Algorithmically Plottable Emptiness

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #336.

I spent a lot of time working on several projects. More to come soon.

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A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace – John Perry Barlow

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace is a widely distributed early paper on the applicability (or lack thereof) of government on the rapidly growing Internet. It was written by John Perry Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and published online on February 8, 1996, from Davos, Switzerland. It was written primarily in response to the passing into law of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in the United States.

The Great Relationships Reset

The Meta Foresight (formerly Facebook IQ) team conducted research to explore how the demand for deeper human connection has sparked a profound reset in our relationships.

The way we interact changed as a result of the pandemic. As we slowly revert back to a level of normalcy, these trends may lead to permanent shifts. This research suggests ways in which users and audiences may connect in new and future spaces.

Among their key findings:

  • 72% of respondents said that the pandemic caused them to reprioritize their closest friends
  • Young people are most open to using more immersive tech to foster connections (including augmented and virtual reality), though all users indicated that tech will play a bigger role in enhancing personal connections moving forward
  • 37% of people surveyed globally reported reassessing their life priorities as a result of the pandemic

How harmful is social media?

In an earlier issue of DL, we discussed Jonathan Haidt’s essay, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Haidt’s prevailing metaphor in the piece is the story of the Tower of Babel. The rise of social media has unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.

After Haidt’s piece was published, he collaborated with Chris Bail, and a number of researchers on a Google Doc, Social Media and Political Dysfunction: A Collaborative Review, which is now available to the public. The literature review explores whether social media is a major contributor to the rise of political dysfunction seen in the USA and some other democracies since the early 2010s. I’ll unpack and respond to this work in an upcoming post.

How the Internet turned us into content machines

This week I spent some time with Kay Oddone talking about PLNs and the future of connections in digital, social spaces. Oddone and I covered a lot of ground, and the discussion left me with a ton of questions. While I’ve been reflecting, this post came through my feed.

The post discusses how we deal with an overwhelming flow of content in our lives. The post discusses “cultural capital” (how particular tastes and reference points confer status) and “content capital” (an aptitude for creating the kind of content that the Internet feeds upon). Lastly, the post disrupts this thinking with the idea of “content resisters” (people who might consume vinyl records and photocopied zines instead of Spotify and Instagram). This post has me thinking about how and why we share online.

The more you use the Internet, the more your individuality warps into a brand, and your subjectivity transforms into an algorithmically plottable vector of activity.

The Case for Making Classrooms Phone-Free

Tyler Rablin recently reflected in a Twitter thread on his changing stance toward allowing students to use cell phones in the classroom.

Rablin expands on this in a post for EdSurge in which he discusses the challenges of working with students that crave immediate attention. The post integrates thinking from Kelly McGonigal‘s willpower fatigue and James Clear‘s atomic habits to make the case.

The End

Audrey Watters indicated this week that she is shutting down the Hack Education Weekly Newsletter (HEWN), and all related social media. Watters indicates that she’ll continue to write on her personal website.

Audrey’s work has influenced much of my thinking over the years and I am immensely thankful for the inspiration.

The Art of Listening

I think I’m a horrible listener. I listen intently and believe that I am empathetic. But, after a conversation has concluded, I reflect on the number of times I jumped in to offer a response.

This post by M. M. Owen suggests that bad listening signals to the people around you that you don’t care about them. Owen also highlights the effort that it takes to actively listen to others.

…the basic challenge of listening is this: consciousnesses are isolated from one another, and there are thickets of cognitive noise between them. Cutting through the noise requires effort. Listening well ‘requires that we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us.’ This empathic leap is a real effort. It is much easier to judge another’s point of view, analyze it, categorize it. But to put it on, like a mental costume, is very hard.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

Ian Fleming

More from John Perry Barlow…this time on the pursuit of emptiness.

Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness. – Chuang-tzu (369-286 B.C.)

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