Sunday seven: selfies, passwords, podcasts and glass solar systems

A selection of articles that impressed me over the past week. It’s always difficult to limit it to only seven (because Sunday Eight or Sunday Thirteen just doesn’t have the same ring to it…), and I often don’t succeed, but who’s counting, right?

Selfie – by Rachel Syme, via Medium

by Alex Thebez and Marisa Gertz for Matter

by Alex Thebez and Marisa Gertz for Matter

A poetic look at the culture of the selfie that highlights our misconception of the social impact of the smartphone.

“She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen.”

Beautifully written and with dizzying insight, Rachel Syme drags our scepticism out into the glaringly uncomfortable fluorescent light.

“When you tell someone that they have sent too many images of themselves into their feeds, when you shame them with cries of narcissism and self-indulgence, when you tell them that they are taking up too much virtual space (space that is at present, basically limitless, save for the invented boundaries of taste): you need to question your motives. Are you afraid of a person’s ambition to be seen? Where does that come from?”

“Anyone who hates selfies outright is likely in the position of privilege to never have felt invisible. They fail to perceive the value that a new way of seeing can bring to so many lives.”

And she shows us the liberating empowerment of the new mirror that we carry in our pocket, a mirror that we can now share with the world.

“The human longing to be seen and appraised has existed for centuries, but only a few had the technological power (and the distribution channels) to control it. Selfies are just one way of making up lost time, all of that yearning and desire that we never got to see because the powerless didn’t have their own cameras and printing presses. Types of people who never got to be looked at before are getting looked at, and are creating entire communities surrounding that looking, and these communities are getting stronger and stronger every day.”

I confess to feeling slightly vindicated. And humbled. Months ago I wrote a homage to selfies which generated some controversy and got some recognition, but it is not nearly as good as this one, not even close. Yes, the graphics Rachel includes are stunning. Yes, the short-chapter format is original and entertaining. But that’s not it. The prose and the sweep of her analysis blew me away. Scathing towards the mockers, affirming towards the brave, Rachel serves up the psychological and cultural holes that selfies fill, and prods at the weak foundations of the society that labels and dismisses.

I mean, for example:

“It is bad then for the lust-economy to have people revelling in pictures they take themselves; it is very difficult to control consumers who do not need to look at the media to know what to value, what to buy, who to honor and protect. Selfies are not inherently political acts, but these resonant, addictive, unregulated images are another manifestation of this growing distrust of the mainstream and the swelling desire by many individuals to reclaim their own narratives now that they have the virtual microphone.”

Wow.

So, I’m tempted to try it. Taking selfies, I mean. I confess that I’ve hated the idea up until now (still not crazy about it, but willing to give it the benefit of doubt), not because I have a problem with my image, but because I have a problem with lack of control. I know I look ok, and I don’t hate posed pictures of myself. But I seriously hate un-posed pictures of myself, as in, I so don’t want to look like that. I’d much rather look like my carefully crafted posed version. But obviously I DO look like that, so maybe it’s time I accepted and embraced the fact that I’m not always looking my best. But then, I shouldn’t need to always look my best. Life isn’t about being posed all the time. I’m guessing that selfie immersion could help with that acceptance. Whether I’ll ever be able to move from taking selfies for personal consumption, to sharing them… that’s a whole different issue.

— x —

To infinity: the Star Wars franchise – Adam Rogers, for Wired

On to more uplifting stuff, this article also is not really “techy”. It’s “geeky”. I’m including it because it’s culturally relevant (you do know that there’s a new Star Wars film coming out, right?), beautifully written, fun, and has an impressive layout. Seriously, check out the mouse/magnifying glass effect on the graphics. Very, very cool.

— x —

Silicon Valley suicides – by Hanna Rosin, for The Atlantic

A really moving, heartbreaking story about fear of failure. It’s not really a tech story, but I’m including it here because in this easy-access, right-now, always-improve culture that innovation has fostered, we tend to replace possibility with obligation. And it’s important for us all to realise that life is the most important thing, that it’s unique and short, and that we need to find a way to enjoy it, whatever constraints circumstance hands us.

— x —

Passwords are useless – by Mat Honan, for Wired

It’s time to rethink online security, people.

“The common weakness in these hacks is the password. It’s an artifact from a time when our computers were not hyper-connected. Today, nothing you do, no precaution you take, no long or random string of characters can stop a truly dedicated and devious individual from cracking your account. The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet.”

But please, let’s keep it practical.

“Requiring you to remember a 256-character hexadecimal password might keep your data safe, but you’re no more likely to get into your account than anyone else. Better security is easy if you’re willing to greatly inconvenience users, but that’s not a workable compromise.”

This article needs to be read by everyone. As we get more connected, we get more vulnerable, and not educating everyone on good security procedures is… well… irresponsible. True, the information and good advice, like that which this article offers, is out there for anyone to read. But people don’t, because they’re not aware of the risks.

In part, it’s a communication problem, an education problem, a problem of not-my-problemitis. But in part, it’s a user design problem – secure passwords are just too darn difficult to remember. And we have yet to come up with a good alternative.

— x —

Your unhashable fingerprints secure nothing – by Elliot Williams, for Hackaday

So it looks like we’re still a long way from finding the ideal password system. They’re either hard to remember but easily changeable. Or they occupy no brain space but we’re stuck with them. What about using our fingerprints? They’re unique, they can identify us efficiently and painlessly, and we don’t need to worry about remembering them. But no. That solution would leave us even more vulnerable than before. Our fingerprints may be unique and therefore sound like a good password idea, but they’re 1) not really that unique (large margin of error), 2) easily liftable, and 3) can’t be changed. Sigh.

— x —

Hi-tech recruitment – via The Memo

We all know how technology is affecting recruitment, personal branding, and team building. But using spray-painted ads to find talent? That’s so… so… offline!!!!!

image via The Memo

image via The Memo

— x —

Podcasting 2015 vs Blogging 2004 – by Joshua Benton, for Nieman Lab

I seem to spend a surprising amount of time preaching about podcasts these days. Just last week to journalism students, just this week to media entrepreneurs… Podcasts are one of the few media formats to withstand the commoditisation of advertising (as far as I know, we haven’t come up with an adblocker for podcasts), they benefit tremendously from the portability of radio (pleasantly filling hours on the move), they engender substantial, almost tangible, loyalty (with your voice in my ear so often, I feel like we’re friends)…

This fascinating take from Joshua Benton compares the podcasting space to the blogging space 10 years ago, and dares to predict a similar future for the medium:

  • Increased professionalization (which can also imply increased centralisation)
  • More powerful and absorbing platforms (with the resulting pressure on margins and data)
  • Increasing cannibalisation by podcasts of radio, except for those shows that evolve and play with this new medium (like some “traditional” media masts have done to compete with blogging)

A good read, especially if, like me, you love podcasts and are excited to see a new and potentially very successful outlet for journalists (established and new) to make a name (or even more of one) for themselves.

— x —

Glass solar systems, via Colossal

I just have to show you these glass spheres by artist Satoshi Tomizu, they are so breathtaking.

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

art by Satoshi Tomizu, image via Colossal

— x —

Here’s to wrapping the weekend up peacefully, and to a productive week next week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *