“We are in an abusive relationship with our phones”

This is an illuminating way of looking at what the relationship really is like between us and our smartphones, and more generally with the you-are-the-product companies that provide so many of the services we use on smartphones or other devices nowadays.

What our smartphones and relationship abusers share is that they both exert power over us in a world shaped to tip the balance in their favour, and they both work really, really hard to obscure this fact and keep us confused and blaming ourselves. Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

– They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact — ‘user engagement’ — that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.

– They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.

– They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

– They love-bomb us when we try to break away, piling on the free data or device upgrades, making us click through page after page of dark pattern, telling us no one understands us like they do, no one else sees everything we really are, no one else will want us.

– It’s impossible to just cut them off. They’ve wormed themselves into every part of our lives, making life without them unimaginable. And anyway, the relationship is complicated. There is love in it, or there once was. Surely we can get back to that if we just manage them the way they want us to?

Nope. Our devices are basically gaslighting us. They tell us they work for and care about us, and if we just treat them right then we can learn to trust them. But all the evidence shows the opposite is true.

Maria Farrell

You need to be able to see the box you’re in before you can start thinking outside it. It doesn’t have to be this way – “to get out of an abusive relationship you first have to see it for what it is”.

via Bruce Schneier & Memex

Catholic Adoption

In the news, more adoption issues in a case that further illustrates the attitudes and social mores of catholic Ireland as detailed in The God Squad. The fudged adoption papers, un-vetted placement, obfuscation and misdirection of the supposed Sisters of Charity is sadly unsurprising yet still awful to read:

His client became pregnant shortly before her 21st birthday. It was then arranged for her to travel to Ireland, for work experience and she ended up at a house in Clontarf in Dublin through the St Patrick’s Guild, which was run by the Sisters of Charity Nuns.

Counsel said she gave birth to a boy on 13 March 1961 at the Marie Clinic in Clontarf.

She was “sternly warned”, not to touch the newborn as it would be “bad for the child”, who was to be put up for adoption.

However she defied this warning, counsel said, and baptised him with holy water she had in the home in the hope that someday she would find him.

Shortly afterwards she was taken away and signed various forms consenting to the adoption. Counsel said the form was “false”.

Counsel said the documents she signed were legal nullities and had none of the normal safeguards required.

In addition, counsel said the contents of the form about the mother’s details were fudged and lacking in detail.

Counsel said that over the years his client, following her marriage and the birth of her other children, made visits to Ireland in attempts to get information about her son without much success.

She was brushed off by the nuns she dealt with at the Guild, it was said, and a person who worked at the place where she gave birth to her son suggested the boy was among those infants who went to the USA.

 

The Chain of Destruction

I’ve just finished the excellent documentary “The House I Live In” (thanks to D for recommending). It’s a fascinating look at the consequences of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’, which is really just a proxy war against an entire class of humanity with no end in sight. It’s created a criminal problem from a public health issue and applied policing solutions to it, the wrong answer to the wrong question.

Near the end of the documentary, this particular piece caught my attention. I think it summarises well just how something like this can happen and continue to happen in a society. It also speaks to a wider issue – the marginalisation of certain out groups and how that identification process can lead down a dark road.

“My father was a war crimes investigator in Europe after World War Two, and we often talked about his experiences. I was reading the work of Raul Hillerg who wrote about the destruction of European Jews in the Holocaust. I realised that there was a chain of destruction, that what he was talking about could be expressed as links in a chain.

Around the world in more than one society, people do the same things, again and again, decade after decade, century after century.

Now this chain of destruction begins with the phase we can call Identification, in which a group of people is identified as a cause for the problems in society. People start to perceive their fellow citizens as bad, they’re evil. they used to be worthwhile people, but now all of a sudden for some reason their lives are worthless.

The second link in the chain of destruction is ostracism, by which we learn to how hate these people, how to take their jobs away, how to make it harder for them to survive. People lose their place to live, often they are forced into ghettos where they are physically isolated, separate from the rest of society.

The third link is confiscation. People lose their rights, civil liberties. The laws themselves change so it’s made easier for people to be stopped on the street, padded down and searched, and for their property to be confiscated. Now, once you start taking peoples property away, you can start taking the people themselves away.

And the fourth link is concentration. Concentrate them into facilities such as prisons camps. People lose their rights, they can’t vote anymore, or have children anymore. Often their labour is exploited in a very systematic form.

And the final link in the chain is annihilation. Now this might be indirect, by say withholding medical care, withholding food, preventing further birth. Or it might be direct, where death is inflicted or people are deliberately killed.

These steps tend to happen of their own momentum, without anybody forcing them to happen.

I think a lot of people would be disturbed and outraged by the thought that any part of this process could be going on in America. But it wasn’t until I began studying the drug war that I realised some of these same steps were happening.

[..}

It’s important to remember or realise, it isn’t that the war on drug users is the same as what happened in other societies, but that both are a wars on ordinary people, people who are just like us.”

— Richard Miller

These five links – Identification, Ostracism, Confiscation, Concentration and Annihilation – are important to recognise. Look around you. Who has been identified as an other? Any marginalised group that can be identified by some apparent or manufactured identity is on the first link of that chain. Once fear has been generated, people on the edges begin to scramble away from the target group lest they too be lumped in with the new ‘enemy’. The power is with the identifiers, not the identified. People tend to want a quiet life, most people have enough to do day to day without getting involved in political action, so they either undertake a form of ‘working towards the Fuhrer‘ as Ian Kershaw termed it, or at best simply keep their heads down lest they become one of ‘those people’ by association.

Nothing ever starts with the last link in the chain, and the time to stop it is at the first link.

Surviving Autocracy

Marsha Gessen wrote a set of six rules for surviving an autocracy back in November 2016 ( http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/11/10/trump-election-autocracy-rules-for-survival/ ). Well worth a revisit in light of recent events, they’ve stood the test of the last few months anyway. Sample:

I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

Rule #1:
Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one. For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him—from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.

Autocracy Or Kleptocracy – Trump’s America

David Frum expounds on the possible outcomes of Trump’s Presidency in the Atlantic. Fascinating and though-provoking, it’s a long but worhtwhile read. He covers something I’ve noted before:

In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.
Everything imagined above—and everything described below—is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it. It can all be stopped, if individual citizens and public officials make the right choices. The story told here, like that told by Charles Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a story not of things that will be, but of things that may be. Other paths remain open. It is up to Americans to decide which one the country will follow.
No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

While (obviously) focused on Trump’s America, this stuff applies to any nation anywhere. And Frum lists Hungary, Poland and others where it’s potentially happening (Hungary in particular, is worrying). At the end of the day, it’s down to the citizens to defend their democracy. It can’t defend itself.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

Don’t ignore it

“I don’t understand people who believe that if you ignore something, it’ll go away. That’s completely wrong — if it’s ignored it gathers strength. Europe ignored Hitler for 20 years. As a result he slaughtered a quarter of the world!”

    Lemmy Kilmister

Gary Younge on American Gun Culture

Gary Younge spent over ten years in the US working for the Guardian, and gave an thoughtful interview with Uri Friedman in the Atlantic. Sample:

Friedman: During the course of your time in the U.S., how did you come to understand allegations and instances of excessive force by the police?

Younge: [My understanding] didn’t change very much. I’m black and I’ve not been raised to think uncritically of the police as people who are there to give you directions and get cats out of the tree. I’ve always assumed that even though their role should be to protect and serve, that might not be their relationship to me. And that’s true in Britain. It would also be true in America. I’m not even convinced there’s been an increase in police shootings [in the United States]. If there [has been], I would accept that. But we now have devices that can record [police shootings] and a sensitivity toward them, and that [seems to be] what we’re seeing here. What’s changed is a general understanding of the world, but not the world.

Something else that has intrigued me—and this is less an observation than a political point—is that the NRA people who talk about tyranny, [are paradoxically not] insisting on the mass armament of the black community to protect themselves against the tyranny of the police. I know the police aren’t the federal government, but the notion of gun ownership as invoked to me was to protect your individual rights against the state and others. So here’s the state killing people in cold blood—sometimes undeniably. How does that rationalization of gun rights stand in that moment if you’re not calling for the mass armament of black communities? Which I’m not. But one would have thought [gun-rights activists] would have been rather by [black communities’] side. That to me is an illustration that the case that they’re making for gun rights isn’t quite as complete as they think it is. [Their] vision of America doesn’t really include everybody.

(highlighting mine)

Read on: The Guardian’s Gary Younge on American Gun Culture – The Atlantic

Time not well spent

Interesting:  Addicted to Your iPhone? You’re Not Alone – The Atlantic

Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices.

While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.

 

Labour Benefits: Poor

Hmmm, good if you’re expecting, bad if you’re sick or laid off:

Ireland offers the second longest maternity leave in Europe but comes last in terms of pay entitlements, according to a new survey.According to the study, which covers 15 European countries and also the United States, Ireland comes second behind the United Kingdom in terms of total maternity leave allowed with mothers able to take 42 weeks out, 26 of which are paid. This compares with 52 weeks of total leave in the UK and a mandated minimum of just 14 weeks in Germany and Sweden. The US currently has no mandated paid maternity leave.The research conducted on behalf of the careers website Glassdoor, reveals Ireland is the worst country in Europe overall for labour market benefits such as paid sick leave and unemployment cover.

Also, bad (but about to get better) for Paternity leave, but Ireland was “among the worst ranked countries in terms of annual leave and while not in last place came way behind most other European countries in terms of public holidays.”

Ireland also ranked second lowest, just ahead of the UK for unemployment benefit.

“The study concluded Denmark, France and Spain provide the most generous overall labour market social benefits while Ireland, Switzerland and the UK provide the least.”