Alchemy: Is the chemistry there?

In class last week, we practiced using the tool I am obsessed with and seriously considering bringing into my eighth grade classroom, provided I trust my students enough to write comments that would make my grandmother blush and warrant a trip down to our VP of discipline...any who...I love and really enjoyed reading about the history of alchemy!

I'm new to the idea of digital alchemy but am becoming more and more familiar with the metaphor. As I mentioned last week, my knowledge of alchemy extended only as the notion of mixing potions and what would have been referred to as witchcraft. I found it interesting to learn how far back the history of alchemy went, but more interesting, that it continued into the 1900s. I also found it interesting that the Catholic church supported alchemy, until they didn't. Not to get religious, but there is so much about the church that confuses me. In a religion that requires spiritual belief and suspending your disbelief, why are they averse to the notion of magic and the unexplained. Or is this just people twisting the church's beliefs? I'm curious....veryyyyy curious.....(in my best Ollivander voice).Image result for "curious very curious" harry potter meme

To connect back to today's interpretation of alchemy in the digital world, I love Dr. Zamora's comment regarding "breathing life into something inanimate". I think I'm starting to understand and would define digital alchemy as taking something or a few somethings and putting them into a cyclone of sorts, shuffling them around, and what comes out is a new creation of sorts! Which got me thinking about some outlets in our world: Could FanFiction be considered a form of alchemy? Could making tea or candles? We talked about both cooking and baking being a form of alchemy in our lives! 

In our discussion of digital alchemy, we began to talk about surveillance technology and surveillance capitalism 

Today in class we were talking about compliance, in terms of government surveillance and the bug within Apple's FaceTime. My classmates echoed my sentiments that they were not surprised. We verbalized that it's something we're used to, like yeah of course they're listening to me, but whatever I have nothing to hide. One of our professors, Alan, said that he feels like we should at least question/wonder about it...and i felt like i had the word HYPOCRITE stamped on my face. 

After just finishing our dystopian/science fiction unit with my students, where I ask them to question how that world has gone awry and what made it so, and after sitting in class this week hearing about the ways our world has gone awry, I realized how I failed my students.

I try very hard to be a model for them and to practice what I preach. Most times, successfully. If they have to write a paper, I then also write the paper and use it as a mentor text. If they have to complete a project, I also complete the project to show them as an example the standard they are aiming for. So in this case, I ask them to question the world in their stories, ranging from Farenheit 451, to Ready Player OneScythe, and Unwind. Their conversations where rich and insightful and great! But I realized I did not model this. I did not wonder about OUR world. In terms of our world, I have become the very thing I warn them not to become: compliant. OF COURSE I should be concerned with the FaceTime glitch. OF COURSE I should be concerned that when I scroll through the news on my Instagram that everything that comes up is related to Bravo's Real Housewives, or other celebrities, and books that I've searched and love! But because I love Bravo and books, I'm happy to see them on my feed, never once questioning why they are there, or who decided THAT'S what I want to see. I should be questioning how they obtained my viewing habits and be concerned over the fact they're using that information to target me. While sure, it seems harmless in this sense, to me at least, but I know it isn't. I know it is an abuse of power and I am submitting to it by not questioning it. 

So through this week, I did some questioning. Some wondering. And I chose to start with surveillance technology and surveillance capitalism. I read an article from The Guardian by James Bridle titled,"The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff review – We Are the Pawns", that reviewed Zuboff's new book about the new era of capitalism. In the article, Zuboff's term "surveillance capitalism" is described as "a force that is as profoundly undemocratic as it is exploitative, yet remains poorly understood" and that "The extraction [of information] is so grotesque, so creepy, that it is almost impossible to see how anyone who really thinks about it lives with it – and yet we do." Due to people's ignorance, this behavior and control has been widely accepted. Yet, we are starting to see more and more people unsettled by this control. She equates it to Pokemon Go, saying that, "The players think they are playing one game – collecting Pokémon – while they are in fact playing an entirely different one, in which the board is invisible but they are the pawns. And Pokémon Go is but one tiny probe extending out from Google and others’ vast capabilities to tune and manipulate human action at scale: a global means of behaviour modification entirely owned and operated by private enterprise." This is highly disturbing to me because in world where we are being controlled and don't know it, how do we begin to fix this? How do you make a society see that the Utopia that is being constructed doesn't work? How do you realize that the world we are making will be our undoing. To quote Will McAvoy of "The Newsroom, how do we "right the ship"? Or build a new one?

I continued to wonder and question and fall down the rabbit hole even more and began looking at @hypervisible's twitter thread regarding "Should Old Surveillance Be Forgot" with the intent on finding an article that gave me pause. I found it three articles in. As an English teacher and avid reader, anything with books will always catch by eye. And even more enticing, anything that enhances my hate strong dislike of Kindles and Nooks is going to be a great read! And I was not disappointed----well, I am in Amazon, and generally our society, but not in the article itself!

The article, by Farhad Manjoo, titled "Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four", immediatly caught my eye! After reading the article, I immediately called my mom, who has been on the fence about buying a Kindle or Nook and told her everything! She is no longer going to be buying one of these evil devices. Anywho...I digress...

The article begins by stating how Amazon is being accused of remotely deleting e-books, specifically George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm (cue Ollivander again) but the article does a good job of giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt. Apparently Amazon is aware of this and came forward to say the only reason they deleted these copies, amongst a few others, was that they were illegally uploaded and Amazon had to protect the publisher's property. Fine. That's a nicely wrapped explanation. But the article goes on to say, that while that's all fine and good, that is not the point. Whether they're reason is true and genuine or not, the real issue is that the CAN do that. Just like iPhone's routinely check back in with Apple to make sure their customers apps are still okay to use, and if not, they can be removed, Amazon and any other decider, can apparently do this too. Unlike in Barnes and Noble, where when you buy a book it becomes your property, these paperless books are not your property. According to Amazon Kindle's terms of service, the company has “the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.” So the deeper issue here is: precedent and setting one. If Amazon can do this, what's to stop our government from doing so? What's to stop Farenheit 451 from becoming a reality? In the literal sense-American's are too consumed with technology to actually burn their Kindles-WAY TOO MUCH $$$-but metaphorically, sure, censorship sounds less and less like a thing of dystopian worlds and more and more a thing of our future, or more frightening, the present our world is unaware of. 
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