The weekly TStudy circle is moving on to Chapter 3, so this coming Saturday morning we’ll be conversing about the first three to five sections of it. Once again i’ve made a few tweaks to the text, mostly for the sake of clarity, so even if you’ve read it before you may need to read it again. If questions or comments occur to you while reading, feel free to share them in a comment on this post.
Last week’s conversation took us further into the looking glass, and the homework assignment for our TStudy circle is the little phenoscopic experiment described here. Our next gathering (Sunday morning, February 19) will take another step into the semiotic view of life. Bearing in mind that, as Dirk Hamilton observes, signs look silly when nobody reads them. (Skip the ad.)
In the winter of 2020, the Covid pandemic was making it hard for people to get together in person. I figured that Zoom meetings could be a worthwhile substitute: People can meet and talk face to face without having to leave home, and “share their screen” with the other (to show everybody the meeting agenda, for instance). So I opened a “Zoom Pro” account and put out a message on Resilient Manitoulin offering to host group Zoom meetings using my account. Some local groups took me up on that.
After the group told me when they wanted to meet, I scheduled the Zoom meeting and emailed the members invitations. These include links which the member can click on at the scheduled time to join the meeting, after downloading the free Zoom app that runs on their computer (or their phone). When the person chairing the meeting joined it, i could then hand over the “host” role to them, and leave the meeting. The group could then continue the meeting until they decided to end it.
I also connected with Mary Yett, a permaculture/gardening expert who lives near Tehkummah (southeastern part of the Island), and we held some free Zoom sessions where she could answer live gardening questions from participants. We sent notices to Resilient Manitoulin for those too.
My Zoom “Pro” account costs $200 a year, but a Zoom Basic account is free and allows you to hold meetings with up to 100 people, although they are limited to 40 minutes. So there are ways to meet with people without leaving home that don’t cost anything. Zoom is not the only one, but it’s the one I’m personally familiar with. All kinds of groups and organizations use it now to hold face-to-face meetings without having to be together in one place.
I’ll wrap up this series after the Six Foot Festival at Debajehmujig Creation Center ends tomorrow. This blog is another example of an inexpensive way to connect with people, and if anybody wants to try it (or be a guest writer here), contact me and i’ll try to help.
Social media such as Facebook give you access to their services for free. How can they afford to do this? By keeping track of every click and every “like,” down to minute details of your online behavior. If you have an account on Facebook, for example, it has a secret profile on you. Its algorithms use this profile to target you with information or advertising that you are likely to like, or respond to in some way.
You may be using the free services of Big Tech to make personal connections with family and friends, or your quilting group, or whatever – no problem there. But the hidden system of algorithms can do a lot of damage to community connections, because they foster the growth of all kinds of social bubbles. Some of these bubble-groups connect people who share a hatred or distrust of other groups. They might be white supremacist or male supremacist or anti-immigrant or anti-government groups, and they include members who get their identity from the exclusion of other groups.
Big Tech systems don’t do this intentionally, but they can’t prevent the rise of hate groups on their platforms either, because they have a vested interest in the targeted advertising which depends on the automatic algorithms that grow these bubbles. Those algorithms can turn online communities into “echo chambers” where people reinforce each other’s distrust of “mainstream media,” or the public health system, or the scientific consensus on climate, and amplify each other’s hatred of others.
These groups are held together not only by shared beliefs (often conspiracy theories), but also by their refusal to connect with outsiders. They don’t trust information or opinions coming from outside the bubble, and where there’s no trust, there’s no genuine connection. This leads to polarization and fragmentation of communities. I’ve written about this before in my online book and blog, drawing on a wide range of sources, so i won’t go on about it here.
Turtle Island, including this Island (M’nidoo), has been colonized by invaders from Europe for over 500 years now, and Indigenous people are well aware of the effect of colonialism on them, up to and including genocide. The settlers who are descendants of those invaders, and of other immigrants like my own ancestors, are slowly becoming aware of that shameful history of colonialism. But we don’t yet see clearly how the Internet has been colonized by Big Tech and its algorithms. The effects of that are more subtle and less visible than the 500-year invasion, but they affect billions of people today. We know that they can be used to misdirect our attention and interfere with democratic elections, and that will continue as long as they are profitable for the owners and their wealthy advertisers. That’s the hidden cost of using the “free” services of Big Tech.
In order to make healthier and deeper connections within and between our communities, we need to decolonize the Internet by the way we use it. That’s not always easy. You can quit social media platforms such as Facebook if you want, and use email instead to make connections with people beyond your local neighbourhood. But it may be harder to avoid Microsoft or Apple or Google. Resilient Manitoulin itself is a Google group, because Google groups are free and convenient and easy to create. Likewise you can put your amateur video online for free using YouTube, which is owned by Google. I did that myself two years ago, trying to connect with Northern Ontario people interested in owning an EV (electric car).
But there are other ways of using the Internet for community connections without depending on Big Tech, and without spending a lot of money. My next post will look into some of those.
If our children don’t learn much more than we can teach, our lineage is likely to expire.
The aggregation of complex systems in contemporary networked applications means that no single person ever sees the whole picture.— Bridle, James. New Dark Age (p. 43). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
The trouble … is that we are terrifyingly ignorant. The most learned of us are ignorant.… The acquisition of knowledge always involves the revelation of ignorance— almost is the revelation of ignorance. Our knowledge of the world instructs us first of all that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.— Wendell Berry, writer and Kentucky farmer, as quoted by Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems (p. 86). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.
We denizens of the World Wide Web have access to more information than ever. The trouble is that we often try to read it faster, hoping to take in more of it, or worrying that the next thing could be more worthy of our attention than what we’re reading now, so we should get through it as fast as possible. It takes a conscious effort to slow down and give the symbols a chance to connect with the time you’re living. But i think the effort also increases the humbling awareness that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.
I’ve noticed this especially while returning my attention to the early chapters of Turning Signs. It’s been over five years since i first published it, long enough to enable me to read it again for the first time (to steal a phrase from Marcus Borg). I’ve forgotten my authorial intentions well enough to be surprised by it, for instance by how much it’s perfused with systems thinking, which i consider crucial to the transition we are living in 2021. But i’m also surprised at the number of changes (improvements, i hope) that seem to be called for. (I’ve learned a few things since 2015 and have a better sense of how ignorant i am.) I’ve now revised the first four chapters. I might have to call it a second edition, or Turning Signs 2.0.
The online chapers are always up to date, of course, but it’s also occurred to me that some people might prefer to read TS offline. I’ve made it possible now to download the whole thing as a Zip file (a little over 3 MB) which you can extract to a folder on your computer or tablet and read with your browser, regardless of platform. You’ll find the download link near the top of the Table of Contents page. I’ll have to periodically update that Zip file on my site as revision continues, but it will always be the whole book, Obverse, Reverse, Universe and all. If anyone reading this wants to try it out, let me know (by comment or email) how well it works. Especially if you run into any problems.
Outlink of the day: The Social Dilemma. Everybody who uses social media – especially Facebook – should see this Netflix documentary. Thanks to my daughter Emily for recommending!
I’ve been busy exploring some of the information about the transition accessible on the Net now, especially from the Post Carbon Institute – more on that below – and looking into ways to enhance the resilience of my local community here on Manitoulin Island. But i’ve also been busy revising the last chapter (19) of my book Turning Signs.
I’ve been growing more dissatisfied with that chapter since i first published it in 2015, but not until now have i come up with a version that seems to work as a culmination of my whole 19-chapter argument. It’s called ‘Creation Evolving’, it’s online now, and i’d appreciate any comments on it from critical readers. (Since it frequently refers back to previous parts of the book, i’ve included lots of links back to the key concepts, but i don’t claim that it’s an easy read!)
This reflects my habit of going back and forth from a local focus on current practice to a more global contemplation of “deep time” and the deeper practices of nature and cultures. It’s like my other habit of alternating between silent walks in the woods and spells of wrestling with words. (The photo below was taken by Pam during one of our November strolls. Note the rare patch of blue sky reflected in the puddle.) I feel that the two practices enhance one another by alternating, somewhat like sleeping and waking. (After all, how can you wake up if you haven’t been sleeping?)
Anyway, this sort of back-and-forth seems to help me keep my balance in this Era of Upheaval. I’ve lifted that phrase from the title of a Post Carbon Institute book, The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval. You can buy this book from the usual sources, or you can get access to it online for free by registering with the PCI.
Another relevant book you can get for free, thanks to the generosity of the authors, is Your Post has been Removed: Tech Giants and Freedom of Speech, by Frederik Stjernfelt and Anne Mette Lauritzen. This new book delves into the roles of the ‘tech giants’ (especially Google and Facebook) in the current cultural/political upheaval. I’m halfway through it now, and although its main focus is ‘freedom of speech,’ it also throws light on the role of social media in the ecological/economic crisis.
As Stjernfelt and Lauritzen point out, ‘freedom of speech’ includes freedom of access to information, so it’s appropriate as well as fortunate that they’ve allowed open access to it. Like Turning Signs, it comes with a Creative Commons license. At this traditionally hyperconsumptive time of year, it’s good to see the Commons growing!
Finally i’m really happy to see the website of Local Food Manitoulin. This is the kind of community initiative that can address all four sides of the current crisis: ecology, energy, economy and equity. It doesn’t ask you to indulge in either optimism or pessimism about the climate emergency, because it can work (locally, of course) toward both prevention and mitigation of the worst effects of global heating.
At our latitude, we’re sinking into the darkest part of the year (for those of us who are solar powered, at least). But we have the winter solstice coming up in less than two weeks, and things are bound to get brighter after that. In the meantime let us carry on with the upheaval, or transition, or whatever we call it. And keep in touch with the Earth.
Last week i posted my reasons for dumping my Facebook account. Today’s National Observer has a report on the work of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News which gives some further insight into the workings of Facebook and other social media giants.
Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie was among those who addressed the Committee about major Silicon Valley firms and the way they exploit customers: “The current business model is the root cause of the problems you are trying to address. Its toxicity is unrelenting. It is not a coding glitch that a legal patch will fix. Data at the micro-personal level gives technology unprecedented power and that’s why data is not the new oil — it’s the new plutonium.”
A transition to greater climate justice will depend on reining in the political power of Big Oil, but it may also require reining in the power of Big Data.