I am currently having to jump through multiple administration hoops just in order to submit my thesis. In 2 weeks I will look back on this post and see that I have successfully submitted.
Designer Frank Chimero — of whose writing, portfolio, and blog I have been diligently following since years — doesn’t always write. But when he does, he gets it. In his latest newsletter, he wrote about music, particularly about the British post-punk band Dry Cleaning who sampled YouTube comments, Instagram captions, and advertising copy to construct lyrics that resemble inner monologues. In relation to this writing about music, he mentioned of how much we have assigned meanings to the inner workings of an algorithm — which, to be honest is a total black box where a lot of people, even the ML developers sometimes, could not easily decipher. In addition to the feeling of anger and outrage the algorithm has presented to us (note: also for the fact the world is literally burning), Chimero asked if we have ever considered how much algorithms and big data have also incited paranoia e.g. how many times have we asked ourselves if Facebook overheard us when we see ads about the weighted blanket we talked about last night? Or is it true that our phone’s software was deliberately designed to be slower right when its newer model was about to be announced?
In the absence of obvious reasons, we become mystics of the stream just like the sky, assigning mysterious behaviour to algorithms, mapping meaning onto the position of stars and dates of birth, believing that if we can’t change what controls us, perhaps we can believe a story enough to interface with it. The right story makes incohesiveness legible, and by knowing the pattern, we can be given a clearer understanding of the world, create success, and be lead deeper into ourselves. They can guide our infinite choices and finally create real possibility. Or so they say. In this environment, it’s no surprise that astrology and tarot have returned to popularity.
That also made me think of two things: 1. this article on how in the age of capitalism which demands all of our time, energy, and effort to be commercialised, astrology emerges as an act of resistance, as a way for us to explore our meanings (of which I have shared last week), and 2. this newsletter post by Stacy-Marie Ishmael, on clinging to faith as an act of endurance. I have always wondered about how one ascribes so much of the meanings they could come up with to their faith — especially as my religious mother is living with me — but I realised when it seems to no longer make sense, when it feels like there are no obvious answers to our questions, no balm to heal our pain, a lot of people turn to a higher spiritual power to seek for, or create their own meanings and answers.
Also, from Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a question of which I have been trying to grapple with these past few months: “How to get through neverending drumbeat of breaking news without falling too hard for misinformation”, or breaking down yourself?
Some related, some not:
- How to survive the Internet in 2020. Step 1: Impose an ironclad rule — No one is allowed to share any piece of content without waiting a day to think it over.
- “[U]nderstanding doesn’t come from insisting on a list of rules, shouting the same thing only louder like a hapless monolingual tourist in a foreign country. Understanding comes from meeting other people where they are, like being willing to use gestures and a handful of semi-remembered words and yes, even to look like a fool, to bridge a language barrier with laughter and humility.”
- Where does it hurt? Everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere.
- Reading: Ece Temelkuran’s How to Lose a Country in 7 Steps, which is a brilliant read on the rise of populist leaders eloquently framed through its seven classic taxonomies.
- Viewing: Boon Joon Ho dunking on us.
- Listening: I have been listening to multiple episodes of The Ezra Klein Show while working. This episode with political scientist Erica Chenoweth on nonviolent resistance movements is definitely worth listening to.
- Food & Drink: There was a lot of McDonald’s last week, and lots of boba, and one occasion of kimchi-jiggae. I love that thing (the kimchi stew) so much.