Aside

Adding Some Positivity to the Internet

Beneath Old Grandfather
(Beneath Old Grandfather by Christopher Parsons)

Over the past two years or so the parts of the Internet that I inhabit have tended to become less pleasant. Messages that I see on a regular basis are just short, rude, and often mean. And the messages that are directed to people who have an online professional presence, such those who write and speak professionally, are increasingly abusive.

I’m one of those writers and speakers, and this year I decided to do something that isn’t particularly normal: when I come across a good piece of writing, or analysis of an issue, or just generally appreciate one of my colleagues’ work, I’ve been letting them know. The messages don’t tend to be long and usually focus on specific things I appreciated (to show that I’m familiar with the work in question) and thanking them for their contributions.

This might sound like a small thing. However, from experience I know that it’s surprisingly uncommon to receive much positive praise for the work that writers or speakers engage in. The times that I’ve received such positive feedback are pretty rare, but each time it’s made my day.

There are any number of policy proposals for ‘correcting’ online behaviour, many of which I have deep and severe concerns about. Simply saying ‘thanks’ in specific ways isn’t going to cure the ills of an increasingly cantankerous and abusive (and dangerous) Internet culture. But communicating our appreciation for one another can at least remind us that the Internet is filled with denizens who do appreciate the work that creators are undertaking day after day to inform, education, delight, and entertain us. That’s not nothing and can help to fuel the work that we all want to see produced for our benefit.

Book Review: Blockchain Chicken Farm And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside (2020) ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Xiaowei Wang’s book, Blockchain Chicken Farm And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, presents a nuanced and detailed account of the lives reality of many people in China through the lenses of history, culture, and emerging technologies. She makes clear through her writing that China is undergoing a massive shift through efforts to digitize the economy and society (and especially rural economies and societies) while also effectively communicating why so many of these initiatives are being undertaken. 

From exploring the relationship between a fraught cold chain and organic chicken, to attempts to revitalize rural villages by turning them into platform manufacturing towns, to thinking through and reflecting on the state of contemporary capitalistic performativity in rural China and the USA alike, we see how technologies are being used to try and ‘solve’ challenges while often simultaneously undermining and endangering the societies within which they are embedded. Wang is careful to ensure that a reader leaves with an understanding of the positive attributes of how technologies are applied while, at the same time, making clear how they do not remedy—and, in fact, often reify or extenuate—unequal power relationships. Indeed, many of the positive elements of technologies, from the perspective of empowering rural citizens or improving their earning powers, are either being negatively impacted by larger capitalistic actors or the technology companies whose platforms many of these so-called improvements operate upon. 

Wang’s book, in its conclusion, recognizes that we need to enhance and improve upon the cultural spaces we operate and live within if we are to create a new or reformed politics that is more responsive to the specific needs of individuals and their communities. Put differently, we must tend to the dynamism of the Lifeworld if we are to modify the conditions of the System that surrounds, and unrelentingly colonizes, the Lifeworld. 

Her wistful ending—that such efforts of (re)generation are all that we can do—speaks both to a hope but also an almost resignation that (re)forming the systems we operate in can only take place if we manage to avoid being distracted by the bauble or technology that is dangled in front of us, to distract us from the existential crises facing our societies and humanity writ large. As such, it concludes very much in the spirit of our times: with hope for the future but a fearful resignation that despite our best efforts, we may be too late to succeed. But, what else can we do?

Quote

… the cultural, political, and privacy concerns raised by the new business alliances of search engines, social networks, and carriers cannot be translated into traditional economic analysis. They raise questions about the type of society we want to live in–a holistic inquiry that cannot be reduced to the methodological individualism of economics.

* Frank Pasquale. (2010). “Beyond Innovation and Competition: The Need for Qualified Transparency in Internet Intermediaries.” Northwestern University Law Review 104(1).
Video

OK GO and Advertise to Me

I had no idea that OK GO’s recent video was largely a sponsored ad for the car they’re driving.

I also don’t care, because:

  1. I had no idea what the car was until I read an analysis of the video;
  2. It’s just (to my mind) another ridiculously awesome music video from this band.

I’m willing to sit through the ‘ad’ on the basis that the ‘brand’ of the car is non-obtrusive: it’s just a particular vehicle (pardon the pun) to deliver a really cool cultural experience.