Don’t Look Up and Information Dependence

The new Netflix Original craze Don’t Look Up sees a PhD candidate and an astronomy professor discover a 9km comet (Ronseal-esquely-named “planet killer”) on course to hit Earth in 6 months, and subsequently struggle to convey to the world the exact severity of the situation, i.e. complete extinction of all life on Earth.

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Circumventing Categorisation: How Traditional Knowledge Organisation Conflicts with the Fundamental Objective of Contemporary Gender and Sexual Identities

Categorisation is essential to the human condition. Identifying and labelling entities – physical and abstract – help us learn, organise, and make decisions. It is how we understand the world around us. Sometimes it is a matter of life or death (“These berries are poisonous and therefore should not be consumed.”) and other times it is for our own personal sense-making (“I like the colour blue more than I like the colour red.”)

Occasionally we do not have enough information to easily categorise entities into our recognised structures. In such instances, we collect the information we do have to determine which category it will fit into most appropriately, or in some instances, if it constitutes the creation of a new category.

Take, for example, a tomato. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? It has seeds, and this makes it fruitlike. But it is not consumed like other fruits; it is notably savoury where most fruits are sweet, and so it acts like a vegetable – but into which category should we sort it? (This particular example is interesting in that arguably, the tomato’s formal categorisation is not concurrent with its sociocultural categorisation.)

What happens, then, when entities defy our established categorisation system altogether?

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Public Library Promotion

I try to call my family at least once a week, even though – because we’re all living in a real-world Groundhog Day – we end up discussing the same things every week. Have you gone for any nice walks? Did you watch that thing on telly last night? How’s your newfound hobby coming along? Is your sanity holding up?

My favourite question by far, though, is: What are you reading?

On a call with my granny recently she told me that she’d blitzed through 5 or 6 eBooks she’d bought for 50p on her Kindle. Any more than 50p was too high a stake to bet in the risk of not enjoying the book, and consequently wasting money. Due to this personal policy, my granny waits for books she fancies reading to be reduced, or to be included in a discount bundle offer. Sometimes, particularly with recent releases, this wait can be a long one.

I told her that anyone with a library card can borrow eBooks and audiobooks through the local library, and with a couple of apps they can be accessed remotely, and downloaded straight to any device.

“Really!?” She gasped in amazement.

I wondered. Here is the local library: a free public service, an institution that presses for equitable access to information and knowledge, a place that boasts a myriad of tools, services, and activities besides free books (although, free books alone is a great selling point) that goes largely unnoticed.

But why is the public library slipping under the radar of the general public?

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Data Visualisation: A Double-Edged Sword?

As someone who eagerly awaits December for the release of my yearly Goodreads and Spotify statistics, I’m a sucker for data visualisation. I can’t deny it: I love word clouds with swirling, bold fonts; heat maps with deep reds and cool blues; line graphs with soaring peaks and plummeting troughs… but how helpful are they really?

When seeking inspiration for this blog – indeed, as I do whenever I need any sort of inspiration – I turned to my current read. Right now, that’s Becoming by Michelle Obama (for the record, I’ve already cried 3 times). To exemplify what data visualisation – specifically text analysis – website Voyant Tools offers, I will use the transcripts of 2 of Michelle Obama’s speeches: the first she made in the August before Barack Obama became president, and the second, her last speech as First Lady of the USA.

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) form of text analysis visualisation is the word cloud: a tool that displays the most frequently used words in a body of text, and edits their colour/size depending on how often they are used.

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Track and Trace and Being Comfortable in the Grey

As the bridge between the digital world and the analogue world becomes shorter and shorter, the space between our online and offline selves begins to blur. Our devices (mobiles, laptops, tablets, smart devices) can ascertain a fair deal about us that we might not have ever considered they could. Networked sites and technologies can build an accurate profile of us by pooling both personal data we have provided, and data they have inferred about us through algorithms. Patterns in our online behaviour display an eerily authentic account of who we are as people: what we like, don’t like, need, fear and wish, as well as where we live and who we are friends with.

Despite its rather ominous colloquial name, the government’s new NHS Covid-19 ‘Track and Trace’ app allows its users to be surprisingly anonymous, and can identify little about us from what we input. In a climate very much concerned with data privacy – or at least, the active questioning of what our personal data is being used for – it seems almost otherworldly that the NHS Covid-19 app doesn’t gather or store personal data like so many of the other apps and sites we use on a regular basis.

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