Tuesday, September 01, 2009

DIY Authentication

I gave a talk yesterday at the University of Amsterdam as part of this year's Masters of Media speakers' series, which has been organized by Geert Lovink. Part of my talk about "D.I.Y. Authentication: Digital Rhetoric and the Subversive Potential of Information Culture" was a recap of the chapter in the Virtualpolitik book about satires of surveillance and authentication, which opens with the story of hacktivist Chris Soghoian.

But I also presented some of my newer work that extends the implications of the case studies in that chapter to the changing nature of the social contract in the Internet era and how the lack of an accepted means of authentication makes it difficult to conduct real political deliberations with Web 2.0 technologies. I began by arguing that the focus of public rhetoric had gone from authenticating citizens in the previous administration to authenticating the president in this one, as birth certificate anxieties gripped a particular constituency. I concluded my presentation with a screening of interviews with Soghoian and Chris Kelty from my new online video project.

There was a lively discussion afterwards. Lovink pointed out that my presentation might justifiably seem too U.S.-centric, given its lack of inclusion of parliamentary systems. Students said that I should attend to the interest in electronic voting among nationalist parties such as TON (Trots op Nederland) under Rita Verdonk's leadership. Another audience member pointed to the work of Stuart Shulman at authenticating blogs. In keeping with the theme of web generators and pseudo-interactivity that I discussed, Anne Helmond recommended that I check out the Whatever Button from Michael Stevenson that can turn words like "confirm," "accept," and "agree" in forced contract EULAs into the word "whatever" as a way to dramatize user apathy about compelled choices.

Lovink also gave me copies of From Weak Ties to Organized Networks from the Institute of Network Cultures recent "winter camp" and Digital Material from the University of Amsterdam Press.

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