It’s a wonderful lifestream (or is it?) – Week 8 summary

Value is the main theme of the lifestream this week, both in the sense of a principle which governs our behaviour and something regarded as important or useful. Both definitions intersect in the development of algorithms, as well as in the ways in which their usefulness is communicated to us.

In a quite brilliant article about algorithms and personalising education, Watters asks the pertinent question:

What values and interests are reflected in its algorithm?

It’s a big and important question, but this Ted talk suggests to me that it would be propitious to change it to:

Whose values and interests are reflected in its algorithm?

Joy Buolamwini explores how human biases and inequalities might be translated into, and thus perpetuated in, algorithms, a phenomenon she has called the ‘coded gaze’. Similar considerations are taken up in this article too, as well as in this week’s reading by Eynon on big data, summarised here. I also did a mini-experiment on Goodreads, in which I found results which could potentially be construed as bias (but more evidence would definitely be required).

It isn’t just a question of the ways in which values are hidden or transparent, or how we might uncover them, though this is crucial too. My write-up of Bucher’s excellent article on EdgeRank and power, discipline and visibility touches on this, and I explored it briefly in the second half of this post on Goodreads. Rather, one of the ways in which hiddenness and transparency are negotiated is in the ways in which these values are communicated, and how they are marketed as having ‘added value’ to the user’s experience of a site. The intersection of these issues convinces me further of the benefit of taking a socio-material approach to the expression of values in algorithms.

Islands in the Lifestream – Week 4 summary

The anthropologist, Nancy Fried Foster, gave a presentation a couple of years ago to a small group at my institution. She talked about a variety of things but, as a manager, one of the things that stuck with me the most was about helping people cope with change. Her key message was that you need to allow and acknowledge a period of mourning. This pretty much reflects the main theme of my lifestream this week: a definite absence of content, ensuing from the transition from cybercultures to community cultures.

This transitory, momentary grief – a result of this change in focus – accounts for the lack of a richness of detailed, conscientious grappling with key ideas in this theme, or those revealed in the core readings. It also accounts for the attempt at preparedness exhibited in the lifestream, tempered by a general sense of disorientation. I put together, for example, a short and desirous wishlist of things I’d like to read; I’ll add to this throughout the theme. I spent time picking a MOOC, and wrote up my reasons for my choice: something interesting enough for me, but with a clear eye on the ethnographic project which would be based on it. This resulted in me looking for something that I perceived might be emotive and evocative enough to generate cool and engaging ethnographic observations and conclusions. But there’s also been a sense of connectivism about what I’ve written: in a post about MOOCs and folksonomy, for example, I tried to orient some of the new ideas I’d encountered in the article by Stewart with another topic with which I was already familiar.

So it feels as though my lifestream this week has been a set of islands. The topography is the same, and the climate comparable. But the ferry schedule between the islands could do with improvement.

Queen Charlotte Sound New Zealand



Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness+ openness= new literacies of participation? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 228.
Image credit
CC-BY. Queen Charlotte Sound New Zealand, by Patarika, on Flickr.