ON TECH & THE PRISON SYSTEM

ON TECH & THE PRISON SYSTEM

Pendarvis Harshaw dives deep into the ways technology is changing the world for the incarcerated

All praises due to our good friend Pendarvis, for helping to tell stories that matter. As the journalist, and photojournalist, behind OG Told Me, Pen’s photo-interview-essay series with Oakland’s assorted elders is just one of the many storytelling exercises he’s been a part of. More recently though, Pen set up shop in a new position at SF’s Fusion to continue on the journalistic path, with a newfound focus on the strange, exciting, and frequently troubling space that is the tech sector.
Pen’s latest project, a collaboration with Fusion’s Senior Editor Kevin Roose, sheds some light on the fascinating but under-covered intersection between tech and the prison system. “Tech Behind Bars” is split into three pieces, each focused on a different issue–the first on the illicit market for digital devices behind bars, the second on the difficulties inmates encounter on entering a “digital society,” and the third on “video visitations” and the range of new tech devices being introduced into the corrective industry’s institutional framework.

For those of who mostly encounter tech reporting through stories about either how many hundreds of millions some enterprise software startup just raised, or which cool ass neighborhood landmark is about to get bulldozed, reporting like this is always refreshing. As we keep on grappling with the big questions–like say, whether all this new technology will keep opening up lanes for empowering people, or whether powerful people will just have more efficient weapons at their disposal to shit on everyone else and sell them things–it’s cool to talk about the impact of all these advances on people who tend to get left out of the conversation. In any case, Pen and Kevin have more insight than I do on the subject, so peep the excerpts below, and follow the links. More than worth the read.

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RARE COLLECT

RARE COLLECT

Oakland's own Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is a video game archive for the people

The first time I walked into The MADE, it was a trip. A trip because I hadn’t expected to confront my childhood and feel the nostalgia of remembering how dope it was to be a kid. As the bleeps and bops, loading screens, and box art images flashed in my head, I kept asking myself, “how haven’t I heard about this place?”

If at some point in the past, you were obsessed and consumed with video games, The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is quite literally a safe place you can go to relive and reflect on a time when NBA Jam Tournament Edition was all that mattered and which one of your homies got all 120 stars in Super Mario 64. Looking around at everything for me started to trigger vivid memories of once meaningful video game achievements and that one time on my birthday when I wanted Street Fighter 2 for the SNES but that shit was sold out everywhere. Haven’t fucked with birthdays since then.

The MADE is a non-profit museum that houses a collection of historically significant works in video games. It is dedicated to educating and teaching the public about how video games are created, and how they’ve changed over the years. Its main goals are preserving the history of video games and heralding them as an artistic medium.

Oh, and you can play them.

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THE NEW ANALOG

THE NEW ANALOG

How analog technologies can help us reconnect with our surroundings—and each other

The New Analog

For the record, I should introduce this article by acknowledging that I’m heavily biased. I spend a lot of time with vinyl and I’m pretty much ready for any opinions that validate my belief that it’s better. Like for certain things, tapes and records are actually just objectively better than other ways of listening music; say, sitting down and actually listening to something carefully, with minimal distraction.

Taking a much more nuanced and thoughtful approach than me, Pitchfork’s Damon Krukowsi recently penned a piece called “The New Analog,” that uses the unlikely longevity of the vinyl LP as a jumping off point for a broader discussion about the power of good ol’ analog technology, and why certain devices and technologies remain irreplaceable, despite us all living in what some New Yorker article your parents thought was clever probably calls something like “the age of the selfie”.

Krukowsi notes the ways in which digital technology, in filtering out pieces of our basic, corporeal reality (say, by capturing only certain sonic qualities in our speech, or representing the spatial world via Google Maps), can also serve to disorient us. Conversely, he notes the ways in which classic analog technologies can be tools for reconnecting to our sensory experience. It’s a good read, particularly for folks who spend a lot of time with music, but really, for anybody who’s trying to think critically about their engagement with technology. Or you could just go peep Her. Anyway, article’s below.

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IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?

Michel Gondry's latest film illustrates a conversation with Noam Chomsky

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy

In what feels like an insanely dope Interview magazine-type scenario, Michel Gondry’s latest film is centered around a long conversation with the legendary linguistic theorist/philosopher/towering pop intellectual Noam Chomsky. In between shooting more Hollywood-centric fare, the visionary director behind Eternal Sunshine and classic videos from Daft Punk and Beck found some time to explore the vast troves of wisdom and insight that live between Mr. Chomsky’s ears.

Listen to Chomsky explore different ideas is all well and good, but Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy goes a little beyond that. For the film, Gondry’s chats with Chomsky are set to retro-inspired, neon animations, like something you might see in a trippy ’70s education film or science textbook. I can’t even say I know what the core of their talks are about, but the prospect of being visually dazzled while these two chop it up is enticing to say the least. Peep the trailer below, and read an interview with Mr. Gondry about the project here, from the actual Interview magazine.

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BURNING WITH CARL SAGAN

BURNING WITH CARL SAGAN

A good friend reflects on blowing trees with the legendary astronomer

Carl Sagan

Q: What was Carl Sagan like when high?

A: He was the same wonderful person, only definitely more relaxed. He had a great sense of humor, which really came out. He loved to smoke a joint before we went out to dinner, to stimulate his appetite. And he was always eloquent—could speak spontaneously like no other person I’ve ever known. We always had fun when we got stoned, and we had such wonderful discussions. It was exciting to smoke with Carl.

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ALL THAT HAPPENS WILL BE KNOWN

ALL THAT HAPPENS WILL BE KNOWN

Dave Eggers' latest, The Circle, is an allegory for the information age

Dave Eggers

I can’t always articulate what feels creepy to me about Facebook and Google and Apple. I use their products every day. All three of ’em, almost without fail. I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I’ve watched the TED Talk on filter bubbles, and I’m at least vaguely aware of all the NSA stuff no one seems to care that much about. There a million voices out there, some cautionary, some expository, some just concertedly observational, all of them trying to frame a relationship with technology that’s increasingly unframeable. And yet, having listened to lots of those voices, and soaked up all that perspective, I’m still lining up to hemorrhage personal information every day. The addiction is strong. I’m not big on conspiracy bullshit, but just the objective facts themselves seem like cause for concern. We’re all plunging headlong into a massive, ongoing exercise in sharing and archiving with no articulable end goal. Someone, somewhere is sitting on that admittedly mostly-worthless stockpile of information. On a more individualized scale, we’re all recording and documenting ourselves and gawking at each other, and we’re all internalizing it, one way or another.

I don’t want to set this one up too much (i.e. you’re better off skipping my intro and reading it yourself), but Dave Eggers’ The Circle gets at a lot of that uneasiness I’m feeling. The excerpt from Eggers’ latest novel, published in The New York Times Magazine last week, isn’t all that sensationalist in its storytelling. It kinda creeps up on you. The Circle tells the story of Mae, a fledgling employee at The Circle, a fictional Silicon Valley company that’s recently consolidated massive amounts of information, technological innovation, and near-universal good will. It’s an inspiring, idyllic place full of big, efficient ideas and friendly words like “imagination”, “connectivity” and “transparency”. It’s also a place that unsubtly encourages cult-like devotion and participation on the part of its disciples. Within the confines of its massive, amenity-rich campus, the value of its goals and ideals are pretty much unquestioned.

If this little piece The Circle reads like satire, it’s the kind that’s effective based on an eerie similarity to reality, rather than a massively overblown caricature of it. Like, the that doesn’t seem too far away or implausible kind of satire. There are echoes of Office Space and Infinite Jest, though the tone never quite goes over the top. In any case, it’s Eggers, so it’s awesome, and like most great fiction, it’s helpful in illuminating things about the world around us. Maybe even ourselves. Full disclosure: I’ve only read the excerpt–which is excerpted from a magazine, and a book–and only off my computer screen. Read an abridged version below, or go buy a book like a grown-up at your local indie bookstore.

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SEEING SOUNDS

SEEING SOUNDS

Audium, San Francisco's "theatre of sound-sculptured space" has been taking listeners on trips since the '60s

Audium

Walking into Audium is like stepping into the belly of a modernist UFO, the kind you’d expect to see flying haphazardly across the screen of some retro sci-fi movie with a nylon string attached. Time seems to come to an utter standstill in this “theatre of soundsculptured space,” located in an indiscriminate wood-paneled building on Bush Street in San Francisco. The theatre is pretty intimate; there’s room for no more than 50 people or so. But what Audium lacks in seating capacity it makes up for in noise: more than 160 speakers are installed strategically throughout the theatre. They hang suspended from the ceiling in varying geometric shapes and sizes, cover the floors and sloping walls, and resonate from the far corners of the room.

Stan Shaff, Audium’s composer and cocreator, has been warping aural identities and turning patrons’ senses completely on their heads since the 1960s. His manipulation of sound — in intensity, volume and location–carries listeners out of their bodies and into the vibrations themselves. Here’s the catch: the whole thing is in pitch-blackness. The type of all-consuming dark that makes it easy to forget you’re attached to the rest of your body. It’s jarring at first; the sound of hooves thundering around the room made me feel like a stampede was running laps around the inside of my skull. But before long, I was on another plane, feeling rooted to nothing but the miscellany of noise swirling over, under and around me.

While everyone’s experience is different–for some the darkness is too overwhelming–Shaff thinks sound and memories go hand-in-hand. I haven’t heard the roar of a thunderstorm since I moved to the Bay Area a year ago. But for a few seemingly eternal minutes, I was back on the porch of my childhood home on the East Coast. The balmy, humid sensation of watching a summer storm billow in lingered with me long after the show was over. Shaff does next to no advertising, but audiences keep coming every Friday and Saturday evening to be left alone to the doings of their synapses in the aural void. After my conversation with Stan a few weeks ago, it was easy to see why.

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ON HALLUCINATIONS

ON HALLUCINATIONS

Illusions, trips, and visions, explored by the formidable Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

From Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks:

Hallucinations have always had an important place in our mental lives and in our culture. Indeed, one must wonder to what extent hallucinatory experiences have given rise to our art, folklore, and even religion.

Do the geometric patterns seen in migraine and other conditions prefigure the motifs in Aboriginal art? Did Liliputian hallucinations (which are not uncommon) give rise to to the elves, imps, leprechauns and fairies in our folklore? Do the terrifying hallucinations of night-mare, being ridden and suffocated by a malign presence, play a part in generating our concepts of demons and witches and malignant aliens? Do “ecstatic” seizures, such as Dostoevsky had, play a part in generating our sense of the divine? Do out-of-body experiences allow the feeling that one can be disembodied? Does the substanceless of hallucinations encourage a belief in ghosts and spirits? Why has every culture known to us sought and found hallucinogenic drugs and used them, first and foremost, for sacramental purposes?

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THE CONSEQUENCE OF FILTER BUBBLES

THE CONSEQUENCE OF FILTER BUBBLES

How the internet shows us what it thinks we want to see

Filter Bubbles

It was back in 2011 when Twill first introduced me to the influence of Filter Bubbles. And it was internet activist and web enthusiast Eli Pariser who introduced the idea to him, through a TED talk based on his bestselling book The Filter Bubble. When we first spoke on the topic my pops said it was the most important issue we’ve ever touched on, yet for many, the consequences of Filter Bubbles have yet to be acknowledged.

Although the advent of the internet has provided us with unprecedented access to information, for many, personalized filters placed upon what we see, and don’t see, have changed the internet in a very drastic way. Perhaps we should start with Google, or shall I say, God. The all-knowing, omnipotent entity that I go to for nearly any question I have about the world. While we’re led to believe that the search results we receive for any topic are the same, no matter who, or where we are, this unfortunately couldn’t be further from the truth.

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TECHNO TUESDAYS

TECHNO TUESDAYS

Illustrator Andy Rementer lends his perspective on the unwavering marriage between man and machine

Look around you as you glare into your computer screen for the (insert large number)th consecutive day. If you’re anything like me, our somewhat troubling relationship with technology grows stronger by the day. It all happened so fast. Regardless, it seems as though, with each passing day, our dependency upon our phones and computers brings us farther from self-reliance, making our gizmos and gadgets more of a necessity than an accessory.

Luckily, there are those with skills that feel the same. Offering his clever perspective on this ever-evolving partnership, renaissance creative Andy Rementer has garnered global acclaim for his vibrant imagery. Penning colorful illustrations for global publications such as the New York Times and The New Yorker, while also collaborating with boutique mainstays like ONLY NY and Apartamento Magazine, it seems as though Rementer has managed to create his own distinguished aesthetic unto himself. While his personal site features much of his recent work, today we’d like to share with you Andy’s self made comic series, aptly titled Techo Tuesday. Combining Andy’s beloved illustrations with shrewd comic commentary on the role technology plays in our lives, Techno Tuesdays is a strip accessible to anyone living in the digital age.

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WILL TECHNOLOGY MAKE US OBSOLETE?

WILL TECHNOLOGY MAKE US OBSOLETE?

Ray Kurzweil, Singularity and technology's rapid ascension toward artificial intelligence

Ray Kurzweil

As one of the most prolific inventors of the 20th century, Ray Kurzweil has made a career out of creating the future. As an author, inventor and futurist, much of Kurzweil’s most recent work has focused on the concept of Singularity, known as the point in time when information technology exceeds the powers of the human brain. In other words, Kurzweil believes that in the not-so-distant future, machines will surpass the mental capacity of humans–according to Kurzweil, by the year 2030.

Founded upon the Law of Accelerated Returns, many of Kurzweil’s predictions revolve around the idea that technological advancement has been increasing exponentially since the beginning of humasn existence. Under this theory, Kurzweil posits that we are nearing a point in which the continual doubling of technological advancement will reach a zenith, effectively negating the linear progression of evolution and catapulting us to a new frontier of artificial intelligence. It’s the improvements in technology coupled with the decreasing costs of managing and storing information technology that lie at the foundation of this impending shift. Yet for many, one need not look any further than the evolution of the iPod, to see this phenomenon in action.

Introduced to the public in 2001, the first generation iPod cost $399 and was marketed with the slogan, “1,000 songs in your pocket,” a rough estimate based on the 5 gigabytes of storage available on the device. Today, the latest version of the iPod sells for $249 and holds 160 gigabytes of storage. This paradoxical trend in iPod capacity and pricing is just one example of what Kurzweil refers to when speaking about the exponential growth of information technology known as Singularity.

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