Custodian of tone

(It is a jumble of personal news today, nothing smart, nothing poignant. You can skip this post if you want.)

I submitted my thesis corrections today. Was glad to get that out of the way for now. In the meantime, even if I do receive the Senate letter this year, we were informed that the graduation ceremony had been postponed until further notice.

A friend asked me a question the other day: what do you hope to carry forward from the quarantine? My answer would be this awareness of the systemic fissures that — sadly it had to take a pandemic to do this — materialised itself in front of our very eyes. The less rushing of things, less living by the frenetic drumbeats of capitalism and neoliberalism, our lives shrunk to a pinhole of more focus and radical imagination of new ways of living. But then, many countries, Malaysia included, decided to ‘reopen the economy’ — calling it the ‘recovery’ phase — while the number of infections is still soaring. And just like that, we return to work content to text our coworkers about work all the time so we get our work done (but who cares about their other aspects of life?), we ban ‘foreigners’ from mosques and houses of faith because we said they were more at risk at the virus than we do (who are we to decide — both at the decision on the risk and letting someone into houses of God, which is, for everyone?), we demean people who look different than us because we refused to learn about and understand them, we continue to stomp all over people who work for us because they don’t simply understand the intricacies of labour rights (and we might not too, but they’re too young and too desperate for jobs), and many others. I am saying ‘we’ because you and I let this happen, and might as well say we are complicit in this too.

I learned from Russell Davies, of whose blog on ideas and advertising I had been following since 2006 (back when entering advertising was my dream) that apparently “… Richard Ayoade had described the job of a film director as being ‘the custodian of tone’”. I think of the previous work I did doing UX writing — setting up a tone and voice document was one of my favourite tasks to do. Custodian of tone, I like that.

I’m loving this edition of MIT Technology Review’s The Algorithm newsletter acknowledges that their work is built on the foundational work of black researchers and scholars: MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini and AI Now fellow Deborah Raji’s work revealing discrimination in face recognition, which has changed how companies build their systems and how the US government audits them. AI Now policy research director Rashida Richardson’s work uncovering the systemic practice of corrupted, even falsified, data being used to train policing algorithms. Harvard fellow Mutale Nkonde’s work supporting the writing of critical legislation for regulating algorithmic systems and deepfakes. There are so many others: Ruha Benjamin, Timnit Gebru, Rediet Abebe, Abeba Birhane, William Isaac, Yeshimabeit Milner. I love this list and I have made a vow to cite only Black and POC people in my future research. I understand this might sound self-congratulatory, and perhaps it was, but as I check this space frequently, speaking this out there would hold myself accountable for what I have vowed. Hold me accountable too.

Reading in my tabs:


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