The four dimensions of feedback [2]

Have been having a challenging couple of months. A bit of a work-life balance crisis, if you like – because there has been no life!!! Exaggeration aside, all in all, it feels like September 2004 has been toppled.

While barely bumping through this autumn term, I must admit there have been a few high points too. One definite one was an anonymous comment in a student survey report circulated in-house recently. It said: “[…] She is also extremely professional when expressing concerns or having to remark a downside of a paper. […]”

I have had one-to-one meetings with hundreds of students since I joined the School, so I would never know who this respondent was. There were also other equally nice comments in the report. Nevertheless, I think this particular sentence just struck me because it was about something that I happen to care about and want to do well.

I once saw a tweet that summarised my stance on this topic in a way I couldn’t better, so let me simply pin that one here.

RT @seankross Strive to create a world where peer review feedback sounds like you’re trying to help your peer improve their work and less like you’re writing a product review for a blender. (21 December 2017)

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Has the game changed?

I really am an omnivore when it comes to conferences. I attend ones on political communications, ones on research methods, ones on doctoral education, and ones on digital sociology. Among all these and more, I must admit that I find myself feeling most comfortable at events for “internet researchers“. Probably I identify with that label most closely.

In that circle, if your work is described as being technologically determinist, that’s never a compliment. “The internet is like a knife”, people used to howl. Or you can replace the word internet with whatever the next new thing is. Twitter, smartphones, blockchain, you name it.

If it were a binary opposition and I had to pick one over the other, I would also be on Team Social Constructivists. However, it is in fact never a binary opposition, is it? I am glad that even in my naïve years I appreciated that a real-life situation would always be somewhere in-between.

It feels like the field itself seems to be sliding back and forth too, depending on the characteristics of a given epoch. What I am hearing more and more these days is that there has been some fundamental change to our ways of being, and that change is as much from technology itself as from the social.

On a related note, here are some interesting reads for my own reference.

— It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech (Zeynep Tufekci, Wired, 16 January 2018)

YouTube, the great radicalizer (Zeynep Tufekci, The New York Times, 10 March 2018)

— RT @JamieJBartlett One of the overlooked, but discombobulating, things about social media is the way delightful stories appear directly next to tragic, or trivial, or infuriating ones. With no time to process the emotion, we bounce directly from delighted to outraged, totally rudderless. (12 August 2018)

— How social media makes fascists of us all (Jamie Bartlett, UnHerd, 28 August 2018)

— RT @davies_will Something like the People’s March is an example of the post-representational politics that now dominates. Not direct democracy but not representational democracy either. I discuss in Nervous States here:

When politics becomes infused by the logic of crowds, it becomes less about peaceful political representation, and more about mobilisation. Whether on the street or online, crowds are not a proxy for something else, as, for example, a parliament is meant to be a proxy for its electorate or a judge is the face of the justice system. They don’t purport to <i>represent</i> society as a whole, in a way that a ‘representative sample’ is treated by an opinion pollster as a means of discovering what the whole nation thinks. If crowds matter at all, it is because of the depth of feeling that brought so many people into one place at one time. As in the wars that dominate the nationalist imagination, crowds allow every individual to become (and feel) part of something much larger than themselves. This needn’t be a bad thing, but it carries risks and plays on our nerves. […] The critical political question is who or what has the power to mobilise people. […]

— [cont’d] One word for it is ‘presentational democracy’: the people are just presented, but without that being a way of settling an argument. Big data suffers the identical problem, and it’s the entangling of those two things that accounts for where we are right now.

— [cont’d] Another thing to add on this: ‘presentational democracy’ does not look good when it is led by professional *representatives*. Remain urgently needs political outsiders. (21 October 2018)

“Fake news”, academia style

I believe the title says all. 

This is something I always mention when I do a session on literature review, but now my collection has grown too big to fit within one single slide, so here we are.

Mobility [2]

Hmmm, looks like this is going to be the third post in a row that brings up North Korea. Coincidental, but also indicative of the amount of media attention they seem to be absorbing at the moment.

Anyway, today I have come across an interesting article by journalist Joo Seong-ha. As a defector from the country himself, he offers various “thick descriptions” of contemporary North Korean life. According to Joo, apparently Bollywood has been huge in North Korea this year.

The article reminds me of a couple of other articles that I read years ago about how people of Manipur in northeast India were hooked to Korean films and soap operas.

I find such seemingly arbitrary popularity fascinating. The Al Jazeera article above says it has a lot to do with cultural proximity, but I think there still is more to it than that. 

Ripe for spoofs

Nike’s trademark has led to many spoofs. T-shirts with “Just Done It” or “I Just Can’t” are probably no longer novelties. However, its latest campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, besides the whole buzz it has created about “ethical investing” and #BurnYourNikes, has given me the gift of more snorting moments. Here are two examples. I am afraid I don’t know who their creators are; both have floated into my social media timelines.

The latter would also have been a perfect cue for me to move on to the topic of mansplaining and #immodestwomen, but that will have to be another post.

In search of a perfect analogy

I am a firm believer of the power of analogies. I rely a lot on them, not only when I am trying to explain something to others but also when I am trying to understand something myself. So, unsurprisingly, I do get a kick out of spotting a really good analogy while surfing online. I have been meaning to place all of them in one place, and am finally getting around to it today. I am on one day’s leave!

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“Isn’t it great? We have to pay nothing for the barn.” (Geek & Poke, 21 December 2010; crossposted on 27 February 2012; see also “Facebook is basically designed like a lobster trap with your friends as bait” by Michael C. Gilbert, 2009, and “You are the product” by John Lanchester, August 2017, London Review of Books 39(16): 3-10)

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RT @nickbilton Going to Facebook has become the equivalent of opening the fridge & staring inside, even though you’re not hungry. (29 December 2012; crossposted on 8 December 2015)

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“Consent, it’s simple as tea” (Blue Seat Studios, as part of a campaign by Thames Valley Police, 12 May 2015; crossposted on 8 January 2018)

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“Same reasons why in Mario Kart you don’t get blue shells or lightning bolts when you’re already in first place, assbag.” (crossposted on 19 November 2016)

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“Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.” (Reddit user GeekAesthete, cited in Kevin Roose, Splinter, 21 July 2015; crossposted on 11 July 2016)

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RT @halfscholar My PhD dissertation plan and how it went illustrated. (22 November 2017)

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“The referendum was like making a cup of peppermint tea. You had to decide whether to leave the teabag in or take it out. If you leave it in, the cup of tea as a whole is stronger. Even though it appears that the teabag itself is getting weaker, it’s still part of a strong cup of tea. But if you take the teabag out, the cup of tea as a whole is weaker — and the teabag itself goes directly in the bin.”  (James Acaster, 2016; crossposted on 4 July 2018)

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RT @anne_theriault I already have a cryptocurrency, it’s called Sephora Beauty Insider Points (20 January 2018)

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RT @YankeeGunner Perfect analogy. Because that’s not a real target and you’ve put it there yourself. (26 January 2018)

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“In real-world terms, a part of Facebook still sees itself as the bank that got robbed, rather than the architect who designed a bank with no safes, and no alarms or locks on the doors, and then acted surprised when burglars struck.” (Kevin Roose, The New York Times, 19 February 2018; see also Clay Bennett‘s cartoon on “security versus privacy”, The Christian Science Monitor, 29 October 2001)

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RT @Theophite imagine if keeping your car idling 24/7 produced solved Sudokus you could trade for heroin (16 August 2018; see also “Imagine a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where everyone can see what each plate contains but no one can actually eat any”, 14 February 2018)

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“나는 그러지 못했다. 내 안의 광인을 봉인 해제하기는커녕, 언제나 그러했던 것처럼 충실하게 학생 역할을 수행했다. 그리고 시간이 한참 지나서야 그것이 수치의 순간이었다는 것을 깨달았다. 나는 그때 왜 웃는 돌처럼 다소곳이 앉아 있었던 것일까? 예정에 없이 징집되지 않기 위해서 일단 심사에 통과하고 봐야겠다는 계산을 순간적으로 해낸 것일까. 아니면, 저 사람들하고 원수지고 나면 평생 학계에서 밥 빌어먹기도 어렵겠다는 판단을 한 것일까. 선생님들이 논문을 읽지 않고 저 자리에 나와 앉아 있다는 것은 나 혼자의 판단에 그칠 뿐, 그 사실을 증명하기 어렵다는 것을 체득하고 있었던 것일까. 그도 아니라면, 논문을 제대로 읽지도 않고 심사에 임할 정도의 형편없는 교수의 학생이 되고 싶지 않다는 무의식이 작동한 것일까. 확실한 것은 그 어떤 생각도 그 현장에서 의식의 수면 위로 떠오르지는 않았다는 사실이다. 나는 그저 평소처럼 행동했다. 우리는 서로 맡은 역할을 수행하여, 논문심사라는 부실한 역할극을 완성했다. 위력이 왕성하게 작동할 때는, 인생이라는 극장 위의 배우들이 이처럼 별생각 없이 자기가 맡은 배역을 수행한다. 당시 교수들도 자신이 위력을 행사하고 있으리라고는 새삼 생각하지 않았으리라. 위력이 왕성하게 작동할 때, 위력은 자의식을 가질 필요가 없다. 위력은 그저 작동한다. 가장 잘 작동할 때는 직접 명령할 필요도 없다. 니코틴이 부족해 보이면, 누군가 알아서 담배를 사러 나간다.” (김영민, 경향신문, 24 August 2018)

Last bank holiday weekend of the year

This summer I went on and on about how unbearable the weather was. The scorching sun, the drought, and above all, the lack of air-conditioning in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Now looking out the window at the all-too-familiar rain and gloom, I feel as if it was all a dream.

Anyway, while staying dry and cozy in the house the whole day today, I have been watching a few YouTube clips I had bookmarked for later, including, but not limited to, Yuval Noah Harari’s interview with Al Jazeera (August 2018), Gina Neff’s OII London Lecture “Does AI Have Gender?”, and Zeynep Tufekci’s radio appearance “Why Online Politics Gets So Extreme So Fast?”. All insightful and also all interconnected (although this was not intended on my part). This post is, nevertheless, to record one particular remark by Harari that I found amusing. From 11:59 into the video above:

My personal impression is that all these science-fiction movies about robots becoming conscious and then starting to kill people and things like that – these are not about humans being afraid of intelligent robots. Actually these movies are about men being afraid of intelligent women because if you look carefully you will see that in almost all cases the scientist who develops the robot is a man and the robot is female, like in Westworld or in Ex Machina, and these movies are actually about feminism – about this male fear that “Hey, we’ve created this thing and now it’s becoming more intelligent and more powerful than us”.