Tweets for December 6th 2013
The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520446/the-decline-... Dec 6th, 12pm
Instagram, week 48, 2013: an old bookstore's catacombs. My favourite toy cars from when I was a little kid had a paint job for a stop-motion animation appearance (more on that soon).
Tweets: November, 24th - November, 26th
The Innovation of Loneliness by Shimi Cohen, after a TED presentation by Sherry Turkle. I wouldn’t normally post this sort of thing. I tend to find motion infographics simplistic and distracting, and as for TED talks, once genuinely interesting, these now often resemble sales pitches (to say nothing of the full-on sleaze of TEDx events) for books that tell you What You Already Suspected: e.g. social networking increases feelings of isolation, loneliness, and therefore are not good for you.
As clichéd and trite as this idea now is, clichés tend by definition to be true and some do deserve sustained repeating and, indeed, ‘sharing’ on ‘social networking’ platforms. So, even though we know better, we can’t help but look at our 250 ‘friends’ on Facebook and feel we should be more ‘engaging’, that a lack of response to the stuff we ‘share’ (I promise I’ll stop with the irony quotes) must mean nobody actually cares about us. We make the mistake of confounding our unreplied (or worse — unreplied but ✓seen*) messages and unliked posts with a qualitative assessment about ourselves — the same mistake many artists make when they mistake themselves for their work.
Facebook, if I may add a few more of my trite thoughts about it, is not your old High School cafeteria, despite often resembling a virtual version of it. If you are, as I hope, someone with a sense of etiquette and democratic values, I believe that instead of feeling rejected and worthless because someone ✓sees your messages and declines to reply, perhaps it makes better sense for you to unfriend that person. (The same goes for cellphone texts, by the way.) Or at least to organize them in a ‘doghouse’ group where they are still ‘friends’ with you but blocked out of your stuff, which is perhaps worse. (I don’t believe this is too harsh. What would be said of someone who blatantly ignores ‘friends’ in face-to-face situations? Or should we consider that, as Facebook is not a virtual playground, elementary social customs and rules of etiquette do not apply?) Same thing goes for people who go and bully you publicly in comments to your posts, something a grown-up never would in real life. Ask yourself: are these people good for you? Should they see your stuff? Should you be looking at photos of all the sushi a non-responder had for lunch?
If one wishes further motivation to take socialization offline, one can also open the doors of paranoia and consider the power companies such as Facebook, Inc. have in mediating people’s interactions. (Can we completely and unarguably dismiss the possibility some FB, Inc. researcher is running cruel psychology experiments on some of its users, subtly changing the content of instant messages, labeling unreceived messages as ✓seen, etc. in order to provoke and study the reactions of the recipients? This may of course seem delusional, but in the light of recent NSA spying revelations we know that if something is technically feasible someone will do it. Think about the crimes of pharmaceutical research in impoverished countries, and how intentionally causing friends to argue because of miscommunication would be child’s play — even though one can guess it would cause a lot more outrage. Are there moratoria against such tampering with communications and against running such experiments in transnational networks? Would it be possible to enforce such a moratorium?)
It takes conscious effort to go on Facebook and not get sucked too deeply into the ‘social’ lie. I try to remind myself it is in essence just a mix between a (rather unreliable) group blog and an address book with some (again, unreliable) instant messaging features. Socializing is what happens outside of Facebook, indeed, outside any mediation. Online platforms should at best handle the introductions, the reacquaintances, and at most, outward-pointing chit-chat. So it’s nice to watch the above video and remind ourselves such a distortion of reality — loneliness, lack of ‘engagement’ with ‘friends’ — is just the smooth running of ‘social networking’ platforms.
Hence my paradoxical sharing — don’t feel obliged to like or favorite this post, though. I’ll be fine.
* When I first saw a ✓seen timestamp in a message window I thought people at FB, Inc. were trying to engineer social behaviour — i.e. forcing avoidant responders to come up with something or look bad. I think they miscalculated to what an extent some people just won’t care about what others think.
Tweets for November 20th 2013
I’m posting this in part because I completely forgot to mention Schwartz in a recent lecture where the work digital art pioneers of the 1960 came up, and in which I name-dropped and referenced Ken Knowlton (who invited Schwartz to Bell Labs), Charles Csuri or A. Michael Noll. Forgetting about Schwartz is more regretful as I have been trying to pass my students (who are mostly women) the idea that digital art, computing and technical stuff in general are women’s activities in every single measure as men’s, and have been taking care to mention women’s achievements in computing history ever since Augusta Ada Byron singlehandedly invented computer programming without any computer to try it on (according to Howard Rheingold, motivated by a scheme to hustle hapless betters at the horse races).
There’s something weird about the general lack of women’s interest in computing nowadays (with exceptions, obviously), given their presence in key historic developments. I suspect that is related to the fact that as computing studies formalized most found their home in Electrical Engineering departments which — as higher education expanded and universities found themselves populated by badly-educated students (witness the near-institutionalization of hazing, at least in Southern European unis) — became Boys Clubs Just for Boys. (This is the moment in which I explain that my mother, years retired, was a computer programmer. Actually she started as a clerical worker with no higher education qualifications doing data entry for our National Health Service — using tech such as latter-day punch-cards, then tape, then giant 8 inch floppies —, and advanced through multiple workplace training programs to become fluent in those technologies synonymous with enterprise computing in the eighties: COBOL, TurboPascal, dBase, SQL. In fact, I asked mum for help composing some complicated SQL queries when I was coding my Master’s dissertation project.) So nowadays, besides some conspicuous exceptions, women seem to get into computing through some kind of side door that provides an easy and straightforward narrative for their interest — through Design (as my students), through multimedia Journalism, through Entrepreneurship (the worst), through some sort of Artistic Practice, or through some very practical necessity in their Science of choice (e.g. learning R because they need to run some statistical programs on health data or whatnot). Going into computers because one is curious, because it seems interesting, because one suspects that computers allow people to do cool stuff and be creative in yet-undiscovered ways, all that may seem like opting into a deeply male-oriented and misogynistic culture, hence a dangerous place to go to.
It is therefore important to witness the current work of Lillian Schwartz. She’s still programming computers at age 86 because decades ago she found they allow her to create some cool visuals. And in that, she was way ahead of the scene.
Instagram, week 47, 2013: including live painting by Daniel Padure and Constança Araújo Amador at the MEXE festival. A tribute to the selection of selfie as Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary's lexicographers. An addressed envelope found on a used copy of Herbert Read's Education Through Art. A selection of brooms. Nuts and dried fruits on display at a grocery store.