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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘social networking

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait revisits the skydiver/meteorite video. It looks like it was just a rock in the chute.
  • Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly writes about the benefits of leaving one’s comfort zone.
  • At False Steps, Paul Drye presents the life of Mercury capsule designer Max Faget.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Doug Merrill warns (1, 2) about the growing scope of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • The Financial Times‘ Gideon Rachman argues that Russia under Putin is trying to destroy the current Ukrainian state.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the two daughters of Lyndon Baines Johnson think that American president would likely support same-sex marriage based on his principles.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott Lemieux celebrates the defeat of the Parti Québécois as something that would protect religious freedom.
  • Marginal Revolution hosts a discussion in the comments surrounding the economic policies of Narendra Modi, aspirant for the Indian presidency.
  • John Moyer writes about the virtues of revisiting some books (here, James Joyce’s Dubliners).
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if Russian expansion into Ukraine will encourage imperialism generally and wonders how the ZunZuneo social networking project in Cuba was supposed to prmote democracy.
  • At the Russian Demographics blog, the author notes that Russia stands out not only among European countries but among the BRICs.
  • Window on Eurasia holds that Ukrainian Muslims prefer Ukraine to Russia and argues in favour of a sustained policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s annexation.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Buffer blog advises online writers as to how often they should post on different media.
  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of the ocean under Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a recent paper claiming to set limits on a potential distant planet X and observes archeological data suggesting a 9th century settlement date for a Tongan island.
  • Eastern Approaches comments on the Hungarian election.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Doug Merrill warns that if Russia does move into eastern Ukraine, terrible choices will be afoot.
  • Geocurrents’ Claire Negiar takes a look at the Caribbean island of St. Martin, divided between French and Dutch halves.
  • Joe. My. God. links to an article examining the use of the drug Truvada to prevent HIV infection and notes that Blondie’s Debbie Harry has come out as bisexual.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair explains what Chinese might mean when they talk about prayer.
  • Towleroad’s Ari Ezra Waldman comments on Brandon Eich’s resignation.
  • Window on Eurasia notes one Russian commentator’s argument that the Baltic States have been lost to the Russian sphere, another noting a fall in anti-Caucasian sentiment in the media as Ukraine heats up.

[FORUM] How far will social networking, and the market, penetrate our lives?

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I’m continuing to meditate on Adam Fish and John Carter McKnight’s Savage Minds essay. Their argument that the penetration of social networking and online life into every area of life will allow every area of life to be charted on the market is plausible to me.

Is it plausible to you?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 5, 2014 at 11:18 pm

[LINK] “Beyond Surveillance Fridges and Socialized Power Drills: Social Media and the Financialization of Everyday Life”

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At Savage Minds, Adam Fish and John Carter McKnight have an extended essay arguing–convincingly, I think–that the elaboration of online life and social networking is extending capitalism to altogether new areas of private life.

As kids growing up in Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” 80s we endured a lot of propaganda regarding drugs. One was the myth of the “gateway drug.” We were told that drugs like marijuana with few medically provable harms were highly dangerous because they were gateways to harder more evil drugs. Gateway drugs are like linkbait, hooks that bring unwitting subjects from a one innocuous practice to one more pernicious.

Morozov claims that social media is a gateway drug for the financial sector to hook us on a new range of products and services, while increasing its control over our lives. We hear that the dark insides of our mouths, fridges, rubbish bins, and cars will be scrutinized by networked and image-recognizing surveillance cameras. Videos will be algorithmically analyzed producing “data portfolios” which will be automatically used (for a fee) by third parties to adjudicate our credit worthiness, employability, and romantic fitness. As longtime admirers of Morozov’s guts and wit we’ve been pleased to see him begin (finally) to use the name and identify the problem head-on—neoliberal capitalism galvanized by ubiquitously networked humans.

In making this argument, Morozov brings together two academic terms and says that they are co-constituting: mediatization and financialization. Mediatization claims that social practices are increasingly linked to media performance. We do it for the camera. Presidential elections, of course, are a key example of mediatization, in which every utterance, campaign stop, handshake, and tweet is delicately engineered towards manipulating the 24-hour news cycle. Mediatization assumes a new level of embeddedness in encounters with persistent, searchable, archivable, user-generated social media, a process we call social mediatization. The “social” qualifies the “mediatization” by identifying a new phase in which information is not broadcast from corporations or politicians to a passive audience, but generated and shared constantly among people, businesses, and governments.

Financialization works much like social mediatization: both identify the ways that foreign logics (financial or mediated) find their way into once-private and domestic spheres. Classic examples of financialization include online banking at home, stock investing as a hobby, and other forms of money management which were once “work” but are now billed as necessary and mature forms of personal responsibility and risk management for the middle classes.

Basically, late capitalism. The authors end their article by sharing Evgeny Morozov’s vision of an “all too likely future of trying to level up our gamified toothbrushes to lower our dental insurance premiums.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 5, 2014 at 8:45 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • D-Brief shares the news that scientists think that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a subsurface ocean in its southern polar region.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a remarkable paper claiming that red dwarf stars are exceptionally likely to have a planet in their circumstellar habitable zones.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to an other paper on Mars suggesting that world was never very hot, even in its youth.
  • Eastern Approaches suggests that Poland is approaching the point of relative energy-independence from Russia.
  • The Financial Times The World blog reports on the failure of a US-subsidized Cuban social networking system.
  • The Frailest Thing’s Michael Sacasas links to an account of an 1895 conversation between Paul Valéry and a Chinese friend suggesting that Chinese may have had different perspectives on technology than Westerners.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis notes Ukrainian regionalism, observing that the Europe-leaning west/centre region has inside it a strongly nationalist Galicia and a regionalist Ruthene-leaning Transcarpathia.
  • Joe. My. God. points to the story of a Floridian sex offender who tried to burn down the home of a lesbian couple and their eight children just because.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw explores the origin of the word “bogey” in Australian English to mean swimming hole.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Bruce Betts reports on the progress made in the search for planets at Alpha Centauri. (So far, no evidence for Alpha Centauri Bb, but then the technology isn’t sensitive enough to confirm that world’s existence.)
  • Towleroad reports on the controversy surrounding the recent resignation of former Mozilla Brandon Eich, Andrew Sullivan aligning with left-wingers and Michael Signorile making the point that Eich’s donations to people like Pat Buchanan tipped things over.
  • Window on Eurasia comments on the successful program of the Kazakhstani government to settle ethnic Kazakhs in the once-Russian-majority north of the country so as to prevent a secession.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • At the blog Buffer, Kevan Lee shows what lengths–in characters and in words–tweets and blog headlines and blog posts should be, according to science.
  • Patrick Cain notes that Canadians have no way of knowing how many banned guns there were under the former registry since its junking.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining what, exactly, is needed for a planet to become Earth-like.
  • The Dragon’s Tales, meanwhile, links to a paper claiming that the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity was a product of a nearby gamma-ray burst.
  • Geocurrents explores the question of whether and how it matters to call the eastern European country “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine”.
  • Joe. My. God. links to a site gathering the first and last lines from noted gay novels.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, bloggers question whether the American soldiers who perpetrated genocide in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 should have their Medals of Honor stripped from them, and have no truck with the idea that American airpower can save Ukraine.
  • John Moyer responded to OKCupid’s boycotting of Mozilla for its anti-gay president by quitting Mozilla, and explains why.
  • At the Planetary Society Weblog, Emily Lakdawalla examines the latest thinking on Titan’s methane lakes and oceans. Where do they come from?
  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of Hungarians in former Hungarian territories in central Europe.
  • Strange Maps examines how maps are used to lie in George Orwell’s 1984.
  • Torontoist shares a picture of a vintage streetcar on the streets of east Toronto’s Scarborough.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy comments on the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Japan on the subject of its supposed scientific whaling program, and argues that a federal system for Ukraine might not be bad notwithstanding Russian bullying.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russia’s military depends heavily on the technological and industrial output of southeastern Ukraine, relying on now-suspended cooperation.

[NEWS] Some Monday links

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  • Al Jazeera notes that Somali asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom are being deported to Somalia, at great potential risk to themselves, and observes the continuing and self-serving chaos in that country.
  • The Atlantic debunks the myth that GLBT people are well-off relative to heterosexuals in the United States, at least, and uses a San Francisco building’s history to take a look on the history of that city throughout the 20th century.
  • The Atlantic Cities shares a photo essay about Rochester’s subway, abandoned after more than a half-century.
  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation shares the news that some ecologists in Australia think that triage should be applied to the continent’s threatened species.
  • BusinessWeek notes that China’s first lady Peng Liyuan may be taking Michelle Obama as a model for her position, and notes that Exxon’s partnership with Rosneft (and other Western-Russian business partnerships) are looking problematic) after the Crimean annexation.
  • CBC observes that the Turkish state has lost in its attack on social networking platform Twitter.
  • Taking on issues of Québec City, MacLean’s observes that getting back the Quebec Nordiques isn’t helped by the resurgence in nationalism, adding also that despite being a potential national capital Québec City doesn’t vote for the Parti Québécois.
  • Open Democracy makes the argument that Scottish separatism is driven by a desire to be a normal European country, in contrast to an increasingly inegalitarian England.

[LINK] “Meet the 4 Most Desired People in New York (According to OKCupid)”

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Logan Hill‘s recent New York Magazine article examining the most popular OkCupid is an interesting read. How do these people–by extension, every user–be so successful? The strategies they describe are interesting.

Hill’s evenhandedness is also appreciated, as the four people are picked from specific gender/sexual orientation demographics (gay male, et cetera).

I found [Lauren Urasek] after a conversation with ­OKCupid­ co-founder Christian Rudder, who famously crunched the site’s user data on the blog ­OKTrends­ and sold a book based on it, Dataclysm, for seven figures. In New York, online dating is practically a municipal utility, connecting millions of strangers. To find out how some people manage to stand apart from the masses, and how it feels to be so desired, I asked Rudder to introduce me to the most popular OKCupid daters in the city in four categories—straight and gay women and straight and gay men.

Rudder analyzed the data from a one-week period in January and used a simple methodology: finding the users who receive the most messages from potential suitors. The four people selected wouldn’t necessarily claim to be the wealthiest, most stunning or successful singles, but, out of 400,000 annual citywide users on the site, they were among the top five in their respective categories and, perhaps less scientifically, were the four who were also willing to be interviewed for a story.

Lauren received 245 messages in that one-week period. While she was surprised to find that she is the most sought-after straight woman, she doesn’t think guys are complicated. “I’m not a stuck-up girl, but I think looks are No. 1 for everyone,” she says. As a makeup artist, Lauren spends her days at photo shoots and knows what makes a good picture. “I believe in a head-to-toe shot to show what you look like,” she says. “But you don’t need to have your ass hanging out!”

She thinks it helps that her profile reflects her idiosyncratic interest in astronomy: She has a moon and a planet tattooed on her knuckles; she quotes a physicist and links out to NASA.gov. “Even if an amazingly attractive girl said something stupid in their profile, she’ll still get messages,” she says. “So I feel like I’m intelligent and people think I look good, so I guess it’s as simple as that?”

It doesn’t hurt that Lauren, after getting out of a four-year relationship with a “pathological liar” who had a drug problem, isn’t necessarily looking for anything serious. So, in OKCupid’s searchable “I’m looking for …” section, she, like most women, selected “long-term dating,” “short-term dating,” and “new friends.” Unlike most women, she also selected “casual sex,” figuring she might as well tell the truth.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 22, 2014 at 3:59 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On instagram in the Crimea, or, the risks of openness

Uri Friedman at The Atlantic had a provocative article put up there recently, (“In Defense of Instagramming Conflict in Crimea”). Noting first that many Crimeans had been uploading pictures of themselves with Russian, or Ukrainian, troops and that many people outside Crimea were appalled by this, Friedman seemed to think that this was not only fitting given the origins of war photography in the Crimean War, but that it helped make things that were unclear clear.

Putting aside one of the explanations for this stream of selfies—a substantial pro-Moscow, ethnic Russian population on the peninsula—it’s actually quite fitting that amateur and professional photographers are experimenting with new technology this week to document Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula. A century and a half ago, Crimea served as the breeding ground for modern war photography.

The Crimean War left many legacies: Florence Nightingale, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” ski masks. But arguably its most consequential one was modern war journalism. The conflict, which pit Russia against Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire over territorial and religious disputes in the Middle East, raged from 1853 to 1856, not long after the invention of photography and the electric telegraph. These technologies enabled William Howard Russell, an intrepid correspondent for The Times of London, to file on-the-ground dispatches about the British government’s bumbling deployment of troops, and Roger Fenton, a young London lawyer with little photography experience, to snap the first images of war for a private publisher rather than a government (Fenton actually had two benefactors; British officials chipped in). “It was the first ‘armchair war,’ which a distant public could experience as a kind of spectacle,” Smithsonian magazine once observed.

Now, photographers are once again mediating our experience of a conflict in Crimea. And they’re choosing Instagram, which launched in 2010, for specific reasons.

“Sometimes it’s a personal space just to show life as it is,” Ed Ou, a Canadian photojournalist in Ukraine, told National Geographic on Thursday. “A photograph doesn’t have to be front-page news…. What’s cool about Instagram is that you can show things that you know won’t be used otherwise and might never be seen.”

Coincidentally, Wired‘s Kevin Kelly has an opinion piece wherein he argued for the embrace of mass surveillance.

In this version of surveillance — a transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going. They will pay you to track yourself. Citizens film the cops, while the cops film the citizens. The business of monitoring (including those who monitor other monitors) will be a big business. The flow of money, too, is made more visible even as it gets more complex.

[. . .]

Every large system of governance — especially a digital society — is racked by an inherent tension between rigid fairness and flexible personalization. The cloud sees all: The cold justice of every tiny infraction by a citizen, whether knowingly or inadvertent, would be as inescapable as the logic of a software program. Yet we need the humanity of motive and context. One solution is to personalize justice to the context of that particular infraction. A symmetrically surveilled world needs a robust and flexible government — and transparency — to enforce adaptable fairness.

I’m actually inclined to agree with this. Instagramming the Crimean peninsula does go a long way towards showing, as Friedman points out, that things are still basically normal in the area. Nothing terrible has happened yet. I’m just also reminded of an essay I linked to back in February 2012, Zeynap Tufekci’s essay “The Syrian Uprising will be Live-Streamed: Youtube & The Surveillance Revolution”. What will happen, she wondered, in conflict situations where wrongs are documented and shared worldwide?

What does it mean that everything –including the most trivial but especially the non-trivial– has such a great chance of being available worldwide? Starting with the printing press, the threshold for the ability to publish has been getting lower, and the potential reach of publications has been getting bigger. We are now at the level of the person, publishing at the level of the world. The publishing revolution is almost complete.

Does this level of documentation make it more likely that the international community will be compelled to react to atrocities–which will likely come with higher and higher levels of visibility? Or will this, too, become just background noise, similar to famines or disease in Africa have become for most of the world (except the victims, of course)? Does the level of documentation and surveillance –and thus, evidence– make it harder to establish processes like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in places ranging from South Africa to Guatemala? Will this amount of documentation of atrocities make divisions even more likely and pernicious–as the ability to forgive often needs some level of forgetting? And the Internet, it seems, does not forget. Will this all make regime bureaucrats more likely to defect—as “I was just pushing paper and had no idea all this was going on” has become an even weaker defense? Or will they cling to power to the very end as much as they can, knowing their victims and survivors have much evidence as well as awful reminders of their crimes?

I don’t have the answers but I’m quite convinced that we’ve entered an irreversible point in terms of documentation of our lives, including death and destruction—not just baby pictures and trips, parties and graduations but also shelling of towns and killing of children. There is no going back. And tools matter. Just as wars with nuclear weapons are different than wars with bows and arrows, a world with cell-phone cameras in every other hand is different than a world which depended on traditional journalists and mass media gate-keepers for its news.

If anything terrible happens in Crimea, as I noted in the comments section of Friedman’s article, everyone will find about it quickly, in vivid gory colour. What happens after that, I fear to imagine.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 11, 2014 at 1:08 am

[LINK] “Is the Internet good or bad? Yes.”

io9′s Annalee Newitz linked to Zeynep Tukefci’s Medium essay about pervasive surveillance. Drawing from her experiences with last year’s Gezi Park protest, it’s the author’s arguent that the paradigms we use to describe the surveillance state–Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Panopticon–hide more than they reveal.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the anti-hero, Winston Smith, lives under bleak conditions. Everything is gray. He eats stale dark bread. Informers and the cameras are everywhere. Sex is banned. Children spy on their parents. If a citizen defies Oceania’s harsh rules, a cage of rats is placed around his face.

This imagined future is an allegory for a fear-driven state, one inspired by Orwell’s views on Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Nineteen Eighty-Four is about surveillance in a society where the power of the state bears down on everyone, every day. In other words, it is about totalitarianism.

The Panopticon is a thought experiment: a model prison meant to control a society of prisoners. But we are not prisoners. We are not shackled in cells, with no rights and no say in governance.

In our world, pleasure is not banned; it is encouraged and celebrated, albeit subsumed under the banner of consumption. Most of us do not live in fear of the state as we go about our daily lives. (There are notable exceptions: for example, poor communities of color and immigrants who suffer under “stop-and-frisk” and “show your papers” laws.)

To make sense of the surveillance states that we live in, we need to do better than allegories and thought experiments, especially those that derive from a very different system of control. We need to consider how the power of surveillance is being imagined and used, right now, by governments and corporations.

We need to update our nightmares.

She turns to Gramsci.

To understand the actual—and truly disturbing—power of surveillance, it’s better to turn to a thinker who knows about real prisons: the Italian writer, politician, and philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who was jailed by Mussolini and did most of his work while locked up. Gramsci understood that the most powerful means of control available to a modern capitalist state is not coercion or imprisonment, but the ability to shape the world of ideas. The essence of some of Gramsci’s arguments can be seen in another great dystopian novel of the 20th century. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley envisions a state that eschews existential terror in favor of a drug, soma, that keeps its citizens happy and pliant.

Shaping ideas is, of course, easier said than done. Bombarding people with ads only works to a degree. No one likes being told what to think. We grow resistant to methods of persuasion that we see through—just think of ads of yesteryear, and of how corny they feel. They worked in their day, but we’re alert to them now. Besides, blanket coverage isn’t easy to achieve in today’s fragmented media landscape. How many channels can one company advertise on? And we now fast-forward through television commercials, anyway. Even if it were possible to catch us through mass media, messages that work for one person often fail to convince others.

Big-data surveillance is dangerous exactly because it provides solutions to these problems. Individually tailored, subtle messages are less likely to produce a cynical reaction. Especially so if the data collection that makes these messages possible is unseen. That’s why it’s not only the NSA that goes to great lengths to keep its surveillance hidden. Most Internet firms also try to monitor us surreptitiously. Their user agreements, which we all must “sign” before using their services, are full of small-font legalese. We roll our eyes and hand over our rights with a click. Likewise, political campaigns do not let citizens know what data they have on them, nor how they use that data. Commercial databases sometimes allow you to access your own records. But they make it difficult, and since you don’t have much right to control what they do with your data, it’s often pointless.

This is why the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge. These methods don’t produce a crude ad—they create an environment that nudges you imperceptibly. Last year, an article in Adweek noted that women feel less attractive on Mondays, and that this might be the best time to advertise make-up to them. “Women also listed feeling lonely, fat and depressed as sources of beauty vulnerability,” the article added. So why stop with Mondays? Big data analytics can identify exactly which women feel lonely or fat or depressed. Why not focus on them? And why stop at using known “beauty vulnerabilities”? It’s only a short jump from identifying vulnerabilities to figuring out how to create them. The actual selling of the make-up may be the tip of the iceberg.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 1, 2014 at 4:59 am


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