Inspiration Porn – the second best thing about the internet

The other day I threw my back out while visiting DC, a painful three hours of travel from my home in Brooklyn. After two days laid out on a friend’s bed, unable put on my own socks, I took a handful of Advil and got on a plane.

The trip was full of all sorts of scary problems: How would I take my shoes off at security? How would I get my luggage from the apartment to the cab? How would I walk to the gate? etc. These once invisible challenges made me question a lot about my own assumptions about society and disability. With a the last week of very limited mobility I turned to the internet for some answers and inspiration.

stella-young-quote-image-3-data
The quote is from Olympic Figure skater Scott Hamilton, someone who is not disabled.

Stella Young, a comedian, a writer, an advocate, and a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer refers to the above image as “inspiration porn” in her in her 2014 Ted Talk . Inspiration Porn is the objectification of disabled people and their experiences for the benefit of others. This objectification, according to Stella, dehumanizes disabled people turning them into objects to be admired for feats non-disabled people do, often without thinking.

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When stomping Nazis, no room for neutral

When I was growing up I could have been considered a thug. The short of it, I was a teenage punk rocker, I was smart, and I hated authority. And the only thing I hated more than authority were Nazis.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.12.34 AM
Pretty simple

It wasn’t just me, it was the scene. In the 90’s Nazi skinheads were growing in organizational power and form. There was a story that passed around my high school. Once, a New York City hardcore band was playing a show in town. A bunch of Nazi skinheads flooded into the venue with baseball bats, cue balls in socks, and rolls of quarters in their fists, some real medieval stuff. And what did the punk and hardcore kids do? They fought them.

For me, and a bunch of my punk friends, it was a simple politic: Nazis are racist, racists are bad, if we allow racists at our shows then our shows are racist, we all loose (historical supported fact). Therefore you couldn’t sit out, there was one choice: we stomped Nazis.

Then things get complicated
Sometimes I long for those days when it was easy to just point to a skinhead and say, “See that bonehead right there? Let’s stomp ‘em” and know that I was fighting the good fight.

Of course, those days were only easy because my understanding of racism was simple. For my teenage punk rock self, racism was racial prejudice expressed physically or verbally.

But, as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, there is a “…widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control. The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society.”

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Warning: Click Bait – Racism in your Machine

kitty trap
Told you so.

OMG! We live in exciting times!

Technology is evolving and innovating all the time. We are integrating hardware and software into our lives more and more everyday. And opportunities for digital intervention, organizing, and activism are multiplying with each new iteration of tech.

Some of the technology will be born from the nexus of social justice organizing and technology development along the lines of the tools developed by the early pioneers of digital campaigning, MoveOn.

Yet, if new technology is not developed by those who are leading the charge for racial and gender justice, then we are missing the real chance to innovate our society.

The foundation
Today’s paradigm of digital campaigning, emerged in 1998, from an email group and petition started by Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, a married couple, who were interested in getting Congress to censure Clinton (over the Monica Lewinsky scandal) and “move on.” They succeeded in getting over half a million signatures, but not winning the censure.

The founders of MoveOn should be applauded for innovating and finding a new way to campaign, a way that has come to be the dominant form of digital campaigning (regardless of my earlier criticism).

moveon kitty

And yet…

MoveOn was started by rich white people (their software company Berkeley Systems was making $30 million in annual revenue until they sold it for $13 million a year before starting MoveOn – according to Wikipedia).

(@JTPspeaks #BFD –  masses of well meaning white technologists are tweeting)

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The right question?

“As more data becomes available and as the economy [world] continues to change, the ability to ask the right questions will become even more vital.”

– Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew MacAfee, The Second Machine Age

 

data
The data black hole will take you to galaxies of possibility.

Those in the business of winning elections have been using all sorts of data (consumer being a big one – what does your magazine subscriptions say about your political leanings?) to build voter models. Combine these models with polling information and you can develop a blueprint for winning messages.  Of course this all happens in the limited field and timeframe of elections where the question is clear: How do we win this election?

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Programs as Agents – Repost from Samir Chopra

Today I got involved in a Facebook debate about Google scanning people’s email and tipping of the authorities when they found questionable images of a child. My grandfather would often give me the sage advice, “Never get into internet debates about pedophiles.” He really was a wise man. And I am a fool.

I think Google is super smart, and not just because they actually know everything about me or because they are figuring out how to live forever. Google is smart because they gave us a moral reason to support them scanning our emails. In fact by taking on sex offenders they gave us a reason to demand them to scan our emails.

bigbrother

Here is what I wrote in my Facebook debate (sorry Grandpa):

“Of course protecting children from sexual predators should be a top priority for all of us. And we should therefore all take action to stop it, root out the causes of it and take responsibility for stopping it. And Google has now convinced you that scanning all of your email and doing god knows what with the information they gather is all worthwhile because they helped catch a predator.

While it is uncomfortable to question Google’s actions because those actions are so commendable in this case, it is important to do so. I have real questions about what they do with the data and how they use it for their own purposes. As the article I cited above [here] asks, how would we feel if Facebook started swaying elections through its algorithms? How come we aren’t as upset at the fact that Google dominates how you experience the expanded world of information? What impact does that have on world view? On actions you would take? It isn’t only about surveillance it is about control and freedom and what we are willing to trade in relation to each.”

This debate happened on the awesome Samir Chopra’s feed. And to show how awesome he is I am re-blogging a post he published back in June about programs (and algorithms) as agents and people.

Samir Chopra

Last week, The Nation published my essay “Programs are People, Too“. In it, I argued for treating smart programs as the legal agents of those that deploy them, a legal change I suggest would be more protective of our privacy rights.

Among some of the responses I received was one from a friend, JW, who wrote:

[You write: But automation somehow deludes some people—besides Internet users, many state and federal judges—into imagining our privacy has not been violated. We are vaguely aware something is wrong, but are not quite sure what.]
 
I think we are aware that something is wrong and that it is less wrong.  We already have an area of the law where we deal with this, namely, dog sniffs.  We think dog sniffs are less injurious than people rifling through our luggage, indeed, the law refers to those sniffs are “sui generis.”  And I…

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Online organizing is a myth

Early online actions relied on the ability of organizations like MoveOn to jam up the means of communications for politicians and their offices. They did this by  flooding email inboxes with countless emails. This was the online equivalent of locking yourself to the office door; slowing down and stopping the actual function of bureaucracy. It was digital direct action utilizing political power.

direct action gets the goods

This strategy made sense for the times, it was late enough in email’s development as a common means of communications that people in government and corporations were using Blackberries to stay connected to their inboxes, and it was early enough in email that no one was ready for what it would mean to receive thousands of emails all at once. It was a time when center/left activists were leveraging technology faster than corporations and electeds.

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Two consultants walk into a bar @ #nn14

A couple of nights ago I found myself sitting in the Volt Bar on the third floor of the Renaissance Center in Detroit drinking a way-too-expensive whiskey on the rocks with a friend, who like me, is a consultant. While we were talking work and life, one of his clients walked up and asked:

“Wait, who is billing who here?”

“I’m billing, he’s writing it off,” said my friend.

freelance

I chose to be a consultant for the typical reasons you hear: I want to be my own boss, I want a flexible schedule, I want to work with a lot of different people, I want time to pursue my own projects.

These ideas about freelancing and consulting show up in one of the dominant narrative about the changing nature of work (other narratives include the #RoboApoc).

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