Friday 18 February, 2022


Seen on a walk yesterday.

Quote of the Day

“The knives of jealousy are honed on details”

  • Ruth Rendell

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Richard Strauss | Four Last Songs | TrV 296 – 4 | Jesse Norman


I like all four, but this one is my favourite.

Long Read of the Day

The myth of tech exceptionalism

Wonderfully acute essay by Yaël Eisenstat and Nils Gilman in Noema magazine.

Silicon Valley in recent decades has managed to build an anti-regulatory fortress around itself by promoting the myth — rarely stated plainly, but widely believed by tech practitioners — that “tech” is somehow fundamentally different from every other industry that has come before. It is different, the myth says, because it is inherently well-intentioned and will produce not just new but previously unthinkable products. Any micro-level harm — whether to an individual, a vulnerable community, even an entire country — is by this logic deemed a worthwhile trade-off for the society-shifting, macro-level “good.”

This argument, properly labelled “tech exceptionalism,” is rooted in tech leaders’ ideological view both of themselves and government. This ideology contributes to the belief that those who choose to classify themselves as “tech companies” deserve a different set of rules and responsibilities than the rest of private industry.

Exceptionalism is a strategy for avoiding regulation and it’s based on two rhetorical strategies.

  1. Whatever harms technology creates, it is more than outweighed by the good in the present.

  2. The claim that hypothetical future innovations will more than offset any harms of today’s technology.

This fine piece provides a useful antidote to tech BS, and is worth your time.

How many words does it take to make a mistake? 

Characteristically thoughtful LRB essay by Will Davies on the mechanisation of learning.

In the utopia sold by the EdTech industry (the companies that provide platforms and software for online learning), pupils are guided and assessed continuously. When one task is completed correctly, the next begins, as in a computer game; meanwhile the platform providers are scraping and analysing data from the actions of millions of children. In this behaviourist set-up, teachers become more like coaches: they assist and motivate individual ‘learners’, but are no longer so important to the provision of education. And since it is no longer the sole responsibility of teachers or schools to deliver the curriculum, it becomes more centralised – the latest front in a forty-year battle to wrest control from the hands of teachers and local authorities.

Among other things, the pandemic seems to have speeded up the neoliberal conquest of education.

My commonplace booklet

The best riposte to those who are rude to, and dismissive of, people who believe in fairies is that since 1970 particle physicists — those archetypal sober citizens — have been devout believers in the existence of neutrinos — subatomic particles that are so small that they can pass right through the earth without pausing.

Not only do physicists believe in these blighters, but they are now claiming to be able to weigh them. Exhibit A is this article, ”How Light is a Neutrino?”, which has appeared in Nature, no less. It doesn’t actually come up with an answer, though — just says that the latest effort to weigh the elusive particle produces a more precise estimate of its upper limit. And apparently this is progress.

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