Tag: The Guardian (page 1 of 6)

Anxiety and performance

I’ve recently had to re-evaluate my life and realise that, while there are others who see me as a confident, middle-aged man, that narrative doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny. Instead, it’s liberating to realise that there is a kind of anxiety which is a two-edged sword; it can propel you forwards and hold you back, depending on how you treat it.

I’d assumed, in my simple two-plus-two way, that people who choose jobs like this found it easy, even enjoyed the thrill. I’m heartened to discover that they, too, feel frightened, their confidence an illusion. And I’m delighted that the shame associated with nervousness, a trait we’re expected to grow out of, has subsided enough for it to be discussed so openly. It’s no coincidence stage fright and its shivering sisters are being talked about now, at a time when even the most confident-seeming people are feeling nervous about re-entering the world.

The pandemic has helped clarify concepts that previously felt abstract. “Nervousness”, we see now, is not just a childish affectation but a rational reaction to situations that feel dangerous, a feeling experienced by many, and often. Similarly, we are being forced to reconsider the idea of “hope”. Rather than a simple heart-fluttering optimism, hope has been revealed to be both necessary and a bit of a slog. A decision, made daily upon waking, to seek out good news and drag ourselves towards it using our nails, our knees, whatever clawed instrument we have to hand. It prevents us from sinking so deep into the porridge of modern life that we no longer have the energy to look ahead.

Source: Feeling nervous isn’t bad – it happens to us all | Life and style | The Guardian

Wherefore art thou, privacy?

As John Naughton points out, if Apple are the only Big Tech company truly interested in preserving our privacy, we should be worried.

So here’s where we are: an online system has been running wild for years, generating billions in profits for its participants. We have evidence of its illegitimacy and a powerful law on the statute book that in principle could bring it under control, but which we appear unable to enforce. And the only body that has, to date, been able to exert real control over the aforementioned racket is… a giant private company that itself is subject to serious concerns about its monopolistic behaviour. And the question for today: where is democracy in all this? You only have to ask to know the answer.

Source: If Apple is the only organisation capable of defending our privacy, it really is time to worry | John Naughton | The Guardian

GCHQ violates our privacy

Hardly surprising, but it’s important people are still pushing on this eight years(!) after the Snowden revelations. It’s incredible to me how The Guardian and other outlets can reveal this kind of thing along with the financial corruption set out in the Panama Papers and so little changes as a result.

In Tuesday’s ruling, which confirmed elements of a lower court’s 2018 judgment, the judges said they had identified three “fundamental deficiencies” in the regime. They were that bulk interception had been authorised by the secretary of state, and not by a body independent of the executive; that categories of search terms defining the kinds of communications that would become liable for examination had not been included in the application for a warrant; and that search terms linked to an individual (that is to say specific identifiers such as an email address) had not been subject to prior internal authorisation.

Source: GCHQ’s mass data interception violated right to privacy, court rules | GCHQ | The Guardian

A candour affected is a dagger concealed

🤯 The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse

📝 White privilege – a guide for parents

✊🏿 Kimberlé Crenshaw: the woman who revolutionised feminism – and landed at the heart of the culture wars

👩‍💻 Working from home could lead to more prejudice, report warns

🎩 The radical aristocrat who put kindness on a scientific footing


Quotation-as-title by Marcus Aurelius. Image from top-linked post.

Much will have more

Discord screenshot

🧠 How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet

😶 Parler ‘free speech’ app tops charts in wake of Trump defeat

🤖 ‘Robot soldiers could make up quarter of British army by 2030s’

🇪🇺 Europe is adopting stricter rules on surveillance tech

🏥 NHS data: Can web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee fix it?


Quotation-as-title by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Image from top-linked post.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

Statue of a man showing bicep muscles, but the statue is crumbling

♂️ What does it mean to be a man in 2020? Introducing our news series on masculinity

🎓 America Will Sacrifice Anything for the College Experience: The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.

💽 One of the world’s most cited computer scientists wants cooperatives to be the future of how data is owned

✏️ Your writing style is costly (Or, a case for using punctuation in Slack)

🔐 Taking Back Our Privacy: Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of the end-to-end encrypted messaging service Signal, is “trying to bring normality to the Internet.”


Quotation-as-title by Elizabeth Bransco. Image from top-linked post.

Reducing exam stress by removing pointless exams

In the UK, it used to be the case that children could leave school at 16. This was the reason for ‘O’ levels (which my parents took), and GCSEs, which I sat at that age.

However, these days, young people must remain in education or training until they are 18 years old. What, then, is the point of taking exams aged 16 and 18?

A group of Tory MPs has written a report, with one of the authors, Flick Drummond, making some good points:

The paper argues that preparation for GCSE exams means that pupils miss a large chunk of valuable learning because of the time taken up with mock exams and revision, followed by the exams themselves. “That’s almost six months out of a whole year spent preparing for exams,” said Drummond.


She said she was particularly concerned by the impact of exams on mental health, citing a report backed by the Children’s Society in August that ranked England 36th out of 45 countries in Europe and North America for wellbeing.


Instead, the new report says, the exams should be replaced by a baccalaureate, which would cover several years’ study and would allow children more time from the age of 15 to settle on the subjects they wanted to study in the sixth form for A-levels or vocational qualifications such as T-levels and apprenticeships, and to explore potential careers in a structured way.

Richard Adams, Tory MPs back ditching GCSE exams in English school system overhaul (The Guardian)

As a parent of children who could be affected by this, I actually think this should be trialled first in the private sector and then rolled out in the state sector. Too often, the private sector benefits from treating state school pupils as guinea pigs, and then cherry-picking what works.

Face-to-face university classes during a pandemic? Why?

Earlier in my career, when I worked for Jisc, I was based at Northumbria University in Newcastle. It’s just been announced that 770 students there have been infected with COVID-19.

As Lorna Finlayson, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Essex, points out, the desire to get students on campus for face-to-face teaching is driven by economics. Universities are businesses, and some of them are likely to fail this academic year.

[A]fter years of pushing to expand online learning and “lecture capture” on the basis that it is what students want, university managers have decided that what students really want now, during a global pandemic, is face-to-face contact. This sudden-onset fetish reached its most perverse extreme in the case of Boston University, which, realising that many teaching rooms lack good ventilation or even windows, decided to order “giant air circulators”, only to discover that the air circulators were very noisy. Apparently unable to source enough “mufflers” for the air circulators, the university ordered Bluetooth headsets to enable students and teachers to communicate over the roar of machinery.

All of which raises the question: why? The determination to bring students back to campus at any cost doesn’t stem from a dewy-eyed appreciation of in-person pedagogy, nor from concerns about the impact of isolation on students’ mental health. If university managers had any interest in such things, they would not have spent years cutting back on study skills support and counselling services.

Lorna Finlayson, How universities tricked students into returning to campus (The Guardian)

I know people who work in universities in various positions. What they tell me astounds me; a callous disregard for human life in the pursuit of either economic survival, or profit.

This is, as usual, all about the money. With student fees and rents now their main source of revenue, universities will do anything to recruit and retain. When the pandemic hit, university managers warned of a potentially catastrophic loss of income from international student fees in particular. Many used this as an excuse to cut jobs and freeze pay, even as vice-chancellors and senior management continued to rake in huge salaries. As it turned out, international student admissions reached a record high this year, with domestic undergraduate numbers also up – perhaps less due to the irresistibility of universities’ “offer” than to the lack of other options (needless to say, staff jobs and pay have yet to be reinstated).


But students are more than just fee-payers. They are rent-payers too. Rightly or wrongly, most of those in charge of universities have assumed that only the promise of face-to-face classes would tempt students back to their accommodation. That promise can be safely broken only once rental contracts are signed and income streams flowing.

Lorna Finlayson, How universities tricked students into returning to campus (The Guardian)

I predict legal action at some point in the near future.

The discourse of disruption

Adrian Daub, a professor of literature, takes issue with the tech sector’s focus on disruption:

Most of the discourse around disruption clearly draws on the idea of creative destruction, but it shifts it in important respects. It doesn’t seem to suggest that ever-intensifying creative destruction will eventually lead to a new stability – that hyper-capitalism almost inevitably pushes us toward something beyond capitalism. Instead, disruption seems to suggest that the instability that comes with capitalism is all there is and can be – we might as well strap in for the ride. Ultimately, then, disruption is newness for people who are scared of genuine newness. Revolution for people who don’t stand to gain anything by revolution.

Indeed, there is an odd tension in the concept of disruption: it suggests a thorough disrespect towards whatever existed previously, but in truth it often seeks to simply rearrange whatever exists. Disruption is possessed of a deep fealty to whatever is already given. It seeks to make it more efficient, more exciting, more something, but it never ever wants to dispense altogether with what’s out there. This is why its gestures are always radical, but its effects never really upset the apple cart: Uber claims to have “revolutionised” the experience of hailing a cab, but really that experience has largely stayed the same. What it managed to get rid of were steady jobs, unions and anyone other than Uber making money on the whole enterprise.

Adrian Daub, The disruption con: why big tech’s favourite buzzword is nonsense (The Guardian)

Venture-capital backed tech companies providing profits through (what I call) ‘software with shareholders’ fracture our societies, destroy our communities, and enrich the privileged.

The world needs less philanthropy and more equality

I’ve been skeptical about the motives of philanthropic organisations for a while now. This article in The Guardian is a long read, but worth it.

Here’s an excerpt:

The common assumption that philanthropy automatically results in a redistribution of money is wrong. A lot of elite philanthropy is about elite causes. Rather than making the world a better place, it largely reinforces the world as it is. Philanthropy very often favours the rich – and no one holds philanthropists to account for it.

The role of private philanthropy in international life has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s 260,000 philanthropy foundations have been established in that time, and between them they control more than $1.5tn. The biggest givers are in the US, and the UK comes second. The scale of this giving is enormous. The Gates Foundation alone gave £5bn in 2018 – more than the foreign aid budget of the vast majority of countries.

Philanthropy is always an expression of power. Giving often depends on the personal whims of super-rich individuals. Sometimes these coincide with the priorities of society, but at other times they contradict or undermine them. Increasingly, questions have begun to be raised about the impact these mega-donations are having upon the priorities of society.