Assimilated!

It's finally happened. Although I swore I would never become a blogger or a live journaler, I finally gave in. I've been assimilated. Resistance is futile and all that crap. Of course, I've kept some of my integrity: I will not blog. But I started my LiveJournal last night. Hovering quietly under the window on my computer where I'm writing this is another window where my browser is pointing right at www.livejournal.com.

Mood: dorky
Music: Marilyn Manson


Although you can structure each LiveJournal entry pretty much however you want, the system does have two built-in boxes you can fill in for each entry: mood and music. I like this feature. I want to know what music my LJ friends are listening to, and I want to keep track of their vacillating moods. Am I becoming a masochist? A neurotic voyeur? Is my writing starting to sound like an LJ entry?

Mood: contemplative
Music: Victor Krummenacher


I joined LJ because I got kicked out of a café in New York for using my laptop. There's a lovely public wireless network located near the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets in the Village, and so I picked a café nearby (tellingly named Caffe Dante) where Charlie and I could hang out and check e-mail. As soon as I logged on, the waiter brought us our rather overpriced dish of ice cream and said, "Computers aren't allowed here." I figured I must have misheard, and I continued typing. Then another waiter came over. "You need to put that away," she said. "We don't allow computers here, because they ruin the laid-back atmosphere." Ah, yes. Authoritarian rules about what one is allowed to do at Dante must also be part of that crucial "laid-back" feeling. We canceled the rest of our order and scuttled across the street to a computer-friendly coffee spot.

There, bathed in radio frequencies only my wireless card could hear, I logged on and thought about computer-based communities. I was suddenly reminded of the feelings that had driven me to start chatting online when I was a teenager. I wanted to be part of a group where playing with computers and writing were what constituted "laid-back." I missed having online friends. But I didn't want a soulless blog, full of pointed observations, hip links, and endless layers of reputation system drama.

Mood: wary
Music: Meat Loaf


One of my LJ friends warned me, "When I joined LJ, I started finding things out about people that I didn't want to know. If I meet somebody cute at a party, I don't want to go home and find out that they're an emotional train wreck." Frankly, that sounds good to me. I'd rather know in advance about the train-wreckage thing before I start fantasizing about the babe at the party. Perhaps the most dangerous part of LJ, to my mind, is the "cult problem." For those of us on LJ, the community seems perfectly normal. For those outside, it's a dangerous social menace.

One of my close friends, a paranoid hacker type, said, "Oh shit, you're going to become one of those live journal people, and I won't be able to talk to you. Anything you write about me will be searchable!" He outlined a future LJ scenario in which the company starts making money by charging users to keep their journal entries private. He's convinced LJ wants to copyright my entries and eradicate my privacy. Whatever. Currently, the privacy policies seem pretty good. LJ users can set up their entries to be readable by everyone, just a few people, or nobody. You can also prevent search engines and spiders from gaining access to your journal.

Some pay to join LJ, but admission to the community is free for people who already have friends on LJ. Members in good standing gain access to codes that allow new users to create accounts. In other words, the deep structure of LJ is based on communities of friends. This is reflected in the way accounts are organized, too. Everyone has a "friends list" made up of people whose journals they read, and the LJ software creates a dynamically updated Web page for you with all your friends' latest entries posted in chronological order. And hey, if you want more friends, you can friend-surf to your heart's content on LJ, looking for people whose list of interests matches yours.

Mood: grouchy
Music: Adam and the Ants


Who reads LJ? So far, nobody has commented on my paltry number of entries, but there are more than half a million LJ users right now. And LJ code is open source, so you can build your own damn LJ community if you don't like this one.

Annalee Newitz (ljfiend@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd whose LJ nickname is actualhuman. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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