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Posts tagged: Society

Is Child Porn On Darknets Actually A Sign Of A Healthy Society?

I just covered Cryptosphere, a forthcoming darknet, for TechCrunch. Here’s a bit from the end. On the Hacker News thread about Cryptosphere, one commenter laments the fact that darknets end up being used for child porn, pointing out that religious heretics of the past could really have used such a system. Another commenter responds:

Child pornography producers and consumers are similarly persecuted, though clearly with much more sound reasons.

At least in western countries, there aren’t a lot of instances of repressed communication that need to be conducted across a channel like this — especially few legitimate ones. This is not to say that such a system isn’t useful; just that I believe the fact they’re so full of child pornography and the like is actually, in a roundabout way, an indicator of a healthy society.

The Psychology of Punditry

Juian Sanchez speculates that that our contemporary mediasphere has become hyperpolarized not just because of the “filter bubble" problem, but also as a result of the coping mechanisms adopted by pundits who are constantly assaulted by a barrage of uncivil criticism:

The nice way to say this is that selects for pundits who have a thick skin—or forces them to quickly develop one. The less nice way to say it is that it forces you to stop giving a shit what other people think. Maybe not universally——you’ll pick out a domain of people whose criticisms are allowed to slip through the armor—but by default.

Probably it always took a healthy ego to presume to hold forth on a wide array of public issues, confident that your thoguhts are relevant and interesting to the general populace, or at least the audience for political commentary. But in a media space this dense, it probably takes a good deal more.

If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of est/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude.

Julian Sanchez: The Psychological Prerequisites of Punditry

(Thanks Skilluminati)

It makes sense. Busy blogs and forums can get toxic fast. I got a lot of vitriolic comments while covering enterprise tech at ReadWriteWeb, and can only imagine what someone blogging on more popular topics at a bigger blog would experience (especially if I were a women). It can be tough to keep going. It makes sense that only a certain type of personality is going to keep blogging in public, and that you’d get worse at taking any sort of criticism from outside your own circle at all.

Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, the Technoccult interview

Amber Case

Photo by Kris Krug

Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist and the co-founder and co-organizer of Cyborg Camp. You can find out more about her and her work in our dossier on her.

Klint Finley: Please tell us what you mean by “cyborg anthropology” and explain what it is that you do on a day-to-day basis.

Amber Case: Cyborg anthropology is the study of human and non-human interaction, especially tools and networks that are formed by networks of human and non human objects.

My work relates to tracing the history of tool use and how it has affected culture over time.

For instance, one can look at a hammer and notice that over the last 300 years the design and function of the hammer has not changed very much.

The shape and form and function are still similar but when one looks at the first computers, which were large machines running on vacuum tubes, and computers now — one sees that the computer’s overall look and function and shape and size has drastically changed.

So then one must look at the idea of the hammer or knife. An animal must evolve a better tooth, or sharp edge in which to capture and kill prey. If a tooth breaks, or is not sharp enough, or the animal is not fast enough, that animal dies and cannot reproduce.

But the human has externalized the evolution by making a tool outside of their mouths. The knife is an extension of the tooth that can be thrown. The speed and excellence of the knife depends on the worker or the person who has power enough to have a worker who can create that tool.

Once we externalized objects and processes, we externalized evolution.

But the computer is different. Tool use has been physical for most of human evolution. Now we see computers as an interface not to the physical self, but to the mental self.

The mental self is an internal space, which is unseen, and a lot of what we see on a computer is unseen unless we look at it through an interface or portal.

So what I do in cyborg anthropology is consider how people upload their bodies into hyperspace, and how humanness is produced through machines and machines through humanness.

I also consider online presence, cell phones and the technosocial self.

Amber Case

Photo by Andrew Hyde

What methodology do you employ? What is a day in the life of a cyborg anthropologist like?

My methodology is mainly qualitative analysis, ethnography and participant observation.

What I mean by that is that I use the anthropological method of ethnography to collect observations through participating in groups of people involved in tool use or digital networks and see how they work, play, communicate, and what their values are.

Part of my work is letting people know that they’ve always been part human and part machine. Donna Haraway talked about everyone being a low tech cyborg. That for some part of every day people are connected to a machine.

In my recent study of Facebook, I’ve combed through user stories and behavior and placed people into general groups of interaction. I’ve also studied how the interface - or the participation architecture of the site influences how people act as people begin to move online - and live out a great deal of their lives there, the shape of an interface really affects how people move so a lot of my day is spent combing through the internet looking at that sort of behavior and jotting it down into a digital field journal of sorts.

The other part is looking for new developments. Things that break the norms. Those are harbingers of new trends and systemic shifts.

maxtor file pile

What are some of your most interesting recent findings?

Some of my favorite things have been mistakes. For instance, when a middle aged woman thinks that she’s sending a private message to someone she’s been seeing, and in reality she posted on her wall for everyone to see.

Yahoo Answers are amazing. It’s where a lot of very young kids ask each other ridiculous questions - and young kids answer back.

Also, looking at people’s signatures. Not their handwritten ones, but their digital ones. How they compose sentences and where they use capitalization. How they respond to things, etc. It really tells a lot about who they are.

The other thing I like to discover is digital artifacts. There are some digital archeologists and historians who try to keep data alive and in circulation. When one considers it, and Stewart Brand has mentioned this quite a bit… data is very fragile.

When one considers the pyramids and symbols carved into stone, that data is still around today. It’s been thousands of years and we still have it vs. Twitter, where data is regularly dumped and not saved.

One of the problems is that machines don’t get heavier when we put data into them. Which seems strange, because information has weight in real life.

Jason Scott is a great data archivist. he runs textfiles.com. He saves BBS forums and stuff from the 80s that might have been erased over time.

It’s funny that you say that. Sometimes when I delete a lot off stuff from my laptop, I actually feel like my laptop is lighter. I know it isn’t, but it just seems like it is.

It’s interesting how you say that- it’s a sign that your senses are tied to a machine - that your machine has become an external brain of sorts.

The first time my computer crashed I felt I had lost half my brain.

Here is a conversation I had with @strangeways about weight.

@caseorganic: My old computer is being reformatted. I can feel the files being deleted. It’s a strange feeling, like re-writing memories.

@strangeways: I think it is completely possible. I’ve felt it many times before. There’s a transition from physical effects to mental ones.

@strangeways Physical storage came first, then mental storage. I bet mental phantom neuron syndrome will become more prevalent.

@caseorganic Sort of feels like amputation, doesn’t it? I wonder if one can experience phantom limb with a virtual body part.

There was a campaign for Maxtor about data. It becomes increasingly easy to put data into a system, but the data, once in the system, has an escape velocity like a black hole. The computer is beginning to liquefy objects around it, like a black hole. Especially the iPhone - taking physical objects like compasses, games, cameras, notebooks, date books and address books and digitizing them, centralizing them into one device.

What sorts of tools do you find most useful in your work?

I use Yahoo! Pipes, Netvibes, search.twitter.com, and TextEdit.

I use a lot of TextEdit. I copy and paste things in, label them, and then name the file with descriptive words. That way my computer becomes a search engine for my research.

But the best tool is SKITCH and Flickr. Skitch can take a screenshot and upload it automatically to my Flickr account. It’s my external brain. So I used Skitch and Flickr symbiotically to take a quick screenshot of whatever I’m working on.

A random sample from Amber Case's Flickr stream

A random example from Amber’s Flickr stream

I use Moodle for private notes to myself, and I have some Pbwiki accounts. But Flickr is really the best. It allows sources, timestamps, tagging, and searching. And it allows comments, so my digital journal becomes a living creation.

You don’t have a Phd or other post-graduate degree, is that correct?

I do not have a PhD.

And you work in the private sector as a consultant?

Yes.

Why did you decide to go into the private sector instead of continuing in academia? Do you think you will ever go back to academia?

I went to the private sector first because I just got out of college. I wrote a thesis on mobile phones and their technosocial sites of interaction. I got a degree in sociology and anthropology.

I was told to work two years in the “real world” before going back to academia, going straight to grad school would leave me at a disadvantage. First, I wouldn’t know what the real world needed, and secondly, I wouldn’t know anything else except for academia.

My favorite conference was MIT’s futures of entertainment, which I spoke at in November 2008. I liked the conference because it was a hybrid event. It brought together people from industry and academia. Industry can beneif a lot from academia, but not from 200 page reports. And academia can benefit a lot from industry, but not from silly marketing statements.

So I wanted both perspectives. Someone has to be able to translate between the two. Its useful, else a lot of miscommunication happens and redundancies occur.

What advice would you give to liberal arts majors looking to make a career outside of academia?

Network. Network a whole lot.

Don’t network in a silly way. Network honestly. Find people who inspire and invigorate you, who make you work on things harder than ever before.

Create an online presence that is ubiquitous and enjoyable to interface with. Let it be known who you want to be. Put that on your business card and on your social profiles.

Be uniform in your focus. Set goals for who you want to meet.

Become a resource for people. Connect them. Have a blog or set of resources that aggregates and disperses useful information in your area of interest.

Attend local conferences. Speak at events. Volunteer at conferences.

Speaking is the easiest way to meet everyone in the room. Volunteering is the easiest way to meet all of the registrants, especially ones you might be too afraid to talk to.

Don’t be afraid to find the smartest person in the room and ask them how they got there.

Fail daily. Fail a whole bunch. Challenge yourself and don’t worry if you have no supporters. Be the first one there.

… That sounds like a promotional book, lol.

cyborgcamp

And speaking of conferences - you were a founder and organizer of CyborgCamp, and the second one is coming up in a few months. Could you tell us about the impetus of that event?

The idea behind CyborgCamp was to have a forum for the discussion of the past, present, and future. The conference was also livestreamed so that it would be accessible to anyone in the world. It was seen in over 50 countries.

The conference was not really created by me, but by a community that sprang up suddenly on Twitter. Within 3 hours, CyborgCamp had a website, a wiki, a sponsor, and 9 volunteers.

It wasn’t a choice for me. I knew I had to make the conference, and I strove to make it an invigorating experience. I found some great speakers, like Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki.

A typical conversation at CyborgCamp

Above: a typical conversation at CyborgCamp. Photo by Mark Coleman from the CyborgCamp photoset.

The unconference part allowed the attendees to discuss what was really on their minds. We discussed everything. From agriculture to technoculture, to insulin pumps, to connectivity and the digital device, to strategy and the future. It was a cocreated event, and it was amazing to be a part of it.

A number of people in Brasil watched the conference and there will be a
CyborgCamp Brasil in May 2010.

The next domestic one will be in Portland in October.

See Also

Hypersigils Reconsidered

On evolutionary psychology

This interview with Satoshi Kanazawa, co-author of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (with Alan S. Miller) reminded me of this critique of Kanazawa and Miller’s Psychology Today article by the Thistle. I meant to reply when he first wrote it, but got too caught up with Esozone stuff and forgot.

First of all I have to say that I’m skeptical of all popular science books, especially popular psychology books. I must also say that I am not a scientist, and don’t have a lot of knowledge of evolutionary psychology. Also, I’ve only read the article and interview, not the book. So Kanazawa and Miller’s work could be total bunk for all I know. That said, lets take a look a look at what the Thistle has to say.

Many of the speculations in this article are without clear source.

True. Hypothetically, more detail about how they reached these conclusions can be found in the book.

Evolutionary psychology is emphatically not science. It is a genre of speculation based on a mix of other peoples’ science and observation of cultural trends. EPs, like the sociobiologists before them, are notorious for rationalizing status quo culture as being rooted in biology. They are not researchers but armchair theorists (just like me). Thus when Frank Marlowe contends something, he is not dispelling a “mystery,” just giving his opinion.

Scientists haven’t even decided if social science really is science, nor am I sure I accept social science as science. Evolutionary psychology (or any other branch of psychology) may not live up to the strictest of definitions of science. But to call evolutionary psychology arm chair speculation is unfair. Again, Kanazawa and Miller’s research could turn out to be nothing but arm chair theory. I haven’t evaluated the research. But extensive research, rigid application of the scientific method, and peer review separate professional psychology from home speculation. A professional evolutionary psychologist must examine statistical research, make falsifiable predictions, and subject their work to review of fellow scientists. The process of evolutionary psychology is not a mere practice of saying “oh, maybe that stems from this” but a tedious process of making predictions and testing them.

But “Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio”? [Emphasis mine.] I’ll open this up to the readers: Should I even bother to provide evidence that this isn’t the case?

I was a little surprised at how much of a response this particular bit got (see comment here). I’m also surprised no one pointed out the most obvious deviation from this “rule”: gay men. Gay men are not even attracted to women, much less blond ones. So some men are less attracting to large breasts than other men. Some men prefer chubby women. So what? The use of the word “universal” is probably the hang-up for people here. No, people don’t conform 100% to these rules. Does that make the conclusions drawn any less valid? No. Much less the entire field of evolutionary psychology.

But there is an important lesson to be learned here: we can predict the behavior of individuals based on the past behavior of individual with perhaps enough certainty to do well at gambling. But probably not well to do well at life. We may be able to accurately say “most women prefer cooking shows to sports” or “most men would rather spend money on power tools than handbags” but there will always be exceptions.

To go off on some armchair theorizing of my own: there seems to be a rise in pornography based around non-blond women with many different body types. Some of this might be due to the Internet making it possible to produce and distribute porn profitably without marketing to the lowest common denominator. But perhaps men are adapting as we become aware of the fact that just because a woman is blond and has perky tits doesn’t mean she’s actually young. Or not. I have no idea.

We are currently living through the largest wealth disparity in the history of mankind.

It’s my understanding that the middle class developed along with globalization and industrialization. It might be true that there’s a larger gap between the top 2% and the bottom 2% (or whatever) than ever before (this seems probable as there is more for the top 2% to have than ever before). But are the middle classes of “industrialized” nations not much, much closer matched? And do they not take up the majority of the population?

I can never tell if the largely male population of Evolutionary Psychologists are trying to invent and rationalize some class-based stratification of sexuality because they have a little extra money and need come up with an excuse to get with multiple partners or because they are trying to come up with an excuse for why they can’t get a date at all.

I suspect it’s the latter.

Oooooo burn!

So here’s my advice, you armchair theorists of the world. Lighten up with all the “women act this way, men act that way” talk and get out there and talk to people you actually want to have sex with as though they were people and not aggregate collections of statistically observable behaviors interpreted through the lens of your personal bias. It’s not sexy.

See above for why statistical predictions don’t make good practice in day to day life.

BTW, 100 years ago, similar genetic behavior theorists were trying to convince the populace at large that polygamy was a sign of the inferiority of the poor (they’re having all the sex, which we know because they make so many babies) and trying to get them sterilized because of it.

Scientists were saying lots of incorrect things 100 years ago. Should we discount discount science altogether because of it?

Also: Kanazawa and Miller haven’t made, at least in the articles in question, any value judgements or policy recommendations.

I’m not sure what this point has to do with “human nature.” Period. Is religious affiliation genetically coded? No.

Did you even read the article? Kanazawa and Miller say the Muslim tendency towards suicide bombing isn’t caused directly by religion, but by the absence of sex. Is that correct? I don’t know, but it does answer your question.

Ditto. Actually, I slept through the rest of these until…

What, you didn’t have a problem with the notion, expressed in point 9, that all men care about is sex? That all of our accomplishments, dreams, and ambitions are nothing more than cheap ploys to get laid?

Look, if ever there was a phrase that was designed to bait the political opposition, it is “political incorrectness.” It serves as a umbrella term meant to signal that the author is setting out to offend people, then act as though he is surprised when people get offended. Then he points the finger at them, saying, “You’re too easily offended.” Some people are too easily offended; that doesn’t make these guys any less asinine. It is always an indication that the author is trying to start some very public drama.

I basically agree. The framing of these theories as “politically incorrect” is a marketing ploy. And it seems to have worked.

To address the whole of your objection to the section on sexual harassment: I think you’re way off the mark in your interpretation of what was being said in that section. They say that women “legitimately complain” about harassment. I don’t believe they were trying to *excuse* sexual harassment (any more than they were trying to excuse suicide bombing), but try to get to the bottom of why it happens.

And that is the goal of evolutionary psychology: not to justify bad behavior, but to explain it. One can only hope that with a better rational understanding of our problems, we can find new solutions. From the interview with Kanazawa:

As a scientist, I am not interested in Utopian visions (or any other visions for society). But it seems to me that, if you want to change the world successfully, you cannot start from false premises. Any such attempt is bound to fail.

Was HST working on a 9/11 expose when he died?

I suppose this sort of speculation was inevitable. If it’s true, I hope we see some of this “hard evidence.”

He’d been working on a story about the World Trade Center attacks and had stumbled across what he felt was hard evidence showing the towers had been brought down not by the airplanes that flew into them but by explosive charges set off in their foundations. ..

Hunter S. Thompson … was indeed working on such a story.

LibertyThink: Hunter Thompson was working on WTC collapse story before mysterious sudden death, warned he’d be ‘suicided’

(via New World Disorder)

Was Hunter S. Thompson Deep Throat?

An interesting theory, and maybe not as far-fetched as it sounds. Read on.

Link

(via Abstract Dynamics)

I can’t fucking believe it

Hunter S. Thompson is dead. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I just can’t wrap my head around this. I’m in shock.

Denver Post: Hunter S. Thompson shoots self in head

New Robert Anton Wilson Interview

David: Why do you think politics on this planet is such a huge mess, and human beings are so violent towards one another?

Bob: Because most people have never heard of maybe logic and live in an either/or world, which applied to ethics and social policy becomes a good/evil world. Human vanity then determines that all the damned eejit always put themselves in the good position and anybody who disagrees in the evil. Look at any literary/politics journal—any journal of the nonscientific “intelligentsia”—and you’ll see that they all sound as medieval as George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden. Violence comes of self-righteousness and self-righteousness comes of right/wrong logic, without maybes.

Mavericks of the Mind: Robert Anton Wilson 2

(via LVX23)

Corporations and the Global Village

Here’s a review of a book by Jeremiah J. Sullivan. Sullivan suggests that corporations will need to undergo massive change in order to survive during coming years:

Sullivan has sophisticated strategies for multinationals to survive in this new environment, but they all boil down to his belief that the homo economicus model is inadequate and culture bound, that trust is essential to a thriving economy, and that trust can only exist in a climate of virtue: “A different ethics is needed, and a return to virtue is in order.” He discusses corruption as an issue, but this book was written before Enron and other corporate scandals showed how corrupt major American firms were.

World Future Society: Corporations and the Global Village

See also: Chaordic Commons

(via Abuddha’s Memes)

New Robort Anton Wilson Material

Robert Anton Wilson’s new book TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution has been released. Also, a documentary about Wilson called Maybe Logic is scheduled to be released this spring.

The film company, Deepleaf Productions, also plans to release a new documentary called Utopia USA featuring Noam Chomsky, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, Riane Eisler, RU Sirius, Douglas Rushkoff, John Zerzan, Raymond Smith, Ralph Abraham, David Loye, John Mohawk, Lyn Gerry, John Kekes and Howard Zinn.