Aside

2018.5.22

I signed a lease for a condo right in the heart of downtown Toronto today; I’m super glad I ended up waiting things out until I found a place that both felt right and was the right financial decision. Moving on to the next chapter of my life is incredibly bittersweet, but at least it’s made a bit easier going back to where I feel most at home in Toronto.

The Roundup for May 12-18, 2018 Edition

Soar by Christopher Parsons

It’s become incredibly popular to attribute the activities undertaken by the Facebooks and Googles of the work to ‘surveillance capitalism’. This concept generally asserts that the current dominant mode of economics has become reliant on surveillance to drive economic growth. Surveillance, specifically, is defined as the act of watching or monitoring activity with the intent of using captured information to influence behaviour. In the world of the Internet, this information tends to be used to influence purchasing behaviours.

The issue that I have with the term surveillance capitalism is that I’m uncertain whether it comprehensively captures the activities associated with the data-driven economy. Surveillance Studies scholars tend to apply the same theories which are used to understand CCTV to practices such as machine learning; in both cases, the technologies are understood as establishing feedback loops to influence an individual or entire population. But, just as often, neither CCTV nor machine learning actually have a person- or community-related feedback loop. CCTV cameras are often not attended to, not functional, or don’t provide sufficient information to take action against those being recorded. Nor do individuals necessarily modify their own behaviours in the presence of such cameras. Similarly, machine learning algorithms may not be used to influence all persons: in some cases, they may be sufficiently outside the scope of whatever the algorithm is intended to do that they are not affected. Also, like CCTV, individuals may not modify their own behaviours when machine learning algorithms are working on the data those individuals are generating on the basis of being unaware of machine learning operating on their data.

So, where surveillance capitalism depends on a feedback loop that is directly applied towards individuals within a particular economic framework, there may be instances where data is collected and monetized without clear or necessary efforts to influence individuals. Such situations could include those where a machine learning algorithm is designed to improve a facial recognition system, or improve battery life based on the activities undertaken by a user, or to otherwise very quietly make tools more effective without a clear attempt to modify user behaviour. I think that such activities may be very clearly linked to monetization and, more broadly, an ideology backed by capitalism. But I’m not sure it’s surveillance as it’s rigorously defined by scholars.

So one of the things that I keep thinking about is whether we should shift away from the increasingly-broad use of ‘surveillance capitalism’ to, more broadly, talk about ‘data capitalism’. I’m not suggesting doing away with the term surveillance capitalism but, instead, that surveillance capitalism is a sub-genus of data capitalism. Data capitalism would, I believe, better capture the ways in which information is collected, analyzed, and used to effect socio-technical changes. Further, I think such a term might also capture times where those changes are arguably linked to capitalist aims (i.e. enhancing profitability) but may be less obviously linked to the feedback loops towards individuals that are associated with surveillance itself.


After approximately twenty months of work, my colleagues and myself have published an extensive report on encryption policies in Canada. It’s a major accomplishment for all of us to have finally concluded the work, and we’re excited by the positive feedback we’ve received about it.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Ambition is a noble passion which may legitimately take many forms… but the noblest ambition is that of leaving behind something of permanent value.”

– G.H. Hardy

Great Photography Shots

Some of these storm chaser photos are practically otherworldly.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for May 5-11, 2018 Edition

The Ride by Christopher Parsons

During my Master’s degree I was given the opportunity to provide feedback on early work being written by Jim Tully and Jurgen Habermas. Reading their work and thinking about it seriously and critically so as to suggest improvements taught me the importance of grace in feedback and, also, that even superstar scholars produce first drafts that leave significant room for improvement. Most importantly, it taught me that the finished material that I was reading in journals and books came from authors who’s draft writing was flawed, just like my first drafts.1

Engaging with drafts is probably one of the hardest things that you can do, because you want to be as helpful as possible and — at least in academia — that often means being incredibly critical of the work in question. The intent shouldn’t ever be to ‘kill’ the work; whatever criticism is provided ought to be nuanced with the view of improving it. A reviewer should indicate why a particular section, or paragraph, or sentence is a problem, provide ideas for resolving the tension if any come to mind, and even suggest alternate ways of thinking about the idea, concept, or text under review. At all points the goal should not be to edit and critique, not for the sake of editing and engaging in critique, but instead in the service of supporting the author so that their work communicates their ideas, descriptions, and conclusions in the most concise and illuminating ways possible.

Because the first authors I provided serious feedback to were paragons in my field at the time I had to be careful, nuanced, and generous in my comments. I had to really engage with the work and not give it a quick read and spit out half-baked analyses and critiques. Unfortunately, not enough reviewers of academic texts provide this kind of thoughtful response, likely because most reviewers are rushing to read and review the piece so they can get to their own commitments. As a result, comments and feedback can be abrupt, not engage with core arguments, and be overly brief to the point of being unhelpful to the author.

Reviewing is one of the most thankless jobs in academia, and more broadly in the literary community. Authors know the importance of strong reviewers. But this reviewing element of the writing process is entirely invisible to people who just read the finished work and, by extension, leads to conclusions that authors somehow produce brilliant prose out of nowhere. Lost is the fact that all manuscripts are really multi-authored; it’s just that the ‘lesser’ secondary authors who engage with the author at the earliest stages to course correct the text, to provide suggestions, and to suggest different phrasings, are left off. And that’s perfectly fine. But I think that it’d be a lot less scary for people to start writing if they realized that the process writing almost always involves a large number of non-authors who help to evolve a work from first to final draft, and how significantly ideas and intentions behind a work’s publication can change from inception to conclusion. In effect, I think it’d be useful to know that the ‘stars’ in any given literary field stand at the forefront of a small army of helpers, assistants, and supporters, as opposed to heroically on their lonesome with their finished manuscripts.


The Paywall Craze

Paul Om wrote,

… I think the paywall craze which is sweeping the media herd will be a big reality check for the news and magazine publishers. So many of them are drinking their own spiked kool -aid. They will soon realize the size of their “real audience” and will soon realize that they don’t pass the “value for money” threshold. There are very few publications that have a feeling of must-reads and must-haves.

This feels pretty dead on; the issue, today, is that there is so much content that the act of choosing is the hard part. I think that the only content that is going to be subscribed to is either that which is regarded as essential to someone’s life or that they spend money on in order to focus their time and attention on it. Sure, there’s some popular media that will survive a shift to paywalls but I suspect a lot of organizations will realize just how little their readers actually value what was being produced. And that’s going to hurt for the media organizations and for the writers working there.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

In many ways, fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.

—Mike Myers

Great Art

I really love these illustration by Jenn Woodall

May banner by Jenn Woodall
Know Your Enemy by Jenn Woodall
Painting for ‘GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS’ who at Northern Contemporary Gallery by Jenn Woodall

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

  1. I mean, their work was more complex and nuanced that my work at the time. But in all our cases the first draft was the first stab at explaining and arguing instead of being the first and final word(s).
Aside

2018.5.9

I’m really struggling with the decision of whether to rent a place that is cheaper, but lacking in direct sunlight, but that has lots of space, versus paying significantly more a month for a place with lots of natural light. I almost made the decision to get a cheaper location today but just felt almost disastrously upset about what I was about to do. I’ve still got two months before I’m officially homeless; I’m going to keep on hunting around.

Aside

2015.5.6

Saw my first potential condo rental; it was terrific save for a bathroom that had serious water damage to the ceiling (probably from flooding or leaks above the unit) and a bathroom shower that needed to be burned with fire and entirely replaced. Hopefully the next one is more suitable.

The Roundup for April 28-May 4, 2018 Edition

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Hoop Dreams by Christopher Parsons

In the wake of the Toronto attack any number of journalists are trying to become experts on the ‘incel’ community, which defines itself as a community of men who are involuntarily celibate and as deserving intercourse with women. It’s led to some suggestions that maybe it’s appropriate to think about policy solutions to the ‘problem’. At issue, of course, is that some persons have failed to recognize the problem itself. Consider Ross Douthat, who links Amia Srinivasan’s ruminations on the links between desire and politics with incels, effectively conjoining a misogynistic subculture with “the overweight and disabled, minority groups treated as unattractive by the majority, trans women unable to find partners and other victims … of a society that still makes us prisoners of patriarchal and also racist-sexist-homophobic rules of sexual desire.” Douthat continues to ultimately argue that a combination of commerce, technology, and efforts to destigmatize sex work will lead to “at a certain point, without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.”

Douthat’s entire argumentative structure — that the ‘problem’ to solve in an inability to engage in sexual, if not romantic, relationships — is predicated on the notion that there is such a thing as a legitimate right to intercourse. There is not. There is a legitimate right to safe, respectful, and destigmatized sexual relationships and activities. There is a right to sexual education, to sexual health and wellbeing, but there is no right to intercourse: such a right would imply that the act of penetrating another person is necessary and appropriate. That is clearly not the case.

Instead, the problem with the incel community is linked with misogyny. Specifically, as Jessica Valenti writes, the problem is with misogynist terrorism, a situation where certain men’s disdain towards women drives mass murders. Part of solving this particular problem is linked with addressing the underlying culture in America, and the world more generally. Specifically, she writes:

Part of the problem is that American culture still largely sees men’s sexism as something innate rather than deviant. And in a world where sexism is deemed natural, the misogynist tendencies of mass shooters become afterthoughts rather than predictable and stark warnings.

The truth is that in addition to not protecting women, we are failing boys: failing to raise them to believe they can be men without inflicting pain on others, failing to teach them that they are not entitled to women’s sexual attention and failing to allow them an outlet for understandable human fear and foibles that will not label them “weak” or unworthy.

It’s essential that men, and boys, learn about how to engage with other humans in non-destructive ways. Such a process is borderline revolutionary because it entails reshaping how cultural, social, legal, and economic relationships are structured, and any such restructuring must be motivated by a rebalancing of power relationships across genders and races (and, ultimately, geographies). The outcome will be that the privilege that straight white men have enjoyed for centuries will be diminished and, correspondingly, restrict the social and economic opportunities that some men have enjoyed solely because of their gender and race. But those changes are essential if we’re to actually confront the misogyny and racism that underlies not just incel culture, but that of mainstream society and politics as well.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

Writing—I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.

  • David Rokoff

New Apps

Great Photography Shots

I’d never seen x-ray photos of flowers before. It’s an absolutely breathtaking form of image making.

Photo manipulation by Edmanep

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Aside

2018.5.3

I reconnected with the realtor I relied on last time I was on the Toronto housing market and am, again, amazed at how fast, efficient, and helpful he is. A good realtor is definitely worth their weight in gold when renting in Toronto these days.