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archives begin in 1996

Critical Observations and Notes

These posts are a general mixture of theory and critique concerned with contemporary society.

If you are looking for more on agnotology, digital capitalism or automated/immaterial labor, look at The Digital.


Social Media and "Privacy"

story © Michael Betancourt | published March 21, 2018 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


What is the most surprising and shocking part of the #deletefacebook debacle is that anyone is surprised by the hoarding and misuse of customer data, regardless of whatever "privacy" provisions might be in place. Social media (in fact, all digital companies) depend on accessing and collecting as much personal data about their users as possible (this is true of all digital companies, not just Facebook, but data acquired from Google searches as well as any use of any website that collects and saves data) because that data is the company's primary asset. This leads to ever expanding and more intrusive data collection and gives the company in question a motive to periodically reset their customer's privacy selections to the most permissive options. Just as with automated editing that selects and presents customized information to a single audience member, the presentation of ads also demands the same monitoring and collection of data.

ZXX and Cryptographic Typefaces

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 3, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


ZXX is a computer 'font'--a group of typefaces for digital use--created by artist Sang Mun that currently result in illegible printed material when scanned by OCR technology that existed when it was initially produced. This qualification--when it was produced--is actually very significant to this kind of project because the various letter forms are (as with any typeface) 'set' and so will remain constants even though their size, arrangement and contents will inevitably vary from use to use: because these letter forms are a finite value, and are generally known, it would be relatively easy for a high powered OCR system to have this 'font' simply become one of the things it scans for, then error corrects so the contents become machine readable.

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A Postscript to Educating Buffy

story © Michael Betancourt | published August 6, 2012 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


One of my older articles periodically receives attention, and since it has recently gotten quite a bit more than usual, and I have now been asked this question several times in recent months: would I change my analysis given the later development of the program? Here is a postscript to that article, written in 1998:

In the fourteen years since writing Educating Buffy: The Role of Education in Buffy the Vampire-Slayer the show and its creator Joss Whedon have moved into positions of significance for critical and theoretical analysis. The show itself has moved from a program whose survival season-to-season was at times possibly open to question, into a show whose seven year run (and spin-off show Angel) were both successful enough to ensure a longer presence on TV thanks to syndication. Their commercial success and sharply drawn scenarios provide ample justifications for the analysis as they have received.

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A News Photo from Occupy Wall Street

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 16, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


A news photo shot by AP photographer Mary Altaffer showing a New York City police officer running over a Legal Aid Society observer as Occupy Wall Street demonstrators march through the streets near Wall Street on Friday, October 14, 2011 is a very interesting depiction of these events:

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Homeless Vermin?

story © Michael Betancourt | published March 22, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


This billboard is planted next to a major intersection here in Savannah, Georgia. What I find disturbing about it is the close relationship it has to a nearby (1 block away) highway on ramp/overpass where you can see people holding up very similar signs to what we see in this ad.

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