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Media Distortions

Understanding the Power Behind Spam, Noise, and Other Deviant Media


Elinor Carmi

Media Distortions is about the power behind the production of deviant media categories. It shows the politics behind categories we take for granted such as spam and noise, and what it means to our broader understanding of, and engagement with media. The book synthesizes media theory, sound studies, science and technology studies (STS), feminist technoscience, and software studies into a new composition to explore media power. Media Distortions argues that using sound as a conceptual framework is more useful due to its ability to cross boundaries and strategically move between multiple spaces—which is essential for multi-layered mediated spaces.

Drawing on repositories of legal, technical and archival sources, the book amplifies three stories about the construction and negotiation of the ‘deviant’ in media. The book starts in the early 20th century with Bell Telephone’s production of noise, tuning into the training of their telephone operators and their involvement with the Noise Abatement Commission in New York City. The next story jumps several decades to the early 2000s focusing on web metric standardization in the European Union and shows how the digital advertising industry constructed web-cookies as legitimate communication while making spam illegal. The final story focuses on the recent decade and the way Facebook filters out antisocial behaviors to engineer a sociality that produces more value. These stories show how deviant categories re-draw boundaries between human and non-human, public and private spaces, and importantly, social and antisocial.

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List of Figures


List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction: Listen Closely

Don’t Be Evil! But I’m Not!

Conducting Processes

Three Distortion Stories

Structure of the Book

2. Orchestrating Media Power through Sound

Re-processing Foucault

Sound as a Conceptual Framework

Processed Listening: Producing Knowledge in Mediated Spaces

Rhythmedia, or Orchestrating Sociality

Mediated Territories

Mediating Bodies

Come to the Dark Side, We Have Cookies

Conclusion: What’s in the Mix?

3. Noisy Behaviors on the Line

The Noise Abatement Commission in Early 20th Century New York City

Mapping City Noise

No Deal on the Street

Selling (the) Telephone

Shutting Street Noise

Controlling (the Other) Street Rhythm

Quieting Noisy Women

Connecting Bodies

Designing the Communication Line Model

Personal Immediacy

The Human Information Processors

A Design for Living

Silencing Dissent

Conclusion: Noise Against the Machine

4. Fabricating the European Union Safety Net

Opening the ‘Back-End’

Governing Softly

Baking Cookies into the Ecosystem

Inventing Private and Public Spaces

Lobbying to Spam

Composing the Data Subject

Standardizing Metrics

Bodies that Count

Bidding for Real-Time

User Control to Control Users

Keep Your Body Safe

Conclusion: Brave New Web?

5. Engineering the (anti)social

Filtering the Unwanted Using Four Mechanisms

Modulating Architecture

Who Listens to You?

Channeling through Your Friends

Amplified Listening Capacities

Every Breath You Take I’ll be Listening to You

Ordering Algorithms

Money, Sorted

Standardizing the Digital Advertising Industry

Naturalizing Organic Feed

Maintaining the Immune System

You Better Work

Clicking Machine

Excessive Behaviors

Asking as If It Matters

Listening: The Silent Actions that Count

Majority Report

The Human Processors

Filtering the Rubbish

Feed the Panel

Conclusion: Fileting the Rhythms of Anti-Sociality

6. Conclusion: Transducing the Deviant

The Power of Sound

Creating a Dynamic Database with Processed Listening

Deviant Order: How Rhythmedia Orchestrates Sociality