A quote from Geoffrey Bowker in a recent article at STS Italia journal Technoscienza reflecting on our relationships with viruses:

The general point for me here about stuckness and knowledge is that we look at the world wrongly from the beginning if we break it up into separate entities. The theory of evolution is just wrong if it only accounts for the origin of species. What is much more interesting is the development of relationships – as in Michel Serres’ discussion of the parasite form as central. In a related context, Martin Buber argued that the relationship — to thou or that — was always prior. We murder to dissect… at any level… within or without the organism. There are reasons why many biologists say the species concept is unreal: there is no singular slicing apart of a set of entities. We interpenetrate.

The Register reports on a paper that aims to show how Big Tech has adopted similar strategies similar to Big Tobacco to influence AI ethics research, policy, and generally spreading doubts about the harms of AI:

The analogy “is not perfect,” the two brothers acknowledge, but is intended to provide a historical touchstone and “to leverage the negative gut reaction to Big Tobacco’s funding of academia to enable a more critical examination of Big Tech.” The comparison is also not an assertion that Big Tech is deliberately buying off researchers; rather, the researchers argue that “industry funding warps academia regardless of intentionality due to perverse incentive.

An article from The Economist mentions how drone technology gets transported from the battlefields of Iraq to American cities:

The notion of putting cameras on orbit­ing drones to catch malefactors was born on the battlefields of Iraq, where American armed forces wanted to nab people leaving bombs on roadsides. Ross McNutt, a for­mer air­force engineer, founded Persistent Surveillance Systems (pss) to offer the same service to American cities (and oth­ers, such as Juárez) struggling with high murder rates. PSS drones flew over parts of Baltimore, most recently in May­-October 2020. St Louis, among America’s most viol­ent cities, also considered but is poised to reject PSS’s services, which raise difficult questions about how much surveillance Americans are willing to tolerate in ex­change for the promise of safer streets.

A quote from an article by David Grazian titled “The Production of Popular Music as a Confidence Game: The Case of the Chicago Blues” about the creation of authenticity:

A curious set of concerns develops in settings where patrons seek out cultural forms deemed “authentic,” or naturally indigenous to their locale. In these settings, consumers expect to be entertained by performances that conform to dominant stereotypes of the setting, with attention given to local dialect, styles of interaction, dress and so forth. But in addition, they also expect that these performances will be real, as genuine expressions of self rather than a charade performed merely for the audience’s benefit. As a result, producers face the arduous challenge of meeting a predetermined set of expectations without appearing as though such a feat requires any effort. While few contemporary consumers would be shocked by the revelation that motion pictures rely on tricky camerawork and special effects, or that their favorite actor routinely opts for plastic surgery, audiences rarely suspect that authentic culture and art—populist music, exotic handicrafts, ethnic cuisine—depend on similarly performative strategies of manipulation and impression management.

Via an article on the sociology of the on the Everyday Sociology blog.

The article from MIT Technology Review mentioned in my previous post referenced a paper from Nick Yee & Jeremy Bailenson titled “The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior”. The researchers found that appearance of avatars shapes the behaviour of users:

[…] self-representations have a significant and instantaneous impact on our behavior. The appearances of our avatars shape how we interact with others. As we choose our self-representations in virtual environments, our self-representations shape our behaviors in turn. These changes happen not over hours or weeks but within minutes.

A copy of the paper can be found here.

In a brilliant article at MIT Technology Review, Tate Ryan-Mosley gives an overview of the history and challenges of face and beauty filters that are popular on social media apps and platforms:

The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight.

He also mentions an interesting bit of history of face filter technology that originated in Japan:

These real-time video filters are a recent advance, but beauty filters more broadly are an extension of the decades-old selfie phenomenon. The movement is rooted in Japanese “kawaii” culture, which obsesses over (typically girly) cuteness, and it developed when purikura—photo booths that allowed customers to decorate self-portraits—became staples in Japanese video arcades in the mid-1990s. In May of 1999, Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera released the first mobile phone with a front-facing camera, and selfies started to break out to the mainstream.

In an article at The Atlantic Ian Bogost comments on a recent episode of Amazon’s use of social media in a campaign to influence opinion regarding criticisms of the company’s exploitative labour and business practices. Interestingly, he notes a change in the corporations communicate:

Previously, companies could speak only through formal messages on billboards; by mail, radio, or television; or via media coverage of their actions. The web had shifted that control a bit, but websites were still mostly marketing and service portals. Social media and smartphones changed everything. They made corporate speech functionally identical to human speech. Case law might have given companies legal personhood, but the internet made corporations feel like people.

It also allowed companies to behave like people. As their social-media posts were woven into people’s feeds between actual humans’ jokes, gripes, and celebrations, brands started talking with customers directly. They offered support right inside people’s favorite apps. They did favors, issued giveaways, and even raised money for the downtrodden. Brands became #brands.

Two recent articles from BBC Future deal with meta-data and possibilities of surveillance in two everyday technologies:

A blog post at Boardgamegeek collects some recent links discussion changes in boardgames. Some of the points mentioned concern how the industry has changed because of crowd-funded games through the Kickstarter platform and reference an interesting article from Wired that discussed how the company behind the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is dealing with racial stereotypes in the game. From the article:

In its post, WotC detailed the changes it planned to make to Dungeons & Dragons. This included overhauling the way its books talked about orcs, drow, and other “evil” races, updating past books like Curse of Strahd with an eye to removing racially charged language and stereotypes, releasing new rules that deemphasize racial negatives during character construction, hiring sensitivity readers, and hiring a more diverse pool of freelance writers and artists.

This article from Smithsonian Magazine that dispells some of the myths surrounding the tulipmania is well worth a read:

So if tulipmania wasn’t actually a calamity, why was it made out to be one? We have tetchy Christian moralists to blame for that. With great wealth comes great social anxiety, or as historian Simon Schama writes in The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, “The prodigious quality of their success went to their heads, but it also made them a bit queasy.” All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay. Their insistence that such great wealth was ungodly has even stayed with us to this day.

A humorous article from The Economist explains how “Netflix is creating a common European culture” through their efforts of promoting shows from different European and translating/subtitling in all languages:

Umberto Eco, an Italian writer, was right when he said the language of Europe is translation. Netflix and other deep-pocketed global firms speak it well. Just as the eu employs a small army of translators and interpreters to turn intricate laws or impassioned speeches of Romanian meps into the eu’s 24 official languages, so do the likes of Netflix. It now offers dubbing in 34 languages and subtitling in a few more.

Read the full article here.

With the recent general election in the Netherlands, I became more interested in the political philosophies of prime minister Mark Rutte and his party the VDD. While it is sometimes argued that they do not have a real political vision, this article from Merijn Oudenampsen at De Groene makes clear some of their background:

Wie de huidige koers van de vvd en de toespraken van Rutte wil begrijpen, doet er goed aan om de publicaties van de toonaangevende vvd-denkers uit de jaren tachtig en negentig te lezen, zoals Frits Bolkestein, Paul Cliteur en Andreas Kinneging. De lezer treft hier een intellectuele tendens die in veel opzichten posities verdedigt die tegengesteld zijn aan die welke Rob Wijnberg met het liberalisme associeert. Deze conservatieve stroming verdedigt sociale en economische ongelijkheid en is sceptisch ten opzichte van verandering en vooruitgang. Zij benadrukt het beperkte menselijk kenvermogen en brengt de wet van onbedoelde effecten in stelling tegen de vooruitgangsoptimisten. Een pessimistisch mensbeeld staat in deze filosofie centraal, tezamen met een sterke nadruk op traditie en cultuur.