Good v. Evil

Went for a bike ride. Posted a few words on Instagram about it:

Went for a bike ride with @spoke_n_words today. I can’t tell you everything we talked about – Instagram limits us to 2200 characters. I just used up 115. We talked about how that is part of the struggle today. That there’s so much to be said, and little place to say it anymore. And people have little time or patience to listen. We talked about my constant struggle to be on this platform and in this space when it seems to be hypocritical. If one is trying to spread positive mojo but resorts to using an inherently flawed or nefarious tool, ethically, is that a win? If you shouldn’t shop on Amazon because of their corporate practices – should you be reading and posting on Instagram in light of theirs – and by ‘theirs’ we all know I mean ‘Facebook’s’? Is it ok to use a bad platform for good? Is that even ethically possible? If you’re using the platform, are you not tacitly endorsing the business model? In light of what’s going down these days, does it make any sense to use tools ultimately designed to addict us with no concern for the outcome, by entities that only care about ad revenue? Can you institute change from within? Can you use the tools of your oppressors to facilitate revolution? I don’t know. I know I struggle with using this no matter how much warm fuzzy bike content I can pump out. There is a MUCH larger conversation that we need to have today, and it can’t – and shouldn’t – be had here. If you do one thing today, think about that – don’t blindly use these tools. Think. We also rode bikes, got dirty, drank coffee, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fought off pheasant and in general had the best time we possibly could conceive of having within those moments. And I took this one picture that really won’t convey that at all, but if you’re like me, one of the reasons I AM still on this platform is because very often, I’ll crack open this app and see something someone else has posted that will instantly remind me that I need to put the phone down and be somewhere else. That’s the revolution.

Know the Workings of Your Own Mind

In a recent New Yorker article Yuval Harari commented on the prospect of the possible nefarious uses of AI by governments, corporations or others to intrude on personal freedoms.

“Harari argues that, though there’s no sure prophylactic against such future intrusions, people who are alert to the workings of their minds will be better able to protect themselves. Harari recently told a Ukrainian reporter, “Freedom depends to a large extent on how much you know yourself, and you need to know yourself better than, say, the government or the corporations that try to manipulate you.” In this context, to think clearly—to snorkel in the pool, back and forth—is a form of social action.”

Makes sense to me. Not hard to do, just sit down (perhaps on a cushion) and shut up.

Facebook Lets You See All the Data Collected on You

Facebook has launched a new tool to let you see all the data that’s been collected on you both on – and interestingly enoughoff the platform.

Facebook knows what you’re doing on other sites and in real life. This tool lets you see what it knows about you.

I haven’t had a personal Facebook account in over a year but I have an empty one that I use to manage Facebook Pages for my company and clients. The data I found there was interesting. I can only imagine what would be there for a regular/heavy user.

My stats showed many of the websites I’d visited via the browser I use at work – roughly 151 data sources, dating all the way back to June of 2019. At that point it simply said I’d reached ‘the end of my available activity’.

One of the interesting things I saw using the tool, you can further drill down and see what advertisers targeted ads at you and if you were specifically on their contact lists.

“Addiction is actually the point.”

It would seem more people are getting it. Via Cal Newport’s blog post, Senator Hawley on Social Media: “addiction is actually the point.”

“Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we did perfectly well without social media, for the entire known history of the human race with itself. It needs to replace those activities with time spent on social media. So that addiction is actually the point.

-Josh Hawley, Missouri Senator (emphasis mine)

And another great one – I’m stealing these directly from Cal’s post, but they’re too good to pass up. Cal’s original post is short and well worth the click-through to read.

“This is what some of our brightest minds have been doing with their time for years now. Designing these platforms, designing apps that integrate with them. I mean, what else might they have been doing?

-Josh Hawley, (emphasis again, mine)

It’s refreshing to hear a politician – any politician – talking in such a frank manner. Video of full speech available on the Senator’s website, and is totally worth your time.

Scholarship By Metrics

Interesting article by Justin E.H. Smith on How Social Media Imperils Scholarship. It’s a long article, but well worth reading. A few highlights:

Eventually, those who do research simply out of love of knowledge might find it preferable to present their findings anonymously and gratuitously as Wikipedia editors rather than as members of the afflicted and moribund tribe of academics. Social media is hastening the arrival of that day.

The same click-swipe-and-rate economy has left everyone involved in cultural production dazed and stumbling. Journalism, art, literature, and entertainment have been engulfed by a tsunami of metrics. And dare we mention love, friendship, and political community? These, too, have been absorbed by the mania of metrics coupled with so-called gamification — a treacherous imitation of play. 

I have not yet heard of tenure committees taking into consideration information about a candidate’s followings on Academia.edu or the other sites, as they attempt to take the measure of his career success. But it will happen sooner or later. And sooner or later tenure candidates in Ohio will be PayPaling click factories in China to help them inflate their numbers artificially. And after that has gone on for some time, candidates will be required to submit, along with their dossiers, proof that the information has been run through some trusted anti-­click-factory certification software, and the metrics have been shown to be authentic. And eventually a way will be discovered to game the certification process, too, and so on, and at each stage academics will be drawn even further away from their ostensible object of study, Old Turkic inscriptions or Elizabethan verse, the thing they once imagined, in graduate school, was worthy of a lifetime of loving dedication.

The old world is crumbling. Pre-internet institutions are struggling to make their presence felt however they can. Even the pope has taken to tweeting, in what may be variously interpreted as a hip renovation of his dilapidated old temple, or as a desperate bid to stay relevant in a world that equates an absence of online metrics, of clicks and likes and follows, with nonexistence itself. It is no surprise that in this strange new world, academics are behaving no differently than the Pontifex, or exposure-craving politicians, or SoundCloud rappers, or aspiring team players projecting their can-do attitudes on LinkedIn.