We started off this week by reading a short story called “The Soft Truth” by Leigh Alexander. I found this to be a very strange story about a woman who once worked as an executive researcher at a company called Footprint Consulting. From what we gathered her job was to research the digital footprint of executives to possibly clean them but she ironically got fired when something controversial posted from her past went public. In the story she explains how after this incident she started watching satisfying YouTube videos and comes across a thumbnail of a blue gelatin sphere with red mesh over it but none of the videos with this thumbnail actually show the blue sphere. She begins searching tirelessly trying to find the actual video and while she does that she notices a clone of her in public somewhat frequently. For days and weeks she looks for this video all while spotting her double while shopping or walking through town. Eventually she runs into her double and the double asks her how her search is going and they hug. After this interaction she thinks to reverse image search the thumbnail on her phone and finally finds the video. She watches it and the story ends.
I think this story is kind of interesting because it gives me a feel similar to David Lynch movie where the whole time you can tell that something is just a bit off but this story is a little bit less serious and sinister than Lynch’s films. In class we tried to analyze the story and I thought that this was a story showing how algorithms and the internet can distract you from real life, like finding a new job for our protagonist, and it also talks about the importance of keeping your digital footprint clean since that cause our protagonist to lose her job. The hard part of the story for me to analyze was the existence of her clone. I initially thought this was just some sort of physically embodiment of the phrase that she says a couple times “I was a different person” when referencing the things that she said online years ago. Dr. Whalen brought up a good point saying that the main character is actually not the real one of the two. Our main character is the physical embodiment of her YouTube algorithm. All she thinks about are different satisfying gelatin videos and when she finally finds the one video she says “goodbye” and disappears. I kind of like this theory because it’s a little more in line with my impression of this story being sort of off from the beginning.
On Wednesday we read “The Making of a YouTube Radical” by New York Times and this article was a very interesting read. I am actually fully aware of this phenomenon that’s described in the article. I have seen many friends become right leaning in middle school and high school because of YouTube recommending them videos of “SJWs Getting Owned” or similar things. I had also momentarily found similar videos at that time, but I didn’t end up falling down that pipeline because I saw a video with Ben Shapiro and he’s such a nerd that it made Conservatives cringy to me. Also, a lot of the guys that I knew that fell down that pipeline eventually started leaning left after a while just like Caleb Cain. I think it is an interesting topic because it’s almost weapon of math destruction but almost inadvertently. I don’t think YouTube was trying to make the algorithm put people down this pipeline but it did end up aiding radicals into recruiting people by taking advantage of the algorithm. I think it also shows the influence that the internet has on our thinking because in this article Caleb started as a liberal and did a full 180 and became a radical conservative. I think it brings up a lot of questions on how these companies should be regulating their platforms and their algorithms, so this was a very thought provoking read.
On Friday I missed class but since all we did was look at digital projects I was able to do that before class. I looked at all the digital projects assigned to my normal table but two really stuck out to me. The first being DivineComedy.digital which was a project by The Visual Agency that organizes all of the artwork based on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. They created this website using PixPlot and it is very well organized for viewing art according to specific books, settings, and cantos of the Divine Comedy. It provides a cool way to find visual representations of certain sections of each book and I find that really interesting since I love Inferno.
The second project that really jumped out to me was STEAL YOUR FEELINGS project. This was a cool interactive presentation that showed the extent of facial recognition by apps and website for things like ethical and mostly not ethical. It is a little dark but the way it is presented is fun and paints a tone of sarcasm as they show how companies are exploiting our faces for their gain. I think it was a good project to bring a little more awareness to this issue so people will hopefully push to prevent companies from trying to control us like this.
Both of these projects were cool for different reasons and I really liked the way they were presented. I think they gave me good ideas about what could be considered a digital project in relation to our big project for this class.