Categories
Business Entrepreneurship Relationships Society

Build a reputation instead of a personal brand

Replied to The personal brand paradox (wepresent.wetransfer.com)

When we position ourselves as a brand, we are forced to project an image of what we believe most people will approve of and admire and buy into. The moment we cater our creativity to popular opinion is the precise moment we lose our freedom and autonomy.

But rather than manufacturing a personal brand, why not build a reputation? Why not develop our character? Imagine what we could learn from each other if we felt worthy as we are instead of who we project ourselves to be.

I think it’s interesting to look at personal brands through the lens of insecurity. I imagine many people think of it as “positioning” or storytelling, but underneath, those are needed if you’re afraid you won’t be enough on your own.

I think it can be helpful to consider personal branding as a form of self discovery, a tool to help determine what you want to do, but there can be a risk of self containment.

I think of my other blog, Cascadia Inspired, which I started ten years ago as a way to get to know the Pacific Northwest better. I bought into the idea that blogs need to focus on a particular subject area or no one will read it. While I’ve enjoyed writing there, to some extent it created a constraint around what I felt appropriate to write about. For example, I didn’t publish photos from anywhere outside the northwest, so I have all these southwest trip photos I’ve never shared but on Instagram maybe.

Likewise, I had created a portfolio website at tracydurnell.com, and felt obliged to leave it serving solely a professional purpose. When I let go of that and transitioned to this blog-like format, allowing myself to write about whatever I wanted, I started writing so much more. I hadn’t realized how much I was holding back.

I still don’t expose my entire self here, but I’m much more open and vocal about my opinions, and more willing to risk publishing imperfect posts that show my incomplete thoughts in progress. I’ve held myself back and quiet for too much of my life already.

I’ve also realized I’m more interested in following people as people — while I might have been drawn to certain blogs in the past because of the topic, the reason I keep reading many of them is having gotten to know the writer. For example, I used to read Get Rich Slowly, but stopped when J.D. sold it (he’s since bought it back). I lost a lot of interest in Design*Sponge when my favorite writers there moved on to other things, and looked mostly to Grace Bonney‘s articles. Even though she’s moved on from writing about design, I’m still interested in her work.

I find myself drawn more to what individuals are writing than publications; if others are like me, all the publications who treat their staff as disposable and interchangeable will be in for a rough ride when they try to replace them all with AI churn content. Sure, you’ll pick up some SEO shit clicks, but that actively breeds distrust instead of long-term readership. I read my first Ed Yong article because I was interested in COVID; his thoughtful writing and reporting earned my trust, so I started following *him* on Twitter — not The Atlantic. I read Annalee Newitz back on io9, last year I read their non-fiction book, this year I’m looking forward to their next fiction work.

This is what makes self publishing viable for journalists and writers: people following them for them, not for their title or brand. When writing for a brand constrains these writers, good for them to split off and start their own thing where they can write about what they want, how they want.

Categories
Science Society Technology

When “ambiguity is a feature, not a bug”

Replied to Pluralistic: Netflix wants to chop down your family tree (02 Feb 2023) by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

Suddenly, it was “computer says no” everywhere you turned, unless everything matched perfectly. There was a global rush for legal name-changes after 9/11 – not because people changed their names, but because people needed to perform the bureaucratic ritual necessary to have the name they’d used all along be recognized in these new, brittle, ambiguity-incinerating machines.

Digital precision

We encounter this problem often in the digital world in things like content-limited text fields and binary choices on a form (or limited options that drive us always to “other”).

The digital world demands exactitude in a way analog doesn’t. I recall my dad, a TV station electrician, explaining the difference between analog and digital signal to me as a kid; I couldn’t understand why the squared shape of digital signal — either you get it or you don’t — would win out over more flexible analog signal, which has some allowance to receive lower quality signal rather than none.

Too, this inherent precision of digital information influences the way we think about data. We interpret numbers to be more meaningful than they are:

Excel-calculated results down to four decimals falsely imply confidence unsupported by the input data.

Recipes call for a specific baking time, when everyone’s oven is a little bit different, and environmental conditions affect baking time by impacting the moisture content of the ingredients.

Ad metrics and pageview data and likes that don’t translate truly to reach or brand recognition or conversions. (Like Internet celebs with millions of followers getting book deals that don’t translate to sales.)

Ambiguity of knowledge

Information that should be more directional than exact is treated as gospel. “The numbers don’t lie.” (Well, actually…)

Anyone who’s collected scientific data is aware of the messiness of reality that must be translated into the concrete as “data.” Theoretically, methodology codifies the decision-making matrix researchers follow; but given the scientific reproducibility crisis, it’s clearly a tough job. Give five writers the same prompt and you’ll get five different stories; can you be certain five researchers will record the same value from the same observed reality? It is a tricky thing, as a communicator, to acknowledge the limitations of what is knowable and to what degree, without implying artificial uncertainties to be exploited through mis- and dis-information. (I know those are the terms we use nowadays, but sometimes I’d just like the plain language “lies.”)

Who determines reality?

As Doctorow points out, digital condenses complex reality into defined fields — and the people defining the fields are those in power / the elite. Powerful, controlling cultures demand that their perspectives be codified.

The “Shitty Technology Adoption Curve” describes the process by which abusive technologies work their way up the privilege gradient. Every bad technological idea is first rolled out on poor people, refugees, prisoners, kids, mental patients and other people who can’t push back.

Their bodies are used to sand the rough edges and sharp corners off the technology, to normalize it so that it can climb up through the social ranks, imposed on people with more and more power and influence.

When [Netflix] used adversarial interoperability to build a multi-billion-dollar global company using the movie studios’ products in ways the studios hated, that was progress. When you define “family” in ways that makes Netflix less money, that’s felony contempt of business model.

Netflix is careful to stick to the terminology “household,” but I suspect to many, household implies family. I know a married couple who live in different parts of the state for work; would you not consider them a household in how they run their finances and make their decisions? It is easier to justify a physical utility like Comcast requiring a connection at each physical location versus a digital service like Netflix that is not location dependent. This is true too for ebooks, which have fucked libraries royally by pretending a physical book could be loaned only twelve (?) times (lolololol I worked at a library back when we stamped checkouts and lemme tell you, those stamp slips had space for like forty checkouts, and often the book was still going strong when the slip was full), and individuals by pretending it’s only possible to loan a book to a friend once in a lifetime. Digital product corporations want the limitations of the analog with the benefits of the digital. The elites setting the rules want to have one account they can use at their multiple homes, but not for the poors whose families are spread across multiple dwellings to be permitted to share.

Categories
Mental Health Society Technology

I don’t want this to be the future

Bookmarked HUMAN_FALLBACK | Laura Preston (n+1)

I WAS ONE OF ABOUT SIXTY operators. Most of us were poets and writers with MFAs, but there were also PhDs in performance studies and comparative literature, as well as a number of opera singers, another demographic evidently well suited for chatbot impersonation—or, I suppose, for impersonating a chatbot that’s impersonating a person.

Let alone the present.

Each day when we reported for work one of them would hail us with a camp counselor’s greeting. “Top of the morning, my lovely Brendas!” they would say. Below their message, a garden of reaction emojis would bloom.

I am tired of the exploitation and undervaluation of emotional labor.

In the same way that algorithms tell us what they think we want, and do so with such tenacity that the imagined wants become actual, these buildings seemed intent on shaping a tenant’s aspirations. They seemed to tell the tenant they should not care about regional particularities or the idea of a neighborhood. The tenant should not even desire a home in the traditional sense, with hand-me-down furniture, hand-built improvements, and layers of multigenerational memory. This tenant was a renter for life, whose workplace was their primary address, and who would nevertheless be unable to afford property for as long as they lived.

See also: Neutralizing reality to sell

Brenda, they claimed, said the same thing to everyone, which meant that she was incapable of bias. And yet she was awfully good at repelling certain people: people without smartphones or reliable internet, people unaccustomed to texting, people who couldn’t read or write in English, and people who needed to figure out if they could access a property before showing up for a tour. Brenda deflected them all with polite violence. She was not a concierge but a bouncer, one made all the more sinister for her congeniality and sparkle.

 

See also:

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic (TIME)

But the working conditions of data labelers reveal a darker part of that picture: that for all its glamor, AI often relies on hidden human labor in the Global South that can often be damaging and exploitative.

The work’s traumatic nature eventually led Sama to cancel all its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than planned.

An OpenAI spokesperson said in a statement that the company did not issue any productivity targets, and that Sama was responsible for managing the payment and mental health provisions for employees.

🙄 Of course they’re not responsible for the work they hired out.

Conditions for vendors are so much worse than employees, so of course that’s the direction companies want to move: cheaper labor that they aren’t liable for. Ethics has no part in corporatism.

“They’re impressive, but ChatGPT and other generative models are not magic – they rely on massive supply chains of human labor and scraped data, much of which is unattributed and used without consent,” Andrew Strait, an AI ethicist, recently wrote on Twitter. “These are serious, foundational problems that I do not see OpenAI addressing.”

Categories
Society

Article pairing: wealth disparity

WHY THE SUPER RICH ARE INEVITABLE by Alvin Chang | January 2023

Why do super rich people exist in a society?

 

Many of us assume it’s because some people make better financial decisions. But what if this isn’t true? What if the economy – our economy – is designed to create a few super rich people?

 

That’s what mathematicians argue in something called the Yard-sale model…

+

Who Benefits from Income and Wealth Growth in the United States? by Blanchet et al

Realtime Inequality provides the first timely statistics on how economic growth is distributed across groups. When new growth numbers come out each quarter, we show how each income and wealth group benefits.

 

Controlling for price inflation, average national income per adult in the United States decreased at an annualized rate of -2% in the third quarter of 2022, and average income for the bottom 50% shrunk by -2.4%.

Categories
Society Websites

Blogs are a platform for normal people

Replied to Understanding blogs | Tracy Durnell by Murray Adcock.Murray Adcock. (theadhocracy.co.uk)

I am a big fan of categorisation debates, so the concept of trying to define what a “blog” is (or isn’t) piqued my interest.

Further exploring what makes a blog a blog — which I agree I haven’t quite landed on yet:

The fact that blogs take the form of a building argument, not necessarily voicing their intent or conclusion immediately, but instead guiding the reader through the narrative to naturally arrive at that conclusion. I agree wholeheartedly with this take, but I’m not sure that this is the essence of “blog-ness”. I think that’s just how people actually talk when given a platform.

(Emphasis mine.)

This connects back to the democratization of self-publishing, leading to greater influence of oral culture (as you point out).

The word “given” here got me thinking — like the soapbox example, blogging is when people create and claim a platform for themselves. The work is self-motivated. No one’s telling us what to blog about. It’s not fulfilling an assignment. The things people blog about are the things they care about enough to spend their free time considering.

And because it’s not “for a purpose,” because it’s self-directed, a blog post needn’t fit a formal format. A lot of blogging really is ‘talking through ideas’ in text, in real time — the thinking and writing happen together. (Or at least it is for me, though I’m sure it’s not the universal blogging experience 😉) Even when a post is edited before publishing to center a specific conclusion reached through the drafting, a tenor of curious exploration or earnest passion often carries through.

That’s part of what makes a lot of content marketing so vapid and noxious: not only is it hollow of meaning, but it’s uninteresting signalling barely disguised as thought. It’s the writer regurgitating what they believe other people want to read about, or what they think will make them sound smart or good or clever. (Not that self-motivated blogging doesn’t have some measure of this, as all public writing does, but blog posts generally don’t feel calculated and perfunctory the way many churn pieces do.)

Blogs tend to be personal spaces (or places attempting to make themselves appear personal, as with brand/ business blogs) that give a person or persons a platform, but one which they want others to consider.

(Emphasis mine.)

This makes me think of imitation bees: the corporate blog tries to pass itself off as a Real Blog by looking like one at first glance, then once you start reading you suspect ‘someone’s been hired to write this’… A lack of feeling, an unwillingness to voice opinions, an empty ‘we’, a cautious and bland tone, become apparent when writers produce for a brand that wants to gain the SEO benefits of a blog without risking expressing any personality. They want to give the appearance of sharing knowledge and participating in community and conversation, but those are positive externalities to their goals of drawing traffic, building reputation, and ultimately selling widgets. I wonder whether I’m being too inclusive in accepting everything that claims to be a blog as a blog…

Categories
Society The Internet

Critical Ignoring

Bookmarked Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens by Kozyreva et al (journals.sagepub.com)

Low-quality and misleading information online can hijack people’s attention, often by evoking curiosity, outrage, or anger. Resisting certain types of information and actors online requires people to adopt new mental habits that help them avoid being tempted by attention-grabbing and potentially harmful content. We argue that digital information literacy must include the competence of critical ignoring—choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities. We review three types of cognitive strategies for implementing critical ignoring: self-nudging, in which one ignores temptations by removing them from one’s digital environments; lateral reading, in which one vets information by leaving the source and verifying its credibility elsewhere online; and the do-not-feed-the-trolls heuristic, which advises one to not reward malicious actors with attention.

As important as the ability to think critically continues to be, we argue that it is insufficient to borrow the tools developed for offline environments and apply them to the digital world.

Investing effortful and conscious critical thinking in sources that should have been ignored in the first place means that one’s attention has already been expropriated (Caulfield, 2018). Digital literacy and critical thinking should therefore include a focus on the competence of critical ignoring: choosing what to ignore, learning how to resist low-quality and misleading but cognitively attractive information, and deciding where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities.

This is like a “to don’t” list — deciding what to ignore.

Lateral reading begins with a key insight: One cannot necessarily know how trustworthy a website or a social-media post is by engaging with and critically reflecting on its content. Without relevant background knowledge or reliable indicators of trustworthiness, the best strategy for deciding whether one can believe a source is to look up the author or organization and the claims elsewhere… Instead of dwelling on an unfamiliar site (i.e., reading vertically), fact-checkers strategically and deliberately ignored it until they first opened new tabs to search for information about the organization or individual behind it.

 

Via Paul Millerd:

A common heuristic for many is to pay attention to what other people are talking about. This worked well enough for most people for a long time but it seems to be [failing(?)] in an age of information overload because of how fast the “current thing” changes.

This is my approach too — I like the way he phrases it in feeding his curiosity:

My approach instead is to follow individuals and I try to think about this like a diversified portfolio of information, optimizing for the long-term aliveness of my own curiosity.

Categories
Future Building Places Society

Interrogating gentrification

Liked Gentrification is Inevitable (and Other Lies) by Anne Helen Petersen (Culture Study)

“Unfortunately, these kinds of changes are often portrayed as a natural evolution of city space, rather than as the result of deliberate policy making and sets of choices by powerful actors. We conflate the idea that cities change (of course they do!) with the idea that neighborhoods are inevitably taken over by wealthier, whiter residents.”

Gentrification today is often faster, more radically transformative, and directed by powerful state and corporate actors.

Queering asks us to question the normative values that fuel gentrification: ideas about the home and family, the relationship between property and social acceptance, and what is required for liberation and empowerment. Queering also pushes an anti-gentrification politics to interrogate its own normative assumptions. These could include the unquestioned valorization of working-class identities and spaces, the notion of community, and the foundations of the right to the city.

Categories
Society

Pluralistic ignorance

Bookmarked Pluralistic ignorance by Contributors to Wikimedia projects (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.)

refers to a situation in which the minority position on a given topic is wrongly perceived to be the majority position or where the majority position is wrongly perceived to be the minority position.

When I was little I assumed most people I met were also not religious 😂 I then carried that assumption forward to other geeky people like me, but I finally learned my lesson on this front in my twenties.

Now collectively the US is suffering from this phenomenon wherein Republicans cannot fathom that their views are unpopular and so believe elections are being stolen from them. Of course, no one wants to admit they’re in the wrong, and especially not when it puts them on the losing side, so we face an uphill battle for democracy now they’ve dug in and refuse to believe anything contrary to their belief in their majority, from demographics to clean audits to a complete lack of evidence of wrongdoing.

Categories
Society

“Upsketch”: the veneered life of performance

Replied to Sarah Taber (@sarahtaber@mastodon.online) (Mastodon)

@theproski@infosec.exchange It’s wild bc they put a lot of effort into making the apartment *look* upscale- granite countertops, very up-to-date style of flooring, etc.

But the actual construction was crazy cheap- flooring was a thin laminate & the floor itself was wavy, closet doors couldn’t close, plus the tub was the cherry on the sundae.

I hereby dub this construction style “upsketch”

This approach — it doesn’t matter if it’s shackled together with zip ties as long as it looks good — is symptomatic of so many aspects of our society, not just construction. We’re constantly selling our lives too, on social media and in person.

Looking good trumps feeling good. Performing for the camera on family holidays and excursions shows off what a perfect family you have, never mind whether you’re actually happy. Performing toxic masculinity means you don’t have to admit to the weaknesses of insecurity and uncertainty.

And we even pretend to ourselves as a survival mechanism for capitalism. Buying a cute zippy car makes the soul-sucking commute in bumper to bumper traffic feel not so bad. Looking like the best mom or coolest weekend jet-setter on Instagram masks self-doubt and dissatisfaction. We invest ourselves in the symbolic status we can achieve through performance, because we can’t fix the underlying problems.

Categories
Future Building Society Technology

People will keep dying to cars until we decide their safety is more important than cars’ convenience

Replied to The Urbanist’s Ryan Packer Discusses Worsening Traffic Safety Crisis on KUOW by Doug Trumm (The Urbanist)

The pedestrian safety crisis has been worsening in Washington State and across the United States, even as most other industrialized nations have taken strides to reduce their traffic fatality rate in recent years.

Last year, the state saw nearly 150 people walking lose their lives on our streets, a 31.8% increase in one year and the highest figure seen in at least several decades. That trend is not showing any signs of slowing in 2022.

Graph showing a 30% leap in pedestrian fatalities from 2020 to 2021 in Washington State, after a slow increase over a decade

This is a choice we make when we put efficiency and convenience above all else. The design of our roads, the investments we choose to make in infrastructure for people walking and biking, the timing of our traffic signals, the laws we enact, the driver training we require, the penalty for vehicular manslaughter — these all shape how many people die needlessly on our streets.

One of the people killed was an elderly woman in my city who was hit walking in her own neighborhood by someone backing out of their driveway. Since that day, I always back into my driveway so I have a clear view pulling out.

Traffic deaths should be so rare as to be a shocking tragedy, not an everyday occurrence. It infuriates me when people dismiss Vision Zero as unachievable because there will always be one or two people who die in totally random accidents, using pedancy to avoid confronting a real cost of our time-obsessed capitalist society.

These conversations are vital to have now, before self driving cars become common and accepted — what norms of pedestrian deaths will we accept as our cost of convenience? Especially since self driving cars so far cannot accurately identify a person on a bike.