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Drew Austin writes at Real Life magazine on the new Airpods. Didn’t quite know how they actually worked and make it possible to keep them on all the time. Definitely seeing increasing use everywhere I go, and he makes some great points on how this technology is shaping our social interactions:

AirPods foster a different approach to detachment: Rather than mute the surrounding world altogether, they visually signal the wearer’s choice to perpetually relegate the immediate environment to the background. The white earbuds create what Kantrowitz calls the AirPod Barrier, a soft but recognizable obstacle to interpersonal interaction not unlike that of phone usage. While staring at a phone suggests that attitude indirectly, AirPods formalize it, expressing potential distractedness in a more sustained and effortless manner. You don’t have to look down at a screen to convey that your mind might be elsewhere — that you are dividing your attention between your physical surroundings and other kinds of interactions, hearing other voices. AirPods efficiently communicate your refusal to pretend to be “fully present.” AirPods, then, express a more complete embrace of our simultaneous existence in physical and digital space, taking for granted that we’re frequently splitting our mental energy between the two.

Last Sunday I saw a great documentary in the “Tegenlicht” series from the Dutch VPRO television station. The title of this episode is “Mijn Bullshitbaan” and it gives an overview of the work of the anthropologist David Graeber on “bullshit jobs” through interview segments with him and examples from the experience of different people in the Netherlands. I could relate to quite a few things from my own professional career. Have a look at the full episode here.

Photographer Ignacio Evangelista has made a beautiful series titled “After Schengen” where he photographed old border control checkpoints between EU Member States that are no longer in service since the Schengen agreement. See the full series here.

These places that prior the Schengen treaty, delimited territories and in which the traveler had to stop and show his documents, currently appear as abandoned places, located in a space-time limbo, out of use and out of the time for which they were designed, as these states have opened their borders to the free movement of people. The observation of these places in the present time, gives them a dimension related to viewing and reading of some episodes in recent history, with the passing of time and memory in the landscape. These quasi- archaeological ruins have become part of the current landscape, forming a presence of the past that lies dormant in the present.

In the US there is some controversy on what to call the “immigrant detention centers” where people are held who crossed the Southern US border and want to apply for asylum. Adam Hodges at Anthropology Nows provides his reflections on “What to Call US Border Detention Centers?” and if it is appropriate to name them as concentration camps:

If we could entertain the complexities of the type of historical comparison that [Emil] Kerenji suggests, we would recognize how the “banality of evil,” as described by Hannah Arendt, allows bureaucrats, border agents, and government staff to go about their jobs while eschewing responsibility for the policies they have been charged with implementing. We would recognize the role dehumanizing rhetoric plays in enabling the mistreatment of others, how that rhetoric coupled with the force of law and a sense of duty sways otherwise good people to do abhorrent things, and how that rhetoric keeps the public indifferent and silent in the face of atrocities carried out in their name.

The Museum of Modern Art published the following great video on why people used to be able to marvel at very first movies made. We may think they were of pretty bad quality because we’ve only seen bad reproductions. But the originals must have looked startlingly realistic. Via Aeon.

For the latest edition of How to See, we visited MoMA’s film archives in Hamlin, Pennsylvania to learn more about the incredible quality and clarity of this newly discovered nineteenth-century movie, and the efforts archivists make to preserve such irreplaceable snapshots of history. Curator Dave Kehr joins the discussion to help us look at the early film with the same awe-inspired, expanded view of the world of its first audiences.

Fun little historical tidbit on “hacking” of technology in eighteenth century France. Apparently there were some brothers who used the semaphore telegraph system for their own gain. They used a mechanism for correcting errors when messages were relayed to transmit information. With the help of some insider person they could use to transmit their own information about the stock exchange in Paris to Bordeaux which allowed them to make a lot of money! I read the translated article at Courrier international.

Les messages relayés par les tours prévoyaient la possibilité d’une correction, une sorte de touche “retour arrière” pour effacer la position précédente quand, pour une raison quelconque, un opérateur avait fait une erreur. Les Blanc ont compris qu’ils pouvaient soudoyer l’un des opérateurs pour qu’il introduise une “erreur” quand le marché de Paris clôturait à la hausse, et une autre “erreur” lors d’une clôture à la baisse. L’“erreur” se propageait d’une tour à l’autre, jusqu’à ce qu’un complice des frères, muni d’une lunette, la détecte et en informe aussitôt les deux banquiers, qui gagnaient des fortunes à Bordeaux et semblaient toujours deviner avec un instinct surnaturel ce qui s’était passé à Paris.

Having fun looking at two posts from Sociological Images on gendered products:

Watching a video with excerpts from the Chomsly-Foucault debate via These shorts segments give a good quick look on the diverging view of Chomsky and Foucault and their views on power and human nature.

With the Vietnam War near its height, Chomsky and Foucault agree that contemporary power structures need to be attacked and dismantled. However, while Chomsky advocates for a system of ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ rooted in justice, sympathy and human creativity, Foucault argues that these concepts are products of the same bourgeois system that needs replacing. Probing age-old philosophical questions as well as the politics of the moment, the interview offers a revealing glimpse of the divergent styles, attitudes and outlooks of two enduringly influential thinkers.

A TED talk from Emma Marris, a writer who focuses on environmentalism, where she proposes us to redefine what is considered nature. I particularly enjoyed the section where she urges to rethink how we look at wild nature (“novel ecosystems”) in for example abandoned places cities. Watch the whole talk on the TED website.

How do you define “nature?” If we define it as that which is untouched by humans, then we won’t have any left, says environmental writer Emma Marris. She urges us to consider a new definition of nature – one that includes not only pristine wilderness but also the untended patches of plants growing in urban spaces – and encourages us to bring our children out to touch and tinker with it, so that one day they might love and protect it.

Exploring some videos on by forest ecologists on how trees communicate via Open Culture. The following is a short educational Ted-Ed video in which Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard explain how trees communicate through their complex root system and the symbiotic relationship with fungi.

For a longer video on the same topic there is also TED talk by Suzanne Simard on “How trees talk to each other”.

Surprised to see an interview with Donna Haraway on The Guardian. In the interview she discusses the science wars and her current focus on climate activism. Read the full article here.

Claire Walkey from the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre writes about why we should rethink refugee registration. Registration is the first moment when asylum-seekers become known by the state, so we might assume that states will always want to implement registration procedures to monitor people. But her fieldwork in Kenya shows that this is not always the case as here the government actually stopped the registration procedures. According to her we therefore need to “look for answers in the meaning and politics of registration itself”, as registration can be a form of empowerment for refugees:

Acknowledging the legal recognition that registration can offer refugees sheds light on why states, resistant to hosting refugees, might choose not to register them. It is too easy to assume, given security practices especially in the West, that states will always pursue bureaucratic surveillance and monitoring of refugees. In Kenya, it is politically prudent to resist legal recognition, even at the expense of bureaucratic surveillance. The promotion of registration by the international community may therefore find little traction by focusing purely on the security gain for states, particularly in contexts with weak administrative infrastructures. It is prudent instead to rethink registration and recognize that at times it offers more to refugees than to states.

Fantastic lecture from Annemarie MolWhere is my Body? Notes on Eating and Topology”. This lecture was organised by the Research Center of Social and Cultural Studies Mainz (SoCuM) as part of their yearly Georg Forster Lecture series. More excellent speakers have been invited of the years, and I’m curious to look at those lectures as well. A page with all the Georg Forster lectures can be found here. The following is the original abstract from the SoCuM website for the lecture:

In the course of the twentieth century, the notion “das Volk” gradually lost its appeal. Natural and social realities got disentangled. The sciences came to take bodies as a basic layer and social phenomena as situated on top of it. In recent practice-oriented studies this changes, as in practice there are no layers, but bodily and social elements act together. Other topological configurations shift accordingly. For in practice “my body” is not necessarily be-neath my skin; as I eat stuff from everywhere, it stretches out. But while “my body” is wide-spread, knowledge about it is situated. The fact that “my body” needs 2000 kcal a day, may be relevant in a setting of scarcity, but in contexts of abundance it is counterproductive. In single settings, at the same time, different kinds of facts may come to clash. Economics may take feeding grain to chicken to be efficient, but for nutrition science it is not at all. The topological complexity of bodily spaces thus laid out, gives reason to conclude that while in practice scientific knowledge is highly pertinent, it does not offer conclusive grounds.

Rachel Hewitt writes in 1843 Magazine on different reasons of why “running doesn’t offer women the freedom it should”. In her essays she writes about some of her own experiences why this is the case: from not feeling securing running at night, to clothes not being as well designed for women, and running races not taking into account different bodily needs. Read the full article here.

Reading an article on “Flexible Turtles and Elastic Octopi: Exploring Agile Practice in Knowledge Work”1, where the authors introduce the concept of elastic workers:

We label this form of flexibility as ‘elastic’ to account for the fact that these practices appear to be less a response to dynamic external conditions than a co-construction of external conditions with the internal disposition of the worker. To be elastic, in these terms, is to learn to find stability in dynamic circumstances beyond any one situation, perpetually.

  1. Erickson, I., Menezes, D., Raheja, R. et al. Comput Supported Coop Work (2019). [return]

Check out this stunnishing timelapse video directed by Hiroshi Kondo of the flow of motorbikes in the streets of Taiwan.

Great day today with the Processing Citizenship team and Professor Kalpana Shankar where we discussed connections with her work on social science data archives and data curation practices. Afterwards she also gave a colloquium at our UTwente STePS department on “Data Work as Organizational Work: The Sustainability of Social Science Data Archives”.

Some nice recent articles from Courier International: