Issue #409
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a project of Dynamic Skillset Ltd.

Hello!

There's plenty to get your teeth into this week, so I'm going to keep quiet in this intro and let you crack on. Just be sure to check out my weeknote and, if this email gets cut off by your email provider as being too long, either change provider or click here to view it in your browser!

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Nothing is repeated, and everything is unparalleled

🤔 We need more than deplatforming — "But as reprehensible as the actions of Donald Trump are, the rampant use of the internet to foment violence and hate, and reinforce white supremacy is about more than any one personality. Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last. We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done."

💪 Demands and Responsibilities — "If you demand rights for yourself, you have to demand those same rights for others. You have to take on the responsibility of collective action, and you yourself act in a way that benefits the collective. If you want credit, you have to give credit. If you want community, you have to be communal. If you want to be satiated, you have to allow others to be sated. If you want your vote to be respected, you have to respect the votes of others."

🗯️ Parler Pitched Itself as Twitter Without Rules. Not Anymore, Apple and Google Said. — "Google said in a statement that it had pulled the app because Parler was not enforcing its own moderation policies, despite a recent reminder from Google, and because of continued posts on the app that sought to incite violence."

🙅 Hello! You've Been Referred Here Because You're Wrong About Section 230 Of The Communications Decency Act — "While this may all feel kind of mean, it's not meant to be. Unless you're one of the people who is purposefully saying wrong things about Section 230, like Senator Ted Cruz or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (being wrong about 230 is bipartisan). For them, it's meant to be mean. For you, let's just assume you made an honest mistake -- perhaps because deliberately wrong people like Ted Cruz and Nancy Pelosi steered you wrong. So let's correct that."

🧐 What Wikipedia saw during election week in the U.S., and what we’re doing next — "To help meet this goal, we hope to invest in resources that we can share with international Wikipedia communities that will help mitigate future disinformation risks on the sites. We’re also looking to bring together administrators from different language Wikipedias for a global forum on disinformation. Together, we aim to build more tools to support our volunteer editors, and to combat disinformation."

Quotation-as-title by the Goncourt Brothers. Image from top-linked post.

There are persons who, when they cease to shock us, cease to interest us

Donald Trump's head on Gladiator's body with text "How Trump sees himself - 'Are you not entertained?'"
It's difficult not to say "I told you so" when things play out exactly as predicted. Four years ago, when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the USA, many had ominous forebodings.
Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities. President Trump – it’s time to begin to get used to those jarringly ill-fitting words – did not conjure a deathless phrase for the day. His words will not lodge in the brain in any of the various uplifting ways that the likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan once achieved. But the new president’s message could not have been clearer. He came to shatter the veneer of unity and continuity represented by the peaceful handover. And he may have succeeded. In 1933, Roosevelt challenged the world to overcome fear. In 2017, Mr Trump told the world to be very afraid.
The Guardian view on Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war (January 2017)

He was all bluster, we were told. That it was rhetoric and would never be followed up with action.

Leaders are judged by their first 100 days in office. Wikipedia has a page outlining what Trump did during his, including things that, looking back from the vantage point of 2021, seem like warning shots: rolling back gun control legislation, stoking fears around voter fraud, cracking down on illegal immigration, freezing federal job hiring (except military), and engaging in tax reform to the benefit of the rich.

As a History teacher, it always struck me as odd that Adolf Hitler, a man born in Austria with brown hair, managed to lead a fascist party that extolled the virtues of being German and having blond hair. These days, I'm equally baffled that some of the richest people in our society — Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg — can pass themselves off as 'anti-elite'.

Much of their ability to do so is by creating an alternative reality with the aid of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These replace traditional gatekeepers to information with algorithms tweaked for engagement, attention, and profit.

As we know, whipping up hatred and peddling conspiracy theories puts these algorithms into overdrive, and ensure those who agree with the content see what's shared. But this approach also reaches those who don't agree with it, by virtue of people seeking to reject and push back on it. Meanwhile, of course, the platforms rake in $$$ from advertisers.

I get the feeling that there are a great number of people who do not understand the way the world works in 2021. I am probably one of them. In fact, given how much control we've given to algorithms in recent years, perhaps no-one truly understands.

One thing for sure, though, is that banning Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely is too little, too late. These platforms, among with others, downplayed his and other 'alt-right' hate speech for fear of being penalised.

Pandora's Box is open. Those who realise that everything is a construct and theory-laden will control those who don't. The latter will be reduced to merely wandering around an alternative reality, like protesters in Statuary Hall, waiting to be told what to do next.
Quotation-as-title by F.H. Bradley

One can acquire anything in solitude except character

🌐 The Metaverse is coming — "Over the course of 2021, the Metaverse will experience widespread use, and start to become a human co-experience utility. People will meet in virtual worlds not just to play a game, but also to check out a new movie trailer or laugh at user-generated videos. Education will move from learning to code online to learning core sciences with physics or biology simulations and ultimately becoming an immersive environment where classrooms are organised within it."

🐠 Hallucinogenic fish — "A few reporters have eaten the dream fish and described their strange effects. The most famous user is Joe Roberts, a photographer for the National Geographic magazine. He broiled the dream fish in 1960. After eating the delicacy, he experienced intense hallucinations with a science-fiction theme that included futuristic vehicles, images of space exploration, and monuments marking humanity's first trips into space."

Hundreds of Google Employees Unionize, Culminating Years of Activism — "The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership."

🍌 The Banana Trick and Other Acts of Self-Checkout Thievery — "Perhaps it’s not surprising that some people steal from machines more readily than from human cashiers. “Anyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self checkout is a total moron,” reads one of the more militant comments in a Reddit discussion on the subject."

Quotation-as-title by Stendhal.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

Graffiti (Mari Helin on Unsplash)
On New Year's Eve, Farmville shut down. Unlike everyone else who seemed to play the game a decade ago, I never experienced it. Why? Mercifully, I wasn't on Facebook.

An article in The New York Times argues that Farmville, and other, similar, games made by Zynga, paved the way for the kind of 'social' experiences we have seen in the last decade. That is to say, mass behaviour modification disguised as a game.
Mia Consalvo, a professor in game studies and design at Concordia University in Canada, was among those who saw FarmVille constantly in front of her.
“When you log into Facebook, it’s like, ‘Oh, 12 of my friends need help,’” she said.
She questioned how social the game actually was, arguing that it didn’t create deep or sustained interactions.
“The game itself isn’t promoting a conversation between you and your friends, or encouraging you to spend time together within the game space,” she said. “It’s really just a mechanic of clicking a button.”
FarmVille Once Took Over Facebook. Now Everything Is FarmVille. (The New York Times)

It's hardly surprising, then, that conspiracy theories have now become Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) or Live Action Role Playing Games (LARPs) where claims can never be falsified.

You may have heard of QAnon, the batshit-crazy conspiracy theory. As one game designer points out, it's so effective, despite it being anti-rational, because of the incredible amounts of apophenia ("tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things") it entails.
QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.
QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.
A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon (Curioser Institute)

Ironically enough, the arc of my career, and many other knowledge workers like me, is to spot connections between similarly unrelated things.

As Dorian Taylor points out in his newsletter, there is a lot of money to be made as the 'trusted intermediary' between people and the information they desire.
The role of the intermediary is, nominally, to act as a trusted source, conduit, or steward of shared informational state. Being the trusted steward of shared informational state is functionally the same as owning it. Platform operators understand this in their bones, which is why they make their fiefdoms easy to join and hard to quit. And they do that by making the information you put into them hard to pry back out.
Setting the Tone for an Anti-Platform
(the making of Making Sense)

Taylor is talking mainly about platforms and standards, but the point remains that intermediaries only remain trusted so long as what they say is either objectively true (i.e. is 'falsifiable') or they can keep spinning the lies long enough.

In early 2021, we live in a world of what has become known as 'fake news' or 'alternative facts'. As Caleb James DeLisle recently pointed out in an epic New Year's Eve thread, however, is that there's another way of understanding this as being a move away from what he calls 'consensus reality'.
There are obviously facts which are beyond question: no matter how much you believe, jumping from a tall building will not make you fly. But social constructions accepted as truth are far more pervasive than most people think.
2020 is finally coming to a close, and like many people you probably cannot wait for this cursed year to be over. But did you stop to think that January 1st is only the boundary between years because Julius Caesar decreed it so? Social constructs are pervasive.
Caleb James DeLisle (Mastodon)

People having different ways of understanding the world is the default way that tribes of humans work. The scientific method, an agreement on objective facts, is a relatively new invention.

Since 2005, the hugely lucrative game that Big Tech has got us to play is adtech: behavioural modification through invasive advertising that tracks your every move. Now, though, we're all at it, trying to modify one another's behaviour to get the external world to adhere to the internal one we've created.

Quotation-as-title from Elizabeth Bransco. Image by Mari Helin.

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self

📚 Bookshelf designs as unique as you are: Part 2 — "Stuffing all your favorite novels into a single space without damaging any of them, and making sure the whole affair looks presentable as well? Now, that’s a tough task. So, we’ve rounded up some super cool, functional and not to mention aesthetically pleasing bookshelf designs for you to store your paperback companions in!"

📱 How to overcome Phone Addiction — "Phone addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety and that anxiety often lowers the motivation to engage with people in real life. This is a huge problem because re-connecting with people in the offline world is a solution that improves the quality of life. The unnecessary drop in motivation because of addiction makes it that much harder to maintain social health."

⚙️ From Tech Critique to Ways of Living — "This technological enframing of human life, says Heidegger, first “endanger man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is” and then, beyond that, “banishes” us from our home. And that is a great, great peril."

🎨 Finding time for creativity will give you respite from worries — "According to one study examining the links between art and health, a cost-benefit analysis showed a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions when patients were involved in creative pursuits. Other studies have found similar results. For example, when people were asked to write about a trauma for 15 minutes a day, it resulted in fewer subsequent visits to the doctor, compared to a control group."

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 For psychologists, the pandemic has shown people’s capacity for cooperation — "In short, what we have seen is a psychology of collective resilience supplanting a psychology of individual frailty. Such a shift has profound implications for the relationship between the citizen and the state. For the role of the state becomes less a matter of substituting for the deficiencies of the individual and more to do with scaffolding and supporting communal self-organisation."

Quotation-as-title by Cyril Connolly. Image from top-linked post.

Until next week!

Doug
Thought Shrapnel Weekly is published by Dr. Doug Belshaw. You can connect with him by replying to this email, or via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Mastodon.


Some say he's optimistic. Others say he's chauvinistic. No-one thinks he's just a statistic.
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