The hidden price of cheap online dildos

I just read this eye opening piece from Mother Jones about the inhuman working conditions to be found at the logistics firms that run the warehouses which ship the online gewgaws that we swim in. It’s shocking to find out about the hidden costs of being able to order cheap dildos on the Internet.

The annoying thing is that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’ve written about Taylorism and scientific management – I defined it as “a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort” – and I know perfectly well about the dire labour conditions to be found in states with right-to-work laws, which severely curtail the power of unions, and I also know about the demand towards timeliness with Just in Time shipping which has companies do their level best to turn their workers into unfeeling cogs who don’t pee or get sick.

I knew all that and yet I didn’t connect those things to the free shipping that Amazon and almost every other large online retailer provides and the guarantees towards getting items fast which are always shouted out in giant letters on a company’s website. Really, though, I’ll pay for the damn shipping and even wait an extra couple of days if it means workers won’t get fired for attending the birth of one of their kids.

Still, the article is about American third-party logistics firms so I wonder if I can still order stuff online in Canada with a clear conscience. I know at least three things different between Ontario and this unnamed state west of the Mississippi:

  1. Minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, well above the $7.25 those poor slobs were getting;
  2. Mandatory overtime is illegal;
  3. All residents would be on the provincial health plan.

Just to be safe, though, I think from now on I’m going to buy stuff in person whenever I absolutely can. All those trucks driving around delivering stuff can’t be good for the environment, anyway.

Stoolpigeon Wanted, Inquire Within for Details

As you may know, over the last few years the corporations that own copyrights on several intellectual properties have been doing their best to shut down the programs and online venues where the filesharers get their free stuff (movies, music, whatever). But since the people in the corporations themselves of course don’t participate in the illicit filesharing scene, how do these corporations identify the websites and programs that the filesharers use? Why, they advertise for snitches on Craigslist, of course. To wit (link is now defunct):

The web team at Double Take Net Media is seeking a Web Research Assistant for their Toronto office. This is a junior level position for a rapidly expanding web team, focused on growing web properties. This is a full time, junior level position that has been developed to be responsible of supporting our existing websites, including but not limited to:

* Researching via Search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc) for web sites and online applications using content and materials that are being distributed illegally;
* Tracking website content and materials, then alerting offending sites/ISP’s via Email of illegal activity;
Skills for ideal candidate:
* Excellent written and verbal communication skills
* Detail-oriented with strong organizational skills;
* Self-starter who requires little supervision or direction;
* Good time management, multi-tasking and prioritization skills;
* Should know some basic internet protocol, Email programs, and searching for content;
* Able to work with Mature content;

This position is perfect for a someone looking to get into media. There is definite opportunity for the right candidate to move up in the company – especially in project and product management. Competitive salary, benefits, RRSP, paid sick days, etc.

  • Location: Toronto
  • Compensation: $27, 500.00 per Year
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

The pay actually isn’t bad for a New Media job that requires a vaguely defined skill set. I’m kind of tempted to apply. Still, one must have principles, and despite my jobless streak I still refuse to apply for a marketing job despite having exactly the skills and experience that would go far in that industry. How, then, could I go against the ethos of “share and share alike” that so defined the early Internet? Oh well, guess the job hunt must continue.

On realizing one is a pedantic shit

I was rooting around in my computer when I spied a text file from 2005 that I apparently wrote for an online debate about prehistoric agriculture in New Guinea. Googling an entire paragraph verbatim reveals that it was for a message board discussion of Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The mini-essay was fairly well-reasoned, made reference to some current scientific knowledge, and synthesized information gleaned from several academic sources not easily accessible to the layperson. It was mostly ignored except by one person who clearly based his objections on self-taught stuff gleaned mostly from the Internet. The “debate” quickly petered out after I made my contribution and the message board thread sank out of sight into the archives.

Jesus, why did I even bother? Looking at the date, it appears that I wrote the mini-essay in my first semester of graduate school. I suspect that I was trying to distract myself from the fact that at the time I was living in a tiny, crappy apartment where I could hear the slapping sounds of my neighbour having sex with his girlfriend. That and I was probably trying to fill the loneliness of moving to a new city. Yes, I hung out with my grad school cohort but we all had our own shit to shovel, our own rows to hoe, so to speak, and the alienation of the modern city can get pretty acute when you’re living by yourself and you don’t know anyone living nearby well enough to call friend.

I’m reminded of this New York Times article about what Internet trolls are like offline. Who could have known – from the content I’d written on the message board – of the specific personal circumstances that fueled my frustration at dealing with the ignorant and the misinformed who’d dared misconstrue the knowledge of my chosen field of study. I was especially annoyed because the message board is the adjunct to a newspaper trivia column that specifically bills itself as “Fighting Ignorance Since 1973”, when in my experience the board was and is a bastion of white privilege and anti-feminist “common sense”. I finally had to quite the message board when I saw how often the same topics came up over and over. I’m kind of back now, but I decided not to read any topics that involved race, gender or American politics in an attempt to prevent my demise from apoplexy.

Anyway, I’m embarrassed at having spent so much time and effort on what was in the end an inconsequential matter, though I suppose helping to correct popular misconceptions is a decent hobby for an aspiring anthropologist (god knows a lot of anthropological knowledge directly contradicts mainstream ideas about human nature). Still, there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in one person. Better to do things that one actually likes.

Again on social networking sites

I’ve just realized that I might be behind the curve now.  I admit, I’m not keeping a constant watch on news about the Internet, but in my subjective experience, the amount of English-language media coverage given to blogs has decreased whereas it seems to me that the current information technology zeitgeist has been taken over by social networking sites.  You know, stuff like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  My guess is that blogs and bloggers are starting to find their niche in the Anglosphere, thus becoming more mundane with every passing day.  One certainly can’t disregard the high visibility of political blogs in the US and the constant commentary on them provided by the traditional news media.

So: blogs are mainstream now.  What else is next?  Social networking sites, apparently (a.k.a. SNS).  I mean, Foreign Policy did an article on them and The freaking Economist has a Facebook group.  Yeah, I know, it’s a bit bizarre.  I wonder who’s responsible for maintaing that group?

Okay, so perhaps when such staid auld institutions like The Economist have joined Facebook then it’s more a sign of being mainstream than cutting edge (and apropos of nothing, but apparently The Economist’s website has been redesigned).  However, being so new, in real time as opposed to Internet time, SNSes have barely been studied by academics so far.  Scholars are still grasping at the answers to such basic questions as who uses Social Networking Sites.  Via the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website (see what I mean about blogs becoming mainstream?), however, I found these two links to various stuff around the Internet related to SNSes:

The first is an article from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist from Northwestern University and contributor to the Crooked Timber group blog entitled “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (2007).

Hargittai mentions that “students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster than they are in the aggregate sample, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionately users of MySpace”, which is to say that North American socioeconomic divisions are reflected online by which SNS you join: MySpace for the working class, Facebook for the middle class.  This accords with what danah boyd observed in the blogpost that stirred up quite a lot of online reaction, partly because I think Americans don’t like to be reminded that class exists in their country (and as another tangent, I’d actually made the exact same observation as her that Facebook and MySpace users were clearly being segregated according to class and had even been half-assedly formulating a blogpost on the subject, though it’s just as well that she broached the subject first since she reaches more people and she actually used more than 50% of her ass when writing the post).

Basically, the point of the article is that who joins and stays with SNSes can be somewhat predicted by various demographic factors, and that we might be seeing the rise of a new social divide, this time between those who use SNSes and those who don’t.

The second link is a story about how people inadvertently flock and follow leaders when they are in crowds, such that 5% of crowdgoers can nonverbally direct the movements of the other 95%.  Qué interesante, you say.  Nunca he pensado sobre esta tema.  That’s not what I really wanted to point out, though.  Instead, look at the bottom of the press release and see that there are buttons for you to share the story on both Facebook and Digg.  I’m somewhat impressed that the University of Leeds’ publicity department is on top of this Web 2.0 thing, since university websites are usually not that up with the haps online.  Perhaps even SNSes are approaching mainstream-ness (mainstreamity? I think I like this one more).

Still, nothing can top my last item, this time coming from the antropologi.info blog: it seems that Owen Wiltshire, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, is planning on studying how anthropologists who study online social phenomena form online communities themselves.  Yes, you read that right, an online anthropologist is studying how online anthropologists work with each other online.  It’s so deliciously reflexive.  He’s also got his own blog, so I might just pop over sometime and say whattup.

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

From Foreign Policy:

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made the world seem like a small place after all. But even on the Internet, persistent language barriers and cultural differences mean that the planet may not be quite as interconnected as you think.

Coming to Costa Rica, I found out first-hand how parochial the Anglosphere really is.  It’s easy to over-estimate the global reach of English when you’re immersed in it, but one must remember that the majority of the world doesn’t speak the language of Shakespeare.  The Anglosphere might seem all-encompassing in its totality, but all you have to do is change your linguistic environment and suddenly people are talking about celebrities you’ve never heard of and singing along to classic songs you never knew existed.

As offline, so also online.  I’m only now dipping my toe into the Spanish Internet and it’s rather fascinating to discover the differences Spanish Internet talk has from standard written Spanish (for instance, hardly anyone uses the upside-down symbol things like ¿).

This article from Foreign Policy is a nice round-up of the state of social networking sites in different language zones of the world.  I hadn’t known that Orkut was big in India or that its membership had plateaud, and neither did I know that Facebook was also big in the Arab countries, nor that Skyrock even existed.  And finally I found out who’s been using Hi5.  Anyway, do read the article, it’s only 2 pages long and is a good corrective to English-language ghettoism online.

The poor man’s Internet

I posted this on the board of the Facebook group Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures but it seemed a shame to just leave it there where only group members could see it.  Lately I’ve mostly been using Facebook to do stuff that I used to use this blog for, it’s just that I’ve mostly been writing personal stuff (yesterday I visited the rainforest, etc.) and it all seemed to insubstantial to put up on what I consider to be a serious blog.  Anyway, the short essay:

I tried to write this comment in response to the posted article “Communities Dominate Brands: As web content migrates to mobile internet” but it was apparently too long.

Anyway, I wrote that such rah-rah essays extolling the future within our grasp never sit quite well with me because they never mention what happens to people who can’t join the revolution.

As a grad student in Canada I couldn’t afford to surf the Internet on my phone (that first phone bill was a shocker), and now in Costa Rica I don’t even have the option. The government has a monopoly on telecommunications, there are long waiting lists for cellphone numbers and long lineups outside the govt. offices when new numbers are added, and most phones are 5-8 years old. Only in November did ICE (the Instituto Costarricense de Electricad, which despite the name handles more than just electricity) sign an agreement to allow the use of Blackberries in the country and it was specifically mentioned that it was for the convenience of foreign executives in Costa Rica, not local ones.

This situation has come about mostly through the exigencies of politics, as in many other parts of the world. All of my fellow development workers stationed in Africa that I’ve talked to have mentioned how much slower the Internet is there than they’re used to, and I remember being warned against using Flash in my pre-departure training because it would slow down the computers of developing country users to unacceptable levels. Perhaps viewing the mobile Internet on a PC will be akin to watching colour programs on a black and white tv, but I can’t help feeling that we’re watching the further economic segregation of the Internet, as indeed already exists for the global high-speed vs. dial-up divide.

Time will tell, I suppose, as it always does. Anyway, what are other people’s experience on the subject of digital divides vis-a-vis Asia and other parts of the world?

“Just keep downloading music!”

On a lark, I searched for posts on Technorati that were tagged with “filesharing” and came across this story, originally from this German blog:  Apparently, German Internet users have been getting e-mail spam purportedly from German federal police that inform the recipients they have been caught downloading copyrighted materials and will face prosecution.  A certain German filesharer, who was loaded while reading his email (never do this folks, you’ll end up sending emails you’ll regret), called the number mentioned in the spam mail, which was the number of the real police.  The cop on duty at the time (11 pm at night) assured the caller that the e-mail was crap and told him, “Just keep downloading music!”  Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?  Cop guy probably downloads himself.

Terminus est

Yes, it’s true: Ranma 1/2 has finished its run. Actually, it finished its run in Japan more than ten years ago — I’m referring to the English translations of the manga. I already know how it all ends, having read the fan-made digital translations that have been on the Internet for years, and since I was originally a fan of the animated version, which itself has been done for a while, the end of Viz Comics’ translations doesn’t impact me in any appreciable way. Still, I feel a twinge of nostalgia at the announcement of the series’ end (or rather, felt, since I’ve been meaning to blog about this since I first heard about it in November).

The history of Ranma 1/2 in North America is pretty much the early history of manga and anime in its first non-Asian environment. Apparently, Ranma 1/2 was one of the first manga hits in the US, although as I said, it was really the anime that first captured my attention. I’m willing to bet that other fans followed similar trajectories in their discovery of manga.

You see, I loved the anime. I loved it so much that I finally reached a point where I couldn’t bear to wait for more Ranma episodes to be translated and dubbed in English, so I found a place on the Internet where one could actually download the comic books which the anime was based on. These digital versions of the comic were translated by fans from the original Japanese comics, then the Japanese comics were scanned and the original Japanese dialogue digitally replaced with the English translations. Of course, the fan translators were aware of the copyright violations they were technically committing. They justified their actions by only translating issues of Ranma that Viz, the English-language publisher, still hadn’t gotten around to, and therefore these fan translations weren’t stealing money from Viz at all.

To my knowledge, this project was the first instance of what is now called scanlation, which is the production of fan-made digital translations of Japanese comics, although I’m seeing more Korean comics now and some Chinese ones, plus a handful of French bandes dessinees. Normally, scanlators only work on series that aren’t being published yet in English, and should a publisher pick up a scanlated series, the scanlators are expected to desist in their work. A publisher could charge scanlators with copyright violations, but they choose not to do so if the proper forms are observed by the scanlators. After all, a manga reader has no reason to spend money on a completely unknown series, and scanlations allow that reader to sample the wares before buying. Publishers are well-aware that turning a blind eye to scanlations and filesharing actually increases sales for their translated comics (the reverse of what opponents of filesharing claim). It’s thanks to scanlations that I’ve been introduced to manga like Eden and Welcome to the NHK!, the former being a series I intend to buy and already on my Amazon wish list.

As you should note, then, the Internet has been instrumental in the expansion of fandom, especially Ranma fandom in this case — I still remember getting tapes of the series from a friend of mine. Before scanlations caught on, which pretty much means before affordable scanners and high-speed Internet arrived, online fans of manga apparently used text translations of the comics that were released by other fans online. They’d buy Japanese versions of the comics and switch back and forth between the comic and the printed translation. It all sounds quite tedious, which is why I’m glad I never had to deal with such an unwieldy system.

Still, I haven’t explained what Ranma 1/2 is itself about. What kind of series could have aroused such passion in my young self, such devotion that even now, more than half a decade after I’d last encountered any version of the series, I should still rhapsodize about it? That’s kind of a long story, one which deserves to be explored in its own post, but definitely a topic I’ll revisit.

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Faster than a speeding blogger

This is the first time I’ve ever posted more than twice in a single day. Actually, it’s technically Tuesday now, but my days only end when I go to sleep.

Via Rough Theory, I found out that Scott Eric Kaufman at Acephalous is conducting an experiment on blogging. It goes like this:

  1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
  2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I’m one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
  3. Ping Techorati.

The object of the experiment is to discover how fast a (cough, ahem) “meme” can spread on the (English language) blogosphere. I’m obviously willing to participate, but danged if I don’t see holes in the methodology. For instance, I suspect it will hardly penetrate Myspace and possibly not even Xanga. Probably not Friendster blogs, either. I also doubt that the meme will be spread by retail-oriented blogs or blogs run as online community newsletters. Which is to say that Scott Eric Kaufman will not be measuring the spread of his meme through the English-language blogosphere, but rather the spread of his meme through one particular region of that blogosphere.

In “Bridging the Gap: A Genre Analysis of Weblogs” (a more developed version is found here) there is presented a blog classification scheme created by S. Krishnamurthy, where blogs are classified according to their location on a particular matrix:

Krishnamurthy's blog classification matrix
Krishnamurthy 2002, cited in Herring et al. 2004:3

I would place Acephalous on the line between Quadrants I and II, meaning that I think it’s about both SEK’s personal life and about certain topics that he uses the blog to explore.

Building upon Rebecca Blood’s typology, Herring and her co-authors also present their own classification scheme:

  1. Journal blogs, which are about the personal doings of the individual bloggers (i.e., most blogs on LiveJournal),
  2. Filter blogs, which provide commentary on things external to the blogger, such as US politics (blogs in Quadrant III of Krishnamurthy’s schema can also be called filter blogs)
  3. K-logs, or knowledge blogs, which are used in projects to allow project members to disseminate up-to-date information to each other
  4. Mixed-purpose blogs, which are combinations of two or more blog genres
  5. And finally, Other types of blogs which do not fall under the previous categories (Herring et al. 2004:4-6).

Using this typology, I would classify Acephalous as being a mixed-purpose blog, in this case a filter blog with some journal blogging thrown in.

My objective in classifying Acephalous, though, is to point out that being mostly a filter blog and oriented towards other filter blogs (a quick scan through the blogroll reveals mostly filter blogs), SEK’s experiment will likely end up measuring the speed of his meme among filter blogs, leaving journal blogs mostly untouched. This means that the spread of a meme through the English-language blogosphere’s biggest genre will never be measured — note, for example, that 7 out of 10 of the biggest blog hosting services focus mostly on personal journals, and that’s not even counting social networking sites like Myspace (Perseus 2005).

So in conclusion, I’ve forgotten where I was going to take the rest of this post. I’d just save this draft and work on it more tomorrow but SEK did ask participants to post ASAP, so I’ll do it now. I is sleepy, I go beddy-bye.

References

Herring, Susan C; Scheidt, Lois Ann; Bonus, Sabrina; & Wright, Elijah L. (2004), “Bridging the gap: a genre analysis of weblogs,” hicss, p. 40101b, Proceedings of the 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Electronic document, retrieved March 8, 2006 from http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jpd/classes/ics234cw04/herring.pdf

Krishnamurthy, S. (2002). “The Multidimensionality of Blog Conversations: The Virtual Enactment of September 11.” In Maastricht, The Netherlands: Internet Research 3.0.

Perseus Development Corporation (2005). The blogging geyser. Electronic document, retrieved March 4, 2006 from http://www.perseusdevelopment.com/blogsurvey/geyser.html

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