In a recent interview, Forrest Stuart, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, talks about his experiences spending five years living on Skid Row. The Los Angeles neighborhood, in the heart of downtown, is known to house one of the highest populations of homeless people in the country. The 34 year old was doing research for his book, “Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row,” hoping to find a way for police and policymakers to eliminate the criminalization of poverty. On the subject of the American Dream, by which Americans pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, Stuart said: “I was like, ‘Well, let’s go see if somebody who’s fresh out of prisons, let’s go see somebody who just been evicted, let’s go see somebody who’s maybe just recovered from a cocaine addiction. Let’s go see if some of these people actually can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.‘” You can read more of the interview and hear about Stuart’s experience at the Fusion website. http://fusion.net/story/333851/forres… http://www.wochit.com
In the autumn of 2013 I was in my first term of school in a decade. I had two jobs; my husband, Tom, was working full-time; and we were raising our two small girls. It was the first time in years that we felt like maybe things were looking like they’d be OK for a while.
After a gruelling shift at work, I was unwinding online when I saw a question from someone on a forum I frequented: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? I thought I could at least explain what I’d seen and how I’d reacted to the pressures of being poor. I wrote my answer to the question, hit post, and didn’t think more about it for at least a few days. This is what it said:
Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts
There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.
Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6am, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes), then work, then I get the kids, then pick up my husband, then have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12.30am, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3am. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr Martini [her partner], see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork.
Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.
When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a mini-fridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC [government-funded nutritional aid for women, infants and children]. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12 for $2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron while knocked up.
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.
We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?
East Asian technological innovations have long outpaced those in the West. Products that sound like recent or even future innovations to most Westerners have been available for decades in Asia, particularly in Japan. These include:
· A handheld device that enables customers to order food and drinks from their karaoke room.
· A button attached to the table that customers push to alert a waitress.
· A slew of vending machines that sell everything you can imagine: alcohol, ramen, underwear, umbrellas, rice, newspapers, cell phones.
· Love hotels where guests can check in discreetly without interacting with other human beings.
Tourists visiting Japan for the first time often feel compelled to take a photo of the ubiquitous high-tech washlet toilets. These fixtures are hardly new; they have been on the market since 1980 and have more than 80 percent market penetration. Years before the Internet of Things became a phenomenon in the West, Japanese people were using their mobile phones to run their baths remotely while in a cab. They were also using a single card on their phones to buy groceries from a store, get green tea from a vending machine, and pay the fare for trains and buses.
What makes us human? Why do we fear artificial intelligence and robots? ‘AI: More than Human’ curators Suzanne Livingston and Maholo Uchida unpack the big questions explored in this interactive exhibition.
One of my favorite technological myths is, like all the best stories, both ancient and urgent. It’s about usurpation and seduction. In Greek mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his own supremely beautiful creation, Galatea. In Ovid’s telling, there’s a happy ending. The goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, takes pity on him and breathes life into the marble. The statue’s lips grow warm under his kiss; they fall in love, marry.
The tale has an unhappier classical cousin: that of Talos, the artificial man. Created by the divine smith, Hephaestus, Talos is often depicted as a bronze giant striding through the seas around Crete. Immensely strong, almost invulnerable, Talos renders all human might redundant.
Skip forward two thousand years and we find Galatea and Talos dovetailing into one of the 1990s’ most iconic science fiction films: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron’s masterpiece of action and exquisitely honed musculature. In the second half of the film, there’s a quiet moment where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular Terminator – an artificial killer reprogrammed to act as the perfect protector – is hanging out with his young protectee, John Connor.
John’s mother, Sarah, watches from a distance as the cyborg plays with the 10-year-old. Arnie has flipped from one polarity to the other: from perfect assassin to perfect playmate.
“It was suddenly so clear,” she says in voiceover. “The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one that measured up.”
Tireless, infinitely patient, endlessly consistent – our creations measure up in ways we can only dream of. Who wouldn’t want an immaculate machine companion, employee, parent, lover?
Quite a few people, as it turns out. Or at least, we don’t want to want these things. Our myths warn us about the weakness of human desire and judgment. To become entirely human, as in Pygmalion’s tale, is one thing. But to supplant the human is quite another. Arnie is there to help humans do human things: save the world, blow stuff up, chase around in trucks and on motorbikes. Then, conveniently enough, he terminates himself.
Myths themselves are seductive. They structure time and the world in ways we understand. They resonate. They are about human vulnerability and greatness; our fragility and hope. They are all about us – and, unfortunately, they have little to say about our current crop of technologies that isn’t misleading in one way or another.
What is truth is an oft asked question, especially online. This is a cool article digging into the plethora of made up stuff on Twitter, you should check it out 🙂
In his 1999 statement of principles known as the “Minnesota Declaration,” Werner Herzog gave an explanation of his theory of “ecstatic truth”. Cinema Verité, Herzog tells us, deals only with “superficial truth, the truth of accountants.” “One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. ‘For me,’ he says, ‘there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail.’”
In this, Herzog says, such realism “confounds facts and truth”: “Facts create norms, and truth illumination.” But luckily, against the realists, “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” In his work (most notably, his documentaries), Herzog seeks this “ecstatic truth”: to reflect reality not how it is on the surface, but how it is on a deep level, beyond the façade of what we merely perceive.
Of course this is difficult, and can go wrong — it can stray into a sort of dishonesty that it is impossible to even contest by means of verification. But when it works, it can tell us something we are unable to reach by means of engagement with surface reality alone — the essential truth, for instance, of engaging with British politics being like a posh teenager disinterestedly daring you to drink a big bucket of vomit and piss.
“Life in the oceans must be sheer hell,” Herzog concludes. “A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species — including man — crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.”
This what bothers me about those fake viral Twitter stories. They lack anything like ecstatic truth; they don’t reflect or reveal any reality deeper than what they describe. In this, they have only facts — and of course, as it turns out, they don’t even have that. If the stories had never posed as true, they would not have gone viral in the slightest. Like A Million Little Pieces or the hoax misery memoirs of JT Leroy, these stories need — regardless of any other formal accomplishments — to pose as true in order to make an impact on their audience. (Once you realize it’s not true, the Morris thread is literally just a guy saying: “Oh, and then this happened! And then hero (who I’ve made up) outwitted the drug dealers — wow! And he got away with it! Juh? How cool!”). Likewise, the Didn’t Happen lads seem determined to reduce all truth to mere facts, completely blind to the possibility that there could be more to the world than that — they don’t care about ecstatic truth at all.
The internet is causing more and more fake things to leak into our consciousness every day. But this is only really a problem if the fakes don’t contribute anything to our understanding of the world. We need to stop asking: is this true? We must instead ask: supposing this is true… what is its truth worth?
Nosing in on what people are up to isn’t new. The only thing that has changed is that our subjects used to be acquaintances from school, clubs, and down the road. Then, face-to-face conversation was within the realm of possibility even if fear got in the way. But keeping up-to-date with people you’ve never met from continents you’ve never visited isn’t weird to us. I’ve repeatedly found myself so entwined in the lives of unremarkable strangers that I feel the need to see how they’re doing (because actually following their account would be going ‘too far’).
Weird? Maybe a little, but the old saying that it’s not what you know but whom you know has taken on new meaning. Because lurking has become a part of our daily life, it’s not unacceptable to use it to benefit you. Creeping is currency.
As a child of the digital age and a person with pure obsessional obsessive-compulsive disorder (“Pure O” OCD), I have observed abundant overlap between these two identities. Social media feeds are dictated by algorithms. Take Instagram, for example: a search tab so generously populates your feed with images and videos that might be of interest to you based on your behavior online. This is exactly how intrusive thoughts work. I have a thought that is ego dystonic, scares me and sets me off down the rabbit hole of mental compulsions in a futile attempt to disprove that thought. By seeking to avoid said intrusive thoughts, you guessed it, we affirm them. “What we resist, persists,” a counselor once told me. And what would have been diluted by simple acceptance is amplified by the friction our brains set into motion.
The same thing happens on Facebook and Instagram. I compare my relationship to the ever-repetitive rhetoric of #CoupleGoals, tapping and reading, tapping and linking to yet another related piece of content. My Search tab is then inundated with images of perfectly tanned, toned couples. The same goes for body image, professional success, activism, pie making abilities — you name it. Their (insert insecurity) must be more valid than mine, as they receive more engagement. It seems as if they are more worthy. I too portray aspirational parts of my life and work, but I am troubled by the unrealistic expectation perpetuated. When I fixate on perfection, then my need for it continues. The sense of urgency remains because I keep sounding the alarm and affirming that it is important. Conundrums scream, “pay attention to me,” and although it negatively impacts my life, I pay attention.