Five kinds of friends

    Anyone who’s read Montaigne’s Essays will probably be slightly jealous of his friendship with Étienne de La Boétie. The latter tragically passed away at the age of 32, something that Montaine, it seemed, never fully got over. I’ve never had a friend like that. I doubt many men have.

    This article from sociologist Randall Collins talks about five different types of friendship. I’ve got plenty of ‘allies’, some ‘backstage intimates’, and ‘mutual-interests friends’. I definitely lack, mainly out of choice ‘fun friends’ and ‘sociable acquaintances’.

    It would be interesting to learn more about the history and sociology of friendship. This article goes a little bit into the realm of social media friends, but I’m not sure you can learn much about just studying the medium. That reminds me of a Douglas Adams quote I can’t quite find but goes something along the lines of people always talking about terrorists planning things “over the internet” but would never talk about them planning it “over a cup of tea”.

    Hands
    Allies:  talking about money; asking for loans; asking for letters of reference, endorsements, asking to contact further network friends for jobs or investments. In specialized fields like scientific research, talking about what journals or editors to approach, what topics are hot, giving helpful advice on drafts. In art and music: gossiping about who’s doing what, contacts with agents, galleries, venues.

    Backstage intimates: Speaking in privacy; taking care not to be overheard. Don’t tell anybody about this.

    Fun friends: Shared laughter, especially spontaneous and contagious. Facial and body indicators of genuine amusement, not forced smiles or saying “that’s funny” instead of laughing. Very strong body alignment, such as fans closely watching the same event and exploding in synch into cheers or curses.

    Mutual-interests friends: talking at great length about a single topic. Being unable to tear oneself away from an activity, or from conversations about it.

    Sociable acquaintances: General lack of all of the above, in situations where people expect to talk with each other about something besides practical matters (excuse me, can I get by?) Banal commonplace topics, the small change of social currency: the weather; where are you from; what do you do; foreign travels; do you know so-and-so? Answers to “how are you doing?” which avoid giving away information about one’s problems or matters of serious concern. Talking about politics can be conversational filler (when everyone assumes they’re in the same political faction), as often happens at the end of dinner parties when all other topics have been exhausted.

    Source: FIVE KINDS OF FRIENDS | The Sociological Eye

    Image: Pixabay

    Technology is the name we give to stuff that doesn't work properly yet

    So said my namesake Douglas Adams. In fact, he said lots of wise things about technology, most of them too long to serve as a title.

    I'm in a weird place, emotionally, at the moment, but sometimes this can be a good thing. Being taken out of your usual 'autopilot' can be a useful way to see things differently. So I'm going to take this opportunity to share three things that, to be honest, make me a bit concerned about the next few years...

    Attempts to put microphones everywhere

    Alexa-enabled EVERYTHING

    In an article for Slate, Shannon Palus ranks all of Amazon's new products by 'creepiness'. The Echo Frames are, in her words:

    A microphone that stays on your person all day and doesn’t look like anything resembling a microphone, nor follows any established social codes for wearable microphones? How is anyone around you supposed to have any idea that you are wearing a microphone?

    Shannon Palus

    When we're not talking about weapons of mass destruction, it's not the tech that concerns me, but the context in which the tech is used. As Palus points out, how are you going to be able to have a 'quiet word' with anyone wearing glasses ever again?

    It's not just Amazon, of course. Google and Facebook are at it, too.

    Full-body deepfakes

    [www.youtube.com/watch](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8siezzLXbNo)
    Scary stuff

    With the exception, perhaps, of populist politicians, I don't think we're ready for a post-truth society. Check out the video above, which shows Chinese technology that allows for 'full body deepfakes'.

    The video is embedded, along with a couple of others in an article for Fast Company by DJ Pangburn, who also notes that AI is learning human body movements from videos. Not only will you be able to prank your friends by showing them a convincing video of your ability to do 100 pull-ups, but the fake news it engenders will mean we can't trust anything any more.

    Neuromarketing

    If you clicked on the 'super-secret link' in Sunday's newsletter, you will have come across STEALING UR FEELINGS which is nothing short of incredible. As powerful as it is in showing you the kind of data that organisations have on us, it's the tip of the iceberg.

    Kaveh Waddell, in an article for Axios, explains that brains are the last frontier for privacy:

    "The sort of future we're looking ahead toward is a world where our neural data — which we don't even have access to — could be used" against us, says Tim Brown, a researcher at the University of Washington Center for Neurotechnology.

    Kaveh Waddell

    This would lead to 'neuromarketing', with advertisers knowing what triggers and influences you better than you know yourself. Also, it will no doubt be used for discriminatory purposes and, because it's coming directly from your brainwaves, short of literally wearing a tinfoil hat, there's nothing much you can do.


    So there we are. Am I being too fearful here?

    Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things

    I'm fond of the above quotation by Douglas Adams that I've used for the title of this article. It serves as a reminder to myself that I've now reached an age when I'll look at a technology and wonder: why?

    Despite this, I'm quite excited about the potential of two technologies that will revolutionise our digital world both in our homes and offices and when we're out-and-about. Those technologies? Wi-Fi 6, as it's known colloquially, and 5G networks.

    Let's take Wi-Fi 6 first, which Chuong Nguyen explains in an article for Digital Trends, isn't just about faster speeds:

    A significant advantage for Wi-Fi 6 devices is better battery life. Though the standard promotes Internet of Things (IoT) devices being able to last for weeks, instead of days, on a single charge as a major benefit, the technology could even prove to be beneficial for computers, especially since Intel’s latest 9th-generation processors for laptops come with Wi-Fi 6 support.

    Likewise, Alexis Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic, explains that mobile 5G networks bring benefits other than streaming YouTube videos at ever-higher resolutions, but are quite a technological hurdle:

    The fantastic 5G speeds require higher-frequency, shorter-wavelength signals. And the shorter the wavelength, the more likely it is to be blocked by obstacles in the world.

    [...]

    Ideally, [mobile-associated companies] would like a broader set of customers than smartphone users. So the companies behind 5G are also flaunting many other applications for these networks, from emergency services to autonomous vehicles to every kind of “internet of things” gadget.

    If you've been following the kerfuffle around the UK using Huawei's technology for its 5G infrastructure, you'll already know about the politics and security issues at stake here.

    Sue Halpern, writing in The New Yorker, outlines the claimed benefits:

    Two words explain the difference between our current wireless networks and 5G: speed and latency. 5G—if you believe the hype—is expected to be up to a hundred times faster. (A two-hour movie could be downloaded in less than four seconds.) That speed will reduce, and possibly eliminate, the delay—the latency—between instructing a computer to perform a command and its execution. This, again, if you believe the hype, will lead to a whole new Internet of Things, where everything from toasters to dog collars to dialysis pumps to running shoes will be connected. Remote robotic surgery will be routine, the military will develop hypersonic weapons, and autonomous vehicles will cruise safely along smart highways. The claims are extravagant, and the stakes are high. One estimate projects that 5G will pump twelve trillion dollars into the global economy by 2035, and add twenty-two million new jobs in the United States alone. This 5G world, we are told, will usher in a fourth industrial revolution.

    But greater speeds and lower latency isn't all upside for all members of societies, as I learned in this BBC Beyond Today podcast episode about Korean spy cam porn. Halpern explains:

    In China, which has installed three hundred and fifty thousand 5G relays—about ten times more than the United States—enhanced geolocation, coupled with an expansive network of surveillance cameras, each equipped with facial-recognition technology, has enabled authorities to track and subordinate the country’s eleven million Uighur Muslims. According to the Times, “the practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.”

    Automated racism, now there's a thing. It turns out that technologies amplify our existing prejudices. Perhaps we should be a bit more careful and ask more questions before we march down the road of technological improvements? Especially given 5G could affect our ability to predict major storms. I'm reading Low-tech Magazine: The Printed Website at the moment, and it's pretty eye-opening about what we could be doing instead.


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