This 10-minute presentation by Eli Pariser – Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” – tackles how the trend toward greater personalization in the web could jeopardize the civic uses of new media.
Pariser directly addresses Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are in the audience, asking them to offer the public more transparency and more control regarding how the search for information is being filtered. The author argues that not only should algorithms decide what to show us based on relevance, but that they should also provide material to us that is important, uncomfortable, challenging, and presents other points of view.
What I would like to know more about are the issues of importance and unease (the material deemed “uncomfortable”).
Who decides what is important? Apart from the obvious – e.g., news on Occupy Wall Street trump those on celebrities and fashion – the issue of power remains. Who are the watchdogs? Who has the power? Probably, in this case, those who create the algorithms. And are these parties fit to determine what is important? For example, in Argentina, where I’m from, the news on TV covers mostly local crimes, local politics, sports, and fashion. You virtually never hear about what’s going on abroad, which I find astounding – and harmful because it’s harshly limiting. And while I believe the people at Google, at least (since I browse Google News), are significantly more competent and reasonable in that respect, I am still uncomfortable knowing that they have this power instead of, say, Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler, or Naomi Klein (am I biased? Nooooooo!).
But how could we work through this? What is the solution? How do we arrive at it?
Regarding news that is “uncomfortable,” what does this category mean, exactly? News about rape and incest? News regarding fetishes and the disturbing show Toddlers & Tiaras? News about Ukrainian authorities barbarically killing stray dogs in preparation for the Euro 2012 soccer championships next summer?
Life is plenty uncomfortable and jarring, so isn’t it logical that we should be exposed to news covering prickly topics? Ugly things are taking place, whether you want to stick your head in the sand or perk up your ears and somehow participate. Don’t you want to be part of progress, of action, of life on this earth? Staying updated on what’s going on around us is arguably necessary: it can help us keep an inclusive and well-rounded perspective in general, which is conducive to a more open, tolerant, and even compassionate mind — especially if our news consumption includes information coming from all sides. (Hear that, Google News/Yahoo News/etc.?)
What are your thoughts on Pariser’s video?
This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Not surprisingly, it’s a story by the wonderful Eve Ensler. (Since for some reason I am currently unable to embed the video, follow this link to watch and hear Eve tell you her story herself.)
I asked a woman in Nairobi, in a rift valley, “Do you like your body?”
She looked at me like I was crazy.
“Like my body? Like my body? Ooh, I love my body! I love, love my body! And my hands – ooh, my fingers! Look at my fingers, my fingernails! They’re crescent moons! My hands, my arms! So strong! They carry me along, so strong! Ooh! And my legs! My legs can wrap around a man and hold him down. My breasts…”
“I was like, whoa, whoa… stop there.” I said, “I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to love my body.”
She said, “What’s wrong with your body?”
And I said, “Well, I’ve got this stomach…”
And she said, “A stomach? What stomach? Your stomach is mean to be seen!”
So she said to me, “Eve, Eve – do you see that tree? Do you like that tree? Now, look at that other tree. Do you like that tree? Do you think that tree isn’t pretty because it doesn’t look like the other tree? Do you think this tree is ugly because it doesn’t look like that tree? You’re a tree. You’ve got to love your tree! Love your tree!”
How often do you remember to love your tree? Let’s remind ourselves every day! We are all trees worth loving.
Writing is my Thing (read: the thing I want to do with my life because it nurtures and challenges me while giving me pleasure all at the same time).
What I’m not sure of is what I want to write about. You know, if I got to choose 100% of the time. I have eclectic interests and love to learn, so I am happy to write about myriad topics. Yet, of course, I have my favorites.
My two biggest passions in life are women’s and non-human animal rights (why “non-human”? Because we are animals too – but we like to pretend that we aren’t, that we’re better than non-humans, because that perspective enables us to feel okay about exploiting them. Yeah, don’t get me started.).
I am fascinated by topics like environmental issues; pornography’s effect on viewers and its consequent impact on gender relations; animal rights and speciesism in general; feminism(s); the increasing threat of genetically modified foods (GMOs) and how Monsanto is attempting to take over the world through its manipulation and ownership of food across the globe (you can watch a very informative and frightening documentary on the topic here); and so on.
But ultimately, I would like to be the next Slavoj Žižek, continental philosopher and critical theorist (not that I support all of his views); or the next Judith Butler, poststructuralist and gender and queer theory philosopher extraordinaire whose mere genius makes her sexy. Of course, I may need to go on to get a Ph.D. or two for that. And although I’m not in the mood for it [yet], I’ve got time.
So how do you find your Thing?
Ahh, one of the quintessential existentialist questions. And one for which I don’t have a definitive answer.
Victoria Shmoria says it’s a process, not a destination, to find your Thing. And that you don’t get a spontaneous confetti party when you think you’ve found it! (I was not happy to read that, Victoria. Just so you know.)
But I know this: I am now 27, and I’ve had depression since I was about 13. At 15, I fell into a major depression that arguably culminated a year later in a suicide attempt (interestingly, just 9 days after I began taking the antidepressant Zoloft, which has been accused of spurring suicidal tendencies in users). So I wasn’t just blue. I necessitated copious amounts of antidepressants and therapy, which unfortunately didn’t even help much. I am fortunately stable now, although still on medication.
However, there was one single year during which I was able to do just fine – spectacularly, actually – without any pills despite tremendous stress. It was the year I wrote my thesis in college. I was in pure love with that thesis; with my carrel at the college library where I kept most of the books I was using in my research; with the courses I designed for myself during my last semester (French feminist theory, which I took with a friend and involved writing essays and meeting weekly with a professor in her office; and the philosophy of animal rights, for which I met alone with another professor in his office). I am a hardcore nerd and I love it. I reach academic journal articles for fun even today, philosophy books, critical theory, and so on.
And if that year I was able to get past all the crap in my head, all the misery, dismal self-esteem, co-dependency that led me to date emotionally selfish men for five years in a row, the emotional instability, and the crazy in general – I have to wonder whether the cure was doing something I was deeply in love with. And, thus, I wonder whether I would be happiest as an academic, spending my time reading, writing, and discussing intricate ideas, expanding the horizons of my mind at 100 mph (as much as you can expand them through academic learning). Is that, now that my depression is no longer severe, my ultimate cure?
But I want to affect concrete change in the world. I want to make it a better place for women and for non-human animals in particular because they are the most oppressed groups on Earth. And I’m not sure whether writing would be sufficient to accomplish this on my terms.
And, no, I don’t yet know how to get there, or how to reconcile my desire to write with my desire to help change the world.
Meanwhile, I continue to write.
Also, my website is too pink. I intend to fix this.
Recently, I’ve been helping a few job-seeking friends out by teaching them what I know about freelancing, getting started, cover letters, where to look for jobs, and tactics to make them appear professional to prospective employers (as opposed to clueless, which is often the norm at the very beginning).
I am particularly happy to help them because nobody was there to guide me when I first started, and I would like to spare others the limitations and frustration I experienced. Naturally, I would have been able to progress faster had I had a mentor or friend in the industry.
I first started applying to magazines for entry-level freelance work when I was 19. My mother, a change management consultant, helped me draft a résumé and simple cover letters, but I did not know anyone who was already writing or who even wanted to and would join me in my adventure.
For example, at first, I only applied to magazines that explicitly sought contributors. It had not even crossed my mind to apply to publications that weren’t explicitly seeking writers because I thought I wouldn’t have a chance, that they wouldn’t be interested in adding to their repertoire of writers and editors.
Then, after I transferred to New College of Florida in Sarasota and gained more writing and editing experience from working for local magazines and college newspapers, I became interested in feminist jurisprudence and animal law. The college’s savvy and sweet career counselor, Cathy, patiently answered all of my questions, taught me how to write efficient résumés and CVs, and hugged me after each consult. It worked.
But because I had been seeking employment in a completely different field, my knowledge became largely irrelevant when I decided to switch industries and delve deeper into freelance writing, editing, and translating.
Because I didn’t have a go-to buddy who shared my specific professional interests back then, I spent countless hours researching and compiling information on how to go about becoming a successful freelancer—not to mention where I could even find a decent source of job postings that applied to me.
What I would like to know is how other freelancers started out: how you learned the ropes (ack, cliché!); if you were mentored, and if so by whom and how; and what you’d advise and warn newbies about. Please feel free to share.