it's the latest edition of
The Recommentunde Newsletter
For the week that began November 24 2019
I shot this photo in September on the subway in NYC. This Amazon delivery worker was transporting his shipment on the train. No wonder Bezos is so wealthy. He's externalizing his operating costs and putting them on New York City and State. Good business. Bad democracy. Also, dude, pay more taxes.
Wasup humans and automated readers,
Amazon is a heavily automated value-extraction engine that has brought convenience to shoppers like me while visiting devastation upon local businesses and the bodies of its human workers. In the tech section below, I link to two Very Important articles on this subject, but right now I want to riff.
On the one hand, we’re told that automation and networked tech is humans versus machines. The robots are coming for our jobs. On the other hand, we’re told that no, the machines will be our co-workers. Automation is really about augmenting and complementing humans. Both of these takes are correct, but there’s also a third hand I’ve been thinking on for years which is that automation isn’t about what the machines do to us or do with us. Automation is about what we do for the machines. The machines don’t get automated. The humans do.
Increasing numbers of decisions in our lives are responses to prompts drafted by automated systems. Is my job performance up to par? Where do I invest my money? Should I be monitored by law enforcement? How long should I be incarcerated? Am I pretty? What sort of article should I write? Who are my friends? Who should I vote for? Do I turn left or right at this intersection? What is truth? What is real?
These decisions and more are being removed from individuals and semi-accountable human systems and are shifting to proprietary and unchallengeable algorithms and automated systems built by people with narrower motives than the range of humans they are applied to, dare I say than they are governing. Mostly, the motivation of these systems is efficiency and profitability. In order to exist in this increasingly automated world, we start to automate ourselves, catering to these systems, behaving in ways they would approve of, contorting our actions to satisfy their reward systems.
What is at stake isn’t just our jobs or our democracies, but our own self-determination. What’s at stake is our ability to be in a way we decide we should be. What’s at stake is human freedom.
So I’ll just pause there for now. Thanks to my friend Tricia Wang who posted an epic Twitter thread on capitalism and personhood which moved me to whip this up. I’m still working out this concept of The Automated Human, and I welcome your own thoughts. I’ll also try live streaming on Instagram (gotta feed that algorithm yo!) around 11am pacific today.
Meanwhile, I’ve restructured the newsletter a bit. Enjoy the content!
Leave it to Ta-Nehisi Coates to bring much needed context to our social discourse in The Cancellation of Colin Kaepernick | The New York Times.
And since a picture is worth a thousand words, feast your eyes on this very powerful collection: Visualizing racism: Nine photographers take on the challenge of depicting bigotry | The Washington Post
“Despite what you may have heard, it’s not a black Bonnie and Clyde film. The story of Bonnie and Clyde film is inherently about death, Queen and Slim reduced to a word is about life.” So writes Armand for Pop Culture Uncovered. So get tickets. Follow and amplify the film on Twitter, Instagram, or the other Instagram.
This year’s Harvard-Yale game was interrupted for a great reason. Hundreds of Divestment Protesters Storm Field, Interrupting Harvard-Yale Game | The Harvard Crimson. For balance, I’m also linking to Yale’s side of the story: 50 charged after The Game protest | The Yale Daily News. Finally, here’s a tweet worth amplifying on the action from Bill McKibben.
Given the holiday shopping season that is upon us, I urgently insist we all carefully read about how Amazon is shredding our society, in some cases literally: Ruthless Quotas at Amazon Are Maiming Employees | The Atlantic
I experienced excess water in my eyes at several points in this lengthy, compassionate piece about Joe Biden’s Stutter, and Mine | The Atlantic
Susan Rice makes it plain in The Four Lessons of Impeachment - The New York Times, and David Roberts gets the most important and terrifying implications of the impeachment moment in my view, which is about how America’s epistemic crisis has arrived | Vox
Because money isn’t just about money but how we experience power in society, listen to this 20 minute podcast asking Are billionaires a bad thing? | BBC Radio 4
Parenting is a window into the health of a democracy which is why The Best Parenting Advice Is to Go Live in Europe | The Atlantic.
And good news here in the US of A. Gifted programs for children are becoming more equitable | Quartz
BERNIE vs. BERNIE | YouTube co-starring James Adomian as Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders as Bernie Sanders.
Yesterday I posted a Tweet which got the most wonderful replies. I simply asked, “what are you thinking right now?”
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Peace and Love.