Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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Harvest Time on the Whirlwind Farm

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To some extent, people turn to omnicompetent forms of conspiracy theory when they cannot believe that anybody could be THAT incompetent.

People who are always and invariably against conspiracy theories tend to be that way first and foremost because omnicompetent conspiracy seems both impossibly improbable and because it is a futile theory (you can’t oppose omnicompetence by definition; in fact, if omnicompetence is real, then being allowed to voice the conspiracy theory is part of the conspiracy).

In some cases, the two kinds of theories of improbability and futility cross. It is truly hard to believe that four years after a deeply contested election that featured credible accusations about malign interference (including hacking attempts) in election security and four years after an election revealed bitter divides within the Democratic Party that threaten the stability of a coalition required to defeat a man who is endangering democracy itself, the Democratic Party would turn to a small tech company called Shadow, a company with no real track record, to hastily build an app of questionable usefulness even IF it actually worked as planned, to be used in the first primary elections of the 2020 campaign–and given reports that the app wasn’t working well and hadn’t been stress tested a month ago, would fail to build an alternative procedure should the app fail. The chain of miscalculations involved does seem almost impossible to believe in.

And yet so too is believing that any candidate actually running for the nomination could be so omnicompetently operating as a Manchurian candidate so as to make that chain of miscalculations occur as part of a plan, or that the DNC leadership has suddenly achieved this kind of omnicompetence after decades of evident managerial fecklessness and gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight mistakes. I mean, if you’re really omnicompetent conspirators, aim high–just steal the election seamlessly, plant evidence to discredit them that you wants discredited, etc.

Somewhere in that intersection there may be improvident forms of hidden coordination, self-interested incompetence that might be called cronyism, perfectly innocent misplaced trust in technology, and a kind of structured helplessness that the tech industry has sought to produce in all of us. That may deserve to be called something other than conspiracy or incompetence. It is, unfortunately, gravely consequential, in a way that demands both heads should roll and that reforms should be made, some of them far-reaching and substantial.

——————

Ilana Gershon’s excellent book Down and Out in the New Economy offers an analysis of the “gig economy” that is both subtle in its grasp of our historical moment and hugely consequential in its implications. Among other things, it gives me an unexpected window into understanding what may have happened in Iowa as the caucus officials turned to the app developed by Shadow.

When faculty talk about the damage done to our institutions and our profession by the rise of contingent labor in academia, we sometimes overlook that we are here, as in many things, only one piece in a larger puzzle. Two things have happened to most of the major professional workplaces that were a centerpiece of mid-20th Century life around the world (the university, the secondary school, the hospital, the law firm, the advertising agency, the major corporation, the governmental bureau or civil office). On one hand, governance and authority over the mission and operations of the institution and its employed professionals have been increasingly transferred to a series of dislocated, dispersed administrative organizations devoted to particular kinds of compliance. Some of those are statutory, some are a consequence of institutional membership in associational networks, and some are effectively from off-site or absentee owners of some of the operations of the institution. The authority of these external organizations over the institution is often projected into the institution via specific professionals on the institutional payroll whose work is largely the maintenance of compliance. The organizational chart shows those individuals working within the institution’s hierarchy and procedures, but in many ways they are equally subject to and solicitious of the separate external organization. The hospital manager who is the primary point of contact with insurance networks, the corporate executive who represents the private equity firm that recently bought the business, the academic dean charged with meeting the demands of an assessment organization, the investment manager who works as much for a hedge fund partner as he or she does for the institutional portfolio, the government official who is charged with managing procurement or who is the liason to a PAC or other source of extra-governmental influence on policy-making.

At the same time, most those professional institutions are off-loading much of the labor they once did and could still plausibly do out of their own staff and payroll onto outside consultants, facilitators, software developers, contract workers, and so on. In its early crude forms, this was “outsourcing”, the segmentation of the organization into geographically dispersed subsidiaries who could produce some labor very cheaply outside of the US or EU. I think now this wave has moved on to something more dispersed, less transparent, and more punctuated and uneven. This is the classic “gig economy” that Gershon has set out to investigate. From inside the institution, part of the logic of the gig is financial efficiency (the shedding of staff off the payroll) but I think it is more than that. I think it is also the management of risk, often by lawyers or legal professionals: necessary operations that entail risk if done incompetently or imprecisely are protected from claims of liability to some extent if they are devolved onto individuals and firms whose inner workings are private and to whom legal responsibility can possibly be redirected, along with less financially tangible forms of blame.

Gershon’s analysis is that as people transition into the gig economy, their relation with employing institutions changes. They no longer are offering their distinctive mix of intrinsic skills and human insight to the employer via a long-term contract. The gig workers are, Gershon observes, increasingly narrating their economic relations as if the gig worker were a business who is engaged in a business deal with another business. The worker is no longer identifying with the purposes and mission of the institution while employed by it, but is instead always thinking about the interests of their own “gig” brand, which align for as long (or short) as they may with the other business that pays them for services rendered.

There are ways in which this is neither bad nor good but simply different. But it has implications for the outcomes that institutions seek (or claim to seek), whether that is educating the next generation, healing the sick or injured, or delivering profit to shareholders. As an institution increasingly employs people who are essentially the intrusion of some other institution into its framework (the compliance professionals) and expels functions and tasks to be served by networks of consultants and subcontractors, it loses most or all control over the outcomes of its operations. It is subject to extra-institutional dictate in a way it is almost helpless to resist–“the call is coming from inside the house!”–while it has protected itself from both the expense and the risk of directly supervising (or being shaped by) people who carry out many functions that its mission or purpose require.

In fact, many institutions end up pairing another class of internal worker with the intruding compliance managers: the contact point for networks of consultants, facilitators and subcontractors. Much like the compliance worker, this person is not responsible to the institution. They’re responsible to the network that they manage. This has huge implications. It is not in the interest of the “internal gig manager” to put the institution’s needs or functions first, not the least because the internal gig worker knows that tomorrow they could be back out in the network again, and it is the network that matters, the network that secures the next gigs. But more potently, if the internal gig worker wants the gig to continue, they actually have to actively degrade the capacity of their employing institution to carry out some functions. Because that’s what makes consultants and subcontractors necessary: the institution has failed, is failing, will fail to do this work on its own–it lacks some form of expensive expertise or some form of knowledge about the nature of the labor function that it formerly handled on its own.

—————

And here we return to the catastrophe of the Iowa caucuses. Whatever the specificity of the ways in which Shadow was employed to build an app that was designed to report the results of the caucuses–specifics that hopefully we will learn more about in the days and weeks to come–the ways in which both the national and state Democratic Party and an associated electoral administration has lost control of a vital function that once resided entirely within its organizational purview is familiar and haunting. And here I am no longer in equanimity about the implications: this is an actively commissioned outcome deriving from a web of systemic shifts in political, economic and social life over the last forty years. Call it neoliberalism, or find a better name. Argue it’s three things, not one thing. Argue it’s intentional or incidental, interested or unexpected. That’s all fine. One thing it is not is good.

All over this country (and the world) for the last twenty years, tech companies have worked with increasing intensity and sometimes desperation to actively produce in other institutions a state of learned, professed helplessness, a proposition that everything they do must be transformed (or “disrupted”) by tech in the name of some underspecified (or wholly unspecified) better end. Along the way, tech companies and the managerial clouds that swirl around them like courtiers have appropriated languages of fairness, of equity, of objectivity, of efficiency, of empowerment and attached them to cycles of tech adoption and to endless, vague ideas about process and ‘best practice’. If you understand tech as being more than just an app or a digital tool or a computer, you can even see that some of these processes and adoptions are of rules, procedures, codes that are themselves a kind of organizational technology.

And it is the change in institutions overall that make this ubiquity possible while amplifying the disastrous forms and modes of helplessness and surrender that comes with that ubiquity. The tech to worry about here is not really first or only the big companies we all love to hate (Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft). It is the tech of the gig economy: the small firms (who are often using, in ways acknowledged and obscured, the product of the big companies). This is the tech that we subcontract for and assemble. What it does and how it is put together is a black box–a Shadow indeed–and that is often part of its value, as Cathy O’Neill observes in her book Weapons of Math Destruction. Bias, unfairness–or a miscounting of electoral outcomes–that happens algorithmically in a product developed by a small firm using the proprietary technologies of three big firms is protected by multiple layers of secrecy and obscuration, even from the subcontractors who delivered the product. All of us in institutions hire the consultants and facilitators and subcontractors because they’re former students, former associates, former (or present) parts of our gig networks. As we all become gig workers, we all think about the gig, not the mission or the purpose.

If that means a food company loses the ability to know why the romaine lettuce it buys is frequently infected by e-coli, bad for its customers and likely bad for the company. If that means all food companies sell a product that is composed of ten different layers of subcontraction, bad for everyone who eats commodified food. The compliance officers inside the company aren’t truly protecting the public interest–they’re hidden inside the institution and yet not answerable to it. The gig contact points inside the company aren’t really responsible to the company, and neither are the contractors they’ve hired. Nobody’s really responsible. Maybe some individual will be unlucky enough to be identified in a viral video and hashtagged into temporary oblivion, but the structures live on.

Iowa is all of this made truly and horrifingly manifest. At the beginning of a national election that many citizens plainly feel is the most important election in their lifetime–and possibly one of the three or four most important in the history of this nation-state–a party organization lost control of one of its most important functions. It will be tempting to say that this must be a cunning, purposeful, self-interested conspiracy by a few, or a punishable kind of professional incompetence that was contingent, e.g., that could have been avoided. I strongly suspect instead that the Shadow we will uncover has fallen on us all, that all of us are involved in forms of labor towards valuable, important ends that our institutions have lost control over, and that none of us know quite how to walk back into the light of sovereignty and authority over the missions we value, the purposes we are called to, the responsibilities we revere.

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12 days ago
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What’s the harm in reading?

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The controversy that erupted over a recent sci-fi short story by Isabel Fall raises questions about how we encounter difficult art.
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23 days ago
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How to Know If a Movie Actually Sucks or If the Russians Are Trying to Trick You

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Back in the day, to choose a movie, you looked at the listings in your local paper. They included basic information about theaters and running times, but they were surrounded by an eye-catching display of advertisements promoting the flicks screening in your area. These were miraculous ads, actually, because they all declared that the movie in question was a timeless blockbuster. If you were paying any attention at all, though, you knew which ones totally sucked.

To crack the code, you needed to know a few things, such as recognizing leading critics and credible sources among the names whose blurbs supposedly endorsed the film. “Heartbreaking and timeless” from Pauline Kael at The New Yorker was money in the bank. From Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, who never met a movie he didn’t like, it was meaningless. From Fox 45 Albany, it was even meaninglesser.

You had to be aware of ellipses and other selective editing. Please note that “a bonanza of incompetence” can easily be shortened for blurb purposes to “A bonanza!” Likewise, “it was so thrilling after 105 turgid minutes to see the closing credits roll for this debacle that I cried tears of joy” can become “Thrilling! . . . Tears of joy!”

And it helped to know about the species of dubious journalists called “blurb whores.” They work for some obscure medium and get press passes in exchange for their gushing quotes, which don’t even need to be published, just filled out on a handy comment card after (or before) the movie is over. “Heartwarming masterpiece”—says guy nobody ever heard of, from bullshit website.

One of the biggest U.S. cinematic flops of the twentieth century, for example, was the Kevin Costner ego epic Waterworld. But not to Alan Frank (?) of the Daily Star (?): “SPLASH HIT!” his blurb incorrectly declared. “COSTNER PUTS ON OCEANS OF THRILLS . . . Spectacular entertainment—thrilling and suspenseful from start to finish. . . . Crammed with stunning stunts and rousing action . . . moviegoers will be getting great value for money.” Moviegoers, maybe. Investors, unfortunately not.

An even bigger flop was the high-priced buddy flick Ishtar, starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. It cost 51 million 1987 dollars to produce and pulled in $14.4 million at the box office. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has an aggregate rating of 34 percent from critics and 37 percent from civilians. One of the most generous reviews came from Janet Maslin of The New York Times, who concluded that Ishtar wasn’t nearly as horrible as everyone was whispering. “It’s a likable, good-humored hybrid, a mixture of small, funny moments and the pointless, oversized spectacle that these days is sine qua non for any hot-weather hit. The worst of it is painless; the best is funny, sly, cheerful, and, here and there, even genuinely inspired.”

Not a pan, and not exactly a rave either. Here’s what the movie ad said: “HOT WEATHER HIT.”

American students get at best a glancing exposure to the media-literacy basics.

The point here is not the vagaries of Hollywood film production. The point is media literacy. It really doesn’t take much knowledge or scrutiny to divine the truth behind movie-ad hype, and it doesn’t take much to evaluate what shows up on Facebook. And yet . . . fake news. These are some of the most widely shared headlines of the 2016 election campaign, every last one of them from a phony source:

“Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president.” This from WTOE 5, which may look like TV call letters, but is just a supposedly “satirical” website that made money when gullible people clicked on their bogus headlines.

“WikiLeaks confirms Hillary sold weapons to ISIS . . . Then drops another bombshell.” This came from the ultra-partisan site the Political Insider (“Get breaking news alerts that the liberal media won’t tell you”), based on the entirely unhidden fact that the U.S. government sold weapons to Qaddafi’s Libya.

“FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.” That fabrication was courtesy of the “Denver Guardian,” which does not exist and has never existed.

“FBI director received millions from Clinton Foundation, his brother’s law firm does Clinton’s taxes.” Completely invented by the fringe-right fake-news site called Ending the Fed News.

“ISIS leader calls for American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton.” Another invented story, but another “satire” site, WNDR—which is also not a broadcast station of any kind.

What with the filter-bubble problems discussed throughout these pages, and the human nature that nourishes it, it’s not hard to see how Hillary haters would discard common sense to feed on this preposterous clickbait. But lack of media sophistication—or even basic understanding—is by no means limited to angry partisans. It is endemic.

The second annual State of Critical Thinking study by the Massachusetts education-technology firm MindEdge presented 1,002 college students and professionals, aged eighteen to thirty, a series of nine articles and asked them to identify real news or fake. Of the group, 19 percent were able to get at least eight of nine answers correct. But 52 percent flunked, with between four and nine wrong answers.

A 2018 Pew Research Center study presented 5,035 subjects with five statements of facts and five statements of opinion and asked them to identify which were which. “A majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set,” the authors reported, “but this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong.”

A Stanford University study published in 2016 found that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers could not distinguish between genuine news and so-called native advertising—advertiser content dressed up to look like actual editorial—even when it bore the standard (tiny) label “Sponsored Content.”

In the same study, a group of university students (including those at Stanford, which, the researchers ruefully observed, accepts only 6 percent of applicants) were shown Twitter messages from progressive organizations. Asked to evaluate them, fully a third of the subjects failed to consider how the organizations’ political ideology might influence the assertions within the tweets. “Overall,” the authors concluded, “young people’s ability to reason about information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows around social media channels, they are easily duped.”

This is what is known as media illiteracy, and it’s a problem.

It’s actually a weird problem, because, as dismally documented in chapter 6, hardly anybody trusts the press and imputes to it all kinds of evils—but, by and large, they identify all the wrong evils. At On the Media, we document errors of omission and commission, chronic and acute, on a weekly basis. They are plentiful enough to have produced a thousand-plus hours of OTM programming over twenty years. Yet, as inveterate, professional pointers of fingers, we’re faced constantly with the reality that the prevailing public criticism of the media misses the actual failures and obsesses over imaginary ones. This social media post pretty well sums up the prevailing narrative:

Frederico Romano
May 17, 2018

The very first misconception is that the MSM (news) knows what the hell they’re talking about . . . the “news” today is nothing more than a conduit for the left to spew its mantra by spinning most stories with a hearty slice of liberal politics/policies.

Thing is, Frederico, just for starters, there is no “the news.” Remember, please, that “the media” is a plural. We are not speaking of a monolith, but rather a sector composed of thousands of so-called mainstream outlets and countless more blogs, websites, YouTube channels, and so on. And they are by and large in competition with one another. They are not a cabal. They do not talk among themselves. They do not owe allegiance to any third party. There is no secret handshake.

As noted above, there are surely institutional tendencies—a sensibility—that invites suspicions (or, in the case of Frederico and many others, certainty) of political bias. And indeed there are biases, but they aren’t especially political. There is a bias, for instance, toward conventional wisdom, a.k.a. groupthink. There is a bias toward drama. There is a bias toward being first with information, whether especially relevant and important or not. And, of course, there is the bias toward exposing hypocrisy, malfeasance, scoundrels, foolishness, and lies. Because that is what watchdogs do. Also, per “drama” above, who don’t love that shit? (Watergate was a scandal and a crisis, but . . . oo la la!)

So, then, how to help Americans understand where the real problems lie, and how to evaluate the likely merits of the incendiary story Uncle Jack has posted on Facebook? How to promote at least the most rudimentary level of critical thinking? Surely there is no shortage of folks giving it a shot.

There is the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy, Center for Media Literacy, Common Sense Education, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, Media Education Foundation, the News Literacy Project, Media Literacy Now, Center for Social Media, and a whole mess of other organizations who have developed excellent programs, apps, and K–12 curricula with the common goal of helping Americans—especially young Americans—navigate treacherous and sometimes uncharted seas of information.

And how are they doing, as a group? Well, obviously, they are doing terribly—so terribly that Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) has floated federal intervention via the funding of media-literacy programs. It’s a swell idea, except that the problem is not a shortage of media-literacy programs; those groups I listed have among them produced a vast body of work. The problem is actual time spent with the information. As social studies and communications curricula shrink nationwide—replaced by all STEM all the time, and the constant standardized testing that goes with it—American students get at best a glancing exposure to the media-literacy basics.

A Princeton University study concluded that while conservatives and Republicans disproportionately shared fake news online, the overwhelming predictor for careless media behavior was age.

As far back as 2011, writing in the journal Action in Teacher Education, professor Vanessa Greenwood of Montclair State University recognized the lopsided emphasis on technology education:

Although P12 schools cope with the chronic top-down push to achieve technological proficiency by the eighth grade, there simultaneously exists a bottom-up need to address specific challenges among young people, including (1) unequal access to a participatory culture (for which technological proficiency is prerequisite), (2) lack of transparency in the ways media shape young people’s perception of the world, and (3)  the ethical challenges  of preparing young people for their increasingly public roles as media producers… Media literacy education reconciles the clash between the standardized bureaucracy of technology education and the democratic implications of empowering youth as participatory citizens through their active and public uses of technology.

If only. We saw in the Stanford study how poorly equipped our next generation of leaders is merely to parse their own Twitter feeds. This is alarming, because—like knowledge and understanding— ignorance and misinformation lead long lives.

A Princeton University study published in Science Advances in January 2019 concluded that while conservatives and Republicans disproportionately shared fake news online, the overwhelming predictor for careless media behavior was age. Authors Andrew Guess, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua Tucker found that those aged 65 or above shared 7 times more fake news on Facebook than the youngest cohort, and 2.3 times more than those in the next oldest age group. This may point to the greater understanding by digital natives of the media ecosystem. It could point to GET OFF OF MY LAWN curmudgeonliness. But it certainly demonstrates that media illiteracy lasts a lifetime.

Once again, there are a lot of smart and well-meaning individuals and organizations on the case. You saw the impressive list. Just know that when you put a bunch of academics and civil-socialites on a committee and ask them to define the solution, as the Center for Media Literacy did, you get something like this:

Media Literacy . . . provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of   a democracy.

It’s a perfectly good, suitably comprehensive definition, if you can reach the end still awake. It is surely a satisfactory starting point, but what it has yielded is a lot of negotiation, hemming and hawing, nitpicking, and general overcooking of curriculum that (a) doesn’t necessarily penetrate the consciousness of the indifferent pupil, and (b) doesn’t command much instructional time because it isn’t math and the government doesn’t mandate endless standardized testing on the subject.

I propose, therefore, a broader, complementary approach to media literacy education. I call it the Three Eights Plus One, and I envision it as sort of the Food Pyramid of media literacy. Or a do-it-yourself TrueCar that gives consumers the info they need to be empowered in the news showroom. It’s three sets of fundamental questions that all citizens should be trained—and reminded of and reminded again—to apply to all ostensibly journalistic content, online and off.

The Three Eights Plus One can be distributed by the government, by news organizations, by libraries, by the PTA, by Facebook and Google, and by every other organization, institution, and private business with a stake in an informed public. Designed for approximately middle school to death, the checklists would look like this:

  1. Where did this content come from?
  2. Who is that person or organization?
  3. Is it professional and credible?
  4. Is it allied with a political or ideological viewpoint?
  5. Have I ever heard of it? And, if not, have I Googled it? It’s easy to make a website or a video look like a bona fide journalistic Does this URL pass the smell test?
  6. Is this news or content an outlier, or is it reported elsewhere by reputable sources?
  7. Is this headline and content designed just to get my click, and the ad revenue that goes with it? Or does the information have intrinsic worth?
  8. Does it seem designed to feed, pander to, exploit, or expand my worst suspicions about ? Is it too good to be true, or too bad to be true?

Okay. Like school and Jeopardy!, the questions get progressively harder. A related set of inquiries spins down from number 3 on the first list.

  1. Do I know how credible information is produced and the process behind reputable reporting?
  2. Are subjects dictated by fat-cat publishers? (Answer: no.)
  3. Are they dictated by omnipotent editors flogging an agenda? (Answer: no.)
  4. Do they follow marching orders of some outside third party, like advertisers, George Soros, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, the Freemasons, the United Nations, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, or the Carlyle Group? (Answer: no.)
  5. Are those anonymous sources invented by reporters to support a preferred narrative? (Answer: no.)
  6. Is there a set of standard journalistic practices for confirming facts, qualifying sources, providing evidence, and immediately correcting errors? (Answer: yes.)
  7. Do politically and ideologically funded and motivated players wrapping themselves in the audiovisual trappings of genuine news organization adhere to those standards? (Answer: often.)
  8. When politicians respond to criticism not by furnishing facts, evidence, or reasoned counterargument but by declaring “fake news,” are they lying? (Answer: almost.)

Those items cover the absolute basics. Toward a more intermediate-level ability to evaluate journalism, I’d add these:

  1. Are assertions backed up—or challenged—by data, official records, history, or other documented evidence?
  2. Is the audience given the sense of the sources’ motives in saying what they say?
  3. Is the reporter following the herd of other reporting, offering conventional wisdom provided with little scrutiny?
  4. Are there signs that the elements of the story are the fruit of impartial inquiry, or do they seem cherry-picked to support a beginning hypothesis or narrative?
  5. Is there evidence of bias toward controversy, versus less provocative but more substantial information?
  6. Does the story fully contextualize statements and events to permit the audience to evaluate significance and meaning?
  7. Is the reporting pointlessly speculative? Red flags are the words “may,” “could,” “should,” “will.”
  8. Journalism can be slanted not just by what it includes, but by what it doesn’t Are there holes in the reporting that suggest a conflicting narrative has been suppressed?

And, finally, the One: the overriding point that still eludes a good portion of the population, including the president of the United States: Is the press permitted to criticize the government or its officials?

Answer: Yes, for crying out loud, that is the entire point of a free press. It’s in the First Amendment. To the Constitution. Ours.

__________________________________

American Manifesto

Excerpted from American Manifesto: Saving Democracy from Villains, Vandals, and Ourselves, copyright © 2020 by Bob Garfield. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press.

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betajames
24 days ago
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It’s National Handwriting Day: there’s an app for that

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Now that we keyboard everything from novels to shopping lists and texting on our phones has become the main way to reach out and touch someone, the digital age has stirred a nostalgia for the good old days when everything was writ by hand (apparently no one wants to bring back making actual phone calls). And so we have National Handwriting Day, January 23, the supposed birthday of John Hancock, who penned the signature heard round the world. It may seem ironic, but the only way to find out about National Handwriting Day is to go online.

That’s not the only problem with National Handwriting Day. It’s sponsored by the makers of pens and pencils, and not surprisingly their message is a commercial one: writing with a pen is personal and typing on a machine is anything but. But even though we still buy pens and pencils, no one actually wants to re-learn handwriting, which was nobody’s idea of fun. For some of us it was actually torture. 

Enter handwrytten.com, a start-up that will turn keyboarded text into a personalized note so you don’t have to. 

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Climate change could unlock new microbes and increase heat-related deaths

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Scientists warn that global climate change is likely to unlock dangerous new microbes, as well as threaten humans' ability to regulate body temperature.
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25 days ago
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Has Conservative Utah Turned a Corner on Climate Change?

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A climate report ordered by the Legislature offers a roadmap for tackling warming and pollution at the same time, an approach that could bridge the partisan divide.

When Utah lawmakers start their legislative session next week, they'll have a roadmap waiting for them that could become one of the nation's most aggressive climate action plans in a Republican-led state—and potentially a path forward for other conservative states looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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26 days ago
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