Veni, vidi, vaxi

As Thomas is making his usual round of introductions for this, the forty-ninth episode of the Small Data Forum podcast, he comments on Sam’s status as a published author. “Published author you too!” booms Sam, celebrating Thomas’ first-ever, peer-reviewed, academic article, written with his doctoral supervisor – and recent SDF interview guest – Darren Lilleker.

For at the very start of this month, the esteemed Journal of Public Affairs saw fit to publish “The challenges of providing certainty in the face of wicked problems: Analysing the UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic”, a very on-message, on-podcast, rather-more-academic-than-we-usually-are critical analysis of how the Johnson Junta has managed with the ‘wicked problem’ (technical term) of Covid.

Thomas summarises the arguments in the paper, of how Her Majesty’s Government’s response to the threat of the pandemic “has not been all that pretty”. After all the puffed-up, Cummings-laden rhetoric of the December 2019 election campaign which was supposed to be all about ‘getting Brexit done’ (“campaigning in poetry” to purloin Mario Cuomo’s phrase), Johnson’s cabinet of political pygmies has struggled to live up to the challenge of “governing in prose”.

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To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – or, when Uschi met Jezza

From our very own version of Numberwang, to utilitarianism, the precautionary principle, the Plague of Athens 430 BC, to Gartner’s latest tech trends, the SmallDataForum serves up another mixed bag of goodies and smarties.

I kick off by offering a selection of ciphers for our very own SmallDataForum Numberwang from:

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2020: Caught in the Gaslights

“Are you trying to tell me I’m insane?” asks Ingrid Bergman’s character Paula of her husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) in George Cukor’s 1944 film noir classic, Gaslight. To which he responds “Now, perhaps you will understand why I cannot let you meet people.”

An emotional manipulation which makes the target doubt their own memory, perception or judgment, gaslighting is a very real and serious form of domestic abuse – and as such has been exacerbated through the periods of lockdown, like all forms of abuse.

It has also become something of a media buzzword, so it is no surprise to see it being liberally appropriated (to avoid for once the martial imagery of ‘weaponized’) for political purpose on all our favourite fronts, from Brexit (for and against) to COVID and Trump (in liberal propaganda outlet Stylist(!), as well as The Independent, Forbes , Washington Post, to name but a few).

Gaslighting

The SmallDataForum’s fifth Xmas special was, of course, a socially responsible, zoomy affair – with the three of us in our respective WFH HQs, rather than sat around a table in our favourite Italian restaurant, Ristorante Olivelli by the Old Vic in South London, feasting on fine Italian foods and beverages, and recording to the clattering chattering sound of a busy lunchtime service (and afterwards testing Neville’s thankfully advanced audio editing skills).

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Social dilemmas, digital and phygital experiences

As if proof was needed that new Netflix edu-docu The Social Dilemma is highly Marmite among (social) media cognoscenti, the SmallDataForum verdict is very much a score draw, from Sam’s firm thumbs-down to my approval and on to Neville’s not-seen-it-yet.

I share Sam’s take that there’s not much new to learn – certainly for topic obsessives like us – and I also agree that eminent voices such as Shoshana Zuboff’s and Jonathan Haidt’s seem overly muffled and perhaps squandered.

But then we’re not the primary target audience. Neither are new media commentators, such as the Verge’s Casey Newton, who feels that the film misunderstands social networks. If it gets the average Netflix user to reflect a bit more on what they do with social media (and social media with them), then that can’t be a bad thing.

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Metaphors, Silicon Sultans and salivating idiots – another fine mess

Big Tech Grilling

We haven’t quite “sent it packing” yet, however once COVID-19 has finally been “wrestled to the ground” – mid next year, perhaps; or, maybe never – clearly we will “bounce back stronger than ever before”, according to the strictly non-hyperbolic musings of Prime Minister Demonic Goings Boris Johnson.

Aftermath of World War I? World War II? Bibble babble, donnez-moi un break, mate, as the wily wordsmith would have it.

In his seminal 1995 paper on “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals In the Dust”, cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff explained that “While conservatives understand that all of their policies have a single unified origin, liberals understand their own political conceptual universe so badly that they still think of it in terms coalitions of interest.”

He concluded that “Liberals need to go beyond coalitions of interest groups to consciously construct a unified language and imagery to convey their worldview. This will not be easy, and they are thirty years behind.” Make that about 55 years by now.

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