Issue #397
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Hello!

Yep, it's Sunday again so time to round up everything I posted on Thought Shrapnel this week! I'm glad that this change of format to seems to be more popular (subscriptions are up!) as well as more fun for me to produce. Win-win, as they say.

On my personal blog this week I published:
If you're new, or need a reminder, you can find some details about me, Doug Belshaw, the human behind this newsletter, in the bottom section. Stay safe and well!

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Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome

Facebook Accused of Watching Instagram Users Through Cameras (The Verge)
In the complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco, New Jersey Instagram user Brittany Conditi contends the app’s use of the camera is intentional and done for the purpose of collecting “lucrative and valuable data on its users that it would not otherwise have access to.”

Facebook Has Been a Disaster for the World (The New York Times)
Facebook has been incredibly lucrative for its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who ranks among the wealthiest men in the world. But it’s been a disaster for the world itself, a powerful vector for paranoia, propaganda and conspiracy-theorizing as well as authoritarian crackdowns and vicious attacks on the free press. Wherever it goes, chaos and destabilization follow.

Kim Kardashian West joins Facebook and Instagram boycott (BBC News)
I can't sit by and stay silent while these platforms continue to allow the spreading of hate, propaganda and misinformation - created by groups to sow division and split America apart,” Kardashian West said.

Quotation-as-title from Dr Johnson.

Privilege and pandemic

To the left, a chessboard strewn with bloodied, dead chesspieces. To the right, a small table is set for dinner with wine: the king and queen pieces of both sides of the chessboard stand at the table together, ready to enjoy a meal. (via Cathal Garvey)
I found this via Mastodon and immediately had to post it here. I'm not sure about the original artist, but it struck me as capturing our current moment rather well.

The future of closed, proprietary technology is within your body

Referencing a recent article in The New York Times, and using a metaphor from his honeymoon in Cancun, Purism's Chief Security Officer raises some important questions about the closed/open future of technology:
Think about the future of computers over the next fifty years. Computers will become even more ubiquitous, not just embedded in all of the things around us, but embedded inside us. With advances in neural-computer interfaces, there is a high likelihood that we will be connecting computers directly to our brains within our lifetimes. Which tech company would you trust to control your neural implant?
If a computer can read and write directly to your brain, does it change how you feel about vendors controlling which software you can use or whether you can see the code? Does it change how you feel about vendors subsidizing hardware and software with ads or selling data they access through your computer? Does it change how you feel about government regulation of technology?
Kyle Rankin, Tourists on Tech's Toll Roads

Pandemic microaggressions

This article primarily focuses on racism and intolerance to gender differences, but even as a "white, male... heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, wealthy, and educated" man, I recognise some of what it describes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened much of our workforce to a new surge of microaggressions by making coworkers as unwelcome guests in their homes through video meetings. Bosses and coworkers can see our families and furniture. They can hear the background noise from our neighborhoods. They see us with our hair, faces, and clothes less put together than usual due to the closure of the shops and salons that help us assimilate into the mainstream world.
Sarah Morgan, How microaggressions look different when we’re working remotely (Fast Company)

There's a line, I think between friendly banter and curiosity and, for example, being reminded on a daily basis that I'm getting ever more grey, that I'm looking tired, and my forehead is shinier than a billiard ball.

Microaggressions? Perhaps. But on days when I'm not feeling 100%, it sure does grind me down.

The most radical thing you can do is stay home

Photograph of turtle that looks like it's giving the middle finger
🐱 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2020 finalists revealed

😂 Extinction Rebellion 'go floppy' when arrested, complains senior Met officer

😮 Birthday party on ship may have led to oil spill in Mauritius, Panama regulator says

🤘 Barbados revives plan to remove Queen as head of state and become a republic

🛂 When you browse Instagram and find former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's passport number

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Quotation-as-title by Gary Snyder. Image from top-linked post.

Consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance

My go-to explanation of acceptable political opinions is usually the Overton Window, but this week I came across Hallin's spheres:
Hallin's spheres is a theory of media objectivity posited by journalism historian Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War to explain the coverage of the Vietnam war. Hallin divides the world of political discourse into three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. In the sphere of consensus, journalists assume everyone agrees. The sphere of legitimate controversy includes the standard political debates, and journalists are expected to remain neutral. The sphere of deviance falls outside the bounds of legitimate debate, and journalists can ignore it. These boundaries shift, as public opinion shifts.
Wikipedia

I think the interesting thing right now for either theory is that most people have their news filtered by social networks. As a result, it's not (just) journalists doing the filtering, but people in affinity groups.

One nation under Zuck

Image of map in 'communist threat' style of US with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook watching over all it in a menacing way
This image, from Grayson Perry, is incredible. As he points out in the accompanying article, he's chosen the US due to an upcoming series of his, but geographically this could be anywhere, as culture wars these days happen mainly online.

I've added the emphasis in the quotation below:
When we experience a background hum of unfocused emotion, be it anxiety, sadness, fear, anger, we unconsciously look for something to attach it to. Social media is brilliant at supplying us with issues to which attach our free-floating feelings. We often look for nice, preformed boxes into which we can dump our inchoate feelings, we crave certainty. Social media constantly offers up neat solutions for our messy feelings, whether it be God, guns, Greta or gender identity.
In a battle-torn landscape governed by zeroes and ones, nuance, compromise and empathy are the first casualties. If I were to sum up the online culture war in one word it would be “diaphobia”, a term coined by the psychiatrist RD Laing meaning “fear of being influenced by other people”, the opposite of dialogue. Our ever-present underlying historical and enculturated emotions will nudge us to cherrypick and polish the nuggets of information that support a stance that may have been in our bodies from childhood. Once we have taken sides, the algorithms will supply us with a stream of content to entrench and confirm our beliefs.
Grayson Perry, Be it on God, guns or Greta, social media offers neat solutions for our messy feelings (The Guardian)

Things Come Apart

Exploded image of old rotary phone
/via Todd McLellan, Things Come Apart

More advice on perfectionism

A few years ago I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which is even better than people say. I was reminded of this quotation via Oliver Burkeman's Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life... perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others

Illustration of a woman
🧠 Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos

😫 ‘Ugh fields’, or why you can’t even bear to think about that task

👍 The Craft of Teaching Confidence

🏝️ Log on, chill out: holiday resorts lure remote workers to fill gap left by tourists

🎧 Producer 9th Wonder on Producing Beats for Kendrick Lamar

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Quotation-as-title by Albert Camus. Image from top-linked article.

'Recycling' plastic is an oil industry scam

This NPR article about the oil industry's cynical manipulation of us when it comes to recycling plastic blew my mind 🤯
Here's the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can't be reused more than once or twice.
On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It's made from oil and gas, and it's almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.
Laura Sullivan, How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (NPR)

Now that China isn't accepting the world's plastic for 'recycling' (i.e. landfill) domestic initiatives have a problem.
The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, we found. "There is serious doubt that can ever be made viable on an economic basis," one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.
Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn't true.
"If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment," Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, known today as the Plastics Industry Association and one of the industry's most powerful trade groups in Washington, D.C., told NPR.
Laura Sullivan, How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (NPR)

The world really is monumentally screwed every which way at the moment. And I feel like an absolute chump for being in any way enthusiastic about at-home recycling.

Until next week!

Doug
Dr. Doug Belshaw is an Open Thinkerer, currently working with We Are Open Co-op to help make the world more open and awesome. You can hire him to help improve your organisation!

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