Updates from September, 2019 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 1:32 pm on September 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Were you a fan of Sociological Imagination? 

    I’m taking the site offline in the near future. But there’s a PDF available here. It’s a massive (80mb, 5000 page) PDF so it’s a pain to download. Milena, Sadia and myself will be producing a curated version of this at some point next year but it won’t be available for a while.


    • Hans Loos 7:31 am on September 30, 2019 Permalink

      Hello Mark


      I am sorry to hear and read about your decision. Thank you for your postings and messages! They had more impact than any of my sociology professors in those days 😉


      Good luck with your future projects!






      Sent: Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 3:32 PM

    • Mark 10:19 am on October 3, 2019 Permalink

      That’s really nice to hear, thank you

  • Mark 4:52 pm on September 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , remainer   

    The nostalgia of centrism 

    This is absolutely spot on from Phil BC about the nostalgia animating contemporary centrist politics:

    This uneasiness on sacred cow politics is compounded by the successive hit jobs undertaken on Corbyn. Because he doesn’t share the same conservative goals as centrism, it follows he does not respect the same rules either. And so the fall out of the anti-semitism crisis, suggestions Jezza is a puppet of Stalinoid functionaries, and every single smear story from the last four years feeds this unease, this angst. It’s not that media content brainwashes people, but exposed consistently over long periods of time it sediments into the consciousness. Their frames become your frames, their natural assumptions, without you noticing, become your assumptions. They can be resisted, but no one is totally free of how they condition our outlook. Least of all liberals and remainers and their emotional attachments to the BBC.

    Therefore for a layer of people, Corbyn is an instantiation of the political instability we’ve seen since 2015. It does not matter how many hoops he jumps through – a second referendum, cancelling Brexit, shacking up with Guy Verhofstadt, changing his name to Remainy McRemainyface – nothing will ever suffice. Corbyn is a barrier against where they want to be, the past. A place they knew their place and could relax, leaving the business of ontological anxiety to others away from the public eye. Even if Britain under Corbyn ends up staying in the EU and properly funds the kinds of things they affect to care about, they are still out of joint, their heroes dethroned and the cognitive map of their social environs completely skewed, out of time and irrelevant.

    This is why there are hundreds of thousands of “progressives” who can never countenance back Corbyn’s Labour, despite the party accepting the second referendum position. It’s more than a question of identity. It is a matter of being at ease in the world. And these people are very uneasy, to the point political realities have melted for them. They can’t go back, but trapped in the past they can’t move forward either. Stuck, their hard remain stubbornness symptomatic of a paralysing longing for a world doomed never to return. It means their politics are fundamentally reactionary and self-destructive, a mirror image of the Brexit zealotry they affect to despise. Such figures don’t deserve your anger or your social media invective, they are piteous and beyond reasoning. Nevertheless understanding the roots of their extremism is useful for getting to grips with weaker forms of Corbyn-scepticism and left phobia, and how we can go about addressing them.

  • Mark 1:49 pm on September 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    The Platform University 2 

    28 – 29 November 2019
    Lancaster University

    Higher education is increasingly ‘platformised’. Indeed, digital platforms have become ubiquitous. They are dominant intermediaries not only in our social, economic and political life, but have become central forms of capitalist accumulation. While platforms differ in terms of openness to developers and public access to data, they operate on similar principles. Some have grown to the extent that have become infrastructures in their own right such as Facebook, while others ‘plug-in’ and become parts of the digital infrastructural backbone. The technical and business aspects of platforms are two sides of the same coin – the market-making aspect of platforms is thus driving technological development, and the technical aspect is configuring markets. These processes, as well as their fast growth and complexity, pose methodological challenges including even identifying appropriate units of analysis.

    Higher education is increasingly subject to platformization processes. Yet, in the growing scholarship on platforms, there is a lack of focus on universities and their constituents. Especially scarce is work that would critically examine what platforms are in higher education, what they do, and what is the impact on the sector. The inaugural ‘Platform Universities’ conference, organised at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge in December 2019, opened these questions. This year’s conference at the University of Lancaster will take the debate forward.

    There will be keynotes from Bev Skeggs (Lancaster) and Sam Sellar (MMU).

    If you’d like to attend as a non-speaker please register through Eventbrite

  • Mark 7:32 am on September 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    The first and second wave of viral publishers 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 281

    While the new-media pioneers at BuzzFeed and Upworthy produced LOLs and cultivated trumped-up umbrage over the killing of poor Cecil, a second guard of new-media publishers set out to capture the loyalty of another psychographic swath of America whose disaffection far surpassed mere boredom. The new wave would employ the methods BuzzFeed had pioneered, but used partisan anger as their way of hot-wiring readers’ emotional responses.

    From pg 283:

    Breitbart, meanwhile, fixated on a more violent and direct overthrow of the mainstream media, a coup d’état more than a reformation. His aspirations were colored by the chip on his shoulder, and his approach was adversarial. “The idea,” 39 he told Wired , “is that I have to screw with media, and I have to screw with the Left, in order to give legitimate stories the ability to reach their natural watermark.” It was a lucrative idea. “When the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that.”

  • Mark 5:30 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    CfP: Data Literacy in Higher Education 

    This is a really interesting call which I’d be contributing to if the deadline wasn’t so tight:

    The call for papers attempts to address a number of topics potentially connected with the research problem of data literacy for teaching and learning in Higher Education.

    Our questions include:

    • What type of data is collected in specific institutional cases, and what are the subsequent conceptual and pedagogical foundations required to make sense of this data?
    • What problems of usability of data and data visualization (i.e. learning analytics dashboards) have been observed along one or more cycles of evaluation?
    • How are teachers addressing / developing data literacy pedagogical practices? How do they navigate data abundance, across institutional and social contexts of digital learning?
    • How are students shaping their learning processes in the context of data-driven devices and resources? How do they navigate data abundance, across institutional and social contexts of digital learning?
    • Is there critical awareness on the visibility and usage of institutionalized and social data?
    • What types of skills and abilities are required to search, analyse, adopt and share the data connected to teaching and learning processes in higher education?
    • How can data and data interpretations be shared, to encourage open education science and open educational practices?

    On the basis of these general research questions, the editors are looking for case studies, reviews, reports on technological developments, outputs of research/studies, and examples of successful projects, as well as conceptual approaches, which document the current state of knowledge and thinking.

    The International Journal Educational Technology in Higher Education is an Open Access Journal, supported by the Open University of Catalonia (Spain), the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) and the Dublin City University (Ireland) and the Vytautas Magnus University. Through its international editorial board, its open access policy, and its careful promotion of emerging research, it allows maximum visibility of articles to a wide, global audience. The journal is also highly concerned with offering speed in its publication services and high flexibility in terms of the integration of interactive datasets and images into the digital publication. The journal is indexed in several scientific databases as SCOPUS, Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Directory of Open Access Journals, EBSCO, among others.

    Full articles should be sent by November 5th. We know this is a very tight deadline, but if you might want to send us an abstract of a contribution, we might consider a deadline extension.

    Contact Bonnie Stewart (Bonnie.Stewart at uwindsor.ca) if you’d like to take part

  • Mark 3:58 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Vice’s ‘non-traditional’ working environment 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 348:

    One abiding feature was the draconian nondisclosure and nontraditional workplace agreements staffers were required to sign before joining the company, 7 which demanded, “Individuals employed by Vice must be conscious of Vice’s non-traditional environment and comfortable with exposure to and participating in situations that may present themselves during the course of their employment.” These situations might include exposure “to highly provocative material, some of it containing extremely explicit sexual and controversial content,” as well as shoots on location that involved “unique and unusual situations which may be considered offensive, indecent or unacceptable by others.” Employees saw the agreement as barring them from complaining about lewd conduct and sexual come-ons from their supervisors, even if that wasn’t stipulated in black and white.

    The supervisors were almost all male, and sexual liaisons between bosses and young associate producers were common. (Smith’s wife, Tamyka, was once a junior producer at Vice.) There was a huge problem, too, with sexual harassment, incidents that unspooled after work at bars, often following long drinking sessions.

  • Mark 1:56 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Recension Day 

    Unburn the boat, rebuild the bridge,
    Reconsecrate the sacrilege,
    Unspill the milk, decry the tears,
    Turn back the clock, relive the years
    Replace the smoke inside the fire,
    Unite fulfilment with desire,
    Undo the done, gainsay the said,
    Revitalise the buried dead,
    Revoke the penalty and the clause,
    Reconstitute unwritten laws,
    Repair the heart, untie the tongue,
    Change faithless old to hopeful young,
    Inure the body to disease
    And help me to forget you please.

    by Duncan Forbes

    • BeingQuest 3:35 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink

      It’s sometimes difficult to accurately discern the grammar of this type of verse, a challenge which I have struggled with for decades with my own of this type. I quit using commas at the end of lines some many years ago, but will use semicolons in their place, or a colon, sometimes a dash, other times an ellipses. If this were my verse, I’d drop the commas and add any number of the alternatives for clarity. It’s a nice piece, nonetheless. Thanks!

  • Mark 7:31 pm on September 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , isomorphism, , platform intermediaries, , ,   

    Viral populism: what happens when isomorphism through algorithm hits politics? 

    This is an admirably prescient post from 2014 by BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith about the viral populism which social media has facilitated. It brings a new dimension to political life which eludes the familiar expectations of pundits:

    At some point in the next two years, the pollsters and ad makers who steer American presidential campaigns will be stumped: The nightly tracking polls are showing a dramatic swing in the opinions of the electorate, but neither of two typical factors — huge news or a major advertising buy — can explain it. They will, eventually, realize that the viral, mass conversation about politics on Facebook and other platforms has finally emerged as a third force in the core business of politics, mass persuasion.

    The incentive structure which Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Breitbart and the many other platform intermediaries have adapted themselves to is one which politicians now confront as well:

    What is beginning to dawn on campaigns is that persuasion works differently when it relies on sharing. It is a political truism that people are most likely to believe what their friends and neighbors tell them, a truth that explains everything from sophisticated and earnest door-knocking efforts to malign email-forward whispering campaigns. And the social conversation favors things that generations of politicians have been trained to avoid: spontaneity, surprise, authenticity, humor, raw edge, the occasional human stumble. (Joe Biden!) As mobile becomes increasingly central to the social web, I suspect that more voters in 2016 will be persuaded by a video in their Facebook mobile browsers than by any other medium.

    The terrifying prospect this suggests is that the process we have seen in the media, what Caplan and boyd call isomorphism through algorithm, will be seen in politics as well. With each viral success story aspirant politicians will be inclined to immediately mimic their strategies. This doesn’t mean that they will be identical to each other but rather their strategies will be orientated around the same touchstones: authenticity, spontaneity, emotionality. The closing paragraph immediately made me think about Rory Stewart’s viral success in the Tory leadership contest as a striking example of how unradical this political populism might prove in practice:

    A few modern politicians appear to have a real feel for the raw emotion and, sometimes, (apparent) spontaneity that people will want to share. Elizabeth Warren’s blunt and casual economic 2011 tirade and Ted Cruz’s theatrical confrontations (and even his own low-production-value cell phone videos) are the beginnings of that viral populism for which the social web has opened a real space.

  • Mark 10:50 am on September 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: postdigital,   

    CfP: PostDigital Humans 

    I thought this CfP looked really interesting. Thanks Filvos for sharing.

    CALL FOR BOOK CHAPTERS: Postdigital Humans

    Maggi Savin-Baden (Editor)

    The development and use of Postdigital Humans is occurring rapidly, but often in unexpected ways and spaces. This, second book in the Postdigital Science and Education book series, will present research-based chapters which explore approaches to developing and using Postdigital Humans and the impact they are having on a Postdigital World.

    Keywords: Postdigital Humans, Ethics, Employment, Philosophy, Religion

    This book will present current research and practices at a time when education is changing rapidly with digital, technological advances. In particular, it will outline the major challenges faced by today’s employers, developers, teachers, researchers, priests and philosophers such as the possibility for using Postdigital Humans for teaching, training and practice. Example relevant themes are:

    • Conceptions of Postdigital Humans
    • Postdigital Humans and Ethics
    • Postdigital Humans and Employment
    • Philosophy and Postdigital Humans
    • Religion and Postdigital Humans

    Important Dates

    1 December 2019 – Deadline for extended abstracts (500-800 words)

    15 January 2020 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

    1 September 2020 – Deadline for full chapters

    1 November 2020 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

    1 January 2021 – Deadline for final chapters

    The book will be published in 2021.

    Please submit your papers to Maggi Savin-Baden, University of Worcester m.savinbaden@worc.ac.uk

    This is the second title in the new and exciting Postdigital Science and Education Book Series. The series complements the Postdigital Science and Education journal and together they provide a complete, whole-rounded publishing ecosystem to researchers working in the field. The book series covers a wide range of topics within postdigital science and education, including learning and data analytics, digital humanities, (digital) learning, teaching and assessment, educational technology and philosophy of education. Forthcoming titles:

    If you would like to pitch a book proposal, please get in touch.


  • Mark 9:44 am on September 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply

    A sketchy first draft of my PhD proposal 

    I just stumbled across this sketchy first draft of my PhD project written over 12 years ago:

    I want to explore the moral experience of young people under late modern consumer capitalism. I’m interested in the way that the changes you discuss in your later work lead to a collapse in the horizon of possible narrative for young people. Given the prevalence of enabling liberal educational culture, the question “what do you want to do when you grow up?” has more currency than ever while the general capacity to enact a career as a unified narrative trajectory is being systematically deconstructed. Institutional changes in the structures of labour markets and corporations are converging with cultural changes (diminishing influence of tradition, the growing centrality of consumer sovereignty, a tacit relativism within liberal political culture) to massively open the range of choices available to us while undermining the significance our choices hold for us.

    I want to argue that with a multiplication of choice has come an evisceration of purpose: we have more choices than ever before but we have to work ever harder to make those choices meaningful. The qualitative distinctions we draw between our ends are what ensure the coherency of self-narrative: we’re able to interpret the disparate events of our lives as part of a movement towards over-arching goals. Yet with the death of the “job for life” the coherency of the self-narrative will tend to fail as working life becomes a staccato move through a variety of contexts. The fact the “flexibility” required to do this successfully is highly valued sits in conflict with our need to maintain a coherent self-narrative. Meanwhile our very capacity to make qualitative distinctions between our ends is being eroded by an utilitarian intellectual heritage which only recognises quantitative distinctions, a powerful ethos of consumer sovereignty which only recognises the category of consumption preferences and a tacit relativism which reduces the significance of the most deeply-held ends to that of personal opinion.

    Whereas the growth of the self as a narrative project was the result of felt psychological need, it’s given rise to a cultural edifice that sustains an ‘ethics of authenticity’. We’re compelled as a matter of ethical imperative to “find ourselves” (i.e. to actively engage in the self as a narrative project) at the same time as the institutional structures we might use to orientate ourselves are radically changing and the cultural resources we might draw on are radically diminishing. 

    • BeingQuest 5:26 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink

      A painfully astute perspective. Now how does one make a Tragic (Poetic) Trilogy on this theme as a Modern Mythos, drawing from the same traditions as those who came before us these several hundred years (of the ‘modern’ West)? MY quandary.

  • Mark 10:52 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply

    The Goods Yard, Kings Cross, London, UK 

    The Goods Yard, Kings Cross, London, UK
    10:13PM, December 3rd, 2026

    He tapped forlornly at the phone.

    It had been a while since it last offered a response. Since that comforting weight had pulsated through his hands, offering out a range of haptic possibilities which his body would instinctively know how to grasp for. It was now an expensive piece of inert synthetic metal, mockingly dormant in his hand. The universes of possibility once contained within it, ready to be brought to life with nothing more than a thought, instead collapsed into nothing more than a generic weight.

    It had been a long time since he had noticed the logos which saturated the square. Now they seemed like a cruel joke though. Darting around his field of vision, illustrating the outlines of the square, it was no longer possible to ignore them. Their movement round the square, seemingly random until you looked more closely and discerned the fractal dance which underpins it, couldn’t have been a sharper contrast to the useless piece of shit he held in his hands.


    He threw the useless phone to the ground as hard as he could. His evening was now ruined. In his mind, he rehearsed the chain of events that would begin tomorrow. Or perhaps tonight. These investigations were approached in such hushed terms, their subjects desperate to avoid drawing attention to what was near universally regarded as their irresponsibility. It was hard to know what was real and what was paranoia.

    Perhaps it might even be worse than the rumours suggested.

    “Well that’s a cheery thought”, he exclaimed to no one in particular as he reached to pull the tin from his packet. Leaning back into the bench, he tried to look on the bright side. Or at least as close to such a point as he could come. He carefully placed the tin on his knee, extracting a roll of cigarette paper from the device fixed on the inside of its lid. He took a tube from inside his tin, flicking the stylised switch on its rim before dispensing its contents into the fold of the paper with the nonchalance borne of habituation. He sighed loudly as he took the paper in his hands, accepting the situation he now found himself in as he rolled in between his fingers to produce the joint. He looked up at the night sky, taking the antique lighter from his pocket with silent amusement as he contemplated how terrifically fucking gaudy the giant Apple logo in the sky now appeared to him.

    He breathed deeply, feeling the tension flood from his body as the familiar warmth entered his lungs. It hit his bloodstream almost immediately. A pulsating warmth flowing through his body faster than his muscles could respond, a lightness that lifted him from his bench in the yard and pulled him upwards. But sadly not onwards. He remembered what this used to be like, in the old days… just because some people were too weak to exercise some fucking self control it was denied to everyone else. He’d been told once that it was possible to jailbreak the tubes, if you went to the trouble of stepping back from the grid before you did so. They retained the capacity to synthesise the ket-dust in its original form and the main obstacle was being caught evading the limit that had been legally inscribed in the device to dampen the effects of their products. Well that and the inevitable investigation by the National Tech when you were caught.


    It had been a brief moment of respite but he was once again fixated on the events of tomorrow. The alert had almost certainly been sent. That grey warning that everyone dreaded, alerting the please holder to the intrusion into their life that was mandated in the face of their irresponsible use. There was no way around it. Tomorrow was going to be shit. There was a hunger now to how he sucked on the joint, as he sought the relief he knew the dust could bring. With each breath in, the most of release retreated ever further from his mind. The echo of past experiences that were long lost. Perhaps he should try and jailbreak the fucking thing after all.

    His gaze returned to the smashed device in the centre of the yard. It wasn’t usually this quiet here, ever, but it was a disconcertingly cold night in London. He was aware that there was little more than the ket-dust shielding him from the artic winds and that the physical toll of the weather would still be felt tomorrow, even if any experienced discomfort was currently kept at bay by the thick narcotic cloud that enveloped him. It also dampened the feelings within him, placing him at a distance within himself, as if he was squinting at his own feelings through thick fog. But they were still there. The frustration, the irritation and the fear about tomorrow.

    He sighed once more, exhaling in a curiously melodious manner as the brick came down on the back of his head. The pain might otherwise have been sharp, but with the ket-dust it became a dull thud. What was more pronounced was the confusion, as he felt his legs buckle underneath him. He stuttered in confusion as his head hit the ground, dimly perceiving the disinterested gait of a pigeon in the square as the boot came down on his skull. Another dull thud as his vision blurred, confusion mounting as he felt the strikes multiply, covering his body in a dull paint that rapidly became as all-encompassing as the ket-dust and fog of introspection had been only minutes earlier. He writhed in pain, as the rising panic began to escape the haze of the narcotics, with the strikes continuing in ever-greater number. Then he hard an all-mighty bang and everything went quiet.

    Suddenly there was calm in the square. The pigeons had left to escape the commotion, emptying the yard of any life beyond the prostrate figure on the floor and the large men circling him in their strange uniforms. The rain had begun to fall as they stood around their object, lending an oddly ritualistic feel to their silent stance under the pale moonlight. Looking down pointedly at the man flat in the centre of their circle, the largest of the figures plucked a small rectangular artefact from his pocket and casually flicked it to the floor.

    It was time for them to go. As they calmly walked out of the square, the same man briefly looked behind him, noting with mild how the red stream emanating from the fallen man’s head was being dispersed around the square by the thickening rain.

    This was how things should be. What they had done was a practical matter. But it was also a performance.

  • Mark 8:50 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Jonah Peretti   

    The scholarly career of BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti 


  • Mark 7:27 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , viral,   

    The gamification of virality and the pleasures it brings 

    A few creepy extracts from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the office culture at BuzzFeed. The pursuit of virality has been gamified, with these ostentatiously fun undertakings matched by an underlying threat that those who can’t reach these standards won’t survive at the company in the longer term. In light of this we should be sceptical of attempts to make it fun but that shouldn’t entail a rejection that fun is possible.

    What are the pleasures found in virality? The energies involved in making something ‘a thing’ as BuzzFeed staff are reportedly prone to saying (pg 144)? What are their managers channeling in these exercises? How does it feed what Richard Seymour calls the Twittering Machine?

    From pg 38:

    Every so often, Peretti would announce an office-wide “sprint,” for which the staff would divide into two teams and race to publish as many posts as possible on a single topic—funny babies, say, or conspiracy theories. Each time a new post went up, the author banged a gong. It was one of the many madcap methods Peretti came up with to spur his staff to be maximally productive. On Fridays he would organize “game battles,” another competitive post-writing contrivance, all the wilder for the fact that it involved a steady intake of alcohol throughout the day.

    From pg 116:

    Management insisted on quantifying the popularity of its employees’ work using Nguyen’s dashboard. Every afternoon they sent out a company-wide “scorecard” and awarded virtual badges to the day’s winners. A running tally ranked the top-performing post-writers in terms of the eyeballs they won. Notching 10 posts with at least a million views each qualified you for induction into the Players’ Club, a distinction commemorated by a dinky plastic trophy and a handwritten letter of congratulations from Beastmaster Shepherd, in crayon. A few ascended to the Silver and Gold Players Clubs. Upon authoring his 100th million-view post, Matt Stopera was admitted to the Crystal Players Club. The only one on a higher rung was his younger brother, Dave, sole member of the Platinum Players Club.

    Pg 116-117:

    The quest for ever-bigger blockbusters kept BuzzFeeders glued to their computer screens. Someone would publish a post that went mega-vi and receive invitations to appear on a television talk show, but the staff joked that it was only worth doing so their parents could watch them on air. The pace of BuzzFeed’s growth meant employees faced consequences if they weren’t meeting traffic goals. One former staff writer, Arabelle Sicardi, whose essays on womanhood and self-image packed more substance than most content on the site, was reassigned when her numbers lulled. “They had me stop writing essays and only concentrate on viral,” she said. Posts like “This Piglet Dressed as a Unicorn Is Making Everyone Cry Rainbows” and “13 Emotions Everyone Experiences in Sephora” then took the place of her expositions on feminism. “That’s when I decided to leave.”

    There was a comparable system in place with Facebook’s (now ended) human verification of trending stories. From pg 291 of the same book:

    Of the roughly 200 stories editors vetted each day, the number they greenlighted was usually around 15 to 20, maybe 30 if they spent their entire shift in hyperdrive. The goal handed down from upstairs, editors said, was for them all to reach a daily rate of 50 verified stories. The number they produced each day was prominently visible to everyone who worked in the office and was frequently cause for conversation with the bosses. The editors who verified and produced the lowest number of news stories in a given month got last pick when it came time to sign up for the next month’s shift slots, meaning they got stuck with overnights on their weekends and the 4 p.m. to midnight shift during the week. Top performers were given “points” that could be spent on Facebook paraphernalia like T-shirts.

    • landzek 12:15 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I hate people. 🤣

    • landzek 12:21 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I think we need to start a new religion based in an ethics that defines who gets to exist. Like. : thou shalt not be an idiot. And then 5 priests sit in a large room their whole lives, as they are reincarnated from the precious priests. And they stay high on every sort of drug they might want or like, or none, and they decide who is sacrificed because they are idiots. 👽🙏🏾👽

    • landzek 12:24 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      …the new religion would have human beings as low on the universal priority scale. 🌠

    • landzek 12:28 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      It’s gonna be so cool when I die and get to be god of my own universe and hang out with the other gods and play keno all day.

  • Mark 7:12 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital publishing, , , , , , , ,   

    Staying small in order to grow 

    I thought this was an interesting extract from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the rise of Vice. Limiting their circulation was a deliberate strategy to facilitate its expansion in the longer term, enabling them to side step some of the pressures they would have been subject to if they had dived headfirst into growth. From pg 45-46

    “We realized if we were going to try to go mass,” 10 Smith said, “and try to go for a million copies, we were going to have to dilute how we wrote and how we did everything.” Instead they doubled down on catering to the cool kids and consciously kept their circulation number lower than market demand. They printed 150,000 issues to distribute across the U.S. and similarly small batches overseas, in Japan, then the U.K., then Germany. “We got to a million copies that way,” Smith said. Each of those cool kids would pass their issue on to six or eight friends, expanding the magazine’s circulation by word of mouth.

  • Mark 6:37 pm on September 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    A few notes the digital aristocracy 

    Many of the leading figures in contemporary Silicon Valley are those who survived the fall out from the earlier crash. Thiel made his fortune by co-founding the online payments platform Paypal, acting as CEO until its sale to eBay. He subsequently founded Clarium Capital (a hedge fund), Founders Fund (a venture capital firm) and Palantir Technologies (a data analytics platform). The latter has proved a particular source of controversy, leveraging the anti-fraud algorithms developed for Paypal transactions into an intelligence platform used by security agencies across the United States government. Their primary services, Gotham and Metropolis, provide data linkage and predictive analytics for corporate and governmental clients across an enormous array of datasets. The interests of Palantir have been central to Thiel’s emerging political ambitions, as his forceful backing of Donald Trump at a time when the rest of the tech world was steering clear has given him outsized influence with the unexpected Trump administration that has reportedly translated into significant influence over operations and appointments, particularly within the sphere of intelligence and security (Ciralsky 2017). Thiel has gained notoriety for his ultra-libertarian beliefs, infamously proclaiming in an essay for the Cato institute that he no longer believed that “freedom and democracy are compatible”. His essay explicitly frames his commitments to investing in cyberspace, outer-space and seasteading in these terms. Each represents a new frontier, opportunities to create “new spaces of freedom” beyond the confines of a state (Thiel 2009). It remains to be seen whether he will recant this commitment, given his seeming success at winning influence within the existing confines of the existing state within the Trump administration.

    The same period has seen growing expectations of a future Presidential bid by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raising questions about whether this is simply an extension of Facebook’s lobbying efforts or reflects a genuinely-held ideology which is beginning to coalesce into ambitions of social transformation (Marcetic 2017). Earlier reports from within the company suggest a sincerely held, though nebulous, vision of Facebook as facilitating “a world in which we all become cells in a single organism, where we can communicate automatically and can all work together seamlessly” (Losse 2012: 201). In some ways, this vision is a familiar one of global corporations outgrowing nation-states, demonstrating more effective ways of achieving social outcomes that nation-states will ultimately adapt themselves to. This is a faith which McGoey (2015: loc 289) has argued is embodied in contemporary ‘philanthrocapitalism’, a surge “rooted in growing wealth concentration”: nearly half of the 85,000 private foundations in the United States were created in the last fifteen years, as income inequality rose precipitously. Zuckerberg joined this movement in a significant way with the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose lofty promise to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy” is belied by a limited liability corporate status that evades the transparency and political neutrality requirements which would be imposed upon a charitable trust.

    The most famous proponent of philanthrocapitalism is undoubtedly Bill Gates, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working with an endowment of $44.3 billion as of 31 December 2014. While the ambitions of Gates have been less explicitly political than those of Thiel and even Zuckerberg, they have proved politically influential through the sheer scale of their philanthropic activity. One of their key focal areas has been ‘education reform’, with the foundation being the largest amongst the philanthropic donors who spend almost $4 billion on education in the United States each year (McGoey 2015: loc 1974)

    • BeingQuest 2:00 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink

      Gates investing in “education reform” seems like the reinvention of the Wheel with the Square Block…hardly a piece of Progress for all its success to date. All these icons of industry appear as outsiders from the perspective of Education, some many centuries already practiced, with today showing a disadvantage in too many particulars to its learners, not the least of which failure is this generations feeble Historical Consciousness.

      It’s fair to say that learners today are boxed-in to an experience really not their own, but that of powerful others who have their way with them on every important level of social organization. Gates and his like would offer a bridge over this chasm, but cannot well nor convincingly argue exactly WHAT intelligence may mean for mankind in the 21’st Century in anything other than functional to the society he and his propound behind closed doors.

      You can’t trust a rich man’s generosity, as it is no generosity at all, being rich. They can be little better than Middle Men of the system that spawned them, with all the ideological baggage that must entail. Wolves in Sheep’s clothing, withal.

    • BeingQuest 2:31 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink

      Why these ‘philanthropists” haven’t invented a way to make Learning universally available on the fundamental plane of data in the historical record remains a quandary directly aimed at their “back door” motivations from the start. It would be the easiest thing for such as Gates to begin the compilation of Learning over the ages on every conceivable Topic to Learning in the Cannon of the West (to start), that it begs the question of their (his) motivation to date.

      Were I a Student of any given Topic, from Intellectual History and Philosophy of Science to modern Anthropology and Cultural Studies (soft sciences)…and I am…I would want to pursue the first examples of concern expressed by this Canon, and those that added to or subtract from such concern, from the earliest Universities and Guilds of Learning to the present. Too much information? Hardly. It’s the First aim of Education to put into the hands of every learner the tools of Inspection on the Historical Record, then let them find their own Library, create their own Library, to suit their unique investigations. Independent Learning, worthy of any emancipated brute.

      The technology is available for such a Project, even better now with Block Chain Technology and certifications of any argument, on any topic, viewed by any/all participants to the Cause (of Learning).

      What the Worlds of men needs is a New Community of Learning, which such a Bank of Intellectual History could provide, if at least as a basis for what must come next, from what was before and informs the present. Men may not be sophisticated enough for such a Project, but could invent and AI protocol to perform the task, free of bias. Utopia.

    • BeingQuest 2:34 am on September 19, 2019 Permalink


    • BeingQuest 4:58 pm on September 20, 2019 Permalink

      I’ll be expounding my “Cultural Criticism” as Poetics here, going forward…most of my available time, it appears…going forward (what the hell, right? A Swan Song): https://www.patreon.com/durandusvonmeissen

  • Mark 6:22 pm on September 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: app development, , ,   

    Apps and their users: a few initial ontological thoughts 

    It’s important to grasp how much the development cycle for apps and platforms differs from that of software from a previous era. The typical app will go through a far higher number of iterations than a comparable piece of software would have in a pre-smart phone era. There are numerous reasons for this ranging from changes in the operating system are more frequent through to the unpredictability of bugs in an operating environment encompassing numerous elements which are themselves changing. But the most interesting dimension of this continual iteration is the relationship to users it entails. There is a risk of frustrating the users with too many updates, as each one acted upon inevitably consumes time, resources and data, with the latter potentially being in short supply if the user cannot connect to wifi before undertaking the update. However too few updates implies a lack of responsiveness to the emerging community of users, one which might prove fatal if it eventually leads to App Store reviews being swamped with poor reviews and comments about a failure to update the software. Particularly when it comes to apps which involve a sustained relationship, such as cloud based note taking or productivity software, the accusation that a developer is lax in addressing problems or responding to user demands is liable to prove immensely off-putting. Therefore the app development process involves negotiating a relationship with an emerging community of users, iterating the project in real time in relation to a user game which is itself changing. The user group might be growing or shrinking it size. The average level of familiarity with the app might be increasing as users become committed, or it might be decreasing as a small cluster of sustained users are supplemented by an influx of new users whose engagement is at least heretofore shallow. Users might be growing in commitment as the app becomes part of their daily routines, or their decreasing engagement might be the canary in the coal-mine which marks the entry into the death cycle for a once promising service.

    There are many ways in which the user group might be changing at any specific moment in time and this has important implications for the epistemic predicament in which developers find themselves. How do they know what users want? How can they anticipate how users might react? The are two means through which these questions can be answered: the transactional data collected by the app which is available to developers and qualitative engagement with the user group through social media, e-mail or feedback within the app. As we’ve seen, the data collected within the app might appear to be nuanced in terms of the data points which are collected on a specific user but it it also restrictive in that its scope doesn’t extend beyond the app itself.

    However if developers are reliant on social media to manage relationships with their user group then they are inevitably subject to precisely the dynamics which we later analyse as the social media machine. If they use Twitter to engage with a user base then certain voices will be more prominent than others. Accounts with many followers, or a high ratio of followers to followed, will have more weight in the feedback they share than those which are less popular. The ephemeral nature of the platform means that feedback will tend to be offered in particular ways, such as being extremely brief and possibly impatient. A Facebook group has its own unpredictable dynamics, liable to attract only committed users but also to encourage them to express their views in certain ways. It might be that e-mail proves an effective means to interact with users, but there’s a higher threshold for engagement than other platforms. It’s easier and quicker to send a tweet to someone you have not spoken to before than it is an e-mail. It also creates the risk that the developer will receive long, possibly rambling e-mails, consuming more time than might otherwise be needed to discern what the take away message of the interaction should be. It’s not that one platform is intrinsically better than others for these purposes but rather that each involves a mixture of affordances and constraints, inflecting the relationship that its being built through the particular characteristics of the platform being used to build it.

    If we recognise these as two dimensions through which a platform firm builds a relationship with a community of users, it opens up the possible tensions that might exist between them. What if users in a Facebook group are telling you things about the platform which aren’t borne out by the data? What weight should be placed on individual experiences conveyed by e-mail compared to the aggregate trends which can discerned from monitoring user activity.

  • Mark 5:39 pm on September 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply

    Never say Amazon in a bookstore 

  • Mark 5:22 pm on September 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: tetris,   

    Human Tetris 

  • Mark 4:00 pm on September 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , data analytics, , moneyball   

    The Poetics of Data Analytics 

    Originally a 2003 book by financial journalist Michael Lewis, the 2011 film with Brad Pitt tells the story of the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Struggling with fewer resources than his competitors and lacking the resources to replace star players who have been poached, general manager Billy Breane embraces data analytics to assemble “an island of misfit toys”: unpopular players flawed in specific ways whose superficial idiosyncrasies obscure an underlying solidity as players which registers empirically for those willing to look at the data. Even if you have no interest in baseball, the encounters between the orthodoxy of baseball management and the new world of data analytics are wonderfully engaging.

    Breane grows ever more frustrated as a room full of ageing coaches and scouts earnestly recount their intuitions and heuristics to him in lieu of evidence-based argument, encompassing such certainties as that a player whose girlfriend is unattractive obviously lacking confidence and thus cannot be depended upon on the field. Having turned down a full scholarship to an Ivy League university as a young man because scouts cut from this same cloth hailed him as a future superstar, he has long nurtured a scepticism towards their intuitions as his own career failed to live up to  expectations.

    Breane’s chance encounter with an economist furtively working with a rival team, withholding much of his analysis lest he upset his established colleagues, provides him with a way out of this impasse. The embrace of data analytics promises a way of gaining competitive advantage over the better resourced teams in the league, ultimately paying off with a hugely successful campaign regarded as amongst the most notable in the history of the sport.

    What’s notable about the film is the heroism it lends to a narrowly instrumental exercise, as what might once have seemed to be a dehumanising approach to the team’s players instead represents a brave struggle against incumbent irrationality. Breane is supported in this struggle by Peter Brand, whose numeracy carries an almost inhuman connotation, with the grizzled coaches and scouts struggling to recreate the maths as Breane’s human computer spits out arithmetic on command. 

    It’s an entertaining film which is sociologically interesting for the way in which it prefigures a poetics of data analytics which has only grown in subsequent years. It introduces elements which we can see elsewhere (the inhumanity of epistemic bias, the relationship between intuition and incumbency, the bravery needed to call orthodoxy into question) into the familiar form of a sports narrative, producing something new in the process: the embrace of data as a mode of bravery

    • momslovelearning 6:29 am on September 16, 2019 Permalink

      Interesting post. I had heard about this story already but I had not realized that there were a book and a film about it.

    • Mark 8:18 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink

      it’s good!

  • Mark 8:58 pm on September 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: borders, boundaries, , , private, private life,   

    The situational geography of everyday life 

    From Zizi Papacharissi’s A Private Sphere pg 68:

    Meyrowitz (1986) described this as the ability of electronic media to remove, or at least rearrange, boundaries between public and private spaces, affecting our lives not so much through content, but rather “by changing the ‘situational geography’ of social life” (p. 6). In the seminal No Sense of Place, Meyrowitz (1986), likened this potential to the architectural effect that would be created were all walls physically separating rooms, houses, offices, buildings, and all concrete structures to be lifted. The result would combine several previously distinct situations, creating a paradox: an inharmonious continuum of several disconnected conversations, simultaneously aware of but potentially discordant with each other. This confluence of public and private boundaries exposes individuals to a variety of potential audiences, some intentional and several accidental. Still, because the norms of evaluating social behavior remain the same, individuals feel compelled to adjust their behavior so that it may be compatible with a variety of different situations and audiences.

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