable alternative when social media are already experienced in such terms? And can we still rely on the emancipatory potential of ‘talking back to the media’ via the familiar social networking apps? How does manipulation function today? Is it still productive to deconstruct The New York Times (and its equivalents)? How might we explain the workings of the Facebook newsfeed to its user base? If we want to blame algorithms, how can we translate their hidden complexity to large audiences? A case in point might be Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, in which she describes how ‘ill-conceived mathematical models micromanage the economy, from advertising to prisons.’ Her question is how to tame and, yes, disarm dangerous algorithms.

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#52, “Access, Beauty, Disability Culture,” was shared to me by Petra Kuppers who writes:

“Do you really believe that ending up in a wheelchair is the worst trajectory for you? (one kind of hard truth I, a wheelchair user, hear every day). Address your fears. Educate yourself about the rich lives possible with different physical, sensory, or cognitive systems. Strive to create inclusive spaces, online and in the flesh. Address systemic inequality at the level of architecture, cultural attitudes, representation, and your emotions about different bodyminds and their capacities. These actions will help you to release your own fear of aging. Worlds change.”

 

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#hardtruth #51 is contributed by Eve Oishi, the first to respond to my pledge @50 “to share this disruption by asking others to author #100hardtruths of their own, thereby acknowledging that the most meaningful and useful knowledge (this, a kind of truth) comes from communities of practice and care.”

Eve writes: “These are resources that a student of mine shared with me a few years ago: organizations that train queer and trans* youth in coding, designing, and developing innovative tech tools with the belief that arming young people with these digital skills is vital to shaping a more sustainable, safe and equitable world.

In this new climate of terror against immigrants, many organizations like Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) are producing “Know Your Rights” videos that are available on YouTube that educate people about what they should do to prepare and how they should respond if they are confronted by immigration enforcement.

They have just completed a second one that instructs people in what to do once they have been detained (which will be available soon.) They also have a sample wallet card to hand to enforcement officials stating one’s legal right to refuse to communicate the number of a lawyer.

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On February 18 on my blog I pledged:

  • To disrupt the new President’s First 100 days by posting #100truths-fakenews with linked actions, analyses and organizations committed to digital media literacy.
  • In so doing, I will produce a 100 point digital primer to counter the purposeful confusion, lack of trust, and disorientation of the current administration’s relation to media, offering instead a steady, reasoned set of resources seeking clarity and justice.

One month later, I have written the first 50 posts … phew … it hasn’t been easy! Over those many posts, while keeping my eye on the daily, shifting fake fixations that are definitive of this disruptive, dangerous, confusing time, I also tried to express a set of interlocked truths that might help clarify some of the relations between digital expression, media infrastructures, contemporary art and politics, and opportunities for resistance. The first #50hardtruths found me thinking about, while also trying to enact, effective modes for truth-sharing, trust-building, complexity-enhancing and resistance-producing that would begin about and within digital culture and then potentially move beyond it.

But, during the first phase of the project, I only shared these #50hardtruths on my blog, and then via Facebook and Twitter. As hard as it was to write so many truths in such a short time, those platforms made them easy enough to share, at least a little. But, in many of these truths, I observed and wrote about the limits of these very platforms for honest or at least meaningful or useful communication. By this I mean, specifically, meaningful for our psyches as human beings and useful for social change or activism; and by this I am referring, particularly, to the use of Facebook, Twitter, and their kin, what with their structuring logics of neoliberal production, consumption and corporate ownership; their valuation of the quick, the superficial, and the viral; and their pretense of community, engagement, and participation camoflauging experiences of isolation, distraction, and commodification. Given the goals and values that were emerging from the project and its focus on effective digital media literacy, it became increasingly clear to me that I was enacting a highly self-reflexive process that engaged in and suffered from the very constraints it hoped to critique. Now, limits are often useful for learning (see my “video-book” Learning from YouTube, where a similar set of corporate constraints taught my students and I a good deal about teaching, learning, writing, reading, classrooms and more).

As one response to the learned limits of this project, I decided to seek the assistance of the technologist Craig Dietrich to build it a better digital home, one that might more honestly or effectively hold its #100hardtruths-#fakenews, particularly given the five digitally self-aware beliefs and visions I have learned from the project thus far, expressed as five new truths below. While this fix lives online, it begins to move outside some of the very troubles of social media that lend it, and all we do here, so easily to the shallow, the immediate, the isolated, and thus what might be or at least feel false.

As I move forward, I hope to engender other processes within even more radical logics and platforms toward even more effective forms for digital media literacy. I will enumerate some of these methods as a new pledge at the conclusion of this post. But here’s an easier one to begin, adding the parenthetical oxymoron “(#offline?!)” as a revelatory tick or trick to the halftime truths that follow—one that might help us to momentarily think outside this box—to consider how do, could, would these digital truths play forth in the “real” or “true” world? And to be very clear, my vision of the real world understands it is a mixed-reality where internet and world are one. Hence, my five hardtruths @50:

  • producing internet content, rather than simply consuming or sharing it, feels productive; in this time of desolation and destruction, good feelings and actions have real use and value. Choose to be digitally productive rather than reactive (#offline?!)
  • we all know truths about this internet—the place in which we swim, live, and drown daily. Naming our truths to ourselves and others—how our lives here feel, how they mean, what we want, who we know, follow and trust—is a vital step in building critical media literacy. Choose to know, name, and share your own internet truths (#offline?!)
  • however, it is also true that after the feelings subside and the ideas are refined, our user-produced content on the internet’s social media primarily and ultimately serves best its corporate masters. Our usually small, succinct online one-offs become more culturally and politically productive when bundled, and even better, when used purposefully towards stated goals. Projects for the use of our many media truths are more critical than their expression (offline?!)
  • while this goes against current internet common-sense, the quality of interaction with my expression is much more valuable to me than its quantity. I value a thoughtful response or considered use over a like; a sitting-with over a share. Work towards qualities of principled encounter or use over quantities of bogus reception for our internet expression (#offline?!)
  • the delightful ambiguities of the fake/real binary are being played by this administration, and the sectors of the media and internet that are built upon and refract them, in ways that are at once confusing, entertaining, distracting and also deadly real for actual people and communities. Understanding and not simply producing contradiction; naming and not evading complexity; breaking through the digital hall of mirrors allow us to focus our attention and action upon the real-world applications of #fakenews, a critical project of this time.

#100hardtruths-#fakenews will end on April 29, 2017. At that time, I will begin a different kind of work, transforming the website into a digital media primer for specific learners in real-world communities and settings through the production of curricula and events. But before that, over the build of the final 50 hardtruths, I will engage in two new, even harder digital practices that I hope begin to work slightly past the logics of corporate social media.

@50, I hereby pledge:

  • To share this disruption by asking others to author #100hardtruths of their own, thereby acknowledging that the most meaningful and useful knowledge (this, a kind of truth) comes from communities of practice and care.
  • to share this project, for its final #50hardtruths, through a one-to-one, person-to-person effort (via email or IRL), thereby connecting my truths to a person who I know, and who I think might truly want, need, or use it. I will ask them to do the same.

The first of my shared-hardtruths, #51, will be by my friend, the scholar and curator, Eve Oishi. I invite anyone who reads this to contribute, and I also invite you to meaningfully respond to or use any one of my #100hardtruths-#fakenews, or your own, in your world.

 

The Seventh Art Stand is a nation-wide series of film screenings and discussions. An act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia, the Stand will take place in May 2017, with over 30 locations in 18 states confirmed.

The goal of this initiative is “to elevate the cinemas and stories” of the people from the countries affected by the travel ban set by President Donald Trump: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, reports in IndieWire.

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