Uncomfortable and Inconvenient Truths

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #375.

I worked on the following this week:

  • Noah Hawley’s Dystopian Thriller Anthem – A Review – Noah Hawley‘s latest novel Anthem offers a disturbing yet captivating vision of a near-future America plagued by political strife, climate disaster, and teenage suicide.
  • The Power of Empathy in an Age of Division – In my recent review of Noah Hawley’s novel Anthem, I touched on some powerful themes that the book explores, including mental health issues in youth, trauma’s lingering impacts, and the importance of human connection in healing societal rifts. What can we learn from Anthem and other works about cultivating empathy in an age of division?
  • The Digital Commonplace Book: Challenges and Opportunities in the Information Age – Developing a personal system to effectively collect, organize, and retrieve relevant content is an evolving art. What are some of the key challenges and opportunities of creating a digital commonplace book?

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JuMBOs: A new type of astronomical object?

In new, high-resolution imagery of the star-forming region, scientists spotted worlds that defied explanation, naming them Jupiter Mass Binary Objects (JuMBOs).

JuMBOs appear to be a smaller class of gaseous objects. While brown dwarfs can grow to about 13 times the mass of Jupiter, the new objects can get as small as about half the planet’s mass, with temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They are separated by about 200 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, orbiting each other on paths that take more than 20,000 years to complete.

PRIME: prestigious, in-group, moral and emotional information

People’s interactions with online algorithms on social media platforms have a significant impact on how they learn from others, leading to negative consequences such as social misperceptions, conflict, and the spread of misinformation. These algorithms are designed to amplify information that sustains PRIME engagement. This amplification can lead to dysfunction and a mismatch between human psychology and algorithm design, resulting in incorrect perceptions, false polarization, and the spread of misinformation.

Why this matters. There is a need for further study to understand the outcomes of algorithm-mediated social learning and to develop algorithm designs that foster accurate human social learning.

Freedom is less free

Freedom on the Net is Freedom House’s annual survey and analysis of internet freedom around the world. The latest report focuses on how advances in artificial intelligence are increasing the scale, speed, and efficiency of digital repression. Explore Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence.

Why this matters. The impact of AI-generated disinformation will deepen as the quality and quantity of the technology’s output continues to exceed the capacity of observers, moderators, or regulators to detect, debunk, or remove it.

23andMe…and you…and you…and you…

BleepingComputer reported that hackers used stolen credentials and one of 23andMe’s own features to find and scrape data from millions of accounts.

As many as 7 million accounts may be in the sale, PCMag reported on Wednesday, citing a post from Dark Web Informer that shared screenshots of another now-deleted hacker forum post. That’s roughly half the total number of users on 23andMe’s platform. According to ArsTechnica, hackers claimed that 23andMe’s CEO knew about the leaked data two months prior but didn’t disclose the incident.

Why this matters. What are the broader implications of this breach for genetic privacy and security, and what steps can individuals and companies take to prevent similar incidents in the future?


A surge in book bans across the United States has been linked to the website BookLooks.org, which bills itself as “a busy parent’s quick reference to objectionable material your child or young adult may be reading.” What appears to be an objective measure of a book’s content, mirrored after movie ratings, is anything but. The site, which was launched in 2022 and is associated with the right-wing political activist group Moms for Liberty, has become a resource for parents and activists seeking to ban books, particularly those about LGBTQ+ issues or racism, from school and public libraries. Moms for Liberty is the controversial organization that was listed as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Despite claims from BookLooks that it does not support book banning, its reviews have been cited in numerous attempts to remove books from libraries across the country.

Why this matters. Reports of indoctrination, propaganda, and allegedly pornographic materials lurking on public institution bookshelves have prompted fringe activists and government officials to take to social media, organize meet-ups, and rile up their constituencies.

Symptoms and Structures

danah boyd on “Fahrenheit 451”, book burning, censorship and the role of screens in society. In Bradbury’s dystopian world, screens are used as a substitute for other restricted forms of expression and are meant to pacify the masses.

Why this matters. Fahrenheit 451 is a powerful story that highlights the harmful effects of book censorship and the suppression of knowledge. However, it also prompts us to examine the underlying conditions that allow such repression to exist. While it may be tempting to solely focus on combating the visible consequences, author Ray Bradbury encourages us to delve deeper and understand the interconnected factors at play.

3 Things to Do If You Can’t Stop Thinking About That Thing You Said

If you find yourself constantly dwelling on embarrassing things you’ve said, there are three practical strategies you can use to let go of those thoughts.

  • Break free from your critical thoughts with “cognitive defusion.” The skill of noticing thoughts for what they are rather than getting caught up in them is known as “cognitive defusion,”
  • Practice self-compassion. By having a more self-compassionate worldview, you live with less shame and anxiety, which leads to a more peaceful and fulfilling life
  • Write out your thoughts—but do it strategically. One of the best ways to cope with a repetitive thought or memory is to address the emotional response and beliefs it brings up, she says, and writing down what you’re thinking and feeling is a good way to do that

Solidarity is an attitude of resistance, I suppose, or it should be.

Christopher Hitchens

Cover Photo CC BY using Playground AI

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