Week 48 — fin

Hello comrades,

This has come to a natural finish. I’m near the end of my masters and so the end of this chronicle. From feminist and queer theory, animal studies, research ethics, to data and technology, not to mention the chaos that is being alive in this world, it has been quite the ride. I have a particular fondness for those of you who’ve been here since the early days.

I really enjoyed this almost-year of writing. The discipline of putting my thoughts down, the conversations it’s provoked, new folks I’ve met. Learning in public – while terrifying – is an interesting experience.

I might do another one someday. Maybe a little different, more curated and less of a brain dump. Maybe I will stop writing directly in the cms. Maybe I’ll even rope someone in to proofread for me. Or maybe I won’t and will continue to write exactly as I speak. I probably won’t use Substack, I don’t like all the tracking. But if I do start something new, I’ll definitely let you know.

Either way, I would love to hear from you. You can reply to this email, or hit me up on Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Stay well.
Sonia

Week 47 — looking for revolution

It’s really counting down towards the end. My reading is vastly reduced and my focus is now on how to get all the things floating around in my head in some kind of structure that makes sense.

A short and random one for you today.


Unit, vibration, tone: a post-phenomenological method for researching digital interfaces
by Ash et al

That academic thing where I have to find a source for something that is innate to me, analysing digital interfaces. Ultimately, the value in this article is establishing a vocabulary for discussion, a failed attempt since no one else uses that vocabulary.

If any of you smart folk have academic texts on interface analysis methodology, please send them my way.

British prisons are inhumane and do not prevent crime – most of them should go
by Simon Jenkins

Despite the abolitionist sounding title, this is actually quite a weak take. ‘Most’ in this case is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

But fewer than 100 prisoners are so dangerous as to be on “whole life” sentences, while he reckons a further 10,000 require incarceration to maintain public safety. They do need something like a prison. For the rest, Daw wants them kept in their homes and in the community, monitored by the plethora of electronic devices now available to the police and probation services.

Thinking about how racist and inequitable the carceral system is now, these reforms do not sound very good to me. For balance, I listened to Mariame Kaba on transformative justice and moving past punishment.

Trans women pose no threat to cis women, but we pose a threat to them if we make them outcasts
by Rebecca Solnit

One of my favs saying the absolute obvious. I’m glad she’s come out and said it, but also somewhat disappointed by the whole thing. This has been shared pretty widely in my circles, and everyone is like “yes queen” etc. Way more than actual trans women saying the same thing.

See trans woman saying what I’m trying to articulate, but better 👇

Forgive us our trespasses: forbidden rambles with a right-to-roam campaigner
by Rachel Cooke

Three guardian articles in a row. This is how you know I’m slipping. Anyway, like anything from the establishment press, even the so-called ‘radical takes’ don’t go far enough.

He is not – again, he tells me – looking for a revolution.

WHY NOT DAMMIT?! Especially since

England … is still owned by a relatively small number of wealthy individuals and institutions: by the law of trespass, we are excluded from 92% of the land and 97% of its waterways.

and goes on to tax evasion etc. Horrendous. The land was stolen, bring back the commons. In addition, let’s have Scotland’s right to roam.

Also…

Behrouz Boochani Just Wants to Be Free by Megan K. Stack because those ‘news’ videos of the boats were absolutely despicable. The immigration discourse in this country right now is beyond toxic. We must not give in to it.

Article from last year on why a black woman as VP isn’t on it’s own a win. This barely touches on some of the harmful things she’s done. Also, despite popular claims, Harris isn’t the first black woman running for VP.

The A-level fiasco is the second of it’s kind this year. The absolute blatent classism should not still be shocking to me, but it is.

Week 46 — hurtling onward

I’m really feeling ready for this to be over.

What this is has shifting boundaries but generally it’s living under a rock, working 7 days a week. The heat makes me want to be outside instead of indoors with an overheating computer on my lap. There are also a lot of things I want to get behind, and can’t because of time.

3 weeks left, both relieving and terrifying.


Poetics of Relation
by Édouard Glissant

This is a fantastic book. I enjoyed reading it so much. It’s hard to describe what it is about, because it’s about a lot of things, and what speaks to me is likely going to be different than what speaks to you. Beautiful prose, rich and at times enigmatic, poetic.

This video is a really good introduction to Glissant if you don’t want to commit to a book yet.

For the time being, perhaps, give up this old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures. There would be something great and noble about initiating such a movement, referring not to Humanity but to the exultant divergence of humanities.

We are not going any faster, we are all hurtling onward for fear of falling

Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression
by Jacques Derrida

There’s a section in my dissertation about archiving, and I studiously ignored this book when researching it. Then my tutor recommended I read it, so I had to. ugh ugh ugh. I’m not smart enough to understand Derrida.

Good sense tells us there is no history or archive of the future to come. A historian as such never looks to the future, which in the end does not concern him. But meaning something else altogether, is there a historian of the promise, a historian of the first door?

Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler

Book club lot, don’t read this bit since we haven’t met yet.

I was so happy when this got chosen for book club. I just hoovered it up. It’s the kind of book you can start and finish in one setting, if you are so inclined. Also, it starts in 2024, and it’s terrifying how this ‘dystopian future’ Butler wrote about in the 90s seems not that far-fetched. I could imagine it happening in 4 years, tbh. Any Butler buffs want to tell me why she’s so into pairing young women with old men? Not as bad as the child/grown men combo in Fledgling but still. Yuck.


Language of Appeasement
by Dafina-Lazarus Stewart

Justice has been on my mind a lot recently. In terms of abolition, yes, but also in my work as a designer. I’m constantly pushing digital accessibility and inclusive design but I’m also frustrated by how basic it is and how it is still so often ignored. What would it mean to design for justice?

Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”

I’d like to say on record that any sizable digital org should have a role for accessibility, and they should hire disabled people to do it. As a minimum!

How the Pandemic Defeated America
by Ed Yong

Ed Yong is great, as usual. Every time I read one of these pandemic articles, I mentally go over what I wrote in my essay to see if I got it wrong. Not yet.

It is hard to stare directly at the biggest problems of our age. Pandemics, climate change, the sixth extinction of wildlife, food and water shortages—their scope is planetary, and their stakes are overwhelming. We have no choice, though, but to grapple with them. It is now abundantly clear what happens when global disasters collide with historical negligence.

Also…

Jack Monroe on poverty, bracing and important read

And my main point is that poverty and privilege are largely accidental. You don’t choose to be born into an income bracket, a country pile, a housing estate, a double barrelled name or a damp tenement bedsit. But ignorance is a choice. And choosing to use your privileges to patronise people whose lives are entirely beyond your experience and comprehension, is a choice. Choosing to use the powers vested in you by the constituencies you serve, to deprive those same constituents of light, heating, food and home security is a wilful and deliberate act. And it has to stop.

Desire Paths by David Farrier

Now, though, I want the unvisited corners, the generosity of the unexpected. I want to leave the path I know and join one I don’t.

One for non-fiction writers. I don’t consider myself a writer but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better at it. (Maybe one day I’ll upgrade from writing directly in the cms.)

A small win in the algorithm fight

Week 45 — friends and monsters

This week, after seeing a random tweet, I attended a deep reading club. tl;dr, read a text together aloud, make notes along the way, discuss at the end.

The text was a speech by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was interesting, not my fav thing she’s written. What was weird was reading it in a group of mostly men. There was one section when it was my turn to read (the ‘big daddy’ bit) and I think it was the most uncomfortable I’ve been in years, I thought I was going to be sick after. I guess that’s what tw are for.

Still, I’m intrigued and will probably join another one. I really, really like the format. I think I’d like it more if it wasn’t with strangers on the internet. Thinking about starting my own, maybe.


The Friends of my Friends
by Dominique Lestel

What does it mean to be friends with an animal? And for them to be friends back. Not about dogs or other pets.

…exposure to the animal requires the partial loss of his [the human] predatory and tactless humanity.

The level of interactions is that of courtesy – that of a certain benevolent duplicity, leaving a great degree of initiative to the animal. Approaching it signifies starting by making peace with it, in particular by agreeing to renounce some of our most unrealistic fantasies and in mastering at least in part our human corporeality.

Emoji summary: 🎶 🐳 🐬

Entering the Bardo
by Joanna Macy

Went down a bit of an Emergence Magazine splurge.

We are in a space without a map. With the likelihood of economic collapse and climate catastrophe looming, it feels like we are on shifting ground, where old habits and old scenarios no longer apply. In Tibetan Buddhism, such a space or gap between known worlds is called a bardo. It is frightening. It is also a place of potential transformation.

This is how I felt at the beginning of lockdown. I’m not sure now.

Emoji summary: 🌸 🦠 ⏸

When You Meet the Monster, Anoint Its Feet
by Bayo Akomolafe

This one is A LOT. Like, I had a lot of reactions to it. It would almost take a line-by-line read through to get them all down, but dw I won’t make you suffer through that.

My dream is an electric hymn sung by gut bacteria, as their tentacular activisms recast the (post-)human self no longer as an industrial-capitalist monad but as a shimmering crosshatched sculpture as vast as spacetime. My dream is of cell transfers that queer sources, unsettle originals, and disturb the idea that identity is coherent or articulable. My dream is of the Anthropocene, entangled bodies, and the pleasures of never arriving. I dream of Obatálá’s revolutionary chain; I dream of the monstrous.

Emoji summary: 🧬 🌫 🧘🏿‍♂️

Constituting an archive
by Stuart Hall

An old classic

Archives are not inert historical collections. They always stand in an active, dialogic, relation to the questions which the present puts to the past; and the present always puts its questions differently from one generation to another.

Emoji summary: 🏛 🕧 🗂

Also…

How one hour of slow breathing changed my life by James Nestor. Non-western people have been saying this for thousands of years (probably) and now this guy is like ‘oh there’s science behind it too, also I’m white so buy my book about it’. *cue eye roll* We, the western modern, are so dumb thinking we know it all.

Using neural-network soundscapes to protect natural environments by Bob Yirka
I loved the idea of a given area having its signature sound, but I find the implications of this to be a bit suspish. The whole practice of land management is too often problematic, and this…

They further suggest that such systems could be deployed around the globe as a means of assisting land managers with detecting illegal activities in real-time.

Well. There’s a really good chapter in The Wake of Crows about land management and conservation.

Week 44 — technological ‘progress’ is progressing us into the bin

I’ve started writing. I have a big section about the problems with technology, mostly about data and ai type things. Truly, the hardest part is picking which of the many terrible examples to include.

It’s hard not to think that design, as an industry, is too shite to be redeemed. As a designer, it’s a difficult thing to grapple with.


Race After Technology
by Ruha Benjamin

This book is incredible. I didn’t read it earlier because my focus isn’t race, but that was a mistake. It is so relevant to any discussion about technology and has really helped me shape my arguments. Black women really do the best work.

If you are in tech at all (sorry) or interested in learning more about racism, this book is the one.

Emoji summary: 🚔 🤖 🚫

Algorithms of Oppression
by Safiya Noble

I have not read this cover to cover, skimmed past a couple chapters in the middle. Noble looks specifically at Google search as a way to critique technology and the way that racism and sexism is created and maintained. While it’s already out of date in its examples (seeing old Google screenshots is strange), the points she makes are as relevant now as ever.

The problems of big data go deeper than misrepresentation, for sure. They include decision-making protocols that favor corporate elites and the powerful, and they are implicated in global economic and social inequality

Emoji summary: 🔎 🕳 👨🏻‍💻

(Mis)gendering
by Os Keyes

Examples of the violence that data inflicts on trans lives.

For critical data studies scholarship to be truly critical and do more than illustrate a narrow and monolithic range of the datafied society’s consequences, it must consider (among many others) trans lives. It must consider the contextuality of gender specifically and identity more broadly, the way data systems work to strip contextuality, and how we might preserve and rebuild that. It must consider not only the flows of data but the eddies: the dead data, left static and in place until it is reanimated in a temporal context where it can do harm. Only then can we work to be free.

Emoji summary: 🗄 🌐 🛂

Accidental Orientations
by Brian Schram

On queerness and surveillance

… surveillance works to eliminate the margins and in-between spaces where Queerness was once fostered. It also gestures toward new Queer potentialities that emerge in the construction of Big Data archives and, as a corollary, new ways to disrupt or short-circuit the flows of power that move through the techno-surveillant assemblage in which Queer people are embedded.

Emoji summary: 🌈 ␐ 🌀

Also…

Image “Cloaking” for Personal Privacy a very cool way to fool facial recognition. Once again, facial recognition is always bad. (Thanks to Robin Sloan for this one, straight in my dissertation).

Online trackers follow health site visitors for more scary tech stories

Lacework by Everest Pipkin who watched the entire the MIT video dataset of one million, 3-second videos and wrote about it. Surreal.


On the Uses of History for Staying Alive
by Bathsheba Demuth

Historical thinking is like muscle memory, but for the mind’s eye. It gives us reflexes for reacting to a changeable world, to anticipate the limits of our powers and the contingencies of our present lives, to not conflate familiarity with permanence.

The New Stability
by Anna DeForest

What else is there to say? You are dead, like so many others, and the rest of us are left to live in the absence of any certainty. We can’t go on, and we go on: back to work, back to rounds, back to the next case coming crashing in. It is no use to think about the future, our training, or what happens next. We are all attending now to a historic and global suffering, and learning the limit of the grief our hearts can bear.

Sensitive Material
by Sasha Geffen

Because mainstream platforms use proprietary algorithms and overtired contract workers to root out nudity alongside gore and hate speech, their methods are clumsy and inexact. Their blunt results reveal the steadfastly cis gaze embedded in their decision-making processes.

Survivors Must Fight For Trans Women Too
by Janey Starling and Leah Cowan

Survivorhood means acknowledging one’s own experience and escape from a traumatic relationship. It does not mean you are by definition incapable of causing harm.


Soundtrack to today’s email brought to you by a Lamin Fofana set, which includes Fred Moten AND Ruth Wilson Gilmore whaaaaaat!

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