VJ Um Amel, Social Media, and Semantics


In her manifesto, VJ Um Amel, describes her work as reappropriating emerging technologies, both in their theoretical and technical manifestations; this means re-articulating the ways technology is used and how it is conceptualized. By re-imagining the differing and disparate data of Twitter into a “virtual imagination,” VJ Um Amel reveals a “community-author,” effectively remixing discourses around the technologies we use. From seemingly disparate and differing points of data, we are able to piece together a narrative or poetics of the Arab voice. However, this narrative can’t be seen without the help of visualizations, pushing us to reimagine the power and agency something like Twitter can provide.


I really love the idea of looking at Twitter posts through the lens of semantics. Thinking of Twitter not as sentences, but as a database of semantics allows users to see the connections and connotations behind the words and symbols used. It’s very postmodern, reminding me of the fact that words, especially on Twitter where you’re only allowed 160 character, always come with prior contexts and symbolic baggage. Visualizing this database reveals the connections between words, ideas, and there meanings. In her visualization using data from R-Shief, VJ Um Amel is able to view the direct links between words, like the word “protect” being used consistently with the word, “country.” In these connections, we can begin to see Twitter as a culture builder, not just moderator; ideas are being formulated and collective imaginaries created. These collective imaginaries are then “represented and enhanced,” through the visualizations of their naturally occurring narratives.

In this specific article, VJing is described as a new kind of filmmaking; the idea being to  superimpose various data interfaces onto one another to create a broader picture of contemporary events. As the article notes, “Patterns emerge in the conflux of data that would otherwise be obscured by the sheer immensity of what was gathered.” Getting lost in the turbulence of an overly-media saturated world is easy, so having tools to help you conceptualize moments and movements is key. Looking at “big data” computational analytics and micro-data as revealing “complementary perspectives on complex socio-cultural research questions” will be key in harnessing contemporary technologies for counter-culture, activists movements.


For some reason, this quote below is super visual for me; the rush of active, and excited spectators with the correlating accumulation of pedabytes of data is very cool!

“Just as large numbers of Egyptians were flooding the streets of Egyptian cities throughout the country, pedabytes of data were mediated through various networks.”

In this way, VJ Um Amel was able to track the scale of the protests, revealing the beauty in mass-mobilization and in the “plurality and diversity” of the movement. Like our implosion projects, by breaking down words, processes, and social media artifacts, we can begin to see the larger picture through small pieces.


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