Digitally Literate #214


Digital is Garbage

Digitally Lit #214 – 9/14/2019

Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to issue #214 of Digitally Literate.

In this newsletter I distill the news of the week in technology into an easy-to-read resource. Thank you for reading. Please subscribe if you haven’t already.

This week I worked on a lot of things in the background. More info coming soon. 🙂


How to Stop Giving a F*ck (11:25)

A lot has happened over the last couple of months that has caused me to try and re-examine how much energy I give to the thoughts and concerns of others. Much of this was brought to a head after listening to the last episode of the TIDE Podcast and the celebration of Dai Barnes.

This video from Matt D’Avella is an interview with Jason Zook as they discuss his new book, Own Your Weird.

The mantra is a modern-day spin on some Stoic philosophies as you stop trying to fit in. Just be yourself.


The Epstein scandal at MIT shows the moral bankruptcy of techno-elites

The last couple of weeks we spent time talking about the Epstein scandal – including the latest revelation that Epstein might have channeled up to $8m to the MIT Media Lab. These revelations have already led to the resignation of the lab’s director, Joi Ito.

Following the disclosure of this news, I’ve been asking a lot of people what they think about these events, and how should we address this going forward.

This post from Vox, and this response from Larry Lessig suggest that sometimes very smart people made very bad, calculated decisions.

Their justification is simple: If someone is a bad person, taking their anonymous donations is actually the best thing you can do. The money gets put to a better use, and they don’t get to accumulate prestige or connections from the donation because the public wouldn’t know about it.

For more on this topic, please read this piece on the moral rot of the MIT Media Lab.

Information gerrymandering in social networks skews collective decision-making

The Internet has erased geographical barriers and allowed people across the globe to interact in real time around their common interests. Social media is starting to compete with, or even replace, nationally visible conversations in print and on broadcast media with personalized discourse on virtual social networks.

Instead of broadening their spheres of association, people gravitate towards interactions with ideologically aligned content and similarly minded individuals. Portions of a social network can thus turn into filter bubbles in which individuals see only an algorithmically curated subset of the larger conversation. These bubbles reinforce political views, or even make them more extreme, and drive political polarization.

Researchers used computational models to uncover these previously unrecognized obstacles to democratic decision-making. Stewart and colleagues describe the ways in which social-networks can affect voting behaviors.

California’s Contractor Law Stirs Confusion Beyond the Gig Economy

Last week in DL #213, we started talking about some of the court cases that are set up to possibly reframe the elements of the “gig economy.”

This piece in the NY Times discusses the discussion over the recent bill in California meant to protect workers identified as independent contractors or consultants.

Although I have focused on the data and plight of workers of app-based companies, different groups are jockeying as they address the challenges as hundreds of thousands of independent contractors become employees and earn a minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits.

YouTube Videos Are a Gold Mine for Health Researchers

In my teaching and research, I often talk about the “digital breadcrumbs” that refers to the trail of evidence that we leave behind as we engage and connect online. This post from The Atlantic identifies this as “digital exhaust” and asks the question about whether or not we should be able to use this content to train machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

The post shared the research of a group from Keele University that published a study on the behaviors of children with autism. The researchers didn’t conduct this work by interviewing subjects, or administering questionnaires. Instead, they used YouTube videos and trained AI to study the body movements of children with autism and used it to classify their behaviors as either typical or atypical.

This raises questions about the ethics of using/reusing this digital exhaust that people leave behind. I wonder about this as I’ve used this sort of data for some of my research in the past. I also wonder about this as I consider sharing data openly online for the purposes of promoting open scholarship.

Digital is garbage

Gerry McGovern with a provocative piece thinking about the heaps of “garbage” that is available online.

Digital is like sugar: it’s so sweet and irresistible, so easy to create, so easy to store, so easy to ignore. So cheap. So everywhere. Digital is the ultimate ‘just do it’ mantra.

Yes…I understand the hypocrisy as I share this piece in my weekly newsletter. As a good parallel to this piece, consider this piece by Doug Belshaw about dealing with FOMO, and not replying/sharing.


Try out a VPN with Firefox’s Test Pilot Program

Do you have concerns about your privacy and security?

You might want to try out using a virtual private network (VPN) in your browser. You’ll need to switch over to Firefox and join their Private Network group.

I’m currently testing this (and some other extensions) and will have more info soon.

The VPN services for this plug-in are provided by Cloudflare. Their privacy notice is available here for you to review how they’re using/monitoring your data.

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Who are you without the doing?

Jocelyn K. Glei

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This week I started a couple of research projects with colleagues and a common theme popped up. We’re focused on exploration, play, and finding passion in our research. These discussions made me think about a post I shared a couple of years ago.

The post, and all of these ideas were inspired by episode three of the How We Got to Now series by Steven Johnson. You can watch episode three…all about glass…and the rest of the series here on the Internet Archive.

Digitally Literate is a summary of all the great stuff from the Internet this week in technology, education, & literacy. Say hey with a note at or on the social network of your choice.

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