Let 2018 Be the Year

A somber and sober New Year’s reflection on the increasing cynicism this last year of chaos and conformity has wrought.

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Like the rest of you who remain tethered to glowing screens, this year has left me feeling constantly frayed. And like many others, my view of the internet, with its once attendant optimism for the future, has grown increasingly cynical.

I’ve been busy, of course, but peeling away that inevitable excuse, there’s also this to point to for my reticence in writing.

To write, to really write, is to break momentarily free from all that has come before to forge a pathway into the heart of darkness. To rediscover and lay bare the ancient byways that were already there.

But really, we — I — should have known better. Nothing is ever truly proffered for free. Every time we log into a browser, tap into an app, and affix our gaze onto a screen, our every click and swipe and clack of a key is harvested and mined for every last life drop of data. As William S. Burroughs, a professional junkie who would know, once said:

Beware of whores who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. What they mean is that they want more money; much more.

It all seems so banal, at first. But what a Faustian bargain it is. We grow not only reliant upon these ephemeral feeds, but addicted. The declension from creator to consumer occurs so subtly that we can almost convince ourselves that we are still creative gods as we color in prescribed, personalized templates administered to us in a drip line from the inner algorithms of a Forbidden City.

Those who control the data, who can mine them for patterns that will narrow the probabilistic outcomes for any given successive moments of time, grow stronger with every reinvestment of attention that we bestow within their encircled domains.

Yet here I am, freely spilling my branded pixels forth onto this particular platform which will be willingly disseminated via instant post grams in the hope that it may gain a stranger’s fleeting approval. So I keep clicking, and feeding, and posturing.

I — we — must still hope for something redemptive. Some Neo love Jesus transmutation that will imbue the raw bestiality of humanity with some kind of higher purpose and meaning.

But I know, we know, you know

that the greatest of power and riches lies within.

However trite, this is a diamond truth forged by star song. So long as this is kept just beyond immediate attention, we fumble in bonds.

Let 2018 be the year in which you and I and we dig closer to the inner flame for longer periods of time for a greater amount of good.

Pawns

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Pawn in the Form of an Indian Lady, Courtesy of The Met
“anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. . .
For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.
. . .even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens.”
 You Are the Product, John Lanchester / London Review of Books

Our everyday contingent on obscure factors

…we’ve invited technical standards bodies, national- and supranational-level regulators, and shadowy hackers into the innermost precincts of our lives. As a result, our ability to perform the everyday competently is now contingent on the widest range of obscure factors—things we’d simply never needed to worry about before, from the properties of the electromagnetic spectrum and our moment-to-moment ability to connect to the network to the stability of the software we’re using and the current state of corporate alignments.

A Sociology of the Smartphone on Longreads

Liking leads unto despair

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By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”

A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-new-more-rigorous-study-confirms-the-more-you-use-facebook-the-worse-you-feel

The return on investment is huge

“This is the holy grail of advertising,” says Saleem Alhabash, an assistant professor at Michigan State University. A consumer has “a particular need or motivation at this particular moment in time, and you are giving them messages that feed exactly to what they’re feeling. The return on investment is huge.”

https://www.wired.com/2017/05/welcome-next-phase-facebook-backlash/

The Battle for Your Mind

“Abfeuern von Propagandaschriften von der 1.Linie bei Infanterieregiment 49” by K.u.k. Kriegspressequartier, Lichtbildstelle – Wien is licensed under PDM 1.0

“The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

—Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa, “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War” – The New Yorker

“The term ‘propaganda’ has been replaced by ‘a behavioral approach to persuasive communication with quantifiable results.’ “

—Tamsin Shaw, “Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind” – The New York Review of Books

“the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.”

—William Davies, “How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next” – The Guardian

Reading is Knowledge

When he was still in juvenile hall, a friend who was in prison elsewhere sent him the “Mexica Handbook”—a tiny book, the size of a cell phone, about the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and the colonial plantations that had conscripted and subdued the native populations. Murillo began to understand that his people had a history, and he read that the Mayans were not primitives: they had astrologers and architects and high priests. After he read the “Mexica Handbook,” he decided to read whatever he could get his hands on. At first, he read the kind of genre fiction that was available in the shu: Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Dan Brown. But one day when he was out in the yard—in solitary, the “yard” was a small concrete enclosure that had high walls but was open to the sky—a man on the other side of a wall told him that he should stop reading crap and get some good books from the prison library. After that, Murillo had many conversations with the man about books, although he never saw his face.

The man told him to start with Voltaire’s “Candide.” Murillo read it, and was amazed at how resonant it was—its depiction of the slave sounded very similar to what he’d heard about sweatshops. He came across a list of American novels with social-justice themes, and he read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” He read “Don Quixote” and “Les Misérables.” He read about the Zapatistas, and about how the Spanish had pillaged Latin America.

When he first got to Pelican Bay, he became enthralled by a book called “The 48 Laws of Power”: “I was thinking, Yo, I’m gonna be a fucking smart-ass criminal. When I go home, I’m gonna set up this drug empire and I’m gonna fucking make bank.” But, as he read more deeply in the book, he began to hate it. He still wanted power, but he no longer wanted to get it by stomping on another guy’s neck. He read about Zen Buddhism, and that made him feel that he didn’t need money anymore. And, as he started reading more about the history of Latin America, he stopped believing that his life was a random card dealt to him by fate: he started to think about politics, and about how the way his life had unfolded was partly the consequence of systematic inequality.

, “BUILDING A PRISON-TO-SCHOOL PIPELINE” in The New Yorker