On uselessness

First in the era of America Online, and then in the era of LiveJournal and micro-blogging, the internet was at least partly an escape. It was a place where the boundaries of real life, in which everything was more or less a job interview, could be sloughed off and one could imagine the internet as a quiet, uninhabited space of whispered intimacies. In this era of hyper-usefulness, what seems rarest and most valuable online are spaces that offer, however illusorily, a return to this original uselessness. There are places where, against the constant obligation to be seen and remembered, we might get to be unseen, unrecorded, and forgotten.
— Helena Fitzgerald @ The Verge
Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/18/1736652...

For a good time, read

Kaitlyn Tiffany is my favorite writer at The Verge, because she's sharp, funny, and charming and appreciates many random, unrelated things with enthusiasm. (!! An important habit / skill.) Also because she loves blogs. As who doesn't? Blogs are the best. Here she is with an appreciation of—what else—Martha Stewart as "the perfect blogger":

Martha isn’t stuck in the past. She loves Facebook Live (see this “FBL” art she made out of blueberries), and she has one of the wittiest and strangest Twitter accounts you’re likely to find. But she realizes and respects the long-forgotten secret about blogging — that blogs are as much about the act as they are about the content, and that consistency and longevity are the only qualities in blogging worth respecting. Anyone can write about the first peacock they buy. Only a world-class blogger will write about every peacock they purchase and every thing that happens to each one. Anyone can share a personal story in hopes of aiding someone with a menial task. Only a truly exceptional blogger will do that every day for over 3,000 days and show no signs of stopping. Martha, possibly, has done her research and knows that blogging consistently is good for you. In any case, she made the promise of being there, and she has followed up.

p.s. yay blogs!

See also: the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter, the memes of Trump's first 100 days, 10 things you can learn from a terrible twitter account, using Mike Huckabee as the medium's bête noire ("Here’s a tweet that doesn’t have a hashtag. You can see how it’s better."), my winter happy place is Sarah Jessica Parker's weird, gross Instagram, I have owned a Fitbit for one day

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/3/15521142...

More like this

My current Twitter account has been active since 2010, but I delete my tweets on a regular basis and all I really use it for anymore is liking things. You know how they ("they") always say you should listen more than you talk? That's me and liking things on Twitter; my like-to-tweet-ratio right now is 17,000 to 1:

I have a theory that you can learn more about a person by what they like on Twitter than what they actually tweet on Twitter, although that theory falls apart a little when you realize what's being liked are tweets. I suppose that's unavoidable. I still like my theory, though: it's both free and self-reinforcing. Jason Kottke (of kottke.org fame) used to have a tool called Stellar that pulled in likes from Twitter feeds, and it was my favorite way to follow anybody on Twitter. It's dead now, like the future of America, but I'm still a flagrant liker of anything involving wordplay, the worthy comeuppance of knuckleheads, small displays of heartwarming humanity, wicked Trump burns, or furry animals:

It's a good habit to have, liking things, even though the world is a shithole. I pat myself on the back for it all the time.

Call of the wild

We are trying to paper over moral arguments with mathematical decisions.
— Cathy O'Neil @ Postlight: "Cathy O'Neil Hates Your Big Data"

I went to an event tonight at Postlight, a digital product studio down in the Flatiron district. It was a conversation with Cathy O'Neil about her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction (subtitle: "How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy "). 

Let's just say: timely & necessary. She rightly (imho!) dismissed the notion that Facebook and companies of the like are beholden only to the profits fed by their proprietary algorithms: they also have to assume a moral responsibility when those algorithms are tied to the corporal existence of actual human beings. The messy stuff of life will get you every time, as much as mathematicians and data scientists and corporate bottom lines would like to believe otherwise, and benign intentions are no excuse when the data is applied toward unexpected ends. 

Also most algorithms are bullshit. Everybody agreed on that one. And I can confirm because earlier today Facebook revealed that it was basing my ad preferences on the following "hobbies and activities." I mean, who doesn't like to sit around and hear/see/lick/smell/sign things, but calling those "interests" is a step too far.

Supporting materials:

mathbabe: O'Neil's blog + Postlight's Track Changes podcast interview with her last month

Gina Trapani, who conducted the interview, is a web (not literal) giant

I know of Postlight because I know of Paul Ford, who wrote one of my favorite internet pieces, back when people still wrote on the internet

The web of then

We were still years away from Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter and ubiquitous comments sections and instant opinions. Young and bored and creative, we spent our free time (so much free time!) writing, for ourselves, for each other, to each other. That type of free time seems so long ago, now, between our jobs and boring adult problems and the ways the internet mutated to steal more of our time and become a slicker, faster, more anonymous and sometimes crueler place. But until we—and the internet—grew up, we spilled words on a virtual page, clicking “send” because it was faster and cheaper and more instantly gratifying than sending a letter yet, looking back, more quaint and thoughtful and relatively time-consuming compared to the way most of us communicate now.
— Claire Zulkey

I like Snapchat, actually. FYI. The rest can burn in hell.

Source: http://zulkey.com/2016/07/my-long-speech-a...

“The gatekeeper’s duty”

An ode to 3quarksdaily by Thomas Manuel @ The Wire:

Yet these same sites are also examples of total moral capitulation. Underlying the logic of many algorithms is the idea that to find what people want, we need only look for what similar people have wanted. Apart from engendering near total surveillance, a mechanism built around the urgency of giving people what they want ignores the importance (or even the existence) of a responsibility to give people what they might need. This isn’t a surprising stance for profit-driven corporations to take. However, as citizens who value democratic access to resources and knowledge, it’s dangerous to allow ourselves to become complacent with gatekeepers who don’t acknowledge their own roles as stewards or see their power as weighted by responsibility to the community. It’s the logic of giving people what they want that’s made virality the metric for deciding what makes the news and triggered the current race for the bottom that has marked the new culture wars.
Source: http://thewire.in/50451/why-the-web-needs-...

On engagement

But first, Caro had some questions for us: “If you’re publishing on the Internet, do you call them readers or viewers?”

Either, I think. How do you know they're reading it?

There's something called Chartbeat—it shows you how many people are reading a specific article in any given moment, and how long they spend on that article. That's called "engagement time." We have a giant flatscreen on the wall that displays it, a lot of publications do. What you just said is the worst thing I ever heard.