Nicholas Carr wrote a blog post well worth a read last January, positing the impact of social media is content collapse, not context collapse. Indeed when we all started out on social software the phrase context collapse was on our lips.

Since 2016 Carr sees context restoration however, a movement away from public FB posts to private accounts, chat groups, and places where content self-destructs after a while. In its place he sees a different collapse, that of content.

Context collapse remains an important conceptual lens, but what’s becoming clear now is that a very different kind of collapse — content collapse — will be the more consequential legacy of social media. Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

Content collapse, because all those different types of information reach us in the exact same templated way, the endlessly scrolling timeline on our phone’s screen.
Carr posits our general unease with social media stems from this content collapse even, and names four aspects of it:

First, by leveling everything, social media also trivializes everything….

Second, as all information consolidates on social media, we respond to it using the same small set of tools the platforms provide for us. Our responses become homogenized, too….

Third, content collapse puts all types of information into direct competition….

Finally, content collapse consolidates power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms….

My first instinct is that it is that last aspect that causes the most unease. The first and third are ultimately the same thing, I feel. The second trivialises not the content but us. It severely limits people’s response range, leaving no room for nuance or complexity (which makes unease and lack of power more tangible to users, such that I suspect it significantly amps the outrage feedback loop in people’s attempts to break the homogeneity, to be seen, to be heard) It is what removes us as an independent entity, a political actor, a locus of agency, an active node in the network that is society.

So here’s to variety and messiness, the open web, the animated gifs of yesteryear, and refusing the endlessly scrolling algorithmic timelines.

I have now read several non-fiction books on my Nova2 reader. This is a marked improvement from before. I dislike reading non-fiction on my Kindle. Part of it is in the slightly bigger screen of the Nova2, and easier flipping back and forth between parts of a book. Part of it is that it’s a separate device, and not the same screen I read on for relaxation. An important part is also the ease of taking (handwritten) notes while using it.

A very pleasant additional side-effect of this e-reader, compared to the Kindle, is that in the past few weeks I have bought several e-books outside of Amazon. Because the tablet is a generic e-reader, I can now shop around for a much better mix of price, absence of DRM, and local/independent bookshop. This allows me to go outside the silo Amazon wants to lock you into more easily/often.

Two useful things I found out today about my Nova2 e-ink reader/tablet, while trying to figure out how to retrieve and use notes made on it:

  • Any markings / scribbled note I add by hand to a book or pdf, are accessible as a table of content (under the TOC button even). These can be exported to PDF for all notes, or for selected notes.
  • Next to marking things in a text, you can split the reader’s screen to have the text on one side and a notepad on the other (it doesn’t automatically set it to the left hand side when the reader is set to left handed, don’t know yet if I can change that manually). Hand written notes are then connected to the book and like the notes made in the document itself can be exported and accessed as pdf.

I need to much more closely read this report. It is very much connected to the things I tried to express during the 2010 SHiFT closing keynote, when I labelled it as MakerHouseholds. A label under which I have done various projects related to making and networked agency in the past decade. There’s a richness in perspective to explore, written by people, some of whom I already follow in my feedreader. (ht Alper Çugun)

Bookmarked The New Old Home by The Yak Collective

Rediscovering the home as a production frontier

The Yak Collective’s second report, The New Old Home, offers 22 perspectives built around Pamela Hobart’s central thesis: as work returns to the home in the form of remote work opportunities (a trend now dramatically accelerated by pandemic circumstances), we can turn to historical modes of integrated living, reconsidered in light of newer technology, to guide our attempts at co-located life and work.

Quotebacks have been mentioned in various corners of the IndieWeb a lot in the past few weeks. As it was launched as a Chrome plugin, I didn’t try it out (Chrome is an unpalatable ad delivery vehicle imo). Now however there is a Firefox Quotebacks plugin, Tom Critchlow announced.

As Tom says, Quotebacks are meant to reduce friction in quoting other blogs/sites/sources, and if that increases the number and length of distributed conversations I’m all for it.

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

How is it different from a block-quote? It isn’t actually, under the hood it is still a block-quote. It’s just styled differently, and the browser plugin makes it very easy to capture everything you need and paste it into your blog-editor. The quoteback you see above is a html block-quote in the source:

screenshot of the html code of a block quote styled as quoteback

While reading you can select text and in Firefox press alt s, and the plugin will pop-up. It allows you to add / edit things, and then copy the html encoded quote to your clipboard, to paste into your blog editor.

screenshot of the Quoteback plugin pop-up during browsing

I like the easy ‘quote, copy, paste’ flow and having it look nice. I do think that the styling, which mimicks how e.g. Tweets are embedded in websites, may sometimes however actually break the flow of a blogpost, where a block-quote is more like a highlight in the pace and rhythm of a text, while a quoteback is presented as an embed, a different thing separate from the text. In fact I mostly actively dislike the embedded tweets in e.g. ‘news’ articles. There it feels like a way of not having to write an actual article or story, resulting in ‘news’ items along the basic template of “X said something, Twitter wasn’t having it” (With the article often stating the content of a tweet in its text, and then embedding the tweet below it, repeat 12 times. Voila, ‘journalism’ done.) It’s an additional visual amplification, easy on the eyes yes and instantly recognisable as a visual pointer to elsewhere, that probably isn’t always warranted, and may even reduce attention to the post the quote is used in. That would then decrease the level of distributed conversation, not increase it as intended.

Of course it is entirely possible to use the quoteback plugin, and not having the visual style of embedding applied. Below is the exact same quoteback as above, but with the class="quoteback" removed, reverting it back to a regular block-quotes (but keeping the link to the source and comments you may have added). Alternatively you can also delete the script element that provides the styling information for the quoteback. (I do exactly the same with Flickr embeds)

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

I’ll experiment for a while to see how it works for me in practice. I’ve put the script that styles the embed on my own domain, so I can also fiddle a bit with the styling if I want.

That was the oddest phone call glitch. I phoned someone in the UK, after the first minute or so, I heard the ringing sound again while the connection was still up, and it seemed my counterpart picked up again, however it was a full playback of their side of the conversation. Then I hung up, and rang my counterpart back. They said they stopped hearing me, but the connection persisted (apparently while I got the play back from the ringing and their half of the previous parts of the conversation). Can’t come up with a simple tech explanation that does not involve capturing and storing the entire phonecall.

Ian Forrester over at Cubic Garden has submitted a GDPR request to ClearView AI, the alt-right linked company that is hawking their facial recognition database (based on scraped online images) to law enforcement as well as commercial outfits. Should be interesting to follow along. Recently IBM stopped facial recognition work (they previously showed not being up to speed with CC licensing it seemed to me), and others like Amazon and MicroSoft did too when it comes to law enforcement. Facial recognition is extremely sensitive to bias.

facial-recognition-1Facial recognition 1, by EFF, license CC BY