August 1, 2013

On January 11, autodidact, hacker, and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide in the midst of a draconian prosecution for using guest access to MIT’s network to download millions of articles from JSTOR. I’d only had a few brief conversations with Aaron on Twitter, but I read his blog for almost a decade, making his projects and ideas a steady presence in my life. In the words of Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook, for which Aaron and I shared an affection as unschoolers, Aaron was a “glorious generalist,” someone who has deep interests but, rather than obsessing, searches…

February 4, 2013

There’s an episode of The West Wing—“The Portland Trip”—in which Republican congressman Matt Skinner quips to presidential aide Josh Lyman, “I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members, you bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. ‘All those in favor of tossing guns?’ Bam. Move on.”

Skinner isn’t exactly proposing direct action, but the president’s staff clearly consider this sort of activist politics beneath them. Josh is dismissive not, it seems to me, because it’s a bad idea, but simply because it’s not the…

An Exhibit Review

December 7, 2012

In the years around 1971, the electronic medium of video became available to artists. Portable video recorders like the Sony AV-3400—universally known to users as “portapaks”—brought video out of the television studio and into both the artist’s studio and the streets, where they were used to document political activism, countercultural exuberance, and everyday life. This is the moment curator Lori Zippay captured in Circa 1971: Early Video & Film from the EAI Archives, an exhibit drawn on the collections of Electronic Arts Intermix and displayed at Dia:Beacon in 2011 and 2012.

As Zippay writes, “performance and visual…

August 21, 2012

In his 2011 book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Evgeny Morozov defines cyber-utopianism as “a naîve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its downside.” This belief, he writes, has entered U.S. foreign policy through the State Department’s internet freedom agenda. Its effects can also be seen in the media, as in misplaced enthusiasm about the role of Twitter in the Iranian uprising of 2009. Foundational to Morozov’s portrayal is Andrew Sullivan’s announcement on his blog that Iranians began communicating using Twitter after the…

June 4, 2012

On April 30, 2012, the FBI arrested five men affiliated with Occupy Cleveland. According to Special Agent Ryan M. Taylor’s affidavit, Brandon Baxter, Anthony Hayne, Joshua Stafford, Connor Stevens, and Douglas Wright were apprehended “after placing two inert IEDs at the base of the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge and attempting repeatedly to detonate those IEDs.” They did so by dialing a phone number to trigger the devices—a phone number provided by the undercover FBI agent who also sold them the fake explosives.

The Cleveland 5 faced life in prison on three charges, to which they initially pled…

May 17, 2012

The LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Device, is an extremely loud speaker—loud enough to damage hearing—that is marketed to militaries and police forces for both communication and “escalation of force.” It was first deployed in the United States at the Pittsburgh G20 protests in 2009 and will likely again project orders and siren sounds this weekend in Chicago during demonstrations prompted by NATO’s summit meeting. It also embodies a logic which has pervaded American thought since World War II, a logic which conflates communication and control.

As Aaron Bady points out, the LRAD brings together violence…

Peter Sachs Collopy

Historian of science, technology, and media, especially video and evolutionism. He/him.

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