I found Stop The Cyborgs through someone on Twitter (I forget who). It’s the “official blog of the pro-human movement”, “fighting the algorithmic future one bit at a time”.
Cyborg is “a human who has certain physiological processes aided or controlled by mechanical or electronic devices” (as defined in The Free Dictionary). This includes people with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, pacemakers, cochlear implants, various brain implants, hip replacement implants and other prosthetics. You probably know a few cyborgs, but I doubt you think of them as such. They’re just your friends, family, coworkers, neighbours.
One of my best friends is a cyborg, and it helps her stay alive. By saying “let’s stop the cyborgs” the “pro-human movement” is essentially saying to me that I should not be allowed the company of my close friend. The contributors to the blog acknowledge that there are different kinds of cyborgs, and especially those living with medical devices are not the problem, until the devices themselves are networked:
Guess what? Many of them are. I have seen life-saving devices that communicate via radio with diagnostic tools which can control them, and with networked stations that send data to the device manufacturer, who then shares some of it with the medical care provider. The wearer of the device has no control over this process, and doesn’t necessarily know what data is being collected, shared, how and with whom.
This rhetoric of criticising cyborgs, rather than technologies themselves is not only not helpful, it’s actually damaging. Healthy criticism and skepticism towards technologies and their impact on society is necessary, but framing it in a way that discredits all people with body and sense enhancing technologies is othering. Yes, Stop The Cyborgs do so with caveats, but these aren’t obvious. The title is Stop The Cyborgs, not Stop Technologies That May Have Really Bad Unforeseen Consequences That We Should All Worry About.
That’s my main point — let’s talk about how various uses of technologies can affect our society, but let’s not shift the focus to people who sometimes may have no real choice whether to accept these enhancements or not (it’s not really a choice if not having an externally controlled pacemaker means a certain death for example). It’s a bit like blaming foreigners for the failure of councils to increase capacity of systems to match population growth required to maintain cities.
It’s also important to remember that technologies themselves aren’t always ethically questionable. It’s what we do with them that can be positive or contribute to suffering and misery. Sometimes the same technology can be used to help people and to simultaneously ruin lives for profit.
Cyborgs and algorithms aren’t the problem, the problem is who has control over cybernetic systems and control over design and manufacture of technology that becomes pervasive. Many things that Stop The Cyborgs talk about worry me too, surveillance and privacy being the most pressing issue. Again, these concerns have less to do with people who are aided by technology, and more with political imbalance of power between the technology users and technology owners, who retain control over tools and systems and can use them to curtail freedoms and consolidate their existing powers.
You’ve got to solder them together yourself, but they come pre-programmed with four games: Space Invaders, Breakout, Connect 4 and Simon Says type thing. You can make your own games and program the chip using an FTDI cable.
There’s an extensive wiki on GitHub to help you put it together, and of course the code is available there too. Now excuse me while I try to not lose all my lives in 30 seconds and shoot down all space invaders.
All good things come to pass, and so has this: Instagram will now be sharing data with Facebook and can use metadata associated with your images, and/or your likeness and profile information in experimental advertising that may masquerade as no advertising at all.
Many of my friends left the service already, and I am considering doing the same. But this isn’t the Why I Left Instagram post (I have deleted my account once before and haven’t written about it then either – can I haz gold star now?). The change in Instagram’s TOC got me thinking about what it was that I actually liked about the service, and whether those things would be more important to me that the consequences of my grumpy face endorsing brands without my consent or renumeration.
When I first started using it, there were no public profiles on the web. You could see photos but only from the app, or if they were explicitly shared to other places. It meant that I could have a mostly private account, and only my friends and people I like on the web had the chance to see such wonderful visual treats like the penis-shaped mince pie or a picture of my mate’s flatmate bathing on holiday. It seemed to me like sharing a photo on Instagram was a temporary means of visual communication; an off-hand joke; a shared moment. I don’t think I have ever scrolled through anyone’s photo archive, and I don’t know if other people do, but for me it was all about being in the moment and later forgetting it.
But of course nothing is forgotten, this is after all the internet. I was reminded of that when the public profiles were introduced and I realised that this fleeting thing I liked so much didn’t exist in the first place. I may have as well been uploading photos to Flickr, which I used to treat almost like GitHub for photos: put there everything you’re proud of, everything that might be useful in the future, everything you absolutely must have another backup of and everything that other people might need. It was like a browsable archive of all the useful things. It didn’t ever feel like an immediate communication tool.
Dustin Curtis speaks about photography as communication beautifully in his post ”Photography’s Third Act”. He tells the story of Treehouse, a photo sharing app that in its infancy had only one feature: sharing photos. No comments. No likes.
Instead of taking photos to maintain memories, we used them for instantaneous communication. (Photography’s Third Act)
To me this was the difference between things I would post to Flickr (memories, records) and Instagram (communication) – obviously that’s not necessarily representative of other users on each platform.
Tools have the potential to frame how we use them, and so Treehouse changed how people used it to its own detriment:
It was an awesome experience, and I loved the app.
That is, until liking, comments, and titles were added. Everyone wanted and begged for those features, of course, but adding them had an unforeseeable negative side effect: they removed the expectation that photos should be used for communication, and instead gave the impression that communication should happen around the photos. (Photography’s Third Act)
I was pondering this and realised there isn’t a service I use that allows this kind of instant communication that eventually leaves not trace, like a conversation that you have one day but next week struggle to recall. And I would like that.
And apparently, so would others. Snapchat is a real-time image chat, and the images you send to one another disappear quickly. It became so popular that Facebook released their own Poke to grab a piece of the self-destructing-photo market.
I wouldn’t mind the photos staying out there for a bit longer, maybe until the next one is shared. So I’ve made instanat (no need to laugh, I had always been upfront about my inability to name things). It’s my own photo sharing thing. I have a special folder in my Dropbox where I can add new photos, and then they end up on the web. Only one at the time, visible until I post another one.
The integration with Dropbox means I can post to it from a variety of photo apps, even if they don’t save directly to Dropbox. I can drop in photos and screenshots from my laptop as well.
I am interested to see how this will shape what I deem shareable and how I will use it, knowing that despite being fleeting-ish1 it’s all completely public. We’ll see.
It’s not quite fleeting though. Because it’s just me, photos don’t get the opportunity to disappear among others in your feed over time. I am lost for a better word to describe it though.↩
Harland & Wolff Gantry Crane, Goliath, Queen’s Island, Belfast by Calotype46
Samson and Goliath are huge shipbuilding gantry cranes in Belfast. I have fallen in love with them as soon as I saw them because they remind me of my home town, Szczecin. Szczecin’s shipyard also had two huge yellow gantry cranes towering over the city, always there in the background to orientate yourself by.
Gantry crane in Szczecin, Poland, by ilm19
I have come across reports that the Szczecin’s cranes are up for sale, and may leave my home town in due course. I don’t know how much of this is true, but this is still heartbreaking news. A gantry crane in Ulsan in South Korea has been named Tears of Malmö after the sadness caused by the crane being sold and removed from its place of origin, Malmö, where it has lived for 28 years. I hope Szczecin’s cranes will be named Tears of Szczecin if they leave home.
Stocznia Szczecińska (Szczecin Shipyard) has changed hands multiple times, beginning straight after the WWII when Szczecin (formerly Stettin) when the whole region was taken over by Poland. In 2009 it has been shut down and its liquidation has begun.
Banner hanging off shipyard’s railing, reading “Down with the decaying ruling elite”, photo from IPN
The shipyards in Poland were one of the places where resistance to communist dictatorship began forming. In December 1970 at Stocznia Szczecińska the workers protested about the rising food prices and “surrounding reality” (as did workers of other shipyards in the country), a protest to which the state reacted with violence, killing sixteen people and injuring over a hundred just in Szczecin. Near the shipyard’s entrance there’s a monument with the names of the killed.
Tank in front of the railway station in Szczecin, photo from IPN
The industry is moving away, taking with it its most valuable remnants and only leaving a gaping hole.
Samson and Goliath graffiti in an underpass in Holywood near Belfast
Samson and Goliath, on the other hand, were “scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995” (source: Wikipedia) which means they are there to stay.
I couldn’t find the names of the cranes in Szczecin, and I’m not even sure they have any. I wish they were as loved in their home place as the Samson and Goliath are.
2012 started off well – I had a great job I enjoyed, working with Webponce. We spent plenty of time on non-commercial and speculative projects. I had the best job title (Near-Futures Explorer, since you ask), awesome boss, and flexible working practices.
In April I’ve left this job (not without a great deal of sadness) to become a technologist in residence at Lighthouse as part of Happenstance, which resulted in building Offbott with James Bridle and running workshops teaching to code.
I have been taking on freelance work since second year at university, but after Happenstance I decided to do it full-time. Having been spoilt by having so much freedom in my working arrangements it seemed like the best thing to do. It meant I had the chance to work with Caper on exciting cultural projects such as Alarum for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and with Storythings on building interactive things.
During Happenstance sharing my skills turned out to be both enjoyable and educational, so I was keen to continue doing it. I ran a short game-making workshop for local secondary school students as a part of Lighthouse’s educational programme for Brighton Digital Festival. The year has finished with a coding workshop I did with Goldsmiths design students, who were on the same course I graduated from.
I was able to devote some time to helping organise Brighton Mini Maker Faire which took place in September. I’ve invited Tom Armitage, Alice Taylor, Matt Webb, Linda Sandvik representing Code Club, Leila Johnston and students from Cavendish School to talk at the event about their approach to making things. Afterwards I swore I wouldn’t organise events anymore as it’s exhausting, but I quickly forgot about that and organised Bling My Card workshop together with Lighthouse to raise money for Rockinghorse.
Towards the end of the year I got inspired by the idea of ”blogging like it’s 2004” so I have been trying to be a lot less precious with my blog posts. I am hoping this is going to have a ripple effect on my personal projects so I will be talking about them more even if they are unfinished and imperfect. If I did the New Year resolution thing that would be one of them, but I don’t, so let’s leave it at that.