I Give Up: A Journey to Not Caring About Copyright

Post a link to the page(s) on your site containing Creative Commons or public domain material in the #activities channel on Slack, with a brief note about how/why you attributed them the way you did.

Public Domain

#1 Composition in red, yellow, blue and black. 1926. oil on canvas.

I chose this piece that I had already pinned on my art board on Pinterest. I saved it from a site that shows the copyright info, for the sake of having the other information accessible. I didn’t have to attribute it because its in the public domain, probably because of its age.  But Pinterest is a perfect example of how the Internet has rendered copyright obsolete, because I feel a sense of ownership over every piece on this board and how its arranged, regardless of the copyright status.

I don’t really have any videos saved on Pinterest. That left me looking through media websites like Pond5. It offers a lot of neat stuff, but the problem with public domain in my opinion is that it does not allow one to find material for modern subjects. For example, I couldn’t find any public domain clips under a search for “smartphone”. Also, even the clips of men in bowler hats had some complications from the fact that a work can be released into the public domain while the recording of the work is not, so I just scrapped the idea. I am really starting to hate copyright laws. Time to put forth the effort to find works in Creative Commons….

…and I give up.

#2: Duck and Cover commercial 

You know, that commercial that hilariously underestimates how terrible a nuclear bomb would be.

I wonder how many hours of human time and how much energy has been wasted on trying to find just the right thing in the public domain. My moment was when I realized that a band I like offers her music under Creative Commons. I must attribute it to Hungry Lucy.

And yes, I chose that song because it fits the mood.

Here’s a painting by one of my favorite artists. Still pretty neat and copyright free.  I suddenly understand why every office has an obligatory work by Monet. It must be so much cheaper to print these than to print new art, making it more profitable since they sell for about the same price, and more affordable to customers. Now I wonder if everyone really likes this, or if I even like it, rather than just being forced to like it because Impressionist paintings are everywhere thanks to their lack of copyright (as opposed to modern art, which probably is still copyrighted).

Okay, one more public domain item to go. The terrifying flowers from hell have convinced me that its worth posting them to be free of this surprisingly awful activity.

If almost everything on the Internet does not provide copyright info, then we can’t reasonably expect people to hunt for this long to find anything that might be useful. So now, if you don’t mind, I will be going through my Pinterest of beautiful pictures with no copyright information of consideration and stream free TV.

If you read only one thing on my blog…

If you see this message, I’m waiting for my blog post to be written by collective intelligence.

Just kidding of course; that’s not something collective intelligence can accomplish. Which is why everyone needs to learn to express themselves in the long, sometimes tedious format of an essay, perhaps now more than ever, because while collective intelligence has always existed, the Internet has enabled a monumental leap our ability to organize and access efforts to utilize the intelligence of the masses with projects such as Wikipedia. But for every skill that has become more crucial, these changes have rendered other skills taught in school antiquated. [1] While there has been plenty of discussion of considering technology’s impact and role in education, very little attention has been paid to how the changing paradigms brought on by technological changes will or should impact education, which is why I chose to discuss these key concepts in the light of that context.

Key Concepts

Concept #1: Connectivism

Closely related is the concept of connectivism. I was surprised to learn that connectivism isn’t merely an Internet buzzword, but a learning theory that is behind the advent of the massive open online course (MOOC). [2] I had no idea this counted as a distinct phenomenon at all! I’ve been using them for years in what felt like a natural consequence of the Internet. Not to say that I did not think they were revolutionary; I have always assumed that the endless possibilities of Internet learning would eventually replace the traditional school structure and reorder the values of education.

Concept #2: Rhizomatic Learning

If connectivism is the theory, rhizomatic learning is the approach to take to enable collective intelligence via connectivism education theory that emphasizes the formation of connections and context utilizing the Internet’s ability to provide connection and context for information. [3]

Concept #3: Cognitive Surplus

Defined as the free time that people have to engage in intellectual work for the greater good, cognitive surplus is the generalized result of collective intelligence being harnessed.

Implications

With these ideas changing the world, it seems to me that the education system ought to reflect the situation. In the Information Age, people do not need to go to large-scale institutions to learn knowledge and skills. Therefore, public education should shift focus to teaching people to engage with multiple sources of information critically and with one another. In other words, we should use the power of collective intelligence and cognitive surplus, considering the theories and methods of connectivist education with the aim of engaging in rhizomatic learning. In a book by the author who coined the term cognitive surplus, he states:

“As the Internet radically reduces the costs of collective action for everyone, it will transform the relationship between ordinary individuals and the large, hierarchical institutions that were a dominant force in 20th-century societies”.

It perfectly sums up how I felt during most of my time in public school. While I did learn some valuable things, I feel my time would have been better spent learning without the brute force of a hierarchical institution putting limits on what information could be accessed when and how, how that information was to be interpreted and shared, etc. Sure, they might pull out some fancy technology for us to communicate with one another, ask for summaries of 140 characters or less, or tote the fact that they use online textbooks. But all of this misses the point–people don’t love to use the Internet because of its shiny screens, the challenge of packing words into 140 characters, or the mere fact that information is on a screen instead of on paper; people love the Internet as a technology that enables a more intuitive approach to learning what we want to learn, when and how we want to learn it, and usually much more efficiently and cheaply since resources are often provided by collective intelligence. For students and educators alike, I feel all of this needs to be discussed in the context of how schooling.

And although I don’t have space or time to present a full argument about it at this very moment, I do want to provide links to read about the subject further along with my admittedly gimmick-y headlines about them.

School in Mexico Gives Unfettered Internet Access and It Actually Turns Out Great

Democratic Schooling: A Good Structure to Replace Our Factory Education Model

Unschooling: the Homeschooling Method Where Kids are Teachers

Twitter archive analysis

Looking back, I don’t love my approach to the Ad Profiles activity. Instead of just putting charts of numbers, I decided to do a “word cloud” that accounts for how often certain words appear using my downloaded Twitter archive. I chose Wordsift.org of the many options for free word cloud generators because it offers more advanced analysis of the text, which has actually been used to look at “real” texts like the I Have a Dream Speech.

The word count of everything I entered was a surprisingly low 1,338, so I cut the number of words displayed in the word cloud to 133 to make it about 10% of the total.

Overview of Stats from Word Sift

Lexical Density 58.8%

Lexical density is just the number of content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) relative to the total word count. For comparison, this number tends to be between 55% and 58% for Wikipedia and newspapers. [1] I feel very respectable for beating the typical newspaper, although I wonder if this counts links as content words or not.

Automated Readability Index 7.9

The Automated Readability Index (ARI) estimates how “readable” a text is with a mathematical formula accounting for total characters, words, and sentences used. Again, I am not sure where it stands concerning links. Either way, I am not too disappointed that either way, the level would be around the level of a typical 2nd-3rd grade in the US, as this is pretty usual for a Twitter feed and one of the great things about Twitter. But it makes me rethink the fact that so much of our political conversation seems to be happening on Twitter, including through the President, because that means we literally converse about these important subjects at the grade school level. For instance, using trumptwitterarchive.com, I found the ARI for the tweets on “fake news” were firmly placed at the first grade level on average (with no links to obfuscate results).

Average Grade Level 9.6

Again, it may seem unimpressive, but I was startled to find that the average reading level in America by some measures is only the equivalent of Grade 8. As I mentioned, one of their sample texts is the I Have a Dream Speech, which was determined to have an Average Grade Level of 10.1.

In conclusion, my Twitter feed seems to have a surprisingly high level of writing. I am pleased with this aspect.

Subject Matter

I seem to tweet a lot more in anger or frustration than I thought. I didn’t do any stats on the mood of different Tweets, but I got the general vibe that a lot of my Tweets were not about happy subjects based on the recurrence of terms like “seriously”, “wrong”, and “Trump”. Not representative of me, just of the me that actually bothers to Tweet anything.

However, I was surprised to see the greatest number of my tweets seemed to have been for my Digital Storytelling class last summer. I’m going to delete everything except my best work from that course, which will hopefully make my Twitter look a little less like a class project and more like an actual human being’s thoughts. I may redo this activity for the final week of the course to see how effectively I change my Twitter.

Advertiser profiles: by the Numbers

A lot of people seemed to gain insight from the advertiser profiles activity last week.

I had already seen how Facebook profiles my interests while poking around my account settings one day, but it didn’t startle me because I associate Facebook with a distinct lack of privacy. I go there to talk to family and scroll past people’s endless baby pictures; Facebook isn’t exactly the cool kid hangout it was the year I joined (2009, if you’re wondering). So I planned to just write about that. Only out of curiousity did I look at my profile on Twitter, which turns out to be shockingly in-depth and accurate for a site I barely use. My profile contained 60 Interests. I didn’t really start using Twitter regularly until last summer when I took a course called Digital Storytelling that required its use.

I decided it was possible that it just looks like they’ve profiled me well because of confirmation bias—basically, I was looking to see if they knew a lot about me, and therefore I found that they seemed to— which led me to the idea of using math to show how much they got right.

Overall, I saw a lot of trends to consider before moving forward. I grouped the interests accordingly.

ENTERTAINMENT

  1. Action and adventure
  2. Celebrity fan and gossip
  3. Comedy (inexplicably appears twice on Twitter’s list)
  4. Humor
  5. Independent
  6. Indie spotlight
  7. Literature
  8. Mobile
  9. Movie news and general info
  10. Movies
  11. Music news and general info
  12. Reality TV
  13. Rock
  14. Rock/Alt
  15. Television

 

NEWSERTAINMENT

  1. Books news and general info
  2. Business and finance
  3. Business and news
  4. Business news and general info
  5. Financial news
  6. Politics and current events
  7. Foreign
  8. Gov Officials & Agencies
  9. Government
  10. News

 

BEAUTY & FASHION

  1. Dresses and skirts
  2. Fashion
  3. Shopping
  4. Women’s accessories
  5. Women’s bags
  6. Women’s tops

 

ARTISTIC HOBBIES

  1. Arts and crafts
  2. Drama
  3. Music
  4. Painting
  5. Photography
  6. Jewelry
  7. Jewelry making

 

CAREER

  1. Biotech and biomedical
  2. Physics

 

SCIENCE FICTION & FUTURISM

  1. Computer networking
  2. Computer programming
  3. Computer reviews
  4. Documentary
  5. Entrepreneurship
  6. Sci-fi and fantasy (appears twice)
  7. Science news
  8. Space
  9. Space and astronomy
  10. Startups
  11. Tech News (appears twice)
  12. Technology
  13. World

 

HEALTH

  1. Health
  2. Health news and general info
  3. Health, mind, and body

 

INCORRECT

  1. Dance/Electronic
  2. Electronic

 

The breakdown is as follows:

 

TOPIC Count % of Predicted Interests % of Interests Minus Repeats & Incorrect Predicted Interests Average
ENTERTAINMENT 15 26% 27% 26%
NEWSERTAINMENT 10 17% 18% 18%
BEAUTY & FASHION 6 10% 11% 11%
ARTISTIC HOBBIES 7 12% 13% 12%
CAREER 2 3% 4% 4%
SCIENCE FICTION & FUTURISM 13 22% 23% 23%
HEALTH 3 5% 5% 5%
INCORRECT 2 3% 4% 4%

 

I have to admit, I breathed a little sigh of relief when I noticed that three of my interests appeared twice in the same wording, and pretty much everything fell into basic groups. Twitter doesn’t seem to know that much about me. On the other hand, it shows the depth with which they know me that they can figure out how much I like things. The two incorrect interests appeared only once, while the most accurate ones appeared multiple times.

After deleting the incorrect interests, my initial reaction is that I’m not necessarily uncomfortable with the whole world knowing this information about me. Most of it is fairly innocuous, but it’s a little disconcerting nonetheless. I’m most uncomfortable with how gendered my interests may seem to an outsider. I do not consider myself stereotypically feminine, yet you would likely guess that I am cisgender, heteronormative female based upon these interests. Of 60 interests listed and 57 unique interests (that is, discounting those that were repeated), I found 13 were either stereotypically feminine or overwhelmingly interests of women (or at least interests not of men, if you want to consider their prevalence with other gender identities). Many of these were inaccurate, and their prevalence was disproportionate to my interest in the subjects. It made me wonder whether the information in my feed is curated by Twitter purely based on assumptions about people who check the little box that says “female” on their profile or seem to be female, without consideration to my actual interest in them, and therefore possibly biasing me toward certain interests and worldviews. To be fair, books and other traditional media have also been strictly gendered, causing the same possible problem, but the Internet supposedly existed to create a space that exposed everything instead of catering to people’s biased notions, as discussed previously on my blog.  

DISTINCTLY FEMININE Average of 22% of my interests.

  1. Arts and crafts
  2. Celebrity fan and gossip
  3. Dresses and skirts
  4. Fashion
  5. Jewelry
  6. Jewelry making
  7. Literature
  8. Painting
  9. Reality TV
  10. Shopping
  11. Women’s accessories
  12. Women’s bags
  13. Women’s tops

 

I also found that I am uncomfortable being pigeonholed into being interested in certain topics. For instance, while I love crafts and could very easily have looked up Jewelry DIY projects, I would not classify that as one of my priorities. Meanwhile, I saw nothing relating to my interests in social and economic justice, just what I would classify as “newsertainment”— general appeal news that relies on shock value and suspense to capture your interest, not the kind of informative news that raises awareness of real issues (e.g. CNN-type as opposed to ProPublica). Although I decided to remedy the problem by taking my example to heart and just following ProPublica and the related groups NPR and PBS, I am more disturbed by the possibility that Twitter is influencing me to be more interested in entertaining things that I will reliably click on than what I really should be reading.

Based on my actual priorities, I decided that the actual breakdown should have been something like this:

CAREER 30%

ARTISTIC HOBBIES 20%

BEAUTY & FASHION 15%

SCIENCE FICTION & FUTURISM 15%

HEALTH 10%

ENTERTAINMENT 5%

NEWSERTAINMENT 5%

Based on that, I deleted some interests. Here’s my updated list:

ENTERTAINMENT

  1. Comedy (inexplicably appears twice on Twitter’s list)
  2. Humor
  3. Independent
  4. Indie spotlight
  5. Literature
  6. Rock
  7. Rock/Alt

NEWSERTAINMENT

  1. Politics and current events
  2. Gov Officials & Agencies
  3. Government
  4. News

BEAUTY & FASHION

  1. Fashion
  2. Shopping
  3. Women’s accessories
  4. Women’s tops

ARTISTIC HOBBIES

  1. Arts and crafts
  2. Music
  3. Painting
  4. Photography

CAREER

  1. Biotech and biomedical
  2. Physics

SCIENCE FICTION & FUTURISM

  1. Computer networking
  2. Computer programming
  3. Computer reviews
  4. Documentary
  5. Entrepreneurship
  6. Sci-fi and fantasy (appears twice)
  7. Science news
  8. Space
  9. Space and astronomy
  10. Startups
  11. Tech News (appears twice)
  12. Technology
  13. World

HEALTH

  1. Health
  2. Health news and general info
  3. Health, mind, and body

And my updated breakdown:

 

TOPIC Count % of Predicted Interests % of Interests Minus Repeats & Incorrect Predicted Interests Average Ideal % Breakdown % Difference New Count % Breakdown New % Difference
ENTERTAINMENT 15 26% 27% 26% 5% -136% 7 19% -116%
NEWSERTAINMENT 10 17% 18% 18% 5% -111% 4 11% -74%
BEAUTY & FASHION 6 10% 11% 11% 15% 35% 4 11% 32%
ARTISTIC HOBBIES 7 12% 13% 12% 20% 48% 4 11% 60%
CAREER 2 3% 4% 4% 30% 158% 2 5% 139%
SCIENCE FICTION & FUTURISM 13 22% 23% 23% 15% -41% 13 35% -80%
HEALTH 3 5% 5% 5% 10% 62% 3 8% 21%

 

I plan to do more, but it’s a start. I hope it will make Twitter a more meaningful and productive experience for me, along with the changes I outlined in last week’s blog post.

The “Interests from Partners” info made me a lot more uncomfortable, as it contained some sensitive information, such as a very good guess of my parent’s ages, the groceries I buy, and the used cars I’m looking at, which I really don’t want out in the world on Twitter, much less on this post! Eek. Here’s where you can adjust those settings:

 

Then there’s the “Tailored audiences” for me, which blew me away farther. Apparently I am part of 3535 audiences from 740 advertisers. As I browsed the list, I saw a lot of things I am completely not interested in such as Wells Fargo (a company I despise) and the Koch brothers (people who I despise personally). It seems as if Twitter sends a poorly formatted list in small print just to make it a pain to read and analyze. They also provided the list in the form of usernames, which makes it that much less convenient to find out who is behind some of these names. It was a lot more than I dreamed when I came up with the idea of analyzing everything in depth with numbers. The only thing I can do with these is give a list of the companies I am absolutely not interested in purchasing anything from or being involved with.

@aiginsurance

@amazonkindle

@amctheatres

@americanexpress

@americasnavy

@badmoms

@balancebar

@bananarepublic

@bankofscotbiz

@bbcarabic

@bbcsport

@bbcswahili

@bbcurdu

@capitalone

@capitalonecb

@chickfila

@directv

@directvnow

@disney_uk

 

I found almost 20 of the first 4 letters of my Twitter advertiser list were things I would never be interested in, of a little over 200 items that were in those first 4 letters, making for roughly 10%. It really bothers me now that I cannot change this.

Even if you aren’t interested in doing this activity, I think everyone should take a look at this article that talks about the subject: http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-how-to-see-interests-advertisers-profile-privacy-settings-2017-5

P.S. Just for fun, I also looked at what else Twitter predicted before I went and edited my Interests.

I have to say, I feel the age is “accurate” in the sense that I have a very wide range of interests and often prefer the company and interests of older people!

Notes on Doctorow’s Second Law

Maybe its because I’m used to reading dry science textbooks, but I was compelled by my time with the textbook Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow. In particular, I thought the second part was especially thought-provoking, probably because its salient to me as someone who enjoys creative work (hence the name of my blog). I don’t count on making a living from it, but I did hope to make something by going through a publishing company, and formerly a friend and I tried (unsuccessfully) to start a small zine and at least break even on it. Now I am beginning to rethink that approach.

This made me reflect about the other side of that equation, which is how I find and consume creative works. For instance, I realized that in the olden days before most music was available for free on YouTube, I’d be unwilling to pay for music. I wouldn’t even have discovered most of the music I love, since I find music by browsing instead of recommendations from others. That would have been money lost to the industry for concerts I have attended, and a tragedy for me. Everyone is better off with the music being accessible for free, including YouTube itself. The same applies to joining Facebook, Twitter, and my beloved Pinterest— I began my interest (and borderline addiction for the last one) thanks to having the opportunity to join for free before I was sure the product was worthwhile. Perhaps information should be free not only in principle but in actuality, for the sake of profits for everyone besides telecommunications executives.

Furthermore, I considered how just as in the pre-digital era the cost of production and distribution posed a barrier for artists, today the cost of marketing poses a barrier that prevent other forms of creativity or services to aid creativity from being free online. Basically, the cost of just letting people know something exists and is worth checking out proves challenging in a world overwhelmed by a constant flow of information and access to media. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that there are only a few so-called gatekeepers who dominant aspects of the powerful telecommunications industry results in a situation where only those who can afford to buy favor will be able to leverage the massive audience potential of the Internet, meaning the Internet has only changed the barriers rather than democratizing art the way it ought to.

To me, the solution is a change in behavior on a mass scale. Just like I did last week, I want to outline some meaningful changes I can make:
-Explore channels to discover obscure art, writing, and other creative works such as deviantART or less popular musicians more often.
-Let other people know about good art that exists “outside the system” for lack of a better term. For example, one of my favorites is Hungry Lucy, a talented musician who I discovered through pure chance years ago with only a few thousand views. Here’s a cool song of hers:

-Seriously reconsider some form of self-publishing that does not use the big gatekeepers (or at least, not any one of them exclusively) and licensing it under a Creative Commons license that requires attribution and prevents modification, but allows reprinting, so people can print parts of or whole portions of my poetry anthology and any other books I may write and therefore access them for free to find out if they’re interested. In the process of writing this, I found out that apparently Hungry Lucy also licenses under Creative Commons, which is definitely an influence on me. I am also considering reviving the zine idea, especially Doctorow describes for the zine that eventually became famous after being revived as a blog, but ran into bandwidth issues, since I’m dedicated to doing a paper zine if anything.

Let me know if you come up with any more!

Voyaging into Wikivoyage (and Funny Toilet Signs)

I have been a big fan of Wikipedia for roughly 10 of my 20 years of life. There’s nothing more amazing than humans collectively banding together to help one another for no reason other than a desire to help others and spread knowledge. So I jumped at the chance to do the Wikipedia activity for this class.

I wasn’t quite sure what “a round of substantive edits” should entail, since I found that even some of the articles that were in bad shape the last time I remember seeing them are now better than I could make them. So I decided to focus my energy on some of the more neglected aspects of Wikipedia’s neglected sister project Wikivoyage. It’s been so helpful to my family over the years that I wanted to give back to it specifically.

Here are the pages I updated:

Falls Church, VA— my childhood hometown. I found the page was almost exclusively devoted to extolling the Vietnamese food in this area, which I have never heard of and doubt is the most prominent feature of this community. I’m not exaggerating either— almost all of the food options listed were for Vietnamese food, and one of the drawing factors they described for one place was a funny sign over a toilet! I added some non-Vietnamese places to eat and some history, changed the picture from an image of a sandwich to the city’s trademarked logo, and reformatted things to look more visually pleasing. Overall I am happiest with this result, since I had the most information to offer potential visitors about this area.

Chattanooga, TN— a city where I recently went on vacation and that I find to be a very underrated destination. I added details to the history of the city that I learned when I was there and for the hotel where we stayed.

Calgary, AB, Canada— a city where I enjoyed going on vacation a few years ago. I didn’t see much to add, but I noticed that there were no numbers for emergency services as there were for the other pages. I looked them up and added them.

Before I changed anything, I made cached copies of each page except the Falls Church page using the Wayback Machine, which are linked below. For Falls Church, I made several edits before I came up with this idea, but I took a copy before my second round of edits.

Chattanooga, TN

Calgary, AB, Canada

I encourage everyone to do this for their own hometown/places they’ve been, because right now Wikivoyage is in similarly bad shape to Wikipedia from the olden days.

P.S. I wasn’t sure that I could directly post an image of the Falls Church logo here or on Wikipedia since it recently became trademarked, but I just have to include it. Enjoy the pin of it, via my board On the Road.


Cloud Computing is Internet Magic

The first time my Microsoft Word subscription went out of date felt like a disaster. In the mad rush to find somewhere to type and edit my paper for 7th grade English, I discovered Google Docs. I immediately fell in love with the convenience of it without understanding how it works; I thought it was exactly like Word, storing one’s data on one’s computer, until I saw that my documents were available through my email even at school. That’s the magic of cloud computing, which has revolutionized how people work with data and with one another— so much so that now Microsoft has joined in on the concept.

The “magic” comes from the fact that cloud computing means utilizing the Internet for storing or accessing data as opposed to using local networks of a home or organization such as a school or office. It can get confusing because some network attached storage (NAS) allow for remote access over the Internet, but they still do not count even though they are conceptually similar and functionally almost the same. Its no wonder most people struggle to give more than a nebulous definition of cloud computing, despite widespread reliance on it in recent years. The best explanation I found came from the suggested reading on our class website’s page about writing topics.

There are a few things to know about the cloud:

1 Characteristics

According to Wikipedia, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines five characteristics of cloud computing:

  1. On-demand self-service = the user can access capabilities without human interaction
  2. Broad network access = it’s possible to access via various technologies like mobile phones and laptops
  3. Resource pooling = the computing resources served multiple people, with individual resources being reassigned continuously to multiple individuals in order to match demand
  4. Rapid elasticity = capabilities can be released in response to demand
  5. Measured service = automatically controlled optimization of resource usage by measuring something like storage of bandwidth to inform both the provider and user

To learn more, you can visit the NIST website.

2 Private vs. Public VS. Hybrid

That may seem self-explanatory, but it’s not necessarily intuitive. A public cloud is operated by a provider while a private cloud is operated only by those who use it and using a private network. However, information on a public cloud can be private to individuals or publicly viewable through the Internet, and information on a private cloud may be located somewhere else and hosted by third-parties. Another option is a hybrid cloud, utilizing both a private and a public component, utilizing the benefits of both.

3 Types

All are defined by what type of service they are. The following public domain graphic from Wikipedia explains it concisely.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_computing_layers.png

 

Overall, I am glad to have discovered so much about the topic. Cloud computing really has been a blessing for me, making me much more productive and organized than I could be otherwise.

Thoughts on Representation

After doing the Representation activity, I decided to focus my writing for this week on the same subject while my thoughts and feelings are fresh. I found myself eager to read through all the articles so I could try to understand why the Internet seems to be so lacking in minorities and women. Of them, I am the most interested in Why I’m Masquerading As A White Bearded Hipster Guy On Twitter (Despite Being a Black Woman). I have very conflicting feelings on the whole idea. On the one hand, I can see why she decided to stick with that to avoid abuse. I have had many sexist, racist, and ugly words thrown at me on Internet discussions. In spite of my thick skin, it has gotten to me sometimes. But I hate to think of contributing to erasing diversity on the Internet in this way. Its especially a shame because in certain kinds of discussions end up being dominated by men because of social norms, aggression, and stereotypes dictating what men and women should be interested in and how they should behave; the Internet should be the great equalizer that allows for a more balanced discussion.

I felt similarly conflicted about the idea of purposefully not retweeting men for a year to allow women’s voices to be heard. I like to think everything should be based on merit alone. Yet the observations in this piece suggest that women did have many worthy things to say once she actually considered amplifying female voices.

Although neither of these approaches are right for me, I am inspired to try to be mindful about how I can use the Internet to amplify diversity when it comes to sex and race. I have always been the type to address diversity of views by bringing up uncommon viewpoints or experiences online, so this seems like a logical extension of what I already do, inspired by the knowledge of how far the Internet has to go toward diversity. I am going to try three simple changes:

1 Use emojis of darker skin tones and female whenever possible, which makes sense since it reflects what I look like in real life.

2 Try to follow one woman or tweet a female-dominated topic for every man I follow or retweet on Twitter

The article about retweeting men linked to this article on the hashtag  inspired me to look into that specifically as well.

3 Try to pin more diverse content on my Pinterest, where my two main boards with humans are not much more diverse than those Google searches from my last post.

Feel free to keep me accountable to making these changes. Because ultimately, I feel the answer to how algorithms amplify bias and stereotypes is that we do not make an effort to make conscious change.

Faces of the Internet: Representation Activity

The “Representation” Activity required us to do the following:

Perform Google image searches for the following terms

Teacher: almost exclusively white women

Professor: almost exclusively white men

Doctor: almost exclusively white men

Nurse: almost exclusively white females

Baby: almost exclusively white

Teenager: almost exclusively white, mainly girls

Criminal: Mostly clip art. When I did a search of faces only, they were disproportionately black, with some individuals who were white, and all men

What is striking about the results? Are you surprised?

What’s striking is how clearly every single search resulted in a “type” of either race or gender, and usually one involving both. Furthermore, the race was always white. I expected some bias in the results, but I expected it to mostly be limited to the searches like “criminal” and “doctor” for race and “nurse” and “doctor” for gender due to real-world differences in who usually holds these titles. But it makes no sense for “baby” to result in mostly white babies.

How are those results “chosen”? Are they meaningful at all? If we wanted to alter the results, what would it take?

It seems to me that the results are chosen based on the most prototypical example of each term, basically meaning whatever people tend to be looking the most often when they search those terms. Based on the fact that America is a nation composed of a white majority, this could explain why the the most typical example of any of these categories results in mostly white individuals. One piece of evidence that suggests this to me is the notable absence of red-headed, freckled, or green-eyed people, all of which are sizable minorities but considered atypical. If this is the case, to alter these results, an effort must be made toward adding diversity in the results and consciously correcting for our tendency to view white the default for everything. Another credible explanation is that the lack of women and racial minorities in fields of technology may explain these results. I read Al Jazeera’s piece on the subject, which discussed an effort to remedy this problem by having users seek to change what appears for a Google Images search of hands. It doesn’t seem to have worked.

Then choose other terms that you think might show the same kinds of patterns in their search results, and search for them. Were your predictions correct? Why (or why not)?

Dead: Interestingly, this turned up one of the more diverse sets of results. I finally saw one Asian face, as well as seeing a mix of men and white women.

Tired: Turned up males and females of various ages, but all white.

Female doctor: I searched this wondering if eliminating males would result in more diverse results. Well I was disappointed–it was still almost exclusively white.

Male nurse: Relatively diverse results.

And on a happy note,

Beautiful: Very diverse results including multiple minority groups.

My predictions were mostly correct. What surprised me is that even when there were black people represented, it was mostly men as far as I remember. Scott Westerfeld’s novel So Yesterday actually makes note of this phenomenon, dubbing it the “missing black woman trio” phenomenon. I thought it was just an exaggeration, but now I’m convinced. Most strikingly, as I predicted based on the results of the previous set of searches, there are almost no Asians, Hispanics, or Native Americans that stand out from the results. Suddenly I understand the “issues” component of this course.

Overall, it’s a sobering lesson on how much white really seems to be the norm on the Internet. But it’s nothing new. For instance, the technology of color film also once had a racist history.

Hopefully the Internet can grow more diverse in the future, just as film eventually did. Until then, we need to be mindful of this reality.

Realizations about the Internet Age

Whenever I need to feel old enough, I remind myself that I lived a significant portion of my life without internet access. For approximately the first 7 years of my life, I had never been on the Internet. Later, we had dial-up, a form of the Internet so useless I don’t remember using it except to look at ecards (remember when those were popular?), usually interrupted by one of my parents needing to use the telephone or fax machine.

A fax machine just like the one we used to have, found via Wikimedia Commons by Miguel Durán

So it struck me particularly hard when I read The Internet: Everything You Need to Know, especially when I realized that it was written during a time that I still consider to be part of my “childhood” — the year 2010 was almost a decade ago— someone was already considering how and when the Internet had already become ubiquitous in our lives. I can’t figure out just when it happened to me personally, just that it happened somewhere in between these events. Was it the year I got my first email address? My first use of Google? The first YouTube video I ever saw? (And incidentally where I reached the milestone of learning my first “bad” word.) It’s even harder to pinpoint for society. If I sound old and nostalgic, then you’d hate to hear my boyfriend wax poetic about when instead of YouTube, kids watched Albino Blacksheep during sleepovers— and don’t even get me started on his own father, who fondly recalls the “Wild West” of unregulated online forums.
The author of the article, John Naughton, makes the excellent point that almost all of our reflection on the Internet has been negative. In each instance of nostalgia above one can see that we think our first glimpse of the Internet to be superior to the Internet of today. But despite its flaws, the experience of using the Internet also has many positives that have been deliberately understated by other media. We hardly stop to think how incredible all of this is. I believe that in the future we will find that it wasn’t our fault for being so enamored with the Internet that it resulted in a less productive generation with attention issues, the same way it wasn’t the fault of our grandparent’s generation for becoming habitual smokers at a time when doctors would go on TV and endorse cigarette brands. E.g.

Which is to say two things. First, we’re blessed that this is the historical reality we are born into, rather than smoking, legal slavery, or any number of things that were once quickly turned into realities before their consequences could be realized. Secondly, it’s time to study how the Internet reflects on useffects that the Internet is having on us, and what the future might hold. That’s what I hope to gain from the course The Internet: Technology, Information, and Issues through University of Mary WashingtonFor instance, the Introduction in our reading of Net Smart describes the pathways of the Internet increasingly being gated by corporations and governments with interest in controlling digital property, while Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free describes how the very nature of the Internet has people rethinking old systems of intellectual property ownership, a topic I had already become aware of thanks to this video:

Furthermore, we read from Twitter and Tear Gas (which is available for free online), which discusses the first major political disruption that was attributed to the Internet: the so-called “Arab Spring” that began in 2011. Seriously, the book says

An Egyptian friend of mine would later joke that this must have been the first time in history when a person could actually join a revolution by clicking on “I’m Attending” in response to a Facebook e-vite.

Historical awareness of what’s happening in this era can allow us to better face the challenge of making the Internet and related technologies a positive force on the world and an equally great one for everyone.

N.B. I updated this blog post from the first week of the course with the new information gained from reading Twitter and Tear Gas since it was listed as part of this week’s readings and suggested for this writing assignment topic, added some new thoughts and insights gained along the way, and added more media and links, including links to some blog posts I’ve published since I first published this one. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, this post has been edited for grammar/usage and clarity of language.

Fun Update: Albino Blacksheep is apparently still a thing, except now it uses YouTube Videos. Go figure!