Value Sensitive Design and Dark Patterns

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to. The purpose of this site is to spread awareness and to shame companies that use them.

Reading about Value Sensitive Design I came across a link to Harry Brignul’s Dark Patterns. The site is about ways that web designers try to manipulate users. They have a Hall of Shame that is instructive and a Reading List if you want to follow up. It is interesting to see attempts to regulate certain patterns of deception.

Values are expressed and embedded in technology; they have real and often non-obvious impacts on users and society.

The alternative is introduce values and ethics into the design process. This is where Value Sensitive Design comes. As developed by Batya Friedman and colleagues it is an approach that includes methods for thinking-through the ethics of a project from the beginning. Some of the approaches mentioned in the article include:

  • Mapping out what a design will support, hinder or prevent.
  • Consider the stakeholders, especially those that may not have any say in the deployment or use of a technology.
  • Try to understand the underlying assumptions of technologies.
  • Broaden our gaze as to the effects of a technology on human experience.

They have even produced a set of Envisioning Cards for sale.

The Future of Digital Assistants Is Queer

AI assistants continue to reinforce sexist stereotypes, but queering these devices could help reimagine their relationship to gender altogether.

Wired has a nice article on how the The Future of Digital Assistants Is Queer. The article looks at the gendering of virtual assistants like Siri and how it is not enough to just offer male voices, but we need to queer the voices. It mentions the ethical issue of how voice conveys information like whether the VA is a bot or not.

One letter at a time: index typewriters and the alphabetic interface — Contextual Alternate

Drawing on a selection of non-keyboard ‘index’ typewriters, this exhibition explores how input mechanisms and alphabetic arrangements were devised and contested continually in the process of popularising typewrites as personal objects. The display particularly looks at how the letters of the alphabe

Reading Thomas S. Mullaney’s The Chinese Typewriter I’m struck by the variety of different typewriting solutions. As you can see from this exhibit web site, One letter at a time: index typewriters and the alphabetic interface — Contextual Alternate, there were all sorts of alternatives to the QWERTY keyboard early on, and many of them could accommodate more keys so as to support other languages including a non-alphabetic script like Chinese. As Mullaney points out there is a history to the emergence of the typewriter that we assume is normal.

This history of our collapsing technolinguistic imaginary took place across four phases: an initial period of plurality and fluidity in the West in the late 1800s, in which there existed a diverse assortment of machines through which engineers, inventors, and everyday individuals could imagine the very technology of typewriting, as well as its potential expansion to non-English and non-Latin writing systems; second, a period of collapsing possibility around the turn of the century in which a specific typewriter form—the shift-keyboard typewriter—achieved unparalleled dominance, erasing prior alternatives first from the market and then from the imagination; next, a period of rapid globalization from the 1900s onward in which the technolinguistic monoculture of shift-keyboard typewriting achieved global proportions, becoming the technological benchmark against which was measured the “efficiency” and thus modernity of an ever-increasing number of world scripts; and, finally, the machine’s encounter with the one world script that remained frustratingly outside its otherwise universal embrace: Chinese.

Mullaney, Thomas S.. The Chinese Typewriter (Kindle Locations 1183-1191). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week

GameStop Stock Price from Monday to Friday

Here’s what happened when investors using apps like Robinhood began wagering on a pool of unremarkable stocks.

We’ve all been following the story about GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week. The story has a nice David and Goliath side where amateur traders stick it to the big Wall Street bullies, but it is also about the random power of internet-enabled crowds.

Continue reading GameStop, AMC and the Stock Market’s Wild Ride This Week

A Digital Project Handbook

A peer-reviewed, open resource filling the gap between platform-specific tutorials and disciplinary discourse in digital humanities.

From a list I am on I learned about Visualizing Objects, Places, and Spaces: A Digital Project Handbook. This is a highly modular text book that covers a lot of the basics about project management in the digital humanities. They have a call now for “case studies (research projects) and assignments that showcase archival, spatial, narrative, dimensional, and/or temporal approaches to digital pedagogy and scholarship.” The handbook is edited by Beth Fischer (Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the Williams College Museum of Art) and Hannah Jacobs (Digital Humanities Specialist, Wired! Lab, Duke University), but parts are authored by all sorts of people.

What I like about it is the way they have split up the modules and organized things by the type of project. They also have deadlines which seem to be for new iterations of materials and for completion of different parts. This could prove to be a great resource for teaching project management.

The Viral Virus

Graph of word "test*" over time
Relative Frequency of word “test*” over time

Analyzing the Twitter Conversation Surrounding COVID-19

From Twitter I found out about this excellent visual essay on The Viral Virus by Kate Appel from May 6, 2020. Appel used Voyant to study highly retweeted tweets from January 20th to April 23rd. She divided the tweets into weeks and then used the distinctive words (tf-idf) tool to tell a story about the changing discussion about Covid-19. As you scroll down you see lists of distinctive words and supporting images. At the end she shows some of the topics gained from topic modelling. It is a remarkably simple, but effective use of Voyant.

How to Look and Sound Fabulous on a Webcam – School of Journalism – Ryerson University

Now that all of us are having to teach and meet over videoconferencing on our laptops, it is useful to get advice from the professionals. Chelsea sent me this link to Ryerson professor Gary Gould’s advince on How to Look and Sound Fabulous on a Webcam. The page covers practical things like lighting, positioning of the camera, backgrounds, framing and audio. I realize I need to rethink just having the laptop on my lap.

Finland accepts the Demoscene on its national UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity

“Demoskene is an international community focused on demos, programming, graphics and sound creatively real-time audiovisual performances. [..] Subculture is an empowering and important part of identity for its members.”

The Art of Coding has gotten Demoscene listed by Finland in the National Inventory of Living Heritage, Breakthrough of Digital Culture: Finland accepts the Demoscene on its national UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This means that Demoscene may be the first form of digital culture put forward to UNESCO as a candidate intangible cultural heritage (ICH).

In a previous blog post I argued that ICH is a form of culture that would be hard to digitize by definition. I could be proved wrong with Demoscene. Or it could be that what makes Demoscene ICH is not the digital demos, but the intangible cultural scene, which is not digital.

Either way, it is interesting to see how digital practices are also becoming intangible culture that could disappear.

You can learn more about Demoscene from these links:

Robots Welcome to Take Over, as Pandemic Accelerates Automation – The New York Times

But labor and robotics experts say social-distancing directives, which are likely to continue in some form after the crisis subsides, could prompt more industries to accelerate their use of automation. And long-simmering worries about job losses or a broad unease about having machines control vital aspects of daily life could dissipate as society sees the benefits of restructuring workplaces in ways that minimize close human contact.

The New York Times has a story pointing out that The Robots Welcome to Take Over, as Pandemic Accelerates Automation. While AI may not be that useful in making the crisis decisions, robots (and the AIs that drive them) can take over certain jobs that need doing, but which are dangerous to humans in a time of pandemic. Sorting trash is one example given. Cleaning spaces is another.

We can imagine a dystopia where everything can run just fine with social (physical) distancing. Ultimately humans would only do the creative intellectual work as imagined in Forester’s The Machine Stops (from 1909!) We would entertain each other with solitary interventions, or at least works that can be made with the artists far apart. Perhaps green-screen technology and animation will let us even act alone and be composited together into virtual crowds.

The Machine Stops

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk — that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh — a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

Like many, I reread E.M. Forester’s The Machine Stops this week while in isolation. This short story was published in 1909 and written as a reaction to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. (See the full text here (PDF).) In Forester it is the machine that keeps working the utopia of isolated pods; in Wells it is a caste of workers, the Morlochs, who also turn out to eat the leisure class.  Forester felt that technology was likely to be the problem, or part of the problem, not class.

In this pandemic we see a bit of both. Following Wells we see a class of gig-economy deliverers who facilitate the isolated life of those of us who do intellectual work. Intellectual work has gone virtual, but we still need a physical layer maintained. (Even the language of a stack of layers comes metaphorically from computing.) But we also see in our virtualized work a dependence on an information machine that lets our bodies sit on the couch in isolation while we listen to throbbing melodies. My body certainly feels like it is settling into a swaddled lump of fungus.

An intriguing aspect of “The Machine Stops” is how Vashti, the mother who loves the life of the machine, measures everything in terms of ideas. She complains that flying to see her son and seeing the earth below gives her no ideas. Ideas don’t come from original experiences but from layers of interpretation. Ideas are the currency of an intellectual life of leisure which loses touch with the “real world.”

At the end, as the machine stops and Kuno, Vashti’s son, comes to his mother in the disaster, they reflect on how a few homeless refugees living on the surface might survive and learn not to trust the machine.

“I have seen them, spoken to them, loved them. They are hiding in the mist and the ferns until our civilization stops. To-day they are the Homeless — to-morrow—”

“Oh, to-morrow — some fool will start the Machine again, to-morrow.”

“Never,” said Kuno, “never. Humanity has learnt its lesson.”