Disciplines [...]

Most academic disciplines can trace their roots to the secularization of universities in the 18th and 19th centuries and, with the Enlightenment, the turn towards the sciences and a more orderly system of knowledge.

From Michel Foucault's Surveiller et punir (translated into English, of course, as Discipline and Punish):

“Discipline” may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a “physics” or an “anatomy” of power, a technology. And it may be taken over either by “specialized” institutions (the penitentiaries or ‘houses of correction’ of the nineteenth century), or by institutions that use it as an essential instrument for a particular end (schools, hospitals), or by pre-existing authorities that find in it a means of reinforcing or reorganizing their internal mechanisms of power (one day we should show how intra-familial relations, essentially in the parents-children cell, have become “disciplined”, absorbing since the classical age external schemata, first educational and military, then medical, psychiatric, psychological, which have made the family the privileged locus of emergence for the disciplinary question of the normal and the abnormal); or by apparatuses that have made discipline their principle of internal functioning (the disciplinarization of the administrative apparatus from the Napoleonic period), or finally by state apparatuses whose major, if not exclusive, function is to assure that discipline reigns over society as a whole (the police). On the whole, therefore, one can speak of the formation of a disciplinary society in this movement that stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social “quarantine”, to an indefinitely generalizable mechanism of “panopticism”. Not because the disciplinary modality of power has replaced all the others; but because it has infiltrated the others, sometimes undermining them, but serving as an intermediary between them, linking them together, extending them and above all making it possible to bring the effects of power to the most minute and distant elements. It assures an infinitesimal distribution of the power relations.

Foucault traces the origins of the disciplines alongside his history of the prison -- that is, they share the same sorts of emphasis on technologies and practices of control.

The Garden and the Stream [...]

From a 2015 keynote by Mike Caulfield.

The Garden:

The Garden is an old metaphor associated with hypertext. Those familiar with the history will recognize this. The Garden of Forking Paths from the mid-20th century. The concept of the Wiki Gardener from the 1990s. Mark Bernstein’s 1998 essay Hypertext Gardens.

The Garden is the web as topology. The web as space. It’s the integrative web, the iterative web, the web as an arrangement and rearrangement of things to one another.

Things in the Garden don’t collapse to a single set of relations or canonical sequence, and that’s part of what we mean when we say “the web as topology” or the “web as space”. Every walk through the garden creates new paths, new meanings, and when we add things to the garden we add them in a way that allows many future, unpredicted relationships.

The Stream:

The Stream is a newer metaphor with old roots. We can think of the”event stream” of programming, the “lifestream” proposed by researchers in the 1990s. More recently, the term stream has been applied to the never ending parade of twitter, news alerts, and Facebook feeds.

In the stream metaphor you don’t experience the Stream by walking around it and looking at it, or following it to its end. You jump in and let it flow past. You feel the force of it hit you as things float by.

It’s not that you are passive in the Stream. You can be active. But your actions in there — your blog posts, @ mentions, forum comments — exist in a context that is collapsed down to a simple timeline of events that together form a narrative.

In other words, the Stream replaces topology with serialization. Rather than imagine a timeless world of connection and multiple paths, the Stream presents us with a single, time ordered path with our experience (and only our experience) at the center.

Technology’s Mindfulness Racket [...]

In essence, we are being urged to unplug—for an hour, a day, a week—so that we can resume our usual activities with even more vigor upon returning to the land of distraction. Here the quest for mindfulness plays the same role as Buddhism. In our maddeningly complex world, where everything is in flux and defies comprehension, the only reasonable attitude is to renounce any efforts at control and adopt a Zen-like attitude of non-domination. Accept the world as it is—and simply try to find a few moments of peace in it. The reactionary tendency of such an outlook is easy to grasp. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek once quipped, “If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.” And what a wonderful Kindle Single that would make!


Online Attention as Inferior Good [...]

From The Empirical Economics of Online Attention (2016):

We find that higher income households spend less total time online per week. Households making $25,000-$35,000 a year spend ninety-two more minutes a week online than households making$100,000 or more a year in income, and differences vary monotonically over intermediate income levels. Relatedly, we also find that the amount of time on the home device only slightly changes with increases in the number of available web sites and other devices – it slightly declines between 2008 and 2013 – despite large increases in online activity via smartphones and tablets over this time. Finally, the monotonic negative relationship between income and total time suggests online attention is an inferior good, and we find that this relationship remains stable, exhibiting a similar slope of sensitivity to income. We call this property persistent attention inferiority. There is a generally similar decline in total time across all income groups, which is consistent with a simple hypothesis that the allocation of time online at a personal computer declines in response to the introduction of new devices. (Source)

Poverty of Attention [...]

“…[I]n an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” (Simon, 1971).

The Full Story Test [...]

Related to the Bechdel Test, the Full Story Test asks three questions of news media content:

1. Are our content priorities committing us to be more inclusive and to tell stories that aren’t being told? 2. Are we tracking the diversity of staff, leadership and our board? How do we measure up? 3. Do we regularly measure the diversity of bylines and sources? Do we have goals?

It involves looking at the race and gender of bylines and sources. Do women of color, for example, only appear in stories about race and gender?

This "Bechdel test for news" was proposed by PRI's Alisa Miller.

The Bechdel Test [...]

The Bechdel Test asks whether a work of fiction, typically but not necessarily a film, features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

The Bechdel Test is named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The test first appeared in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For.


Movies that pass the Bechdel Test.

Addiction as Metaphor [...]

There was a dust-up last week following a New York Post story which described digital technologies as "digital heroin." The Verge responded with its own article, "Why calling screentime 'digital heroin' is digital garbage." The debates -- whether about technologies or porn or food -- all revolve around "what counts" as addiction.

From The Verge article:

Kardaras’ loose talk on addiction is what makes his argument so tough to believe. About 1.6 percent of Americans use heroin, but a quarter of them wind up addicted, according to an estimate from the National Institutes of Drug Addiction. Something like 16 percent of cocaine users become dependent on the drug within 10 years of trying it for the first time, say scientists in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Digital devices, as well as video games, are far more widespread than either of these drugs. If they were, in fact, comparable, we should be seeing a lot more people displaying "catatonia," with their iPads dropped dramatically beside them.

The tech-as-addiction metaphor is sloppy, though it might not be wrong. The problem is we don’t have a good handle on what qualifies as tech addiction — if it exists at all, how common it is, and what kind of environmental and physiological conditions predispose someone to it.

Substance use disorder — that regular ol’ drug addiction — is a recognized condition in the latest version of the psychiatric Bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; technology abuse disorder is not. Internet gaming disorder is in a special section called "the research appendix," where the DSM’s authors relegate conditions that do not have sufficient evidence for existence — but where more research might be useful. While it’s true, as Kardaras pointed out, that the DSM is not without flaw — it did, after all, list homosexuality as a disorder until 1973 — whether to list internet gaming disorder or internet addiction was hotly debated.

What does it mean to label something "addictive"? Is this a scientific observation, a medical diagnosis, or is this a cultural designation and as such something that constantly changes based on society's shifting values?

From Stanton Peele:

Although it is true that labeling something addictive is a politically and socially symbolic act, it is also true that what we experience as addictive in a given time and place is determined by cultural beliefs.



Algorithms Don’t Polarize People, People Do [...]

“Individual choice has a larger role in limiting exposure to ideologically cross cutting content [than the News Feed algorithm],” a recent study by Facebook’s own data team ruled. “We show that the composition of our social networks is the most important factor limiting the mix of content encountered in social media.”

Chart showing increasing polarization dating back to the 1970s

In other words, the thing most polarizing people online is people themselves — a phenomenon that the latest string of anti-Trump apps, browser extensions and add-ons would not appear to help. On top of the unfriending site, there’s an iPhone app called Trump Trump that will eliminate the candidate’s name from the websites you’re browsing, as if he didn’t exist. Remove Donald Trump from Facebook will, as its name suggests, scrub the candidate from your News Feed. A mountain of Chrome extensions will replace Trump’s name or picture with a series of other things: “Voldemort,” “your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving” — even the smiling poop emoji. (Source)

Great Society vs. NASA [...]

Need to implement Great Society initiatives on a tight budget may have nudged out NASA requests in 1966

In truth, there were events external to the space program that made it impossible to evaluate proposals on their merits. NASA requests were cut back steadily by the Bureau after 1966, not because they lacked virtues that earlier requests possessed, but because of the Vietnam War, a balance-of-payments deficit, an overheated economy, and the higher priorities of Great Society programs. Johnson wanted to reduce spending without sacrificing the substance of his social commitments. When the NASA authorization bill was sent to the White House in August 1967 for Johnson's signature, Schultze and Presidential Assistant Joseph Califano listed the pros and cons of the President's issuing a statement before signing the bill. In signing, Johnson would in effect accept a $517 million reduction already voted by the House Appropriations Committee. Schultze argued that by issuing a statement, "it will help avoid later charges by supporters of the space program of a double cross. Eventually we are going to have to cut at least this much from the space program. If supporters of the program . . . fight for and get some restoration of this cut only to be faced with an administration-initiated reduction, they may charge bad faith."46 Hence Schultze's warning to Webb: "Avoid making commitments . . . for increases above the levels at which you err operating.... Exercise special prudence in filling vacancies.... Except when major Presidential items are concerned, avoid appealing for restoration of congressional cuts in recommended appropriations."47 (Source)