How we keep screwing over yesterday’s technology due to an intent focus on what we’re doing today. The problem of planned obsolescence is getting worse.
Freelance journalist and sportswriter Kate O’Halloran knows the risks of being a woman online and daring to comment on areas traditionally dominated by men. Kate was abused, harassed and left fearing for her safety after making an error in a tweet she posted while watching a game of AFL.
I still haven’t read the comments on the post I made before I logged off. In fact, when I re-read over the abuse I received for the sake of this article, my smartwatch warned me that an “abnormal heart rate” had been detected.
She closes the piece encouraging people if they care for the welfare of those being targeted to contact them to provide support.
Some of the moderators’ stories were similar to the problems experienced in other countries. Daniel said: “Once, I found a colleague of ours checking online, looking to purchase a Taser, because he started to feel scared about others. He confessed he was really concerned about walking through the streets at night, for example, or being surrounded by foreign people.
Don’t just give away your privacy to the likes of Google and Facebook – protect it, or you disempower us all
You have your attention, your presence of mind – everyone is fighting for it. They want to know more about you so they can know how best to distract you, even if that means luring you away from quality time with your loved ones or basic human needs such as sleep. You have money, even if it is not a lot – companies want you to spend your money on them. Hackers are eager to get hold of sensitive information or images so they can blackmail you. Insurance companies want your money too, as long as you are not too much of a risk, and they need your data to assess that. You can probably work; businesses want to know everything about whom they are hiring – including whether you might be someone who will want to fight for your rights. You have a body – public and private institutions would love to know more about it, perhaps experiment with it, and learn more about other bodies like yours. You have an identity – criminals can use it to commit crimes in your name and let you pay for the bill. You have personal connections. You are a node in a network. You are someone’s offspring, someone’s neighbour, someone’s teacher or lawyer or barber. Through you, they can get to other people. That’s why apps ask you for access to your contacts. You have a voice – all sorts of agents would like to use you as their mouthpiece on social media and beyond. You have a vote – foreign and national forces want you to vote for the candidate that will defend their interests.
Veliz argues that we need to disrupt platform capitalism and the data economy:
Privacy is not only about you. Privacy is both personal and collective. When you expose your privacy, you put us all at risk. Privacy power is necessary for democracy – for people to vote according to their beliefs and without undue pressure, for citizens to protest anonymously without fear of repercussions, for individuals to have freedom to associate, speak their minds, read what they are curious about. If we are going to live in a democracy, the bulk of power needs to be with the people. If most of the power lies with companies, we will have a plutocracy. If most of the power lies with the state, we will have some kind of authoritarianism. Democracy is not a given. It is something we have to fight for every day. And if we stop building the conditions in which it thrives, democracy will be no more. Privacy is important because it gives power to the people. Protect it.
This makes me wonder about the IndieWeb and other such movements, and where they fit within this disruption of power?
A reporter for an Australian education magazine recently sent interview questions about robotics in education, including the obligatory question about AI. The final article, when it runs, only grabs a few of my statements mixed in amongst the thoughts of others. So, here is the interview in its entirety. Of late, I have decided to answer all reporter questions as if they are earnest and thoughtful. Enjoy!
International education comparisons are immoral and needlessly based on scarcity. In order for Australian students to succeed, it is unnecessary for children in New Zealand to fail. Competition in education always has deleterious effects.
Always sharp and to the point.
Another great example of Stager’s insights is this interview on the Modern Learners podcast:
Children’s authors are now writing about dark, complex and controversial issues. But is that what kids should be reading?
There’s the author, but there is the publisher and there’s the editor and there’s the publicist and there’s the librarian and there’s the parent and there’s the teacher.
The challenge is that although we can seemingly protect children from such ideas, they are bombarded with them on a daily basis through the media.
These two posters provide visual representations and examples of the components of the Digital Technologies Curriculum and elements of ICT.
The A3-sized poster can be downloaded, printed and added to student workbooks or similar.
It’s not simply that the Silicon Valley positivity machine only rewards positive ideas. (“We build things,” someone once told me. “You just tear things down.”) Without a grounding in theory or knowledge or ethics or care, the Silicon Valley machine rewards stupid and dangerous ideas, propping up and propped up by ridiculous, self-serving men. There won’t ever be a reckoning if we’re nice.
The long read: People often complain that English is deteriorating under the influence of new technology, adolescent fads and loose grammar. Why does this nonsensical belief persist?
Any given language is significantly reconfigured over the centuries, to the extent that it becomes totally unrecognisable. But, as with complex systems in the natural world, there is often a kind of homeostasis: simplification in one area can lead to greater complexity in another. What stays the same is the expressive capacity of the language. You can always say what needs to be said.
Some of the ways that language changes, include:
- Reanalysis: when a word or sentence has a structural ambiguity and changes to a new understanding.
- Grammaticalisation: a phrase is made into a word with a solely grammatical function.
- Sound Changes: where certain ways of saying things are seen as having prestige, while others are stigmatised.
Another reason that writer’s fear death is that it is the death of the English language as they know it. Shariatmadarin argues that older people experience greater linguistic disorientation as the language that they have grown up with changes.
A podcast breaking down the music of pop hits
via Triple J
New documents show that the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted.
Ito and other lab employees took numerous steps to keep Epstein’s name from being associated with the donations he made or solicited. On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials.
One voice a part of the effort to lift the lid is Signe Swenson, a former a former development associate and alumni coordinator at the lab. She explains the how the message to keep Epstein’s donations secret came from the top. Another employee to speak up is Ethan Zuckerman, who recently resigned in protest:
In 2013, Zuckerman said, he pulled Ito aside after a faculty meeting to express concern about meetings on Ito’s calendar marked “J.E.” Zuckerman recalled saying, “I heard you’re meeting with Epstein. I don’t think that’s a good idea,” and Ito responding, “You know, he’s really fascinating. Would you like to meet him?” Zuckerman declined and said that he believed the relationship could have negative consequences for the lab.
Farrow highlights how Epstein’s association with élite institutions like MIT helped shield him.
The revelations about Epstein’s widespread sexual misconduct, most notably reported by Julie K. Brown in the Miami Herald, have made clear that Epstein used the status and prestige afforded him by his relationships with élite institutions to shield himself from accountability and continue his alleged predation.
In a Twitter thread, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that Epstein’s intent in donating to MIT was not whitewashing, but rather to gain access to powerful men. This all highlights the moral rot and bankruptcy of the techno-elites.
Audrey Watters calls it a ‘plutocratic horror show’.
This is why I try in my work to show the powerful networks funding education technology and “the future of learning.” It’s a plutocratic horror show. And if you think your work isn’t tainted when you take billionaires’ cash, you are wrong. Thread —> https://t.co/nVlgoox6IZ
— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) September 7, 2019
Rafranz Davis asks when we stop promoting MIT’s products?
I’m also wondering at which point in time do we stop looking away. Those ignoring the Epstein/MIT Media Lab story while still promoting their products are full of shit.
— Rafranz (@RafranzDavis) September 7, 2019
Jay Rosen also asks why the New York Times did not publish the information?
We know a whistleblower gave documents to the Times. We know Ronan Farrow also had those documents and the whistleblower’s story. We know the Times didn’t publish a story until after the New Yorker did. We know Ito was on the board of the Times. We know there’s no public editor. https://t.co/PRlCwQkj3z
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) September 7, 2019
Digital wellness movements insist there is a single way to “stay human”
Regardless of how worthy their causes may be, both these apps require the user to enter into a thoroughly designed user-position — the Perfect User — to even be recognized as a subject by the socio-technical apparatus. One cannot function as a user without conforming to the modes of use that have been designed into the system. Put differently, apps like Siempo and Add Intent are actively involved in producing the kind of subject with which they claim to interact. The user of these systems remains a docile subject to be brought under control and disciplined, but the fantasy-structure of intentionality masks the ideological functioning of the apps, not to mention the broader structures of wellness capitalism itself, by encouraging an aspirational form of digital consumption. Tech humanism more or less insists that one be a user to be recognized as human. This move keeps us tethered to classic humanist structures of categorization, whereby some users are considered better than others.
The Perfect User may appear to be a self-evidently superior form of subjectivity well-suited to the pressures of our techno-social age, but that should not blind us to the relational politics and ideological entanglements that lie behind it. Though it seems rooted in wellness and empowerment, it implicitly retains the hierarchies and exclusions of enlightenment humanism by assuming the nature of the “human” subject it requires.
Some institutions are special, and it is worthwhile to keep them well-functioning, even when the original leadership and members are no longer on the scene. Such survival—and occasional rebirth—is worth considering and worth understanding. I have suggested here some possible factors: the attraction of capable successors to the founding leaders; willingness to pursue new directions without sacrificing core values and robust norms; alertness to shifting funding landscapes; honoring norms as well as regulations; and nurturing talent and providing a comfortable base of operation.
This blog was written in July 2019 and posted on August 12, 2019. Since then, there has been an upheaval at The Media Lab, and director Joi Ito has resigned. I have been a friend of the Lab for many years and admired much of what Joi Ito has accomplished there. But I was also cognizant of how fragile institutions can be and, accordingly, in the third to last paragraph of the blog, I pointed out that institutions can be undermined by sexual, financial, or ethical scandals. Alas, The Media Lab has been shaken by events and allegations that seem to involve, either directly or indirectly, all three of these elements. Since I believe in the mission of The Media Lab, and what it has accomplished over the last forty years, I hope that it can negotiate this difficult period thoughtfully and responsibly and continue its important work. And I hope that Joi Ito can find the proper channels for his undoubted gifts.
Over the course of the past century, MIT became one of the best brands in the world, a name that confers instant credibility and stature on all who are associated with it. Rather than protect the inherent specialness of this brand, the Media Lab soiled it again and again by selling its prestige to banks, drug companies, petroleum companies, carmakers, multinational retailers, at least one serial sexual predator, and others who hoped to camouflage their avarice with the sheen of innovation. There is a big difference between taking money from someone like Epstein and taking it from Nike or the Department of Defense, but the latter choices pave the way for the former. It is easy to understand why Jeffrey Epstein wanted to get involved with the Media Lab. Unfortunately, it is also easy to understand why Joi Ito got involved with Jeffrey Epstein. The only bad donations were the ones that weren’t received.
According to the Abelson Report, MIT had chosen not to aid Swartz in part because doing so could have sent the wrong message to its institutional partners, which might have interpreted the gesture as MIT coming out as soft on content piracy. And then Swartz died, and the Media Lab was the site of an ice-cream social in his honor. The Media Lab and MIT were capable of anything, it seemed, except meaningful self-reflection.
In a Twitter thread, James Bridle questions the ethics of MIT’s Media Lab and their history in building products to improve people’s lives, only to then pivot into market products.
Deaths and devastating injuries. A litany of labor violations. Drivers forced to urinate in their vans. Here is how Amazon’s gigantic, decentralized, next-day delivery network brought chaos, exploitation, and danger to communities across America.
“You’ve got people chomping at the bit because all they think and see is dollar signs,” said Bythewood, who currently isn’t working. It was hard to say no, she said, because if “you don’t want to do it, someone else will.”
It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others.
Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and the roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first, change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even to acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightenment, because there is more change to come, more that we do not yet recognize that will be revealed.
Ok, that’s a lot of words to get to a critical point about the Joi Ito story: Everyone seems to treat it as if the anonymity and secrecy around Epstein’s gift are a measure of some kind of moral failing. I see it as exactly the opposite. IF you are going to take type 3 money, then you should only take it anonymously. And if you take it anonymously, then obviously you will take the many steps detailed by Farrow to keep it secret. Secrecy is the only saving virtue of accepting money like this. And rather than repeating unreflective paeans to “transparency,” we should recognize that in many cases, secrecy is golden.
- Type 1 is people like Tom Hanks or Taylor Swift — people who are wealthy and whose wealth comes from nothing but doing good.
- Type 2 is entities like Google or Facebook, or people whose wealth comes from those companies. These are people who are wealthy because of their work within companies of ambiguous good. Some love them. Some hate them. Some think they are the key to all that’s evil in the age that’s coming. Some think they are the key to all that will be good.
- Type 3 is people who are criminals, but whose wealth does not derive from their crime. This is Epstein, but not just Epstein. It may be that we’ll discover that Epstein got rich by blackmailing people whom he had encouraged or enabled to commit abuse. I doubt it, but it’s possible. Suffice it that when Joi was investigating whether that criminal continued his crime, no one was suggesting that his enormous wealth was the product of blackmail or sex slavery. He was, the world assumed, a brilliant, savant-like investor, who was also a sexual predator.
- Type 4 is entities and people whose wealth comes from clearly wrongful or harmful or immoral behavior. The RJ Reynolds Foundation, the Sacklers, the Kochs: I recognize that people have different views about these people or entities, but it is not hard to identify the enormous harm that each has caused. Smoking has killed multiples of the German Holocaust. Since 1999, more than 200,000 have died from OxyContin overdoses — four times the number of Americans killed in Vietnam (even if that’s less than a fifth of the number of people killed in that insane war). If there is a single family responsible for the fact that we to this day have no comprehensive legislation addressing climate change, it is the Kochs. This money is blood money. It is wealth that is great because of the harm.
He explains that universities take money from all types. For Lessig, this is why he argued that Joi Ito should not have had to resign and why donations should be anonymous. However, he also adds that he should have stopped Ito from accepting the money.
In response, Siva Vaidhyanathan provides a critique:
I've read this and I have thoughts. Please read what @Lessig wrote and then my thread — not the other way.
— Siva Vaidhyanathan🗽🤘🏽 (@sivavaid) September 8, 2019
He argues that Epstein’s intent in donating to MIT was not whitewashing, but rather to gain access to powerful men. Another reason to donate is the corruption of research. In the end, “the only reason to keep MIT donations secret is to dodge scrutiny.”
Billionaires will make their money and turn universities into their intellectual man caves.
Pariahs with cash will redeem themselves through strategic and prestigious giving.
Institutions will take it, selling them reputational makeovers.
And women will continue to be trafficked and abused, and unjust plea deals will continue to be struck, and these universities and labs will continue to be run by men who don’t get it and don’t want to get it.
Unless people step up.