The Soft Truth About A Radical Week

DISCLAIMER: This post is for DGST395. If this is showing up elsewhere, please ignore.

The readings and activities for class this week were very interesting and engaging, covering a wide variety of genres and topics. We read a short story called “The Soft Truth” this week, a story that fits into the “algowave” genre of writing. In the story, the main character works for a company called Footprint Consulting, working to dig up things on people and scrub them from the internet, but she is fired early on. This gives her the opportunity to continue her quest for the “blue sphere,” an object displayed in a commonly used thumbnail that seemed so satisfying but so unattainable. All the while, she tries to find a way to properly meet and speak with this other version of herself that she sees around, a version that wears very similar but slightly different clothing. Ultimately, she ends up meeting the other her and finds that she also knows about the sphere, which she then really buckles down to find. Once she does, a wave of relief washes over her, with her almost fading out with the story in a flurry of “finally” and “goodbye.” I was able to pull meaning from this story, though I’m not necessarily sure how close to the intended message I got. In relation to seeing an almost identical copy of herself is the idea that no matter how seemingly pointless your pursuit is, there is always someone in a very similar place looking for the same thing. This is deeply philosophical and could completely miss the mark, but comparing it to the idea of algorithms recommending similar things to similar people, it makes a bit of sense.

The second reading, “Making of a YouTube Radical,” is one that I’ve actually read before but from a slightly different perspective. I’ve been liberal my entire life, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to be quite interested in content on the internet that reinforces or expands my views in the area. In a way, though, I feel as though I may have fallen into the progressive rabbit-hole on YouTube, and I may be clinging onto the wall right now still. Regardless, the first time I read this it was because I’ve been a big fan of Steven Bonnell, also known as Destiny, for years and found my way to the article after he mentioned it on a livestream. I approached it with a liberal perspective, thinking in terms of politics and not algorithm or logistics of systems. This time around, though, I flipped things around and tried to mostly ignore my political alignment and instead think about things in regards to the confines of our class. While I can’t say I completely understand the YouTube algorithm, especially the state of it currently, it’s interesting to see what their priorities are and what improvements they focus on making as the algorithm evolves. I think that YouTube has a responsibility to keep a watchful eye on potentially harmful content and do as best of a job as they can to not spread it, especially to those susceptible to being “brainwashed” by it. With that being said, I’m not sure how capable the algorithm is to filter out far-right videos while keeping positive and constructive progressive videos, but there has to be some way to at least take a step in that direction.

As for class on Friday, we had a very interesting opportunity to take a look at some different web projects. My group spent the majority of class time looking at “Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age,” a project that was extremely eye opening and caught us off guard. We were aware of the disparities between white men and minorities in Hollywood, but we didn’t realize how extreme it was, all of us shocked by the statistics. It is notable that many older animated Disney films are highly dominated by male dialogue, whereas in more recent years it is a lot more mixed or even favor female dialogue. It’s good to see progress, but the information is still pretty riveting, with thousands of movies having majority male dialogue and far less showing majority female dialogue. The website used a “scrollytelling” method of showing the statistics, which was extremely interesting to follow while going further down the page. Our table also checked out “What Parler Saw,” a collection of videos from the Capitol riot. The site has functionality to filter the displayed videos to a few different options, one being specifically inside the Capitol. It was extremely interesting, and certainly unsettling, to be able to skip through the timeline of the day to see how things fall apart. Both of these websites were extremely easy to be pulled into, with the three of us finding ourselves caught up in exploring the sites rather than moving forward to a new one.