The Glass Room

I’m recommending a visit to The Glass Room in London this weekend if you’re able. (It’s free but donations are welcomed.) I went yesterday late afternoon. It’s an impressive looking space. Walking around the exhibit, however, I couldn’t help thinking that the overriding sense visitors would come away with, after learning how our data is collected, stored and used, is one of powerlessness.

I brought this up with one of the Tactical Technology Collective who are dotted around and available to chat to. He recognised visitors do get a sense of being creeped out or not in control, but this is exactly why TTC had put together, and people could pick-up for free, their Data Detox Kit (now also available online). With this kit, he said, people not only left with a practical tool to enable them to take back some control, but they hoped these people also left with a sense of optimism.

 

Reading: The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark

6 reasons to be (technologically) cheerful

No.1

In my experience – and occasionally to my slight disappointment – free e-books available online are of a poor quality. Standard Ebooks, a volunteer not-for-profit effort, are doing something about this.

No.2

Solid is a project, led by Tim Berners-Lee, which aims “to radically change the way Web applications work today, resulting in true data ownership as well as improved privacy.”

One of the issues it looks to negate is ‘vendor lock-in’; or what Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns The Future calls less diplomatically ‘punishing lock-in’; this is where a user puts data valuable to them into a server but then cannot leave that server as access to their data will be lost.

No.3

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t track you; Ecosia is a search engine which uses the ad revenue it produces from search ads to plant tress. Both seem a good idea because if you can’t (as yet – see no.2) own the data you create you might as well assert some control over the data you put out there, or put the data you do generate to some use.

No.4

OpenStreetCab is an app which lets you compare prices between black cabs, Lyft and Uber (London and New York only currently). While not able to address some fundamental issues with the sector, this app seems at the very least to (re)introduce some competition between the platforms.

No.5

The continuation of RSS readers. I use NewsBlur, but have used Feedly.

No.6

That you are able to own your digital presence:

It’s not yet been a year on from deciding to migrate (most of) my digital presence to WordPress, so I hope I’m not speaking prematurely, but overall I think my decision has been a good one. There have been drawbacks. And when I think of a particular drawback such as the loss of ease at which I can stay in touch with friends, I try to bear the following in mind from the writer Warren Ellis:

My social media are either deleted or shut off in some way, but it’s not hermitage, because friends and comrades know how to reach me. I’ve just turned the volume control down on the world, and I focus on other things, in other ways. It brings me peace, and peace brings me clarity, and clarity brings me energy. Good to go.

 

Reading: Delayed Gratification, Issue 27

The Internet and English Language

The most obvious novelties [of the Internet’s influence on English] relate to the use of punctuation to mark constructions, where many of the traditional rules have been adapted as users explore the graphic opportunities offered by the new medium. We see a new minimalism, with marks such as commas and full stops omitted; and a new maximalism, with repeated use of marks as emotional signals (fantastic!!!!!!). We see some marks taking on different semantic values, as when a full stop adds a note of abruptness or confrontation in a previously unpunctuated chat exchange. And we see symbols such as emoticons and emojis replacing whole sentences, or acting as a commentary on sentences – OUP blog

I have definitely noticed an increase in my use of exclamation marks when writing messages or texts; not as a way to convey anything particularly exclamatory but more as a way to convey that I’m not being too serious.