Digitally Literate #191

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On suffering & surveillance
Digitally Lit #191 – 3/30/2019

Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to Digitally Literate. In this newsletter, I try to synthesize what happened this week so you can be digitally literate as well.

I posted a couple of other things this week:


Augmented reality vs. virtual reality: AR and VR made clear (3:16)

This week my classes started playing with AR and VR using some high tech, and low tech tools and toys. This video discusses the fact that the two technologies are confusingly similar, bit utterly different.


Why is Silicon Valley so obsessed with the virtue of suffering?

Nellie Bowles in The NY Times on the possible reasons why the dominant thought leaders from Google to Apple are focused on inner virtues, self-mastery, and courage. This focus on Stoicism may be an indication that the “world and its current power structure are correctly set” and they need to just fit right in.

Start-ups big and small believe their mission is to make the transactions of life frictionless and pleasing. But the executives building those things are convinced that a pleasing, on-demand life will make them soft. So they attempt to bring the pain.

Privacy’s not an abstraction

Great piece by Chris Gilliard on the recent op-ed in the New York Times about a thought-provoking lesson in privacy. Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John’s University Law School, described an optional and ungraded assignment in which she asked her students to eavesdrop on and surveil unsuspecting folks in public to see what information they could gather about them, using only Google search on their phones.

Gilliard summarizes his thinking: Don’t surveil people. Don’t turn students into spies. Don’t divorce privacy from its effects on vulnerable populations.

Is this ‘smart’ device safe in my home? Three simple checks

James Mullarkey on the test we need to give to “Internet of Things” devices to make sure they ensure our basic rights and personal safety.

How do your devices stand up to these three checks and conditions? In regards to your data, do you

  • the individual alone decides what experience is rendered as data
  • the purpose of the data is to enrich the life of the individual
  • the individual is the sole arbiter of how the data is shared or put to use

Inmates in Finland are training AI as part of prison labor

Angela Chen on a startup, Vainu, that uses “prison labor” to classify data to train artificial intelligence algorithms. The startup is using inmates at two prisons in Finland to do a new type of labor.

Some suggest that this is a partnership and a kind of prison reform that teaches valuable skills. Others suggest it plays into the exploitative economics of prisoners being required to work for very low wages.

Is this empowerment or exploitation?

Why banning phones from schools is a backward step for education

Jamie Brooker, entrepreneur and co-founder of Kahoot! on the regular discussions we have about banning devices from our classrooms.

Brooker suggests that instead we should treat this as an opportunity to help young people today become productive members of society.

By becoming knowledgeable about the wider role technology plays politically, socially, and environmentally, and with a greater appreciation for the positives of what technology could enable if designed empathetically, the next generations will be better placed to create the tools that provide a more sustainable future.


Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)

If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?

A few of the best parts:

…on a neural level, we perceive our “future selves” more like strangers than as parts of ourselves. When we procrastinate, parts of our brains actually think that the tasks we’re putting off — and the accompanying negative feelings that await us on the other side — are somebody else’s problem.

We must realize that, at its core, procrastination is about emotions, not productivity. The solution doesn’t involve downloading a time management app or learning new strategies for self-control. It has to do with managing our emotions in a new way.

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With technology tracking us everywhere we go, ‘cosplay’ might become our best defense against surveillance.

Annalee Newitz

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Digitally Literate is a summary of all the great stuff from the Internet this week in technology, education, & literacy. Follow along here.

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