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Posts from the ‘Digital Humanities’ Category

If You’re Cringing at Facebook, You Should Also be Cringing at the Market

I recently learned of people who think that Facebook is listening to them through the microphones in their phones.  This weekend someone told me a story about how she was reading a book out in nature and then when she got back to her car, her phone was recommending the book she was reading to her.  Another person had a story of telling her business partner of a thing they needed to get, not on email but in person, and soon after gettings ads for it.  Everyone seems to have a story like this. People think Facebook must be listening to them, because it just seems like magic. The algorithms at Facebook, it turns out, collect information to predict your interests and your wants and your concerns to target ads to you for just what you want at just the right time that it makes people feel as if the only explanation is that they are listening to you.  But Facebook isn’t listening to you. As an article about six months ago in Wired argued, they don’t have to. You are giving them the information. They target ads to you the way that those mindreaders get people to say something through suggestive questions. Because we can’t see the algorithms and can’t tell how they work, we think, it must be magic. And for most of us, it feels creepy.

In this regard, Facebook is a lot like the market. We put information into the market by buying things at a certain price, by buying cheaper versions of the same thing or more expensive versions, by deciding to spend our money on travel and food rather than shoes or clothes, by leaving one job for another, by turning down jobs that don’t pay enough or taking jobs that are below our credentials, by renting the too small apartment for too much money, or passing up the small apartment when the rent is too high. We think we as individuals have made an agreement with the landlord, or with the people at Macy’s or our boss, not unlike the way we think that Facebook is listening to us. We think it is about individuals making decisions, but so much less freedom and choice is involved. The market collects the information to sell us the goods at the price point it expects we will buy and we buy it and we think we have made decisions, when the market has collected masses of information to give us what we want at the point we are willing to pay for it.

The magic of Facebook creeps us out. But this creepiness should be extended to the market as well, if not more. The collective cringe at Facebook’s capacity to target to us the things we didn’t even know we wanted should be extended to the market’s work of giving us the things we want at the point we are willing to pay for them. Instead of supposing that this is the happy magic of the market, we should find the magic cringe-worthy. The cringe at Facebook betrays the truth of the impersonal determination of our desires. What’s surprising is only that we don’t also cringe at the market. The cringe at Facebook is the recognition that we are getting played. If we think that’s less the case with the market it is only because its workings are even more opaque to the everyday worker and consumer than Facebook’s are.

Many people in response to the recent publicity of Facebook’s data becoming available to other vendors are calling for regulation of Facebook. Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina offered guidelines this week on NPR for how Facebook could become a force for good community instead of for feeding consumption. Cathy O’Neill has similarly argued for how to make Facebook a place for community, beginning with making their algorithms more transparent. Facebook itself is rushing to show how they plan to better regulate themselves in the face of grossly underinformed U.S. Senators who were unable to grasp both the workings of Facebook and the implications of this current situation. But again this interest in regulation of Facebook, not unlike the move to regulate previous utilities like telephones, should point to a greater willingness to regulate the market. If we wish to regulate Facebook because we think that the algorithms cannot tell us what is good and might themselves need human input and human restraints, then it seems we should be able to see how the market similarly cannot tell us what is good and needs human inputs and human restraints.

Arguments against human interference in the market have worked by arguing that human beings can never have enough information to determine the best distribution. Only markets can. This situation seems to be exactly the case Facebook is in. They have the most information. And yet our response to that is to cringe. To the extent that you cringe at Facebook’s vast information about us and the decisions that follow from it, you should cringe at the notion that the market has more information that can better determine and organize our lives. This operation is not freedom from tyranny, it is the tyranny of market forces absent human engagement and deliberation.

6 Behaviors to Avoid On Facebook

I heard someone say when I was in Italy awhile back that there are rules to driving in Rome, it’s just that those rules aren’t the published ones.  You have to be there for awhile to get a feel for the real rules.

Social media is kind of like that.  There aren’t really published rules.  Or if they are, they are the terms of use and not really the rules of how to engage well.  But there are rules for how to engage in social media, unwritten rules that ought to govern our conduct to make social media work.  In my experience, social media reflects real life but it multiplies exponentially the sense in which some people feel like the whole world is theirs to take up space in and to explain to others, while working to limit the degree to which other people can feel like that.  Social media then becomes a mechanism by which what Robin James has called multiracial white supremacist patriarchy (MrWaSP) perpetuates itself.  That’s not going to stop unless we actively resist it.

I think there are people out there who troll by virtue of their character.  But other people just seem oblivious.  This post is for those people.  I like the idea that we should think about people’s Facebook walls as their virtual home (ok, I say social media, but chiefly I mean Facebook – I spend time on Twitter, but I’m much less active there).  You are a guest, you should act like a guest.  If you don’t know someone IRL, you should be more reserved and not assume you are welcome until further encouraged.  But this rule, like the others, should be contextualized–some people will always be made to feel less welcome and you should think about that as you moderate your own wall.  Also, the host-guest metaphor might be insufficient because I think some people who behave poorly on Facebook would treat me like this in my house, too.  In any case… Read more

Podcast Recommendations

I like to listen to podcasts as I work and as I run.  But finding good podcasts that are worth my time is no easy task.  Even when I find recommendations, I never know where to start.  Here is a list of podcasts I listen to, why I like them and why I hate-listen to others.  I’ve included the particular episodes that I thought were standouts and that I come back to regularly or even assign in classes.  They are in no particular order. Read more

Day 1: 31 Days of Blogging

Last January, inspired by Jill Stauffer and looking to blog more regularly, I decided to blog every day of January. It was hard, but it was good for me. It was an opportunity to think through some things that had been rattling around in my head, to write up some reviews of books, and to better articulate my thoughts on what was happening in the world. No doubt there were days that were hard, but it broke through some of my blogging anxieties making it easier for me to drop a post without too much concern over whether my contribution really was a contribution.

Now a year later, those anxieties have not remained at bay. This is partly due to my efforts to address multiple audiences at once and partly due to my conflicted feelings about the philosophy blogosphere. Instead of getting into that here, I am going to start with my positive account of how I would like to think about blogging, my community of bloggers and my audience.

  1. I would like to be writing for a community of philosophers and non philosophers alike. This means a whole bunch of things that I think should lower the stakes of regular blogging. For one, it means writing plainly without trying to prove philosophy credentials. That means writing from a place of my expertise, but without the formal structures that demand that expertise be proven at every turn.
  2. For another, it means writing things because I think about them and am interested in sharing them.  I know some things, I know the world in which these things are discussed. I have specific investments and concerns about how we think about political life, about nature, about gender, about reading certain texts that I am interested in writing about. I’m going to actively strive to overcome my resistance to posting when I am unsure whether what I write has been said before. A, I don’t think it has and B, this is not a formal academic project that depends on the principles of academic research. Unfortunately, this sense that it is is often enforced on women bloggers while many allowances are made for men bloggers.
  3. I would like to have a community around blogging that responds graciously and thoughtfully, reading with a hermeneutics of sympathy, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, respecting her authority on those things in which she is an authority. This is a principle that often leads to false equivalences, something I hope to write about in the days to come.  I’ll just say that recognizing social and disciplinary positioning and responding thoughtfully in light of those positions would make this a better blog world.

One reason I have an uneasy relationship to blogging is that I want to treat it as a kind of public note-taking of my thinking about the world, much as Chris Long writes about using Twitter. By being public I am compelled to work things out that might otherwise be left inchoate. But also by being public I find myself internalizing possible criticisms and concerns from comers on all sides. This Big O Other, law of the father, this gaze, whatever you want to call it is a view I’d like to better ignore. So this month I’d like to blog more consciously for myself. If that’s something you’re interested in following, I hope you do.  I’ll let you know at month’s end how we fare.

#7DaysofWomen

Starting on May 5, I embarked on a week-long social media experiment where I only engaged with women online.  I did this project in conjunction with blogger and philosopher Leigh Johnson.  Here’s what I posted and she posted on Facebook to announce the project.

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I have long felt like social media is a man’s world.  Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media.  My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify.  Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice.  I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy. Read more

Day 31: What I Learned from Blogging 31 Days in a Row

I blogged every day in January.  It was not easy.  I’m glad I did it, though.  It helped snap me out of certain inhibitions that I have had about blogging, which I have discussed here and here.  If you have a blog and you struggle to blog regularly, or if you don’t even know whether you want to blog regularly, I recommend giving yourself the month-long challenge.  Here’s some things I learned. Read more

Day 16: Midway Through 31 Days of Blogging

I have now blogged everyday for fifteen days in a row!

The most regular blogging I have done up until now was during my trips to Greece.  I blogged about blogging the first trip, and looking back, blogging a trip is not that different from giving yourself a 31-day blogging challenge.  In both cases, I find myself bringing added attention to my experiences because I know I am going to have to blog about something.  One of my biggest obstacles to blogging more regularly before this month is that I’ll have ideas about something I could potentially blog about and I’ll think that it isn’t important or interesting enough or that I’m not the one to say it (sometimes, this is a legit concern and the philosophy blogosphere might be a better place if more white cisgender men asked them whether they should be the ones to say the thought they have). Read more

Day 11: Teaching To and Through Blogging

I spent my day writing syllabi, and so I’ve been thinking about what to do to inspire learning and what I’ve done that seems to have led most successfully to student learning.  Last fall, I taught an upper-level course in which students had to post or comment on the class blog for every class session.  I am here to testify that it raised the level of discussion in class and the depth of written work for the class better than anything else I’ve tried.  This post is for those of you who might also be preparing to begin your semester, who are wondering whether having students blog is worth it and how to set it up. Read more

PODNetwork Conference 2015: Critical Reflection

Image from PODNetwork, logo for 2015 conference.

Just left my first PODnetwork meeting in San Francisco.  POD is the acronym for Professional Organizational Development, which, I know, sounds like something I’d never be a part of.  But the meeting was about pedagogy, which I am very much a part of.  I’m a faculty member who does not have an official role in a Center for Teaching and Learning, but I am the program chair of the Gender Studies minor; I administer a GLCA grant on Ancient Philosophy Teaching and Research where one component is a pedagogy workshop;  and I’m actively engaged in discussions of pedagogy as many other faculty are on my campus (as part of the academic honesty task force, for example).  All this to say, I was thinking about the discussions at the meeting very much from a faculty perspective. Read more

Teaching Dialogue(s): A Digital Engagement with Plato, Socrates and Chris Long

At HASTAC2015 at Michigan State in May, then-soon-to-be-new Dean of College of Arts and Letters at MSU, Chris Long, and I hatched a plan to have my students engage his book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy (Cambridge 2014).  Students would read the book online and engage the digital platform Cambridge set up to encourage a living relationship to the text. As a follow up and to enhance the dialogical engagement, Long agreed to videoconference into class.  This week, we did it.   Read more