The Roundup for August 6-12, 2018 Edition

Screwed by Christopher Parsons

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting art galleries and spending a lot of time — sometimes 20 minutes or more — in front of certain paintings to try and understand why the artist made their composition decisions.1 This has involved both trying to understand the positionality of different subjects, the roles that light played in directing attention across the canvass, and more broadly trying to understand the emotional or intellectual responses that I experience when spending time with the work. To be frank, it’s a strange kind of experience just because standing, silently and quietly, in front of something in public contemplation feels abnormal. However, it’s a feeling that I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with: for a long time, it didn’t make sense to me that someone would spend tens of minutes, or even hours, or longer over the course of years, to view particular works. But I’m very slowly starting to really appreciate why people do that; in my case, probing a piece of art seems to involve letting go of myself to explore, consider, evaluate, reject, and refine thoughts that I have when taking in the artist’s works.

I’ve read, repeatedly, that photographers can benefit from spending time looking at paintings and other canvass-based pieces of artwork. Photography, in many respects, aims to accomplish many of the same things as paintings: good photos affect the viewer’s mind and emotions, while telling a story that is more or less simple. Even the starkest abstract or architectural photographs can ‘say’ something to the viewer. This is contrasted against snapshots that may capture a moment in time, but which aren’t necessarily meant to affect how the view experiences their lives. There are, of course, difficulties because what are sometimes regarded as snapshots may, in fact, be photographs: good street photography, as an example, may resemble snapshots but is actually meant to convey a more-or-less subtle story to the viewer.

None of this is to say that snapshots are bad kinds of images. They can hold incredible value: snapshots I’ve taken over the years of family gatherings, as an example, hold immense value to me. This value is heightened when they’re the only ‘real’ reminder I have of certain family members who have since died. But they’re not ‘artistic’ in isolation.2

It’s in the process of sitting or standing, silently, with our own photographs that I think we can come to imminently realize whether whatever was shot genuinely crosses the line between a snapshot and a photograph that is seeking to convey something beyond what was captured. And, over time, I think that it’s this practice that leads to photographers capturing more of a scene that is self-evidently visible in the pigments and paper used to print on: it’s by careful study of our own work, and that of other photographers, that we can train our minds to almost automatically see what is a photo, why, and how to capture it in its entirely instead of simply snapping a quick shot. Unless, of course, a snapshot is all that you want to capture at the time!


It’s baffling to me that Apple Music lets users create profiles, so that we can share what we’re listening to with other users, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to link into our profiles from the public web. It seems like another of Apple’s failures to understand that social discoverability shouldn’t be exclusively be constrained to very limited sharing within their closed environment.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

  1. Stop caring with other people think.
  2. Choose your bosses carefully. Bad habits are difficult to unlearn.
  3. Turn the fucking Internet off. Do the work.
  4. Choose must.
  5. Know where you are going. 100% of people who go to a train station know where they want to end up.
  6. Chase the work. Not the money.
  7. Raise your standard.
  8. Tell yourself better stories.
  9. It takes courage to stand out.
  10. Be a beautiful outside.

Great Photography Shots

I was really stuck by Oleg Tolstoy’s photographs of Japanese taxi drivers, both because of her artist’s statement — she wanted to explore persons who were almost from another era, given their dress and professional silence while transporting passengers — as well as because the images themselves possess an almost cyberpunk-cinematic quality. I also found that the photos were evocative insofar as how the drivers were staring into the distance were incredibly effective in directing my on attention through the photographs. It’s obvious as soon as you look for it but, prior to then, it’s a subtle forcing of the eye through the frame which brings out a lot. In pulling myself away from how I’m ‘meant’ to look at the photo I quickly shift to a series of (to my mind) interesting questions: what is, and isn’t drawn clearly into our visual frame as we follow the subjects’ eyes? What can we learn from what our eyes are ‘told’ to ignore or to pay attention to? What would be the difference in how the pictures were viewed, based on whether you were trained to read left to right, right to left, or top to bottom?

Music I’m Digging

  • The Prodigy – Need Some1 (Single) // I’ve long been a fan of The Prodigy and this song has all the hallmarks of their better work: it’s almost impossible not to start moving as soon as it starts playing!
  • Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence (EP) // The second of three short EPs published by the Nine Inch Nails, the dull and gritty sounds of the album are really striking. I’m less a fan of Trent Reznor’s ‘louder’ songs, and far prefer ones which are more haunting. The songs ‘The Lovers’ and ‘This Isn’t the Place’ are the standout tracks for me, with the latter song in particular being strikingly haunting and, to my ear, amongst the band’s better work in the past few years.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Eat This – Barges and Bread // An in-depth discussion of the historical ways in which wheat was transported in Britain, even prior to the Romans developing fortifications around contemporary-day London. I learned both a lot about how and why wheat was transported in the bulks that it was, as well as the difficulties in using barging systems today to transport grain and other materials across British waterways.
  • The Daily – The Trump Voters We Don’t Talk About // Based on a relatively large-n sample, and measured across time, this episode unpacks the demographic groups that voted for Trump. Moreover, it looks at which groups are steadfastly supporting him, and where Trump’s voting base may have begun to fall away.
  • Lawfare – The Challenge of Digital Evidence // While encryption has sucked up a lot of the air concerning the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have in prosecuting crimes, this podcast focuses on all the other (often more serious) problems authorities have in obtaining digital evidence. The episode is a good introduction to the solvable problems: figuring out ways for authorities to determine who has the relevant data they need, educating authorities so they can actually process contemporary digital evidence, and establishing an central office that can coordinate authorities’ requests for data. It’s a solid overview of the non-encryption problems facing American law enforcement along with generally reasonable solutions.
  • The Sporkful – Michael Ian Black Is A Man Who Eats Salads // Like many episodes of The Sporkful this one uses food as an entry point into a discussion about more serious social issues. In this case, food and eating is used as a way to engage with concepts of often-toxic masculinity, the social constructions men live (and chafe) within, and the challenges associated with food and body image that men often experience. I found my head nodding throughout the episode as Michael carefully works through some of his own issues with how masculinity is constructed and the ways in which he tries to grapple with the associated social norms.

Good Reads for the Week

  • Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves // While the craft beer market remains in an uneasy state in Ontario, any breweries that start producing dollar beers are almost certain to produce swill and irreparably damage their brands. Plus, should craft breweries attain any real market share as a result of producing dollar beers the big breweries will almost certainly just sell their own beers at a loss to run off ‘craft’ brews selling for under a buck.
  • America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats // The Economist provides a sharp overview of how changing demographics, gerrymandering, and the electoral college combine to disadvantage the Democratic Party in American politics. It’s not new research but it is succinctly outlined and argued.
  • How to Photograph a Vacation // Rose’s suggestions for image making on vacation resonate with me: the different techniques he uses (e.g. anchoring shot, unique shots, isolation shots, etc) are things I’ve done to varying degrees of success, but that I find helpful regardless. I also really like the idea of culling a trip to a small number — he suggest six — of photos that ‘define’ the trip. While my number tends to be higher, I may also spend a lot more time engaging in photography while travelling? (Disclosure: I tend to shoot prolifically when on vacation, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of images. Shooting is a key element to my experiencing a happy vacation.) Regardless, I find that culling down to the best 10-30 images is something that I actually enjoy doing because it’s a good learning moment; it compels me to ask what photos are my best, and why?
  • The disturbing record behind one of B.C.’s top billing doctors // While over billing was a serious issue with this doctor, the more deeply problematic element was his incredibly poor medical care that left women scarred mentally and physically. Persons who haven’t dealt with bad obstetrician-gynecologists really can’t understand how deeply debilitating their actions can be or how long it can take to recover. I can only hope that this case encourages Canadian colleges of physicians to more carefully monitor and police their members, though I’m not confident that’ll be the case.
  • “9/11esque” Tweets and the Saudi Spat // Craig Forcese has a terrific (academic) blog where he reflects on the terrorist promotion and advocacy statutes in Canadian law and asks: would they apply to tweets sent by parties friendly to Saudi Arabia and which showed a plane tunnelling towards the CN Tower?
  • How Big Is the Alt Right? Inside My Futile Quest to Count // While far from scientific, Grey Ellis argues that the alt-right in the United States is once more being pushed underground on the basis that fewer people are likely to turn up to public events. However, this assessment discounts the effectiveness of online recruitment; while those persons may not show up in person to demonstrate they will be woven throughout society and able to exert their views in perhaps more subtle ways as they harass individuals, discriminate on a local level, and spread their hate and prejudice in more private settings. Pushing hate underground doesn’t inherently make it any less of a social evil.
  • Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise // I’ve been suspicious of wellness programs for a long time; they’ve struck me as ways of externalizing poor health issues onto employees and then blaming them for not being proactive about their health. But where my worries have mostly revolved around the issue of insurance cost hikes, this analysis by the New York Times showcases that wellness programs don’t really lead to significant improvements in quality of health for those in wellness programs when appropriate controls are established. So the idea that wellness necessarily leads to better health for employees generally doesn’t hold. Instead, there are just certain classes of people inside, and outside, of wellness programs who will live healthier lifestyles. It’s a person-thing, not a wellness-member thing.
  • Tree Bark Generates a Weird Force That Defies Gravity // While many people think that the internal fibres of trees are responsible for their upright posture (I definitely did!) it turns out that trees’ bark growth plays a significant role in maintaining vertical stability. This is why some parts of tree bark are thicker than other parts: those thick elements are used to maintain posture, and removing or weakening that element of the epidermis of the tree will cause it to begin to tilt. Fascinating.

Cool Things

  • Fire in Cardboard City // What if fire broke out in a land of cardboard? How would a city respond and with what consequences?
  • Native Land // A mapping of the lands the indigenous people in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand once claimed as their own.
  • IKEA’s “ENEBY” Bluetooth Speakers // I already have three separate speaker systems for my 1-bedroom condo. But I really, really like the idea of picking up some of these IKEA speakers (assuming they sound good enough) to install in my bedroom and bathroom. I just wish that they were Airplay 2 compatible so that I could stream music throughout my home without having to constantly be re-pairing with different speaker sets.

Footnotes

  1. Generally I’ve been focusing on European art from between the 1600s to 1800s.
  2. There is a case to be made that, assembled in aggregate, what might have been snapshots can become proper photographs with a story and emotive element. But at least with the snapshots I’m thinking of — and seeing scroll on my TV — they definitely don’t rise to the level of a photograph with a particular intent behind them besides documenting a time and moment.

The Roundup for June 2-8, 2018 Edition

A New Light by Christopher Parsons

It’s one day after the 2018 Ontario provincial election. The winning party ran on a semi-platform that is designed to actively undermine the province’s climate change reforms, dismisses the importance of raising the minimum wage, and is actively hostile to efforts to improve sexual education. In the stead of these values, the party asserted they would reduce the cost of beer, reduce taxes, reduce energy costs, and otherwise work to promote ‘business friendly’ policies. The ways in which these values and objectives would be reached were never explained in a rigorous and methodical way: people voted for values and out of anger at the former governing party.

On days like today, it’s easy for progressives to get upset, angry, and/or depressed. But such emotions are reflections of our own dark and often unproductive states of mind. While a government can significantly affect the policy landscape, damage can be undone and most harms repaired or remediated. Instead of falling into dark states of mind, we are in a time when it is essential to evaluate where we can contribute to our societies and advance the values that we think with enhance our lives, and the lives of those around and affected by us. To promote a more progressive society we might actively promote, support, and elevate the roles of persons of colour, indigenous persons, and women in our communities so that they are better situated to accomplish their personal and professional goals. We might volunteer for causes that are important for progressive politics. We might even actively work to support a political candidate or party that didn’t accomplish the results we wanted.

In effect, it’s during times of change that it makes the most sense to get actively involved in our world, to influence the persons and organizations we’re involved with, and seek to effect change that extends and supports civil rights protections and equality amongst all people. Now is not the time for getting angry, per se, nor the time to lay down and wait for the next four years. No, if anything, today is just like yesterday, and is just like tomorrow should be: it’s a day to actively work towards improving the communities we find ourselves within so as to ensure that all persons enjoy equal rights and are able to thrive in their personal and professional lives.


I absolutely am floored by the reality that Anthony Bourdain killed himself in a hotel room. I’ve watched him from afar for many years, as so many have, and I’ve always appreciated the vigour and honesty that he projected in his public life. His frank discussions about troubled pasts and the difficulties people face everywhere around the world, and how North American and European activities endanger the lives and wellbeing of persons everywhere else in the world, were and remain important assertions and lessons. But rather than remembering him most for his travels I think I’ll remember him for the positions he unwaveringly took in the face of bad actions. His essay on #metoo struck me as particularly powerful, and specifically the paragraph where he wrote:

In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.

This was the kind of language and public assertion that needs to be made. Bourdain himself was a deeply flawed individual, and he at least presented the image of someone who was trying to work through those flaws and present them as things that can overcome in the course of life. However, while those facets might be worn down over time they were unlikely to ever be entirely eliminated. Rather than showcasing himself as having overcome his past he, instead, presented himself as a man involved in an ongoing narrative, without a clear conclusion, but with an intent to rectify and avoid the sins of his past. There are far worse narratives to carry us through our lives.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

  • Jack Layton

Great Photography Shots

These aerial shots of Buddhist temples in Myanmar by Dimitar Karanikolov are stunning.

Music I’m Digging

Max Richter-Sleep (Remixes)

Art I Want

Di•a•graph•i•a by Sarah Hulsey

 

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

A Civil Rights Company?

Photo by Youssef Sarhan on Unsplash

Much has been made of Tim Cook’s advocacy on issues of privacy and gay rights. The most recent iteration of Safari that was unveiled at WWDC will incorporate techniques that hinder, though won’t entirely stop, advertisers and websites from tracking users across the Internet. And Apple continues to support and promote gay rights; the most evident manifestations of this is Apple selling pride-inspired Apple Watch bands and a matching pride-based watch facealong with company’s CEO being an openly gay man.

It’s great that Apple is supporting these issues. But it’s equally important to reflect on Apple’s less rights-promoting activities. The company operates around the world and chooses to pursue profits to the detriment of the privacy of its China-based users. It clearly has challenges — along with all other smartphone companies — in acquiring natural mineral resources that are conflict-free; the purchase of conflict minerals raises fundamental human rights issues. And the company’s ongoing efforts to minimize its taxation obligations have direct impacts on the abilities of governments to provide essential services to those who are often the worst off in society.

Each of the above examples are easily, and quickly, reduced to assertions that Apple is a public company in a capitalist society. It has obligations to shareholders and, thus, can only do so much to advance basic rights while simultaneously pursuing profits. Apple is, on some accounts, actively attempting to enhance certain rights and promote certain causes and mitigate certain harms while simultaneously acting in the interests of its shareholders.

Those are all entirely fair, and reasonable, arguments. I understand them all. But I think that we’d likely all be well advised to consider Apple’s broader activities before declaring that Apple has ‘our’ backs, on the basis that ‘our’ backs are often privileged, wealthy, and able to externalize a range of harms associated with Apple’s international activities.

The Roundup for May 19-June 1, 2018 Edition

(Remnants by Christopher Parsons)

We get to make decisions about how we react to unpleasant or unfortunate news. For some, that means getting angry and holding onto that emotion in order to focus the anger into ‘productive’ work energy. For others, it can lead to deep frustrations and a sense of being incapacitated. And in yet other cases it might involve both of those reactions — anger and frustration — that is quickly followed by letting go and appreciating the positive aspects of often difficult situation.

Letting go is strangely both easier and harder than either of the other emotional reactions, largely because it entails confronting why those emotions are being felt in the first place. Anger and frustration tend to represent outward manifestations of our own fears, concerns, worries, or other personal traumas. Engaging with them internally means dealing with those demons, whereas using them as energy or letting them consume ourselves externalizes such emotions in ways that prevent us from dealing with our own traumas.

At least one challenge is that social norms often inform us that it’s ok to just be angry. Just be frustrated. And that such emotions are normal and needn’t necessarily be ‘moved on’ from. It’s those situations, where those you’re encouraged to return to that trauma zone after it’s been dealt with, that can be the most challenging; those are cases where the puerile desire to experience our worse is often most challenging to rise above. Rising above it, however, is a kind of active work that promotes self-reflection and self-revelation. It’s not easy, but it’s perhaps some of the most important emotional labour that we can undertake.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you.”

– Ralph Marston

Great Photography Shots

The idea of routinely capturing the same location, and tracing change, is something that is incredibly attractive to me. I often find myself pulled back to the same locations to see them at different times, with different light, and different natural coloration. And, so, I was incredibly impressed with Jani Ylinampa’s photos of a Finnish island through the seasons.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Limits of Data Access Requests

rawpixel-378006-unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A data access request involves you contacting a private company and requesting a copy of your personal information, as well as the ways in which that data is processed, disclosed, and the periods of time for which data is retained.

I’ve conducted research over the past decade which has repeatedly shown that companies are often very poor at comprehensively responding to data access requests. Sometimes this is because of divides between technical teams that collect and use the data, policy teams that determine what is and isn’t appropriate to do with data, and legal teams that ascertain whether collections and uses of data comport with the law. In other situations companies simply refuse to respond because they adopt a confused-nationalist understanding of law: if the company doesn’t have an office somewhere in a requesting party’s country then that jurisdiction’s laws aren’t seen as applying to the company, even if the company does business in the jurisdiction.

Automated Data Export As Solution?

Some companies, such as Facebook and Google, have developed automated data download services. Ostensibly these services are designed so that you can download the data you’ve input into the companies, thus revealing precisely what is collected about you. In reality, these services don’t let you export all of the information that these respective companies collect. As a result when people tend to use these download services they end up with a false impression of just what information the companies collect and how its used.

A shining example of the kinds of information that are not revealed to users of these services has come to light. A leaked document from Facebook Australia revealed that:

Facebook’s algorithms can determine, and allow advertisers to pinpoint, “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” If that phrase isn’t clear enough, Facebook’s document offers a litany of teen emotional states that the company claims it can estimate based on how teens use the service, including “worthless,” “insecure,” “defeated,” “anxious,” “silly,” “useless,” “stupid,” “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” and “a failure.”

This targeting of emotions isn’t necessarily surprising: in a past exposé we learned that Facebook conducted experiments during an American presidential election to see if they could sway voters. Indeed, the company’s raison d’être is figure out how to pitch ads to customers, and figuring out when Facebook users are more or less likely to be affected by advertisements is just good business. If you use the self-download service provided by Facebook, or any other data broker, you will not receive data on how and why your data is exploited: without understanding how their algorithms act on the data they collect from you, you can never really understand how your personal information is processed.

But that raison d’être of pitching ads to people — which is why Facebook could internally justify the deliberate targeting of vulnerable youth — ignores baseline ethics of whether it is appropriate to exploit our psychology to sell us products. To be clear, this isn’t a company stalking you around the Internet with ads for a car or couch or jewelry that you were browsing about. This is a deliberate effort to mine your communications to sell products at times of psychological vulnerability. The difference is between somewhat stupid tracking versus deliberate exploitation of our emotional state.1

Solving for Bad Actors

There are laws around what you can do with the information provided by children. Whether Facebook’s actions run afoul of such law may never actually be tested in a court or privacy commissioner’s decision. In part, this is because mounting legal challenges is extremely challenging, expensive, and time consuming. These hurdles automatically tilt the balance towards activities such as this continuing.

But part of the challenge in stopping such exploitative activities are also linked to Australia’s historically weak privacy commissioner as well as the limitations of such offices around the world: Privacy Commissioners Offices are often understaffed, under resourced, and unable to chase every legally and ethically questionable practice undertaken by private companies. Companies know about these limitations and, as such, know they can get away with unethical and frankly illegal activities unless someone talks to the press about the activities in question.

So what’s the solution? The rote advice is to stop using Facebook. While that might be good advice for some, for a lot of other people leaving Facebook is very, very challenging. You might use it to sign into a lot of other services and so don’t think you can easily abandon Facebook. You might have stored years of photos or conversations and Facebook doesn’t give you a nice way to pull them out. It might be a place where all of your friends and family congregate to share information and so leaving would amount to being excised from your core communities. And depending on where you live you might rely on Facebook for finding jobs, community events, or other activities that are essential to your life.

In essence, solving for Facebook, Google, Uber, and all the other large data broker problems is a collective action problem. It’s not a problem that is best solved on an individualistic basis.

A more realistic kind of advice would be this: file complaints to your local politicians. File complaints to your domestic privacy commissioners. File complaints to every conference, academic association, and industry event that takes Facebook money.2 Make it very public and very clear that you and groups you are associated with are offended by the company in question that is profiting off the psychological exploitation of children and adults alike.3 Now, will your efforts to raise attention to the issue and draw negative attention to companies and groups profiting from Facebook and other data brokers stop unethical data exploitation tomorrow? No. But by consistently raising our concerns about how large data brokers collect and use personal information, and attributing some degree of negative publicity to all those who benefit from such practices, we can decrease the public stock of a company.

History is dotted with individuals who are seen as standing up to end bad practices by governments and private companies alike. But behind them tend to be a mass of citizens who are supportive of those individuals: while standing up en masse may mean that we don’t each get individual praise for stopping some tasteless and unethical practices, our collective standing up will make it more likely that such practices will be stopped. By each working a little we can do something that, individually, we’d be hard pressed to change as individuals.

(This article was previously published in a slightly different format on a now-defunct Medium account.)

Footnotes:

1 Other advertising companies adopt the same practices as Facebook. So I’m not suggesting that Facebook is worst-of-class and letting the others off the hook.

2 Replace ‘Facebook’ with whatever company you think is behaving inappropriately, unethically, or perhaps illegally.

3 Surely you don’t think that Facebook is only targeting kids, right?

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).