It would seem I’m always but one step away from reaching for an endeavor to occupy my time with at any given moment. Besides what’s obviously available on this website…from Bridgetown, a Ruby-powered site generator, to Yarred, my musical alter-ego, there’s something for…well…somebody.
This was a thought-provoking read by Walter Chaw about an uncomfortable topic. As the years have gone by, I’ve (slowly, to my great chagrin) come to realize more and more how ethnic stereotypes in popular media can be so damaging to the targets of such “humor”. One aspect of this which hits close to home is my own memory of cringeworthy experiences as a Scottish/Irish-American who once performed Celtic folk music professionally across the United States.
No, of course I’m not in any way comparing my experiences directly with those who are Asian-American. Being white-presenting in America, you get to choose when and how you are the butt of ethnic jokes. Others aren’t so lucky, to put it mildly. But it was certainly illuminating to see how stereotyping can feel “othering” and disrespectful, or simply how people’s ignorance—while perhaps understandable—nevertheless was frustrating. Just a few examples:
Pronnouncing “Celtic” as “Sell-tic” (the C is a hard K sound as it comes from the Greek word Keltoi), “Slain-tay” instead of “Slon-cha” for Sláinte, “Edin-berg” instead of “Edin-ber-re” for Edinburgh, and vast litany of other faux pas…
Seeing people very poorly dance “an Irish jig” as they’re walking down the street and notice our performance…
Calling our music “Riverdance music” 😡
Throughout my teenage years I was regularly misgendered as a girl because I wore my hair long and wore a kilt—which is NOT a skirt!
Not to mention all of the kitsch and cultural artifacts we had to contend with…what I might call the “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” set of stereotypes. Dancing red-headed leprechauns with pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and all that. Or worse, drunken Irishmen punching each other out at the pub. Grizzled old Scotsmen with impenetrable accents roaming the moors. Bagpipe jokes…So. Many. Bagpipe jokes.
Sure, it’s not all terrible, and sometimes genuinely amusing—but as is often the case with these sorts of things, the jokes are funnier when they’re offered from people already immersed in the culture. A legitimate Scottish pipes player can make a joke about bagpipes. Some bozo American who thinks “Braveheart” is an accurate historical depiction of Scottish history? Fuck no.
Which is why I try to be careful what I say or do when I’m around other cultures—especially ones I have little familiarity with. Rather than throw out a phrase I heard once or do some idiotic dance move or mention something truly dumb…along the lines of “hey, you look Asian, so you must be great at kung fu!” …I’ll shut the fuck up. 😅 (More people should try this!) There’s a fine line between stereotyping (even when well-meaning) and outright #bigotry.
All that to say…it’s really wonderful to see far better representation in popular Western media of many different ethnicities and demographics. We still have a long way to go, but it is getting better. Personally, every time I see someone obviously Irish or Scottish in a modern movie where they’re not defined by their accent or fairies or getting drunk or “the troubles” or sheep on the moor or funny sounds coming out of bagipes, etc., etc.—well that’s certainly cause for celebration.
One might perhaps come to the conclusion after following me in recent times that I’m just a technology skeptic. I must believe all the tech bros are jerks, and I hate anything newfangled. Cue the Old Man Yells at Cloud memes.
But believe me when I say this: I’m not a technology skeptic. I’m a bad technology skeptic. If I think a technology is fundamentally poor and ill-thought out, destined to (maybe) benefit a select few at the expense of the many, I’m going to call it as I see it. And we’ve had a bucketload of bad technology hype cycles lately.
But one major technology I’m actually extremely bullish on, one that I think does have tremendous potential, is the concept of the metaverse. And no, I don’t mean anything actually being built by Meta right now. I mean the initial conception of the term, which I understand to be a pervasive digital virtual reality where what you do matters.
Many of us use what I might call “proto-metaverses” all the time. My favorite is Minecraft. My kids and I have a handful of home servers we engage in regularly. And what we do there matters. If we build something today and come back a week later, it’s still there. If somebody drops a TNT block next to the wall of my house and it detonates, my house is destroyed. If I decide to go off exploring and find an exciting new landscape to play in, I can write down the coordinates and teleport there again in the future. I have memories of things I’ve done in Minecraft, just like I have fond memories of playing the Myst series of games—as if I were actually there, in a real place. That’s the magic of digital worlds.
The first metaverse I ever experienced was Second Life. (This was almost two decades ago!) I spent a lot of time there, built a lot of things, made friends. I ended up choosing to leave because I got really addicted. I was spending too much time in my “second life” and not enough time in my “first life”. That’s the danger of this technology. The addiction.
Still, I’m an unabashed fan of metaverses, and I’m always excited to hear about and possibly try out new ones. What I’m ultimately hoping for is that the World-Wide Web evolves into a #metaverse platform. If I could easily invite a bunch of friends over to “jaredwhite.com” and we could hang out in VR, wouldn’t that be amazing? I like think so. But it needs to be a truly #openweb solution, built atop open specs and open protocols. The worst thing in the world would be if any one corporation ends up “owning the metaverse.” We must resist that at all costs.
New technologies come along and inevitably we call them progress. And any detractors of said technologies are immediately labeled luddites.
(Which for some reason is a pejorative even though the history of terrible working conditions in early factories is undeniable—and with all of the benefits brought on by the Industrial Revolution, it was by no means a clear “win” when it comes to ethics, humane treatment of labor, and corporate responsibility!)
Yes, new technologies arrive on the scene, and folks look at them all starry-eyed and imagine how stellar the future will be.
But we rarely take the opportunity to consider the costs of these additions. I don’t mean just monetary costs (although that’s legit). I mean ethical, cultural, sustainable, mental, spiritual costs. What do we gain, sure, but also, what do we lose?
Free things in life are rarely free.
I was once given a free hot tub. Free!! Incredible, right? Turned out to be a terrible mistake.
It was going to cost money to set the hot tub on a proper foundation. It was going to cost money to clean. It was going to cost money to hook it up to the necessary plumbing. So we never set it up. An unused hot tub sat there in our back yard for months. (Years?)
And that wasn’t the worst part of it…it ended up costing us real money to haul it away when it came time to move!
The free hot tub…wasn’t free at all.
Technology is rarely additive.
The philosophy of #minimalism has taught me to realize that every new thing I add to my life—whether it’s an object or a technology or a social network or a hobby or a job or even a friendship…everything comes with a cost.
Sometimes those costs are well worth it. Few obvious downsides and the potential rewards are significant. Worth the effort. Worth the risk.
But there’s always a cost. And sometimes the cost is just too damn high.
Any time someone tells you about a mind-blowing new technology (web3) that’s going to revolutionize everything (#generativeAI) and change the world forever (self-driving cars), ask them what the costs are. If they can’t tell you, either they don’t know (because they’re ignorant), or they don’t want you to know (because they’re grifters).
Either way, do your due diligence. And inform the oncoming hordes shouting Luddites! Luddites! that their myopic view of history needs profound correction.
I’ve been sounding the alarm for some time now that #generativeAI is exploitive, but I was primarily considering the ways in which these large learning models rely on scraping online content without the consent of its human authors. Now we learn the uncomfortable truth that these popular tools built by OpenAI such as ChatGPT were made possible by the exploitation of third-party low-wage workers in parts of the world Silicon Valley would rather us Euro-centric netizens not know too much about.
But hey, this is going to be Big Tech’s next Big Thing, so what’s a few poor African souls with faltering mental health in light of Western Capitalism. Hmm, I wonder what ChatGPT thinks about this single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar, ethics be damned… (Don’t ask.)
Look, I get it. You already subscribe to too many newsletters. So much to keep up with. But guess what? I only send out a newsletter once a week. And if you‘re feeling curious, peruse the Creator Class archive. You might find something that resonates with you! It’s a great way to stay current with what I’m publishing, and newsletter recipients always get some extra insight just for them. So what are you waiting for? Let’s roll!
A weekly show where we discuss the business, the art, the ethics of content creation on the open web. Hosted by Jared White.
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