Oikos Talk | Networked Heirlooms

12/09 Friday | 8am

The Oikos working group at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to a talk with Tamara Kneese on networked heirlooms.

As fleeting interactions on social media are harnessed and collected, communications take on new logics of valuation. Data are tied to objects, possessions, and assets with market value such as houses, cars, and life insurance policies. At the same time, online accounts and interactions are increasingly treated sentimentally as potential family heirlooms that can be passed between kin members and maintained across generations.

Whether anthropological or actuarial, these forms of value are based upon projections about the possibilities of a postmortem legacy in a networked world. Drawing on seven years of ethnographic and archival research, this talk outlines the emergence of digital estate planning. By looking at the startups, communities, and caretakers that sustain the digital assets of the deceased, this talk shows how the temporal and material landscapes of social media are in flux. Kneese argues that Silicon Valley accelerationism and planned obsolescence have given way to a temporality that takes into account life cycles, sexual and social reproduction, and imagined future kin members.

Tamara Kneese examines the technocultures of life extension. Her research considers how the long-term care work associated with online death and mourning rituals embeds structural inequalities within emerging technologies. She is currently completing a book entitled Digital Afterlives: From the Electronic Village to the Networked Estate, which traces the rise of digital estate planning and marks how mundane communicative data became valuable heirlooms. Kneese received a Ph.D. in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University, an M.A. in Social Sciences and Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Kenyon College. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Intel Science & Technology Center for Social Computing, and the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine.

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