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All Kinds of Bad Behavior

Welcome back all. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #317.

I worked on a bunch of things in the background. Let’s see if anything takes root.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

Trolls Be Gone

Stephen Kinsella is the founder of Clean Up The Internet, an independent UK organization dedicated to improving the level of online discourse. In this post in Aeon, Kinsella suggests that anonymous users generate most of the toxic abuse and conspiracy theories online. The right to be anonymous should be curtailed.

The opening paragraph succinctly describes the last couple of years of my research and thinking.

We have come a long way from the optimism that surrounded the internet in the early 1990s. As Tim Berners-Lee has remarked several times, there was a ‘utopian’ view of its potential to democratize news and reinforce social cohesion. Indeed, only 10 years ago, we were celebrating the role that online communications played in the Arab Spring. Now, when the subject of social media is mentioned, it is far more often associated with organizations such as QAnon or the riots at the United States Capitol; with wild conspiracy theories, or the bullying and silencing of women and minority groups.


Inventing the Shipwreck

Zachary Loeb in Real Life as part of their Syllabus for the Internet series. Few things reveal the extent of our reliance on technology like having it suddenly and unexpectedly stop working.

Kitchen #26 (2021) by Samuel Richardson.

“Few things reveal the extent of our reliance on a particular technology quite like having that piece of technology suddenly and unexpectedly stop working. And though our days are punctuated by small and mildly annoying malfunctions, there is always the risk of more serious technological breakdowns, the sort that can truly turn our world upside down: the plane that crashes, the ship that gets stuck in the canal, the web platform outage that leaves us unsure how to communicate with the people we care about, or the power plant that melts down.


Smartphones are a new tax on the poor

Julia Ticona in Wired.

“…Connectivity to the internet is increasingly required to manage many different types of jobs in parts of low-wage labor markets far beyond ‘gig economy’ apps like Uber and Postmates. In ignoring these hidden kinds of connectivity, we don’t see their mounting costs, and the consequences for marginalized people. The requirement to maintain their connectivity constitutes a kind of new tax on low-wage workers. And well-meaning interventions focused on closing the digital divide haven’t addressed the powerful interests at work keeping it open.”


This Private Equity Firm Is Amassing Companies That Collect Data on America’s Children

Over the past six years, a little-known private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners, has built an educational software empire that wields unseen influence over the educational journeys of tens of millions of children. The companies the firm controls have scooped up a massive amount of very personal data on kids, which they use to fuel a suite of predictive analytics products that push the boundaries of technology’s role in education and, in some cases, raise discrimination concerns.

Vista Equity Partners has acquired controlling ownership stakes in some of the leading names in educational technology, including Ellucian, EAB, and PowerSchool.

The ed tech companies in Vista’s portfolio appear to operate largely independently, but they have entered into a number of partnerships that deepen the ties of shared ownership.


Watching A Lecture Twice At Double Speed Can Benefit Learning Better Than Watching It Once At Normal Speed

According to a new paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology speeding up the content consumption process may not negatively impact comprehension…to an extent.

Students watched two YouTube videos (one on real estate appraisals and the other on the Roman Empire) at normal speed, 1.5x speed, 2x speed, or 2.5x speed. They were told to watch the videos in full screen mode and not to pause them or take any notes. After each video, the students took comprehension tests, which were repeated a week later. The results were clear: the 1.5x and 2x groups did just as well on the tests as those who’d watched the videos at normal speed, both immediately afterwards and one week on. Only at 2.5x was learning impaired.

Use Zotero as a bookmark manager

I’ve used many tools to keep track of my bookmarks as I read online. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using Pinboard to openly share bookmarks.

With the new year, I’ve been trying out new tools to change up my workflow. One of those tools is testing out Zotero, the open source reference manager to collect everything. I’m really happy with the results so far.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

Malcolm X

All kinds of bad behavior is on the rise. Is society falling apart at the seams…or is it just the U.S.?

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Lies don’t end relationships…the truth does

Welcome to the new year. Let’s hope that it’s a new year. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #316.

I posted the following this week:

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

zoe (& rocco) fcking with the sanity of everyone on sesame street for 7 minutes and 45 seconds

Elmo — yes, that Elmo — is beefing with a rock. And Twitter has been eating it up.

These Elmo clips on Twitter sum up most of the discussions I’ve had in 2022 so far. I feel like they perfectly encapsulate gaslighting.

Wordle Is a Love Story

Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, knew his partner loved word games, so he created a guessing game for just the two of them. As a play on his last name, he named it Wordle.

This is not Mr. Wardle’s first brush with suddenly capturing widespread attention. Formerly a software engineer for Reddit, he created two collaborative social experiments on the site, called The Button and Place, that were phenomena in their moment.

“It’s really sweet,” his partner said. “This is definitely how Josh shows his love.”


8 ways teachers are talking about Jan. 6 in their classrooms

A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing.” The root of this rests in the verifiably false claim that “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election” — a key pillar of the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. As political divides persist, polls show Americans still don’t agree on basic facts about why a mob overran the Capitol one year ago, attacked police, and threatened lawmakers.

It is an understatement to say that Teachers across the country faced a daunting challenge this week. How do they talk with students about the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

This report by the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) suggests that the threat posed by domestic extremists is even greater a year after the Capitol Attack.


Want to rule the metaverse? Symbolism is key

Symbolism is key. Symbols speak louder than words, because our brains decode meaning thousands of times faster from images than from text. But symbolism in the metaverse is different than symbolism in the physical realm.

As a literacy and technology researcher, this is nothing new to me. I’ve been teaching about multimodal content and semiotics for longer than I can remember. I do wonder how the move to more virtual and augmented spaces will change things.

What’s clear is that in this new ‘phygital’ space of the metaverse, the power of symbolism for brands knows no bounds. Those that can harness it to elevate what they stand for will be the ones who cut through and ultimately succeed in connecting with their target in new and exciting ways.

Phygital? Really? Knowing this work…we’ll all be using phygital in the coming years. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Here’s a reading list of emerging tech predictions for this year

A good list of readings for the upcoming year from Emerging Tech Brew.

  • Food Tech – Hopefully there will be a “shroom boom,” for everything from regular consumption to use in packaging
  • Crypto – 165 pages spanning bitcoin to Web3, trying to figure out how big 2022 will be
  • 3D printing – 2022 will hopefully be less wasteful in 3D printing
  • Semiconductors – This was the story of 2021, and the chip crunch will hopefully ease up this year
  • Electric vehicles – This upcoming year will hopefully be when promises start to become reality
  • Climate – A lot of attention and $$$ may have some impact in the upcoming years
  • Data Science & AI – Reputational harm due to bias and a lack of accountability in AI processes will most likely continue

People who are obsessed with celebrities tend to score lower on measures of cognitive ability

Cognitive performance is slightly reduced among those with higher levels of celebrity worship, according to a new study published in BMC Psychology.

Celebrity worship was measured using a scientific questionnaire known as the Celebrity Attitude Scale. The scale asks participants the extent to which they agree or disagree with statements such as “I often feel compelled to learn the personal habits of my favorite celebrity,” “I am obsessed by details of my favorite celebrity’s life,” and “If I were lucky enough to meet my favorite celebrity, and he/she asked me to do something illegal as a favor I would probably do it.”

Raises serious questions about celebrity worship and addictive or problematic social media use. Research published here.

Sheet Music for Playing the Piano with Your Bottom

The wonderful (and occasionally obscene) Twitter account Threatening Music Notation is filled with pictures of strange slices of musical notation, such as instructions to consume cocaine, moo like a cow, slap a fish, and produce fart-like sounds.

Before we chalk this up to foolishness, Twitter user @ONEiROSEB says that playing the piano with your bottom may be taken from the works of Victor Borge, a Danish-American musical comedian.

You can lie to anyone in the world and even get away with it, perhaps, but when you are alone and look into your own eyes in the mirror, you can’t sidestep the truth. Always be sure you can meet those eyes directly. Otherwise, it’s big trouble, my girl.

Betty White

32 Hard-hitting Narcissist Quotes To Walk Away For Good. I picked up this gem from that list.

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Weaving The Memory Puzzle Into a Tapestry

Hello there. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #315.

This will be my last post for 2021. I’ll take the remainder of the month off and spend time tinkering with my website, this newsletter, and my social media feeds. Some interesting things coming soon. 🙂

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

Springboard: the secret history of the first real smartphone

A decade before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, a tiny team of renegades imagined and tried to build the modern smartphone. Nearly forgotten by history, a little startup called Handspring tried to make the future before it was ready. This is the story of the Treo.

Read more here.

Why books don’t work

I’m spending a lot of time iterating my information consumption habits. As part of this exploration, I’ve come across the writings of Andy Matuschak.

This post details the reasons why Matuschak believes that books, textbooks, and lectures…traditional vessels for information…in our lives do not work.

In the post linked above, Andy asks the question, How might we design mediums which do the job of a non-fiction book—but which actually work reliably?

To show proof of concept, Matuschak worked with Michael Nielsen on Quantum Country, a “book” on quantum computation. Please be advised, reading this “book” doesn’t look like reading any other book. The explanatory text is tightly woven with brief interactive review sessions, as the authors help weave the memory puzzle into a larger tapestry.

I recognize that many readers of this newsletter, and my work will be equally infuriated and intrigued by the points made in this post. This is one of the main problems I’ll explore during my digital hiatus.


Congress, Far From ‘a Series of Tubes,’ Is Still Nowhere Near Reining In Tech

U. S. Legislators have spent years asking the wrong questions and proposing the wrong legislation. There are relatively simple solutions to many of the issues related to antitrust, data safety, and harmful content, with no need for changes to Section 230.

For years, tech CEOs have been interrogated in televised hearings in Congress while not generating any new laws. The entire purpose of these spectacles seems to be generating Twitter dunks for politicians’ bases. Meanwhile, the EU & Asian countries pass laws that impact US users.

Perhaps policymaking is not the goal of these hearings.


A Body of Work That Cannot Be Ignored

It’s been a year since Timnit Gebru was fired from Google after warning the search giant that messy artificial intelligence can lead to the silencing of marginalized voices.

In this post, J. Khadijah Abdurahman on how technology produces “new modes of state surveillance and control” and what we might do about it.

Racial capitalism’s roadmap for innovation is predicated on profound extraction. AI is central to this process. The next flashpoint over AI is inevitable—but our failure to respond adequately is not. Will we continue to write letters appealing to the conscience of corporations or the state? Or will we build a mass movement?

This week, Gebru also started the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR). This is a space for independent, community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence.


Twitter’s new privacy policy could clash with journalism

This week, Twitter said it is expanding its privacy policy to include what the company calls “private media.” The current privacy policy prevents users of the service from sharing other people’s private information, such as phone numbers, addresses, and other personal details that might make someone identifiable against their will. Under this policy, users who have shared such data have had their accounts blocked or restricted in a variety of ways.

The new addition to the policy forbids “the misuse of media… that is not available elsewhere online as a tool to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals.” Twitter said it is concerned because personal imagery can violate privacy and lead to emotional or physical harm, and this can “have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”

Neo-Nazis and far-right activists are making the most of the new Twitter rule and managing to remove photos of them posted by journalists. Twitter is currently reviewing the policy.


In Texas, a Battle Over What Can Be Taught, and What Books Can Be Read

Texas is afire with fierce battles over education, race, and gender. What began as a debate over social studies curriculum and critical race studies — an academic theory about how systemic racism enters the pores of society — has become something broader and more profound, not least an effort to curtail and even ban books, including classics of American literature.

What are schools and teachers to make of these crosscurrents?

Windy: Wind & weather forecasts

I love weather apps. I really love uber-cool, data visualizations of weather using open data.

Windy is an interactive forecasting tool, available at windy.com, on the App Store, and on Google Play.

I’m always looking, and I’m always asking questions.

Anne Rice

The Father of Web3 Wants You to Trust Less. Gavin Wood, who coined the term Web3 in 2014, believes decentralized technologies are the only hope of preserving liberal democracy.

At the most basic level, Web3 refers to a decentralized online ecosystem based on the blockchain. Platforms and apps built on Web3 won’t be owned by a central gatekeeper, but rather by users, who will earn their ownership stake by helping to develop and maintain those services.

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Brands To Be Refined

Hello there. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #314.

I hope you took the time to give some gratitude this week. You are appreciated.

This week I posted the following:

  • Ctrl-Alt-Del: Games, Society, Intersectionality, & Toxic Technocultures – A course I developed and will teach about #Gamergate, a controversy in gaming culture about the role of women in both the industry and fan culture, to emphasize issues around identity, race, equity, and inclusion. We’ll design and play games and edit Wikipedia.
  • Towards a Taxonomy of TransdisciplinarityThis research was presented at the LRA 2021 Conference this week. Our STEAM research team had pre-service teachers develop curriculum guided by transdisciplinary thinking as they created connections between math and music for a summer art camp.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

How To Become Invisible Online

I’ve been enjoying Kalle Hallden’s YouTube channel and this focus on building things with code. This video details the levels of privacy and anonymity that you can create as you interact online.

These videos are valuable as you have the opportunity to quickly understand the what, why, and how of anonymity online.

Up all night with a Twitch millionaire: The loneliness and rage of the Internet’s new rock stars

Ten hours a day, streamers are broadcasting lives of obsession and wealth for an unforgiving crowd. This post shares a day in the life of Tyler Steinkamp. At 26, Tyler is a millionaire and one of the Internet’s most popular streamers. For 50 hours a week, he broadcasts himself playing video games from his cramped living room in his 900-person Missouri hometown to 4.6 million followers, watching from around the world.

As his online world has grown, his real one has shrunk dramatically. The article describes how no one besides his girlfriend and family had visited his house in several years. The piece also suggests that “Tyler has millions of fans but no friends.” I don’t entirely agree with this assessment, but we need to better understand the pressure on these individuals. There’s no sense of privacy for content creators, no semblance of a sustainable career. You’re a gig worker for a media empire, expected to produce content with no sick days, retirement funds, or union power.

Twitch officials acknowledge that some streamers suffer from burnout and harassment. Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down.


Same Old

What is the point of imagining new technologies without new ways of living? Why the same old flying cars, robot vacuums, the copy-pasted futures from decades past?

Sun-Ha Hong suggests that the problem isn’t just that our tech ‘innovations’ are repetitive, but that they fossilize and retrench the associated social relations. We’re cutting off time and space for any other kind of future. The promise of automation also provides crucial cover for outsourcing, underpaying, and otherwise externalizing real costs.

Hong explores this a bit more in this article in the International Journal of Communication.


The Statecraft of Digital IDs: An Annotated Bibliography

I’ve been digging back into my notes on digital identity, badges, and distributed ledger systems over the last couple of weeks. As part of this, I’ve been thinking about centralized and decentralized identity systems and portfolios.

This annotated bibliography is a great resource that can quickly bring you up to speed on the emerging research on Digital IDs. It asks the question, How do digital IDs mediate the relationship between a datafied state and its citizens?

This has simultaneous social and moral implications. Social, because interacting with citizens through digital IDs requires work, organization, and the discipline of infrastructuring data into their everyday lives. Moral, because using digital IDs as a means to resolve questions of access and inclusion in state services inevitably raises practical and normative questions of fairness, accountability, and justice.


‘Magic dirt’: How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest MLM

Black Oxygen Organics became a sudden hit in the fringe world of alternative medicines and supplements, where even dirt can go for $110 a bag. Black Oxygen Organics, or “BOO” for short, is difficult to classify. It was marketed as fulvic acid, a compound derived from decayed plants, that was dug up from an Ontario peat bog. The website of the Canadian company that sold it billed it as “the end product and smallest particle of the decomposition of ancient, organic matter.” 

By the end of the summer, online ads for BOO had made their way to millions of people within the internet subcultures that embrace fringe supplements, including the mixed martial arts community, anti-vaccine and Covid-denier groups, and finally more general alternative health and fake cure spaces. 

This is a weird story about an MLM (Multilevel Marketing) but it’s also online subcultures and the power of woo during a pandemic, and how the Internet can both build and destroy.


Spotify Wrapped, unwrapped

One of my favorite activities in my classes includes having students think about the soundtrack of their lives and share this with the group. This post examines the Spotify Wrapped, or look back at the songs and artists you’ve listened to the most over the last year. It has me thinking a lot more about what and how we value this view of our identity.

Part of this is an indication that we like being told who we are so we can tell it to other people. The following paragraph also contains a lot of points for thought.

While tracking music data doesn’t seem too murky at first glance, the use of artificial intelligence has been proven to discriminate. Reports have shown how artificial intelligence can be encoded with bias and perpetuate racism. When coupled with video technology or security software, algorithms have also played an integral role in bolstering surveillance capitalism. There have even been reports indicating how the platform’s feature is inaccurate and nefariously marketed. Still, Spotify Wrapped goes viral. Our collective enamoration with this recap reveals the extent to which algorithms have become integrated into the way we conceive of ourselves in digital consumer culture: as brands to be refined.

How To Remove Your Personal Data From The Internet

This video explores issues of personal data and how you can hide your personal information from search results and how to properly delete your social media pages. They also get into how you can unlist yourself from data brokers.

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.

Mahatma Gandhi

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All Comes Down to Power

Hello there. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #313.

I hope you took the time to give some gratitude this week. You are appreciated.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

What’s one of the most dangerous toys for kids? The Internet

Everyone knows how tough it may be to shut our social media apps and stroll away from our gadgets. Only one extra scroll, we inform ourselves. Only one extra peek at a hyperlink. After which, abruptly, we’re deep down the rabbit gap of yet one more feed.

Within the Opinion Video above, youngsters inform us what they find out about how the web works (not a lot) and the way a lot they use it (so much).

Learn from machine learning

David Weinberger on machine learning, and how the everyday world may be more accidental than rule-governed. If so, it will be because machine learning gains its epistemological power from its freedom from the sort of generalizations that we humans can understand or apply.

The opacity of machine learning systems raises serious concerns about their trustworthiness and their tendency towards bias. But the brute fact that they work could be bringing us to a new understanding and experience of what the world is and our role in it.

As we grow more and more reliant on machine learning models (MLMs) that we cannot understand, we could start to tell ourselves either of two narratives:

  • The first narrative says that inexplicability is a drawback we often must put up with in order to gain the useful, probabilistic output that MLMs generate.
  • The second says that the inexplicability is not a drawback but a truth: MLMs work because they’re better at reading the world than we are: they result from the statistical interrelating of more and finer-detailed data than other systems can manage, without having to worry about explaining itself to us humans.

People are talking about Web3. Is it the Internet of the future or just a buzzword?

There’s a buzzword that fintech, crypto, and venture-capital types have become infatuated with lately. Blog posts and podcasts are all peppered with the term Web3.

Web3, also known as Web 3.0, is an idea for a version of the Internet that is decentralized and based on public blockchains. Web 1.0 refers roughly to the period from 1991 to 2004, where the vast majority of Internet users were solely consumers of content. The web was seen as a way to democratize access to information, but most websites were static pages that displayed content from the server filesystem rather than a database. Web 2.0 is based around the idea of “the web as platform” as users of the Internet produce content and upload it to social networking services, blogs, or video or image-sharing websites. Web 2.0 is generally considered to have begun around 2004 and continues to the current day.

Many began talking about Web 3.0, or a semantic web after the term was coined by Tim Berners-Lee in 1999.

There is a difference between Web3 and Web 3.0. The main difference is a focus on decentralization. Decentralization is the process by which the activities of an organization, particularly those regarding planning and decision making, are distributed or delegated away from a central, authoritative location or group. Put simply, instead of putting all of your photos up on Instagram, you might use a decentralized photo-sharing network like PixelFed.


China Looks to Set Up Digital Asset Bourse in Virtual Yuan Push

China has been in process of creating a virtual version of its legal tender since 2014 in an effort to cope with an increasingly digitized economy as well as to fend off potential threats from virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. It banned crypto exchanges in 2017 and stepped up scrutiny this year to ban crypto mining and all related transactions, in tandem with campaigns to promote the digital yuan. 

bourse is a market organized for the purpose of buying and selling securities, commodities, options, and other investments. The term bourse also means purse in French and is synonymous with an exchange in Europe.

In China’s battle against cryptocurrencies (bitcoin and tokens) the idea is to remove ideas about decentralization and open systems. The concepts don’t fit within a centralized, or authoritarian regime. Even with these tensions, China is very much interested in pursuing the digital yuan or digital renminbi.

The usage and flow of digital currency can be controlled and monitored. It could be tied to a person’s social credit score and tied to centralized and government-controlled applications.


How the pandemic pulled Nigerian university students into cybercrime

Absolutely fantastic article from Olatunji Olaigbe on how one Nigerian university student turned to cybercrime during the pandemic to pay his bills, driven by high unemployment, few well-paying jobs, and boredom.

…descent into cybercrime can sound rational given the nightmare of trying to stay afloat amid the pandemic in Nigeria. 

“I needed to do something. I needed to survive,” Kayode said. “I’m not justifying my decision, but there’s something in being at home, doing nothing, but paradoxically doing everything in your capacity to stay alive, yet you are kind of dying, that makes you care less about others.”


Apple plans to replace the iPhone with AR in 10 years

Apple’s long-rumored augmented reality (AR) headset project is set to bear its first fruit late next year with the launch of the first device carrying a pair of processors to support its high-end capabilities, according to a new report from noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

(Image credit: Martin Hajek/idropnews)

Kuo says the initial AR headset will be able to operate independently without needing to be tethered to a Mac or iPhone, and Apple is intending it to support a “comprehensive range of applications” with an eye toward replacing the ‌iPhone‌ within ten years.

Apple has been integrating AR tech into its phones for years. ARKit, maps, LIDAR sensors, and ultra-wideband (UWB) chips for accurate location detection. Their AR staff is industry-leading. The groundwork is all there. We often indicate that “it’ll never work” or “I’ll never use that.” I felt the same way about the iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods….

Using these 8 common phrases can ruin your credibility

To sound more credible, remove the following caveats from your speech:

  • To be honest
  • In my opinion
  • You may already know this, but
  • I’m not sure
  • I could be wrong
  • This is probably a stupid question
  • Just a thought
  • If you don’t mind

I chose and my world was shaken
So what?
The choice may have been mistaken,
The choosing was not.

Steven Sondheim

Thanks to Doug Belshaw, I was alerted to the presence of PixelFed.Social and was able to create an account last week. PixelFed is a decentralized photo-sharing network based on the ActivityPub protocol, the same one that Mastodon uses.

There’s a lot of reasons not to like Instagram, and why PixelFed won’t save us. I use Instagram primarily to share/archive images. All of the content I share is text/quotes. I don’t really spend any time zombie scrolling the app. I am in a continuous process of trying to either own or decentralize the tools I use online.

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Start Often F*@k Achievements

Hello there. Here is Digitally Literate, issue #312.

This week I worked on a lot of things in the background.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

NYC’s nonprofit DIY internet is taking on Verizon & more

Limited or no access to high speed internet throws up massive barriers to education, employment, health, banking, social networking, and government service options. One non-profit is looking to challenge the top dogs by providing people with another option of where they get their internet.

NYC Mesh thinks the answer may be a decentralized, community-driven internet network — a “mesh” — that can service city residents for little to no cost. 

Read more here.

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

Karen Hao on how the tech giants are paying millions of ad dollars to bankroll clickbait actors, fueling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world. Many of these actors *would not exist* without these payments from both platforms.

Over the past few weeks, the Facebook Papers have reaffirmed that FB has fueled the spread of hate speech & misinformation around the world. But there’s a crucial piece missing from the story. FB isn’t just amplifying misinformation. The company is also funding it.


How Twitter got research right

Casey Newton indicating that while other tech giants hide from their internal researchers, Twitter is doing its failing — and fixing — in public. Here’s what Newton learned in the review.

  • Twitter is betting that public participation will accelerate and improve its findings.
  • Responsible AI is hard in part because no one fully understands decisions made by algorithms.
  • There’s no real consensus on what ranking algorithms “should” do.
  • Twitter thinks algorithms can be saved. 

Disney’s text-to-speech TikTok voices censored words like “gay” and “lesbian”

TikTokers have demonstrated that Disney’s text-to-speech TikTok voice, meant to sound like Rocket the Raccoon, would refuse to read words like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “queer” out loud.

@kbwild_

The ending is my favorite part #disneyplusday #disneytexttospeech #rocket #rockettexttospeech #disneyvoice #lesbian #lesbianstereotypes #ledollarbean #gaytiktok #lesbiantiktok #lgbtcreators #queertiktok #alphabetmafia🌈

♬ Disney wont say Gay – KaraBiner (Kbwild)

This decision seems to have been reverted — you can now get the voice to read out those words, but it’s unclear why it was happening.

This is interesting as it raises questions about what we could and should do with technology.


More Software Isn’t Better Software

A few months after Eugen Rochko earned his degree in computer science, he decided to push out an open sourced social network not too different from one of his favorite — but flawed, in his view — sites, Twitter. He named it Mastodon and it soon took off.

Mastodon is shared was created as free, open source software with a “copy-left” license, which means anyone can download it, run it, and change it, on the condition that they continue to work under the same license and freely share the altered version they are operating.

Last month, Rochko learned that Mastodon was being used to run Donald Trump’s new Truth Social network. Rochko may not agree with the views expressed on the new network. But, the licensing for the software indicates that he can not ask that they refrain from using Mastodon. Not only is Trump permitted to use the software for his own peculiar purposes, but the free software saves a startup like Truth Social millions of dollars in programming expenses. All Mastodon asks in return is that Truth Social then pay it forward. As of the date of this newsletter, Truth Social has now complied with this request by making the source code to publicly available in compliance with the license,” which is known as AGPLv3.

It remains to be seen what will happen if Truth Social doesn’t comply with the license.

The battle between Mastodon and Trump’s Truth Social is a reminder that while the internet has changed, the ideals of free software haven’t. That’s a problem. 


The expertise gap

Just about everyone knows how to drive a car. Very few of us know how to build one.

Seth Godin writes about how expertise has changed over the years.  

Folk wisdom is priceless. It’s the sum total of shared human experience, usually around our emotions. But folk wisdom is not the same as folk expertise.

Everyone is entitled to feelings about things, but expertise is earned.

Some people are at a higher risk for Zoom fatigue. Here’s what you can do.

new study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that women and newer employees were more likely to feel exhausted by too much time on video calls. The reason helps to both illuminate the causes of Zoom fatigue and how we can all avoid it.

Simply stating that you support the right of your employees to choose when they switch on the camera, cutting unnecessary meetings, and making sure to schedule adequate breaks between calls can go a long way toward preventing burnout and getting the best out of others.

Everyone is entitled to feelings about things, but expertise is earned.

Seth Godin

Intrigued by the the SOFA principle after reading about it in Doug Belshaw’s recent Weeknote.

SOFA stands for Start Often Finish rArely or Start Often F*@k Achievements

SOFA is the name of a hacker/art collective, and also the name of the principle upon which the club was founded. The point of SOFA club is to start as many things as possible as you have the ability, interest, and capacity to, with no regard or goal whatsoever for finishing those projects.

Say hey at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

Let’s Keep It FRKE

Welcome back all. Digitally Literate, issue #311.

This week I helped post the following:

  • Towards a Taxonomy of Transdisciplinarity – This paper is being presented at the upcoming LRA 2021 Conference. Our STEAM research team had pre-service teachers develop curriculum guided by transdisciplinary thinking as they created connections between math and music for a summer art camp.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

All About Spoons

You’d be forgiven for wondering, as an adult, why Mister Rogers carries a spoon. As detailed in a new book, (When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids), the journey — from a simple Point A (a spoon) to a deeply human Point B — embodies the magic of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The effect is that for children, spoons become more than passing intrigues. They become musical instruments, a spark for artistic expression, and even possible career paths. Most importantly, they become points of connection between kids and caring adults. As science has shown, the more of these connections kids have, the better they tend to do.

On Podcasts and Radio, Misleading Covid-19 Talk Goes Unchecked

False statements about vaccines have spread on the “Wild West” of media, even as some hosts die of virus complications.

Evan Greer points out: sadly, most of the “solutions” to this problem are way worse than the problem itself. do people really want deeply flawed AI to listen to every podcast and watch every video uploaded to the Internet, making determinations about what we shouldn’t see/hear?


Robots vs. Fatbergs: High-Tech Approaches to America’s Sewer Problem

Cash-strapped U.S. cities are turning to drones, artificial intelligence, and other innovations to help inspect and fix the country’s aging underground arteries of waste.

The arsenal includes flying drones, crawling robots, and remote-controlled swimming machines. They are armed with cameras, sonar, lasers, and other sensors, and in some cases with tools to remove obstructions, using water-jet cutters capable of slicing through concrete, tree roots, and the giant agglomerations of grease and personal-hygiene products known as fatbergs. Some can also fix leaking pipes using plastics that cure via ultraviolet light.

This sounds like the plot of the new Matrix movie.


An Interconnected Framework for Assessment of Digital Multimodal Composition

Ewa McGrail, Kristen Hawley Turner, Amy Piotrowski, Kathryn Caprino, Lauren Zucker, and Mary Ellen Greenwood present a framework for creating and assessing digital multimodal compositions.

They define the domains that support the development of specific criteria for assessment of digital multimodal writing: (1) audience, (2) mode and meaning, and (3) originality. This is important as we consider the differences and affordances of having students create a written essay, as opposed to a video, as opposed to a video game.

Interconnected framework for assessment of digital multimodal composition.

Faced with soaring Ds and Fs, schools are ditching the old way of grading

I’ve been thinking a bit about assessment practices in my classes. This recent piece in the LA Times shares the work of a high school English teacher Joshua Moreno as he explores the same process.

This trend has been accelerated by the pandemic & school closures that caused troubling increases in Ds and Fs across the U.S. & by calls to examine the role of institutionalized racism in schools in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by an officer.


Lego Customers Lose Millions of Pieces a Year. The Company’s 4-Word Response Is the Best I’ve Ever Seen

The LEGO Group has four words that guide all customer service interactions over the last 15 years.

According to Monika Lütke-Daldrup, the company’s director of customer engagement, “We have something that we call freaky. Freaky stands for FRKE, which is short for:

  • fun
  • reliable
  • knowledgeable
  • engaging

Are You Problem Solving or Ruminating?

As human beings, we have the capacity to reflect on our past behaviors. Unfortunately, there are many times in which going over the past becomes quite unproductive. The post above discusses how can we know if we are engaging in adaptive self-reflection or maladaptive rumination?

Rumination is sometimes viewed as a negative form of emotional processing.

The defining aspect of rumination that differentiates it from regular problem-solving is the unproductively negative focus it takes. Rumination may involve going over the details of a situation in one’s head or talking to friends about it.

As a general rule, the following can be indicators that you may have fallen into the trap of rumination:

  • Focusing on a problem for more than a few idle minutes
  • Feeling worse than you started out feeling
  • No movement toward accepting and moving on
  • No closer to a viable solution

Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.

Fred Rogers

Starting to pay attention to Low-Code Software Maker WSO2 after they received $90 Million from Goldman Sachs. There are not enough skilled developers and engineers to build things so as technology skills demand grows, so does attention to low-code and no-code solutions.

Say hey at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

A Concentrated Set of Users

Hello friends! Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #310.

This week I helped post the following:

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

Climate Action Tracker: The state of the climate crisis in 2021

2021 is a critical year for climate change. According to the Paris Climate Agreement, governments must decide now on how to reduce the amount of carbon they pump into the atmosphere in order to avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming.

Are we on track to limit global warming to only 1.5 degrees Celsius? The Climate Action Tracker explains the good news and the bad news for the planet.

Here are all the Facebook Papers stories

We spent a little over a month covering the Facebook Files. We’re seeing this expand beyond the Wall Street Journal reporting to 17 news outlets shared articles based on what have become collectively known as The Facebook Papers — leaked company documents and memos, courtesy of whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Katie Harbath is maintaining a list of all the Facebook Papers stories. They paint a picture of Facebook that’s very different from what Mark Zuckerberg likes to say.

And yet, despite the bad press, profits at the company are better than ever. (ノ-_-)ノ ~┻━┻


Twitter Data Has Revealed A Coordinated Campaign Of Hate Against Meghan Markle

On Tuesday, Twitter analytics service Bot Sentinel released a report examining Twitter activity related to the Sussexes and found that the majority of the hate and misinformation about the couple originated from a small group of accounts whose primary purpose appears to be to tweet negatively about them. 83 accounts are responsible for 70% of the social media trolling directed at Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, on Twitter. Combined, the accounts have over 187,000 followers.

Why is this important? First, I have not reviewed the work or reports of Bot Sentinel up until now. Second, it is amazing the impact a small, but a concentrated set of users can have online.

The news is reminiscent of similar stats that point to how a small group of users can have an outsized effect — like how just twelve accounts have been found to be responsible for a large proportion of the vaccine misinformation on social media.


Help build an open source voice database

AI assistants like Siri and Alexa can be useful if you speak common languages like English and Spanish, less so if you speak any one of the 1,000 languages in Africa, or even just speak with a specific dialect or accent.

Want to do something about it?

Mozilla is making a database of voice samples so software developers can more easily include your language and accent, and build it in a way that makes sure no language is left behind. You can donate your voice to help build an open-source voice database that anyone can use to make innovative apps for devices and the web.

Read a sentence to help machines learn how real people speak. Check the work of other contributors to improve the quality. It’s that simple!


The Metaverse Is Already Here — It’s Minecraft

As Facebook rebrands to Meta, and Zuckerberg trots out a vision of the metaverse, Clive Thompson indicates that our kids are already building and playing in the metaverse.

The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off.

It’s Minecraft, of course.


A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

We knew this day would come.

We’ve covered deepfakes for some time here in this newsletter. Deepfakes began as users could take the face and voice of someone famous and overlay that onto a pre-existing video. Most of the early deepfakes began as AI-generated synthetic media was used to create pornographic representations of real people.

According to deepfake researcher Henry Adjer, a new web app lets anyone upload a photo of a person and, using deepfake technology, superimpose their face into an adult video.

So far, the app exists in “relative obscurity,” and the MIT Tech Review post above refers to the platform only as “Y,” in an attempt to avoid inadvertently launching it into the mainstream.

Intentionally cultivate self-compassion

Luckily, our level of self-compassion is not set in stone and it can be intentionally cultivated.

Being kinder to ourselves may give us a safe place to land, no matter where showing our vulnerability leads us. Then, we don’t need to have as much faith in the notion that everything will go smoothly if we share our struggles with others. We can have more trust in ourselves to handle the outcome either way.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Anne Lamott

Want your metaverse for group meetings? Check out Gather for relatively lo-fi graphics to keep it accessible to anyone with a modern web browser.

Let me know if I got anything wrong at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

Fully Immersed In An Activity

Welcome back all! This is Digitally Literate, issue #309.

This week I post the following:

Last week I decided to unplug for a week as we had family come to visit for the weekend. It’s good to get back to keeping track of what’s happening in tech.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

What is Flow Theory? What does this mean for our students?

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi passed away last week at the age of 88.

Besides being one of the world’s leading researchers on positive psychology, he was best known for introducing flow theory in the 1970s, defining it as a state of mind attained when one becomes fully immersed in an activity.

In an interview with Wired magazine, he described the concept as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Mark Zuckerberg On Why Facebook is Rebranding to Meta

If you haven’t heard by now, Facebook is rebranding itself under the moniker of Meta. This is an allusion to the metaverse, which is one part definition, one part aspiration, one part hype.

Facebook suggests that this rebrand is an attempt to make it easier to differentiate between the different apps that exist under the company’s banner. I believe this rebrand is an attempt to move the discussion from their string of bad news over the last couple of weeks/months/years. This is also an opportunity to make $$$ and capture the market around an eventual metaverse.


Facebook Says AI Will Clean Up the Platform. Its Own Engineers Have Doubts.

I’m continuing to unpack the Facebook Files, A Wall Street Journal investigation. Facebook executives have long said that artificial intelligence would address the company’s chronic problems keeping what it deems hate speech and excessive violence as well as underage users off its platforms. According to the documents, those responsible for keeping the platform free from content Facebook deems offensive or dangerous acknowledge that the company is nowhere close to being able to reliably screen it.

“The problem is that we do not and possibly never will have a model that captures even a majority of integrity harms, particularly in sensitive areas,” wrote a senior engineer and research scientist in a mid-2019 note.

He estimated the company’s automated systems removed posts that generated just 2% of the views of hate speech on the platform that violated its rules. “Recent estimates suggest that unless there is a major change in strategy, it will be very difficult to improve this beyond 10-20% in the short-medium term,” he wrote.

This March, another team of Facebook employees drew a similar conclusion, estimating that those systems were removing posts that generated 3% to 5% of the views of hate speech on the platform, and 0.6% of all content that violated Facebook’s policies against violence and incitement.


Why Everyone Is So Rude Right Now

Re-entry into polite society is proving to be a little bumpy.

Some people may have thought that having been prevented from mingling with other humans for a period, folks would greet the return of social activity with hugs, revelry, and fellowship. Psychologists suggest that the long separation has made social interactions more fraught.

The combination of a contagious, life-threatening disease and a series of unprecedented, life-altering changes in the rules of human engagement has left people anxious, confused, and, especially if they do not believe the restrictions were necessary, deeply resentful.


The Frustration With Productivity Culture

Cal Newport with an interesting, reflective piece about his writings about the importance of deep work and the need to minimize distractions. Newport started receiving some pushback around his use of the term productivity.

He responded with this post on his blog, and then ultimately the piece in the New Yorker.

It is interesting to think about Newport’s question across these posts. Has the term “productivity” (and the culture surrounding productivity) outgrown its utility?


Please Unmute Your Mutt

Dog trainers are turning to video sessions to work with pets and their owners. For training techniques designed to socialize puppies and adjust canine behavior, there’s still no substitute for face-to-snout.

This is part of the Business Transformation series from the NY Times, which focuses on how the pandemic has changed how the world does business.

Make a Mini Graveyard Terrarium

I recently spent some time with the kids on our block making terrariums. This project looks like a perfect use case for my 3D printer.

The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Please note, Neal Stephenson is the writer who coined the term “metaverse” 30 years ago in his novel Snow Crash. I loved Seveneves and will soon start Anathem. Stephenson’s newest novel is Termination Shock.

Let me know if I got anything wrong at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.

For The Public Good

Welcome back all! This is Digitally Literate, issue #308.

This week I post the following:

  • From Crackpipes to Criteria to Critical Pedagogy – As I continue to unpack my experiences with ungrading, I’m sharing many of the comments, questions, and feedback I’ve recieved from the field.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin – Some great sci-fi that is situated in China’s Cultural Revolution. Asks whether science is truly objective and provable, or is it simply the best we can do given our limited understanding of four dimensions.

As I sit down to write this week’s issue, I’m learning about the sudden passing of two giants in the fields of digital literacy. Drs. Michele Knobel and David O’Brien. Much of Michele’s work was written with Colin Lankshear. These two not only framed most of my thinking about digital and new literacies, but they also published most of this content openly along the way while blogging about their work. They are one of the key reasons why I work the way that I do. Dave also inspired most of my work as he investigated digital and new literacy practices, especially as they connect to content area instruction. He informally mentored me throughout my career and framed most of my thinking and the words I use to express what I see.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe if you would like this newsletter to show up in your inbox. Reach out and say hello at hello@digitallyliterate.net.

How synthetic media, or deepfakes, could soon change our world

Synthetic media, better known as deepfakes, could be a goldmine for filmmakers. But the technology has already terrorized women who have had their faces inserted into pornography. And it could potentially disrupt society.

Several years ago, I first started writing about deepfakes here in this newsletter. I wasn’t sure if I should even write about this technology as it has its roots in pornography and revenge porn. I’m glad that I’ve been following this topic.

This Is The Hard Part Of Teaching. It’s Getting Harder.

Peter Greene writing about one of the key challenges involved in teaching. It is never enough.

There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.

We ask teachers to do more with increasingly less. As the pandemic reverberates across society, we’ve asked teachers to put their lives on the line to serve us and our children. When they ask for safety in the form of virtual learning, vaccinations, testing, or masking policies, we mock and threaten them. We peer into their classrooms and demand to know what they’re teaching and think that we could do it better.

The teacher appreciation t-shirts, coffee shop gift cards, and exhortations of self-care do nothing.

Pay teachers. Treat them with respect. Treat teachers as a valuable natural resource.


Facebook’s Effort to Attract Preteens Goes Beyond Instagram Kids, Documents Show

I’m continuing to unpack the Facebook Files, A Wall Street Journal investigation. Internal Facebook documents reviewed show Facebook formed a team to study preteens, set a three-year goal to create more products for them, and commissioned strategy papers about the long-term business opportunities presented by these potential users. In one presentation, it contemplated whether there might be a way to engage children during playdates.

Facebook isn’t the only technology company to court children and face scrutiny for doing so. Virtually every major social media platform, including Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube, has confronted legal or regulatory problems related to how children use its products. Federal privacy law forbids data collection on children under 13, and lawmakers have criticized tech companies for not doing more to protect kids online from predators and harmful content.

“With the ubiquity of tablets and phones, kids are getting on the internet as young as six years old. We can’t ignore this and we have a responsibility to figure it out,” said a 2018 document labeled confidential. “Imagine a Facebook experience designed for youth.”


Without child care, work and family are impossible

Shauna Shames writes that there is no such thing as the so-called work/family conflict. This is not only a personal observation. Scholars have found that good jobs – full-time, with benefits – and family, without help, are simply incompatible.

Will the U.S. take something positive from this crisis by learning an enduring lesson about the power of child care? Americans tend to think of having children as an expensive, private choice. The alternative is to think of it as a public good. There are many potential options when child care is made a priority in a society.


Education Activist Dirk Tillotson Was as Real as They Come

Last week, Oakland education activist Dirk Tillotson was murdered in his home. In this piece Courtney Martin indicates that Tillotson described himself as the “patron saint of lost causes.”

Some great quotes from this piece:

“You gotta dig in where you can,” he says. “Don’t overthink it. Especially if it’s what the teachers want. Just don’t be an asshole.”

“Make sure the teachers know you’re not blaming anyone,” he goes on. “You’re there to help them get more support, more books, more partners.” 

“The system is the villain. It’s built to serve some kids and leave other kids behind. It’s life or death, not to sound too dramatic, but it is. That’s what we should be talking about.”

You can read more about Dirk’s work on his blog, Great School Voices, and donate to a Go Fund Me to support his family here.


How a video game chore became a storytelling technique for TV and movies

Sometimes the most memorable part of a video game, movie, or show isn’t the main story, it’s the weird tangent a character takes in the middle of their journey.

Sidequests might seem like an unnecessary addition to shows and movies, they’ve long been an intrinsic but loathed part of role-playing games. Sidequests have become an essential part of storytelling, whether it’s in games or films. And much like other popular RPG concepts, sidequests date back to the heyday of tabletop games.

8 Traits of the Entrepreneurial Mindset

Michael Hyatt on the not-so-linear path necessary to build perseverance and determination.

Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren literally wrote the book on reading. They identify four levels of reading:

  • Openness. See problems others don’t and fixate on challenges others dismiss.
  • Ownership. Don’t wait around for somebody else to solve the problems they observe. Find solutions and take the initiative.
  • Grayscale Thinking. See and make indirect connections, often from an adjacent field, and then take the risk of giving it a try.
  • Risk Tolerance. Push against the norm. Turning their vision to reality requires taking numerous risks. Failure might be inherent within risk, but it’s also a requirement for success.
  • Resilience. Bounce back after failure comes, especially when hitting roadblocks, naysayers, or a no when a yes is desperately needed.
  • Resourcefulness. Find clever and unusual ways to overcome difficulties or make the most of opportunities.
  • Patience. Stick with a problem long enough to solve it.
  • Belief. Believe in yourself, not just your work and solutions.

Time moves in one direction, memory in another.

William Gibson

Thanks again all. I’m off to figure out how to bake these blueberry cookies.

Let me know if I got anything wrong at hello@digitallyliterate.net or on the social network of your choice.