Posts in category 'politics'

  • Grappling with Supply Chains

    The fifth entry in my Blogging for the Holidays series, some thoughts on how the pandemic has exposed the cogwheels of the economy.

    I’m going to preface this post by noting the obvious: I am not a trained economist or anything like that. While I do cover some of the nuts and bolts of the supply chain crisis as I understand it, I have no doubt there’s much I’m misrepresenting and even more I’m missing outright.

    Now, with all that said, I’m gonna dive right in and hope I don’t get anything egregiously wrong. So, without further adieu…

    Growing up in a place like Alberta, you’re never really that far from the agricultural sector. But, as a born and bred city boy from the bustling metropolis that is Edmonton, it’s not unusual to hear someone lament that folks really should have a better understanding of where their food comes from.

    And I can’t help but agree!

    Food is one of those many things many of us take for granted. If you’ve grown up in some of the more privileged places in the world (and there are plenty that are far less fortunate), it’s pretty normal to walk into a grocery story and just expect to find a huge range of products at affordable prices, many sourced from all over the world.

    But it isn’t until times of crisis–usually a natural disaster of some kind–that we actually spend any time thinking about how that food travels from farm to grocery story to plate.

    Oddly, I’ve rarely had that conversation about any other products that feature in our day to day lives. Until recently, who among us had spent any time wondering how our television or engine block or framing lumber ended up in our possession?

    But, as with so many things, the pandemic has opened our eyes, forcing us to face these complex, interconnected systems that govern so much of our lives.

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  • RSS: A Better News Feed

    Social media algorithms care only that you’re engaged. They exist to advertise. Everything else is a side-effect. RSS lets you ditch the machine and build your own feed from trusted sources.

    Quite a few years ago, for personal reasons, I decided to drop out of major social media platforms. This was just at the time when those platforms truly started to take over the world, so the whole thing more or less passed me by as I watched from the sidelines. As a result, it wasn’t until very recently that I came to appreciate just how much these platforms have become the primary way that people run across content online.

    Of course, this really shouldn’t be surprising. Once upon a time, the internet was made up of an untold number of websites, big and small. And this posed a real problem of content discovery. Sure, we managed. We managed with search engines, and bookmarks, and web portals, and other ad hoc technologies. But it was a huge pain.

    Today, this same kind of content discovery is done on social media platforms, with content pushed to the consumer by machine learning algorithms that optimize for “engagement”, which is a technical term for “time spent on the service”.

    On its face this would seem like a good thing! After all, if you’re engaged, that must mean you’re delighted by what you see!

    But the reality is a lot more complicated. Yes, certainly the things that delight us will keep us engaged. But so do the things that make us outraged, or offended, or jealous. And the algorithm can’t tell the difference. So whether you’re clicking on a link because you want to see a picture of a large cat in a small box, or you want to read an outrageous article about how the world is really flat, it’s all the same to the machine.

    The result is an algorithmic filter bubble that often serves to misinform, usually while making us miserable.

    On the other hand, those algorithms really do provide a useful function: They push interesting content to us so we don’t have to go and seek it out. The problem is, we have no control over how they function.

    Well, as you can probably guess, I’m here to tell you that there is an alternative, and it’s a technology that’s almost as old as the web itself: RSS.

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