Ben Pettis

Research

My research interests have developed around the seemingly banal aspects of internet culture. While headlines about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, NSA surveillance, or major data breaches often receive significant attention, the seemingly less serious parts of the Internet can be equally important. Things such as online FCC indecency complaints, the debate over pornography on a once-popular SNS platform, or the spread of a new meme can provide avenues to pinpoint the Internet’s place in everyday life. In my work, I consider the quotidian components of online life, as well as how corporate interests intersect with these user practices. What types of groups, communities, and cultures exist in online spaces? How do users connect with one another? And what is the relationship between users and their platforms? By asking these types of questions, I aim to dispel myths of the “online world” as being somehow wholly separate and mystical, and instead situating it firmly within people’s actual lived experiences.

You can read about a handful of my projects in a bit greater detail:

If you have questions or comments about any of my work, please don't hesitate to reach out and get in touch with me! I'm always happy to discuss my work and help out others with their own work as much as I am able to.


For a full picture of the projects that I have worked on, please take a look at my CV, or see short descriptions of some of my work below:

2020

  • Needs More JPEG
  • A highly pixelated image of a man. There is text overlaid that says 'y'all got any more of them pixels?'
  • Across different forms of media, subsequent copies of a particular text are marked by the introduction of noise and the reduction of fidelity. The physical decay of magnetic tape or the general signal degradation in repeated copies of analog texts represent the materiality of copying. Material traces of copying are not limited analog formats and digital texts still contain such artifacts. Each time a digital file is copied, transmitted, and remixed, there are opportunities for traces of that copying and sharing process to become inscribed within the text itself. This materiality is particularly apparent in one of the most frequently copied digital text, internet memes. This aesthetic analysis of internet memes demonstrates how technical characteristics along with user practices of sharing and remixing create visual traces of the copying process. I describe these visual traces in internet memes as the aesthetic of haste and the aesthetic of copying. The aesthetic of haste arises from incentives to quickly produce and share remixed meme instances, which appears in characteristics such as sloppily overlaid text and painted-over image elements. The aesthetic of copying stems from the replication process itself and includes characteristics such as watermarks and compression artifacts. In this paper, I show how these aesthetics are present in several internet memes in a variety of forms. The presence of these aesthetics suggests that the overall visual quality of a meme instance and fidelity of subsequent copies is less significant than the ability of an online community to identify with and relate to the cultural references of a particular meme.
  • Listen to me discuss this project in a podcast format:

  • The Tumblr Porn Ban
  • Read more details about my M.A. thesis on this page.
  • Click here to read the full thesis. (Institutional Log-in may be required)

2019

2018