Friday, March 31, 2017

RMWMTMBM Re-Launch (and an Encouraging Anecdote for Frustrated Scholars)

Oh, hey there, strangers!

It's been a minute-- and by "a minute" I mean more than three months-- since I showed my (digital) self 'round these parts, so I figured an explanation for my ghosting is long past overdue.

The nunya story is that I've spent the last several weeks/months being more or less held hostage by doctors and nurses trying to figure out why I was feeling awful despite being, in almost every other respect, quite fine. We finally figured it out and have a plan to reduce (tho, alas, not eliminate) the number of awful days, so that's some good news. But the really good news is that (a) I'M NOT DEAD YET, (b) I've actually been hard at work on new and interesting projects in the interim, and (c) I missed this old space of mine a terrible lot, So, I'm back.

You may have noticed some dramatic changes to the design of this site. That's on purpose. Hope you like it. No need to tell me if you don't.

One enormous error I made in 2016 on this blog was using it as a site to announce what were, in retrospect and in truth, "aspirational" projects. (See: my as-yet-unrealized podcast, my as-yet-uncompleted Black Mirror series, my prematurely-aborted 30 Days of Music posts, et allllllll.) No more of that. I've had this blog since 2006 and I don't need to promise anything anymore. If you're still here, thank you. If you just happened by here, welcome to the fold.  It's always been a modest enterprise.

I'm going to try to post something at least once a week going forward, most likely on Tuesdays. It may be brief (very brief) and it may also be long (very long). For the next few months, I'll be making an effort to relax my arbitrary and self-imposed restrictions on what counts as a "worthy" blogpost and just give this space some room to breathe.

Like, really breeeeeaaaatttthhhe.

Here's the deal, over the past six months or so, I've found myself deeply and maddeningly occupied with (and deeply and maddeningly resentful about) a number of personal, familial, and medical issues in my life... but, at the same time, somewhat serendipitously invested in a "new" research project. I put "new" in scare-quotes because I think this project has been a long time coming. Maybe it got my concentrated attention of late only as a way of avoiding other things, but it's more or less been manifest in the things I've been reading/writing/thinking/teaching for the last several years. I just hadn't quite found a comfortable seat in that intellectual space until very recently.

Almost exactly six weeks ago now, I found myself overwhelmed/frustrated with trying and trying and failing to finish an journal article on the uncanny valley (something I've written about several times on this blog). I had roughly 9K words of the article I was working on, and the more I tried to edit it down to a reasonable "journal" length, the more I kept adding words, paragraphs, pages to the raw file. 9k words became 15k words, then 28K words, and it just kept growing from there. At some point-- somewhere around 40K in my case-- I came to the realization that any reasonable person has got to stop and reevaluate what the hell she's doing at some point.

I was neck-deep in literature on not only the uncanny valley, but also social media, information ethics, artificial intelligence, metadata, machine learning, robotics, the "singularity," the "post/transhuman," and a whole host of natural- and social-scientific literature accompanying those topics. And then, again serendipitously, I read James Barrat's Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

I share the following story only to encourage any of you out there who are frustrated with working on a project that seems to be going nowhere,

Barrat's book is a very good one and I recommend it to those unfamiliar with what's going on in the fields of future technologies and, in particular, artificial intelligence.  Nevertheless, I found myself about halfway through the text saying to myself "yeah, but..." over and over and over again. I was familiar with all of Barrat's references and the arguments that he was forwarding or undermining. Unlike my experience 5 or 6 years ago, when I first began seriously researching and thinking about future technologies, I wasn't thinking "oh, wow, that's cool" or "who'da ever imagined that was a real thing?" as I read Barrat's book. Slowly but surely, I realized, much to my surprise and delight, that I was no longer a member of the "public audience" to which this text was pitched. Rather, I was an expert on these matters now.

I've done the research, the hours upon hours of library time, the humbling and difficult work of learning terminologies and methodologies outside of my discipline, the countless mornings and afternoons and evenings dedicated to just thinking long and hard and seriously about these things. Soooooo much teaching on these topics. Teaching is the best avenue to really learning something, as any teacher will tell you.

And now I have some things of my own to say.  So, for the time being, I've put aside trying to edit the work I have down to"journal article" length, and I'm just writing, and writing, and writing, and accumulating words like manna from heaven.

It's a good place to be.