As part of my postdoc, I’ve been making short videos highlighting the research of the PhD fellows associated with EUROTAST. These are mixtures of footage that was shot previously, my own footage, and Creative Commons found footage.

They have been a challenge to make. Finding the proper visuals and music to accompany the incredibly sensitive research on genetics, identity and the difficult heritage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade has made the creative process much slower and considered than usual.

Still, I’m relatively pleased with how they’ve come out, considering they’re such a mixture of visual and audio resources.

The several I’ve made so far feature an anthropologist, an historical archaeologist, a molecular archaeologist, and an archaeologist-turned-historian. I went for the most visual research first. We’ll see how I handle the more conceptual PhD research of the mathematicians, geneticists, and computer scientists!

Avatars, Aging, Coins, and the Queen


Never touch your avatar photo.

I received this sage advice from a fairly prominent social media person to never change your avatar photos, particularly your Twitter photo. It is your brand and people who skim through their long long Twitter streams need to recognize you immediately.

Last Saturday, at the inaugural meeting of the Centre for Digital Heritage at York I spoke to Andrew Prescott who told me that I was shorter than my Twitter avatar appeared. I laughed–I have gotten various reactions over the years from people who have met me offline after getting to know my work online. After finishing the PhD last December, I had to rove around various sites, updating profiles and amending CVs, updating my new social media reality. I didn’t touch my profile photos.

Still, this presents a dilemma for those of us who have been online…awhile. My Twitter photo is from the same year I signed up for the service–2007. Interestingly, Google has a patent on the aging and the removal (!) of avatars–this centers more on inaction within virtual worlds rather than a temporal span, but leave it to Google to own virtual death. According to Google, aging online means that you lose resolution, become pixellated and finally are scattered back into the binary haze from which you came.

Perhaps a slightly more palatable solution could come from the numismatists. I was shocked when I discovered that the portrait of the Queen of England ages on the coins issued in England and associated countries. After all, I’m American and dead guys on coins look the same forever. Every few years there is a new portrait of the queen on the coins, though older coins still circulate. I also recently found out that the portrait will flip when whoever succeeds her gets on the coins. A strange business, constitutional monarchy. Perhaps we could all just version ourselves. Colleen 1.0. Colleen 2.0. Colleen 2.5, the PhD edition.

Anyway, my younger self still holds forth on Twitter, and there will likely be a time that we will be represented with up-to-the-minute 3D scans, but for now online embodiment remains fluid, an essential self, rather than a true self.

Yourself, Categorized.


Something in me had snapped, was broken beyond repair. My taste had been central to my identity. I’d cultivated it, kept it fed and watered like an exotic flowering plant. Now I realized that what I thought had been an expression of my innermost humanity was nothing but a cloud of life-style signals, available to anyone at the click of a mouse. How had this happened?”

From Raj, Bohemian by Hari Kunzru.

This particularizing of human taste is fascinating to me. I stopped filling out social networking profiles with the lush tidbits of my listening and viewing preferences a couple of years ago, figuring that the marketers had me pegged anyway, why make it even easier? Still, I look through profiles of my friends and acquaintances, watching people perform their tastes, watching the doppler effect between subculture and popular culture become more condensed until it is no longer visible.

While I knew that this was happening with the ongoing (and perhaps ever-present) commercialization of subcultures, it seems to have reached a fever point of real-life folksonomies mixed with lifestyle branding. Take, for instance, the rapid ricochet of Stuff White People Like, a blog that explains some of the most prevalent and popular “tags” of upper-middle class white folks in America. I got the link from wordpress a couple of weeks ago, sent it out, received it back from various people the next day, then heard that they highlighted it on NPR only a few days later. I detest NPR, almost as much as I hate the NPR conversations at parties, when you realize that everyone around you is spouting the same party line or quirky story they heard on the radio that morning.

So all of this has left me with some of the same questions (but not quite the same amount of melodrama) as posited in the story by Hari Kunzru. Where does the commercialization of our own taste begin, and the selling it to our friends end? Is it possible to define taste without branding?

I know, sincerity is so naive, so humorless, and what was I doing reading the New Yorker anyway? I love Texas, I live in California, and I need to go back to studying for my oral exams!

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