Offense and the Algorithm

As someone who works with objects and digital customization, this article really stood out to me. The Amazon seller Solid Gold Bomb uses algorithms to make variations on popular memes such as the “Keep Calm and Carry On” teeshirt. There was huge backlash however when a shirt appeared on Amazon that read: “Keep Calm and Rape A lot”. Other offensive, violent combinations cropped up as well.

The company apologized by saying it was the algorithm, and they didn’t support these view points, etc, etc. But I think we need to take control of the machines we build. If you programmed a walking robot to walk in a straight line and crush everything in its path, you would need to answer for the inevitable trampling.

As our technologies get more effective, we have more of a responsibility toward them. Otherwise we will be left with even more spam and crap, as it begins to encroach on the physical spaces of our lives.

I’ve been trying to make very thoughtful objects, using the internet to make them more dynamic and interesting. I find this algorithmic teeshirt to be antithetical to what I am trying to achieve, but eerily similar.

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What I’ve been up to

I haven’t been very great at keep up with this blog, but here are some things I’ve been following online.

This TED talk is really great and follows a man who invents 100 artists (and their bodies of work). He has some good ideas about what makes good, accessible art. He also believes that good art should be accessible.

And in terms of conversational back channels, this article entitled “When Twitter Attacks” is an interesting conversation about how displaying tweets at an event may go wrong.

Well, time to live tweet class.

Hipsters on Food stamps – Education, the great equalizer?

I first hear about this article, titled “Hipsters on Food stamps”, from reading a response to it (which I’ll get to). In this piece, Salon follows several young people in Baltimore who are spending their food stamps on wild caught fish and organic vegetables. You might think that people living in poverty making an effort to eat well is commendable, but many of the commenters evidently don’t.

Because these young people have degrees, and are “artistic” (apparently, hipsters), people seem to not believe their poverty is legitimate. Of course, young people everywhere are piling up debt to avoid the choices the subjects of this article have been forced to. To look around my social group, I don’t find this article shocking.

This response borders on unintelligible at times (an editor would have been useful), but raises the education system as a culprit in this mess. Or rather, the way our culture tends to over value higher education and the salary benefits it will provide in our professional lives. This response blames capitalism in general, and the way we value different types of labour.

Either way, we live in a culture that has fundamentally failed young people. We have been told education is the great equalizer, but find ourselves tethered to massive debts and without meaningful work. With this assignment, me and Pater aim to explore the life of a character who is stuck in this predicament. Samuel Flint is highly educated, but his skills aren’t relevant to the world around him. Either way, the collection agencies are going to call.

Perhaps creating this character is condescending in some way — but I hope no one takes it as such. Our culture needs to create new kinds of work, and while this isn’t a solution, its part of a conversation.

The True Price of Free

In class, copyleft, copyright infringement and the like have come up several times. These ideas are clearly very threatening to the status quo, as Aaron Swartz, activist and “hacker” (or python-script runner) discovered when he tried to liberate articles from behind JSTOR’s paywall.

He was doggedly pursued by the US federal government, facing up to 35 years in prison. This month, at 26, he took his own life. If you haven’t read about his story, I urge you to.

I found this article interesting, discussing how Aaron’s crimes were taken so seriously, while mortgage fraud leading up to the 2008 financial crisis has never been criminally pursued.

The Story of Samuel Flint: A Millennial Tragicomedy in Three Profiles

The problem me and Peter decided to tackle is the prevalence of unemployment after graduation. We didn’t work out who exactly our character is, but we decided they have a PHD in Philosophy.

I think it would be interesting to look at this from an angle of lives lived publicly online; this character would be tragically unprofessional on twitter, facebook and instagram, say. I am thinking, “Getting drunk at 2pm on a Tuesday #IE money”. And let’s say they link their twitter on linkdin. This would be an exploration of both the ways millennials have been failed, and the ways in which we fail ourselves.

I am thinking Scott Pilgrim meets Hannah Horvath. A lazy, charming and deeply flawed 20-something who just can’t get it together.