Full of beans

A few age-related articles have flowed into my news feeds lately, including a New Yorker article “Why ageism never gets old“, criticisms against the (promotion of) the “Young Forty” discourse in Korea, and some essays on pedophilia culture such as this and this. They have come from different sources and different time points, so it feels like a coincidence, but is it? Or is this one of those moments where the gods of blogging are nudging me to write something? 

All that have sprung to my mind subsequently are feel-good news stories that seemingly defy the natural and social laws of ageing.

  • RT @AJEnglish By day, this 87-year-old Japanese woman makes dumplings. By night, she’s spinning records in Tokyo’s red-light district. Meet DJ Dumpling (12 April 2017)

Then it has struck me that these stories form a specific genre of its own. It is always Japanese obaasan. Always.

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Surrounded by nebulae

Last week I attended a pan-London meeting of researcher developers. My opposite numbers, so to say. It is actually one of my favourite meetings. There I heard a colleague saying that researcher development is not a profession for life. “We have come from different places and we are on our ways to different places”, she concluded. This remark was meant to be a positive one, and I did understand the point she was making. Nevertheless, my heart literally ached a little when I heard that, and I have been pondering since about where that pain came from.

I took on my role at my current institution five years ago. Besides how the role has evolved, the way I see it is that I wear two hats. When I wear the researcher developer hat, I help students grow into researchers themselves. When I wear the researcher hat, I contribute to the scholarship of researcher development while also carrying on with my usual research in digital sociology. This three-way split of identity has been posing challenges, and I have been asked by different colleagues if I am going to ditch the researcher developer hat anytime soon.

Perhaps that is a strategic thing to do, as a recent anonymous article in the Guardian seems to suggest, and last week’s meeting got me wondering whether I am being unwise. Then I recalled this following quote that a PhD student shared with me last year. The words were from her son.

The process of forming a new idea — be it a dissertation, a book, a work of art — is similar to the process by which a star is formed. In the beginning, it is just a cloud of particles — a nebula — floating in space. Slowly, over time, these particles are drawn by gravity toward the centre, coalescing into a more solid form — the first semblance of the star, of something new. As these particles continue to amass, the energy of the centre of the nebula builds and builds until finally, after crossing a critical point — after absorbing a critical amount of information — the cloud ignites and the new star — the new idea — is born.

I am eyewitnessing the births of stars everyday. In a courtside seat, no less. I guess that’s the privilege I can’t quite give up.

Researchers’ complicated relationship with data

RT @rasmus_kleis No, your findings did not “emerge” from your data. Frogs emerge from ponds. Findings are arrived at through analysis of data. In the first case, the frog does the work, in the second, you do the work. (8 November 2017)

Immediately hearted it, but then there is also this one below, reminding me that we cannot try too hard either.

“If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything you’d like.” (Ronald Coase, n.d.)

I guess we are all flirting somewhere in between.

Not a cat person, but …

… darn, I had to reblog this. GOM Player, South Korea’s home-grown and most popular media player, now offers a ‘Cat Mode’. If you select this mode, all standard shortcut keys will be disabled, so that you will be able to watch a movie without interruption even with your cat sitting on your keyboard.

(Cat Mode on, as indicated by the paw symbol)

Since we are on the topic, let me also share another collection of mine that I put together a while ago. (There are quite a few on this blog alone, such as this, this, this, and this.)

The Cute Cat theory (Ethan Zuckerman, 2008)

Towards a theory of internet cats (D. E. Wittkower, MiT6, 2009)

Srsly phenomenal: An investigation into the appeal of lolcats (Kate Miltner, unpublished master’s dissertation, LSE, 2012)

RT @jeanburgess The internet is made *of* cats, and *for* porn. Get the facts right @Hermida #science #mit8 (3 May 2013)

Cats and academia: A short history (Glen Wright, Times Higher Education, 18 December 2015)

Downing Street cats: All the essential information about the most important Westminster residents (Robert Midgley, Telegraph, 3 January 2017)

A softer side of government: How Larry the cat became a purr-fect political companion on Downing Street (Lauren Scott, CBC News, 22 January 2017)

South Korean president’s rescue pets are so popular they have their own fan art (Yi Shu Ng, Mashable, 15 May 2017)

나는 정치하는 고양이로소이다 (Hankyoreh, 14 August 2017)

Why we do what we do online

Certain themes have started to emerge from random, commuting reads. I have never done one, but I am sure this is how Magic Eye puzzles feel.

1. Our urge to express 

Why do we all feel compelled to tweet after a tragedy? (Jamie Bartlett, The Telegraph, 14 January 2015).

Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (Joseph M. Reagle, Jr., 2015).

Why do we expose ourselves? (Astra Taylor, The Intercept, 23 January 2016).

One of the book’s more important chapters takes on the seemingly self-evident nature of the term “surveillance state,” which Harcourt argues is misleading. What we have, instead, is an “amalgam of the intelligence community, retailers, Silicon Valley, military interests, social media, the Inner Beltway, multinational corporations, midtown Manhattan, and Wall Street” that “forms an oligarchic concentration that defies any such reductionism.”

Why We Post: Social Media Through the Eyes of the World (UCL).

2. Our urge to distract ourselves 

Pay attention, please (Christine Rosen, The Wall Street Journal, 7 January 2011).

Why are we so distracted all the time? (Oliver Burkeman, 99U, n.d.).

Desperate times call for desperate measures (Y for Yenndetta, 15 January 2015).

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (Tim Wu, 2016).

Digital addiction (The World Weekly, 31 August 2017)

Today’s public anxiety over extreme technology use might therefore be more grounded in social issues rather than any genuine scientific consensus. “It is important to remember that every new media from writing and reading onwards has been associated with addiction,” says Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent. “Reading addiction in the 18th century was a veritable moral panic. Today, concern with people spending too much time on the net is also medicalised,” he says. “That individuals may have problems with digital technology is not in doubt – but the diagnosis of ‘digital addiction’ is a simplistic formula for condemning behaviours that we don’t like.”

Modern media is a DoS attack on your free will (Brian Gallagher, Nautilus, 21 September 2017)

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: The tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia (Paul Lewis, The Guardian, 6 October 2017)

3. Our urge to click

Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching (Adam Alter, 2017).

4. Our urge to share 

Internet-Facilitated Political Mobilisation: A Case Study of Nosamo, the Supporters Network of the 16th President of South Korea (Y. Lee, PhD thesis, 2009).

In Korean cyberspace, however, the culturally encouraged collective sharing of digital content facilitates a cascade of messages that goes beyond the initial group of sources. Moreover, the act of participation itself in the process of distribution of (political) messages is valued on a par with the efforts of the initiators of the messages. In this sense, Hwang (2004: 129) even describes [content relay] as a 21st century version of smoke signal communication.

Why you just shared that baby video (Jonah Lehrer, The Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2011).

An anatomy of a YouTube meme (Limor Shifman, New Media & Society 14(2): 187-203)

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks (a.k.a. that Facebook study, Kramer et al., 2014, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(24): 8788-8790)

5. Our ways of consuming information 

Infographic: The optimal length for every social media update and more (Kevan Lee, Buffer, 21 October 2014).

The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short, your brain is not a computer (Robert Epstein, Aeon, 18 May 2016).

What the story of the niqab-wearing Welsh speaker tells us about what we want to hear (Sarah Ditum, The New Statesman, 21 June 2016).

10 percent is all you need (Y for Yenndetta, 21 July 2016).

Why facts don’t change our minds (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 27 February 2017).

How people approach facts and information (Pew Research Center, 11 September 2017)

If you own the network,

Watched Kingsman the bank holiday weekend. A few minutes in I immediately realised why I didn’t when it came out three years ago – the same reason that I don’t see any Tarantino films – but I continued on this time.

This post is a side note as I felt that the film added evidence to my long-held theory. I am not sure if you have noticed, but every network owner depicted in Hollywood cinema is evil. You will see a good lawyer every now and then, like Matt Damon, and you will see a few good politicians too. When it comes to network owners, however, every single one is evil. I have watched enough telly in my life, so I can tell you that much.

An old and a new world, searching for a way to live together

Just came back from a family trip in India. My first visit to the subcontinent. Granted, I am not that well-travelled, but it was nothing like any place I’d ever been to. The heat, the rain, the traffic, the constant honks, the bold colours and patterns of fabrics and jewels, the fruits and spices that I had never known existed, fresh flowers on head on no special occasion, … sensory overload, I would summarise.

I managed to stay away from work email during those three weeks. This must be my record. You might think I was carrying on the new tradition that I created last year in Busan, but in fact, this time it wasn’t a result of conscious efforts. It just so happened that I was on a tourist visa, I didn’t have a local SIM, and it was unbelievably hot and humid that I couldn’t afford to be my usual self. My itinerary was also too packed anyway with meeting many relatives and neighbours, every one of whom wanted to feed and clothe me, by the way. 🙂

One thing I couldn’t turn off though was my curiosity about how in different societies digital media gels with whatever is already there locally. I don’t mean so-called “glocalisation”; I am talking more about the organic processes of mutual shaping, which is my all-time and ultimate fascination. And I always prefer to use the verb ‘gel’ for that, instead of more conventional ‘intersect’ or ‘meet’, simply because I tend to visualise internet technology in my head as some kind of Play-Doh. I felt almost vindicated when I came across Manuel Castells’s “The internet is a particularly malleable technology” (2001: 50), and Steve Jones’s “[doing internet research is] a lot like getting a grip on Jell-O” (1999: 12).

 (Speaking of localisation…)

Here are a few illustrative snapshots from the trip.

(A book I stumbled upon at home; (c) 1985)

(“Computers must be told what to do. They cannot think independently of their programming.”)

(“App-based taxi pick-up” at an airport)

(“Uber Zone” at an airport)

I was surprised to see how integral Uber and the likes were to everyday life. There were even apps for auto-rickshaws! No more hailing and no more negotiating. As a friend half-jokingly said, technology did what the government couldn’t. In the meantime, some auto drivers have allegedly found a way to beat the algorithm; in order to exploit surge pricing, they agree to go off the grid simultaneously and come back online one by one, taking turn. My experience of app-based taxi rides in India was overall positive, so it hit me extra hard when Jamie Bartlett’s documentary last Sunday showed the dark side of all this.

Museums were amazingly old-school. Perhaps I am just too used to shiny ones that are optimised for flocks of international tourists. There no AC, no English blurbs, no frills.

(“Complaint book is available with the duty clerk in the museum office”)

(“Camera Pass”, at 200 rupees, to be allowed to take pictures with smartphones inside the museum)

(P, our official guide, explaining the relationships between Hindu deities, using the analogy of instances of a class in Java)

(“World’s 1st 3D printed Durga idol”)

In this confusing world, you are my familiar.

A quick post to record an interesting conversation I had with a colleague, Alison, a few days ago. We were talking about how smartphones seemed to have lowered access barriers for older generations. She then shared this insightful observation that our smartphones are now like our familiars, as in His Dark Materials. I have come across mobile phones being likened to cigarettes and pets, but this one is an unbeatably fascinating addition to that list of analogies.

Process of elimination

I find it harder and harder to stay engaged with elections, of which there is an abundance at the moment. Not only because of the bouts of the ‘gah, what’s the point of all this‘ feeling, but rather because there really isn’t anyone that I can bring myself to support.

I then came across on Facebook this video clip of Yanis Varoufakis on today’s French presidential election. The response in the comment box seems to be divisive, but I took some solace in it personally.

Vote for Macron, with the same energy and enthusiasm with which we are going to oppose him the day after he becomes President of France.