Persuasion and Operant Conditioning: The Influence of B. F. Skinner in Big Tech and Ed-tech

I would argue, in total seriousness, that one of the places that Skinnerism thrives today is in computing technologies, particularly in “social” technologies. This, despite the field’s insistence that its development is a result, in part, of the cognitive turn that supposedly displaced behaviorism.

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

Audrey Watters notes the Skinner influence in the behaviorism of big tech and ed-tech in two great pieces: “B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century” and “Education Technology and the New Behaviorism”.

B. J. Fogg and his Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford is often touted by those in Silicon Valley as one of the “innovators” in this “new” practice of building “hooks” and “nudges” into technology. These folks like to point to what’s been dubbed colloquially “The Facebook Class” – a class Fogg taught in which students like Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of Instagram, and Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, “studied and developed the techniques to make our apps and gadgets addictive,” as Wired put it in a recent article talking about how some tech executives now suddenly realize that this might be problematic.

(It’s worth teasing out a little – but probably not in this talk, since I’ve rambled on so long already – the difference, if any, between “persuasion” and “operant conditioning” and how they imagine to leave space for freedom and dignity. Rhetorically and practically.)

I’m on the record elsewhere arguing this framing – “technology as addictive” – has its problems. Nevertheless it is fair to say that the kinds of compulsive behavior that we display with our apps and gadgets is being encouraged by design. All that pecking. All that clicking.

These are “technologies of behavior” that we can trace back to Skinner – perhaps not directly, but certainly indirectly due to Skinner’s continual engagement with the popular press. His fame and his notoriety. Behavioral management – and specifically through operant conditioning – remains a staple of child rearing and pet training. It is at the core of one of the most popular ed-tech apps currently on the market, ClassDojo. Behaviorism also underscores the idea that how we behave and data about how we behave when we click can give programmers insight into how to alter their software and into what we’re thinking.

If we look more broadly – and Skinner surely did – these sorts of technologies of behavior don’t simply work to train and condition individuals; many technologies of behavior are part of a broader attempt to reshape society. “For your own good,” the engineers try to reassure us. “For the good of the world.”

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

In that Baffler article, I make the argument that behavior management apps like ClassDojo’s are the latest manifestation of behaviorism, a psychological theory that has underpinned much of the development of education technology. Behaviorism is, of course, most closely associated with B. F. Skinner, who developed the idea of his “teaching machine” when he visited his daughter’s fourth grade class in 1953. Skinner believed that a machine could provide a superior form of reinforcement to the human teacher, who relied too much on negative reinforcement, punishing students for bad behavior than on positive reinforcement, the kind that better trains the pigeons.

But I think there’s been a resurgence in behaviorism. It’s epicenter isn’t Harvard, where Skinner taught. It’s Stanford. It’s Silicon Valley. And this new behaviorism is fundamental to how many new digital technologies are being built.

It’s called “behavior design” today (because at Stanford, you put the word “design” in everything to make it sound beautiful not totally rotten). Stanford psychologist B. J. Fogg and his Persuasive Technology Lab teach engineers and entrepreneurs how to build products – some of the most popular apps can trace their origins to the lab – that manipulate and influence users, encouraging certain actions or behaviors and discouraging others and cultivating a kind of “addiction” or conditioned response. “Contingencies of reinforcement,” as Skinner would call them. “Technique,” Jacques Ellul would say. “Nudges,” per behavioral economist Richard Thaler, recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for economics.

New technologies are purposefully engineered to demand our attention, to “hijack our minds.” They’re designed to elicit certain responses and to shape and alter our behaviors. Ostensibly all these nudges are supposed to make us better people – that’s the shiniest version of the story promoted in books like Nudge and Thinking about Thinking. But much of this is really about getting us to click on ads, to respond to notifications, to open apps, to stay on Web pages, to scroll, to share – actions and “metrics” that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors value.

There’s a darker side still to this as I argued in the first article in this very, very long series: this kind of behavior management has become embedded in our new information architecture. It’s “fake news,” sure. But it’s also disinformation plus big data plus psychological profiling and behavior modification. The Silicon Valley “nudge” is a corporatenudge. But as these technologies are increasingly part of media, scholarship, and schooling, it’s a civics nudge too.

Those darling little ClassDojo monsters are a lot less cute when you see them as part of a new regime of educational data science, experimentation, and “psycho-informatics.”

Source: Education Technology and the New Behaviorism

Autistic people keep warning us about behaviorism. Behaviorism brings the mindset and legacy of the awful men who developed it (Skinner, Lovaas, et al) into our schools. Behaviorism has history in autistic and gay conversion therapy. It hasn’t grown far enough from that history. It’s a bad lens for seeing and understanding humans. It is primitive moral development.

Autistic self-advocates are very concerned about behaviorism and deficit ideology, particularly ABA. “My experience with special education and ABA demonstrates how the dichotomy of interventions that are designed to optimize the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum can also adversely impact their mental health, and also their self-acceptance of an autistic identity. This is why so many autistic self-advocates are concerned about behavioral modification programs: because of the long-term effects they can have on autistic people’s mental health. This is why we need to preach autism acceptance, and center self-advocates in developing appropriate supports for autistic people. That means we need to take autistic people’s insights, feelings, and desires into account, instead of dismissing them.” With behaviorism, “the literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused. When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.” “The abuse of autistic children is so expected, so normalised, so glorified that many symptoms of trauma and ptsd are starting to be seen as autistic traits.

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Asperger’s thesis is when he asks an autistic boy in his clinic if he believes in God. “I don’t like to say I’m not religious,” the boy replies, “I just don’t have any proof of God.” That anecdote shows an appreciation of autistic non-compliance, which Asperger and his colleagues felt was as much a part of their patients’ autism as the challenges they faced. Asperger even anticipated in the 1970s that autistic adults who “valued their freedom” would object to behaviorist training, and that has turned out to be true.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory.” Reject it from our companies and schools.

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.>

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology-from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley-often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market-have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary-and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

Related:

Tech Regrets, Structural Ideology, and the Addiction Metaphor

I’ve noticed that the Center for Humane Technology shares some common ground with the worst of ed-tech. First, they frame things in terms of fixing individuals instead of systems.

In this post I want to focus on how the Center has constructed what they perceive as a problem with the digital ecosystem: the attention economy and our addiction to it. I question how they’ve constructed the problem in terms of individual addictive behavior, and design, rather than structural failures and gaps; and the challenges in disconnection from the attention economy.

Source: The Center for Humane Technology Doesn’t Want Your Attention – Cyborgology

Education is awash with efforts to bikeshed the deficit model that ignore structural problems and, instead, tinker with individuals.

The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning dominate ed-tech. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions are quickly productized, jumping straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.

Source: Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology

Instead of adopting a more structural ideology, our reflex is to turn inward toward psychology, blame down, and overlook the privilege, supremacy, and injustice in our systems.

Turning inwards to psychology, rather outwards to the political context, is precisely what gives us ‘lone wolf’ analyses of white supremacy.

Source: No, ‘cognitive strengthening exercises’ aren’t the answer to media literacy – Long View on Education

The meritocracy myth, prevalent in tech and Silicon Valley, makes it all the harder to think structurally. I wonder how much that contributes to framing solutions in terms of individuals rather than systems.

A second area of common ground is the use of pathologizing medical model framing.

The Center for Humane Technology constructs the problem in terms of addiction and therefore as one of individual attention. And while they acknowledge the importance of lobbying Congress and hardware companies (Apple and Microsoft will set us free as if they don’t lock us into digital ecosystems and vie for our attention?), they emphasize a focus on individual action be that of tech workers, or users. By invoking ‘addiction’ as a metaphor, they see the problem as being about individual attention, and eventually, individual salvation. Naming the co-founder of the Center, Harris, as the ‘conscience’ of Silicon Valley evokes a similar emphasis on individual rather than community, political, or structural dimensions to the attention economy and its dismantling, or restructuring. The use of the addiction metaphor has been criticized for at least twenty years and most notably by Sherry Turkle; and mostly because it is neither apt, nor it there enough evidence of how it works as an addiction. ‘Diet’ metaphors and relationships-with-food metaphors may work better, perhaps, to characterize our relationships with technology.

Source: The Center for Humane Technology Doesn’t Want Your Attention – Cyborgology

The addiction metaphor has caused so much harm. Rarely is it accompanied by an understanding of the difference between addiction and dependence, of addiction as a learning disorder, or of harm reduction.

I want people to understand that addiction is a learning disorder. If you don’t learn that a drug helps you cope or make you feel good, you wouldn’t know what to crave. People fall in love with a substance or an activity, like gambling. Falling in love doesn’t harm your brain, but it does produce a unique type of learning that causes craving, alters choices and is really hard to forget.

It’s compulsive behavior that persists despite negative consequences. Once you realize that that’s the definition of addiction, you realize that what’s going on is a failure to respond to punishment. If punishment worked to stop addiction, addiction wouldn’t exist. People use despite their families getting mad at them, despite losing their jobs and being homeless. And yet we think the threat of jail is going to be different? Addiction persists despite negative consequences. That doesn’t mean that people don’t recover through coercive means, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to get there.

My problem with addiction memoirs has always been that this is a deeply political problem and none of them have any political consciousness. They typically tell the story of sin and redemption, an individual story that can stand in for everyone else’s story. That’s just not true.

Source: Why Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

In her book Unbroken Brain, Maia Szalavitz poses addiction as a neuro-developmental learning disorder, one usually developed while trying to cope with trauma, poverty, shame, or an overreactive nervous system.

Source: Harm reduction, addiction, tough love, 12 steps, neurodiversity, and the troubled-teen industry

More people than ever before see themselves as addicted to, or recovering from, addiction, whether it be alcohol or drugs, prescription meds, sex, gambling, porn, or the internet. But despite the unprecedented attention, our understanding of addiction is trapped in unfounded 20th century ideas, addiction as a crime or as brain disease, and in equally outdated treatment.

Challenging both the idea of the addict’s “broken brain” and the notion of a simple “addictive personality,” Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum – and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is, and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery- and why there is no “addictive personality” or single treatment that works for all.

Source: Unbroken Brain – Maia Szalavitz

The addiction metaphor is fire. Don’t play with it. You don’t understand its history of oppression. You don’t know what you’re doing. When you invoke this metaphor, communities of neurodivergent, mentally ill, and disabled people—experts in the many forms of ableism—shake their heads at your ignorance.

So, we have a Center for Humane Technology that proposes individual instead of structural changes and uses the addiction metaphor to do so.

Audrey Watters has their number,

And I think there’s something about all these confessional narratives (and their hopes, I think, of becoming redemption narratives) that is also deeply intertwined with individual rather than structural change. These stories rarely situate themselves in history, for example, and as such really cannot offer much insight into how or why or even when things might’ve “gone wrong.” They rarely situate themselves among other thinkers or scholars (or activists or “users”). They are individual realizations, after all.

So then, I have to wonder: why should we trust these revelations (or revelators) to guide us moving forward? Why not trust those of us who knew it was bullshit all along and who can tell you the whole history of a bad idea?

Source: The Tech ‘Regrets’ Industry

Previously,

Tech Regrets and The Ethics of Ed-tech

Diversity and Inclusion Recap #4

In this one:

  • Autism self-diagnosis, #SelfDxIsValid
  • Ally Skills
  • Eugenics and deficit ideology
  • “Doing something” about autism
  • Networked protest, inclusion, and coalition building
  • Face blindness
  • 4Chan, GamerGate, and lonely toxic masculinity
  • Reporting on trolls
  • Bathroom bills and controlling women’s bodies
  • Unique ways white women enact racism
  • ASL syntax and injustice
  • Agency and institutions
  • Mental health and policing
  • Hierarchical ableism
  • Accountable activism
  • Racism + ableism
  • Addiction and injustice
  • Disability in America
  • Getting older in tech, life-long learning
  • Design thinking and exclusion
  • Unpacking the “common sense” of bathroom bills
  • Programming and prejudice
  • Technical Majority and Tech Forward
  • Her Story
  • Blog for inclusion
  • Civil rights data
  • Race in architecture
  • Domestic violence, stress cases, and personas
  • Mental health and stigma
  • Dyslexia and tech
  • Ethics in algorithms
  • Aro, ace, cishet, and allosexual
  • Exponential growth devours and corrupts
  • Identity, tribe, and voice
  • Intersectionally exhausted
  • A week as a woman
  • Respectful collection of data
  • Interaction badges
  • Low-functioning and high-functioning labels
  • Autism and LGBTQIA intersectionality
  • The ableism of #EndofDisability
  • Representation in online gaming
  • Uber

Autism self-diagnosis, #SelfDxIsValid

Getting an official autism diagnosis requires time, patience, money, and a quest for professionals in touch with neurodiversity and modern views of autism. The process can be a medical model gauntlet. #SelfDxIsValid

Autism self-diagnosis is a topic that can evoke strong feelings in many people. It isn’t unusual for adults to self-diagnose. It also isn’t unusual to get a lot of push back or even violent threats for self-diagnosis. Why does self-diagnosis make people so angry? More importantly, why do people self-diagnose in the first place? The hostility directed at self-diagnosis is, fundamentally, based in ignorance of what factors lead to its existence: Healthcare inaccessibility, rapidly changing diagnostic tools and the changing face of what autistic people and autism even look like.

While self-diagnosis shares the search for a vocabulary of self-expression, there are more sociological aspects that go into why it is so widespread to begin with. These aspects are not related to Tumblr or other popular social media platforms.

The root of self-diagnosis is a lack of good resources. A lot of people, particularly women and people of color, didn’t get diagnosed as children because autism was seen as a white, male disease. When I compare stories about my early childhood with male autistic peers, I am astounded at the similarities.

Some parents avoided formal diagnosis of their children because they wanted, desperately, for their children to be normal. Many people who were diagnosed later in life have developed their own ways of coping with a world that was not designed for autistics. Life may have been easier for them if they’d had access to certain supports.

As someone who was diagnosed as an adult, I feel the paradox of late diagnosis acutely. On one hand, I wonder if I would have struggled less in school if I’d had access to an individualized education plan, or even the awareness of why life was different for me than it was for my sister or my peers. I stumbled through most of my childhood angry, confused and often alone without knowing what I was doing differently. On the other hand, I feel extremely fortunate and grateful that I have not suffered through the applied behavior analysis and other abuses masquerading as treatment that has deeply scarred many of my autistic peers who were diagnosed as children.

Even if adults have histories and impairments that point to autism, autism is still largely viewed as a children’s disease. As a result, very few professionals can provide adult autism diagnoses. A diagnosis can include up to three days of cognitive testing if you can even find someone who is qualified to perform the tests in the first place.

The difficulty of finding professionals who deal with adult autism isn’t the main limiting factor in diagnosis though. That dubious honor falls to the sheer cost of an official diagnosis. Of the few autism specialists who are qualified to diagnose adults, only a tiny number take insurance.

Source: Autism Self-Diagnosis is not Special Snowflake Syndrome | NOS Magazine

I am also more aware that professional diagnosticians are human too with their own weaknesses and strengths. Some use “clinical judgment” only, like my current psychologist. She flat out denies I can or should receive any testing. Others rely heavily on testing or on developmental interviews. Professionals also have different areas of expertise. My first diagnosis was made under supervision of the psychiatrist at the autism center in the city I lived in at the time. My second diagnosis was also made by a psychologist with expertise in autism. My third official diagnosis, which was partly based on the second, was made by a psychologist with mainly expertise on blind people.

Source: Thoughts on Self-Diagnosis by #ActuallyAutistic People #SelfDXIsValid | Blogging Astrid

Because, getting an autism diagnosis is actually a very grey area. Yes, there are ‘official criteria’ but these are very much up to clinical interpretation, and often different tests are conducted by different professionals, reflecting both their own biases and also those of the country or area they are in. For example, my son was diagnosed by a multi-disciplinary team who were very much into ticking boxes, and conducting a gruelling battery of tests. And in a way that’s what they needed to do as it later became clear to me that they were fresh out of college and very inexperienced. My daughter got her diagnosis from the leading child psychiatrist in the country, who has written many books on autism, has over forty years of experience and is rumoured to be autistic himself. He was able to diagnose her in a much quicker and more efficient manner, using different tests but following the same criteria. He also relied on his experience and picked up on nuances others may have missed, as my daughter’s autism presents in a more atypical manner that doesn’t fit into many of the usual boxes. If she had been seen by those who diagnosed my son, she could have easily been denied a diagnosis. Yet she would have been no less autistic.

And that’s diagnosing autistic children. When I enquired about diagnosing adults, I was told that there were no professionals in my area who could do that through the public health system, and given a short list of private practices, mostly on the other side of the country. And this is where more of the ‘not just black-or-white’ nuance about getting a diagnosis comes in. There are some people who say that self-diagnosed autistics should ‘just go get a diagnosis if you’re so convinced you’re autistic’. They do not take into account the many factors that might go against this. My husband and I have discussed whether or not I should seek an official diagnosis. And have decided against it. Here are some of our reasons:

Source: My thoughts on Self-Diagnosis | autisticzebra

Ally Skills

With guidelines on terminology, terms not to use, workshop discussions, responding to oppression, and future ally work.

Guidelines for future ally work

  • Don’t expect praise and credit for fighting inequality –
  • Follow and support leaders from target groups
  • Assume people from target groups have more knowledge about their oppression and wait for invitation to help or explain
  • Follow your discomfort – if something makes you feel bad, find out more and understand why before reacting
  • When you make a mistake, apologize and move on

Source: Ally Skills

Eugenics and deficit ideology

The GOP is not the only party stuck in deficit model thinking, though it takes grit and bootstrap notions to eugenic lengths.

Trump’s comments are merely an open expression of a long-standing, institutionalized disdain for the poor and the sick.

But the Republican Party expresses this antipathy to dependency in vicious ways and in all avenues of public life. The GOP gets particularly vicious when dependency combines with race (eugenics and racism are toxins that have always reinforced each other anyway).

Republicans target weakness as energetically as eugenicists did. They have embraced capitalism so fully that they will admit no flaw in it. Confronted with inequality, they tell us the problem lies, not with the system, but with the individual and his incurable deficiencies. “We don’t want a dependency culture,” Paul Ryan said in2013. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan’s “Better Way” budget would increase the wealth of America’s extreme upper class while prohibiting new funds for the Affordable Care Act and expanding work requirements for welfare recipients. The implications-that the wealthy deserve to be even wealthier, and that the poor are poor because they make bad personal choices-have been long reflected in Ryan’s personal views on the subject.

Race and poverty and disability also intersect in a way that makes the eugenics comparison unavoidable.

Republicans are dedicated to perpetuating that system. Thus they cut welfare for the same reason eugenicists once sterilized the poor: Poor people drain resources better spent elsewhere.

If DeVos funds a voucher expansion in this manner, without also expanding the reach of the ADA, parents of students with disabilities would be trapped in under-funded, under-equipped public school districts. And that’s a throwback to a more discriminatory age of American history. Before the ADA, the IDEA, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, children with disabilities weren’t guaranteed access to quality public education. Instead, they were frequently confined to institutions or the home; a few attended disability-specific schools. Many were sterilized under eugenics laws.

If Price’s plan ever becomes federal law, he and his Republican colleagues will force Americans with disabilities back into their traditional role as an inferior class. People with disabilities will live shorter, poorer lives. We already have a real-life example of what this would look like nationally: In Texas, Medicaid cuts have already seriously harmed children with disabilities.

Their ideal society excludes us and every other group ever deemed an obstacle to prosperity. And when they come for us they will call it progress.

Source: Trump Has Turned the GOP Into the Party of Eugenics | New Republic

“Doing something” about autism

If you want to help autistics, ask them what they want. We do not want vaccine scares and eugenics.

  1. Focus on services for adults with autism
  2. Make access to education and autism services more equal
  3. Support research projects that are already in place

Source: If Trump Really Wants To ‘Do Something’ About Autism, Here Are 3 Suggestions | The Huffington Post

Networked protest, inclusion, and coalition building

Face blindness

I love cartoons. 🙂

Here’s what it’s like to watch a new television show or a movie while faceblind:

Source: How Faceblindness Makes TV and Movie Watching a Hot Mess – Autistic Academic

4Chan, GamerGate, and lonely toxic masculinity

Those of us in the tech trenches lived through ElevatorGate and GamerGate–which very much contributed to and presaged our current national and global climate.

Reporting on trolls

Bathroom bills and controlling women’s bodies

Unique ways white women enact racism

1 — White women use their status below white men to deflect from their racism.

2 — White women use their own white femininity as a bludgeon to harm.

3 — White women merge all men into one group while discussing misogyny.

4 — White women use “we’re all women” rhetoric, overwhelming familiarity, and niceties to disarm women and femmes of color.

Source: Unique Ways White Women Enact Racism – Medium

ASL syntax and injustice

Agency and institutions

Attacks on the ACA, Medicaid, and home care are particularly felt by those facing possible institutionalization and the loss of agency.

Mental health and policing

Hierarchical ableism

Accountable activism

Racism + ableism

Addiction and injustice

The notion that drug addiction is a brain disease is catchy but empty: there are virtually no data in humans indicating that addiction is a disease of the brain, in the way that, for instance, Huntington’s or Parkinson’s are diseases of the brain. With these illnesses, one can look at the brains of affected individuals and make accurate predictions about the disease involved and their symptoms.

This situation contributes to unrealistic, costly, and harmful drug policies. If the real problem with drug addiction, for example, is the interaction between the drug itself and an individual’s brain, then the solution to this problem lies in one of two approaches. Either remove the drug from society through policies and law enforcement (for example, drug-free societies) or focus exclusively on the ‘addicted’ individual’s brain as the problem. In both cases, there is neither need for nor interest in understanding the role of socioeconomic factors in maintaining drug use or mediating drug addiction.

An insidious assumption of the diseased brain theory is that any use of certain drugs is considered pathological, even the non-problematic, recreational use that characterizes the experience of the overwhelming majority who ingest these drugs. For example, in a popular US anti-drug campaign, it is implied that one hit of methamphetamine is enough to cause irrevocable damage: http://www.methproject.org/ads/tv/deep-end.html.

For their part, the scientific community has virtually ignored the shameful racial discrimination that occurs in drug law enforcement. The researchers themselves are overwhelmingly white and do not have to live with the consequences of their actions. I don’t have this luxury. Every time I look into the faces of my children or go back to the place of my youth, I am forced to face the decimation that results from the racial discrimination that is so rampant in the application of drug laws and is abetted by arguments poorly grounded in scientific evidence.

Source: Viewing addiction as a brain disease promotes social injustice : Nature Human Behaviour

Disability in America

“You don’t matter.”

“You’re not worth it.”

“You’re not a person.”

In his campaign, and so far in his presidency, that has been Trump’s message to me. And it’s not O.K.

What Trump has done is bullying and shaming people in the worst possible way — by judging them. I think about young people with disabilities. Has Trump given any thought to them? What about the teenager with a disability who’s getting bullied every day at school? What about the kid who has spent more time in the hospital than on the playground? What about the young woman struggling with self-esteem issues, desperately trying to come to terms with her disability? If mocking and bullying are seen as O.K., vulnerable people with disabilities may come to believe that they deserve it. I know from experience that this is a dangerous message to send.

The truth is, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of living in a country that would shun people with disabilities as if they didn’t exist. I’m afraid to live in a country that sends these kinds of messages and think it’s perfectly all right. Because it’s most definitely not all right and never will be.

Source: Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump’s America – The New York Times

Getting older in tech, life long learning

After years of scoffing at talk of prejudice in the information technology field — as a white male with good hair –, I’m starting to call prejudice against my being old(er). It’s true: age discrimination is a real thing.

Since 2008, the number of age discrimination complaints has grown to around 25,000 a year. Some may argue that everywhere we turn these days, someone is complaining about something being unfair. Alright. Let’s not just take complaints into account. But rather, let’s look at the average age of IT workers at well-established companies. Facebook: 28. LinkedIn: 29. Google: 30. To put that into perspective, the average age of all U.S. workers is 42. Well above the average age at these companies. Even Mark Zuckerberg once publicly said, at an event held at Stanford: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”

When I hear someone say they have 20 years of experience, I wonder if that’s really true or if they merely had 1 year of experience 20 times. I’ve known too many developers that used the same techniques they learned in their first year of employment for the entire span of their career.

My point is certainly not that these younger developers were smarter. It’s that many programmers let themselves grow stale. And the bigger problem is, after doing the same year’s worth of experience ten times, many programmers forget how to learn. Not only can it be extremely hard to catch up with ten years of technology, it can be next to impossible if you’ve forgotten how to learn.

If you plan on being in the IT field for more than 10 years, you need to be a lifelong learner. I’ve always been a lifelong learner.

Treat this year as if it were your first year as a developer and assimilate everything you can. Reclaim the energy you had in your first year of coding. Regain the drive you had to prove to yourself and to your employers that you were “all that” for this IT field. Resume reading about tech, playing with new techniques, and persuading others to teach you. Reacquire the excitement of collaborating on newfound knowledge with other developers. Be a lifelong learner and investigate all forms of learning, including:

Source: On Getting Old(er) in Tech

Design thinking and exclusion

Today, the Creative Reaction Lab holds workshops and pursues other projects that address several areas affecting marginalized communities, such as education, employment, and gun and domestic violence. And the workshops aren’t just for designers; they also bring together policy experts, speakers, community partners, and citizens working in different fields. Importantly, they look and sound nothing like a design event. You will not hear Carroll preaching about “design thinking” or solutionism. Rather, the Creative Reaction Lab starts from the premise that design’s greatest value is in exposing the invisible mechanisms of inequality, many of which were by design themselves. Here are three key insights the CRXLAB has gleaned from using design to combat systemic injustice.

DESIGN THINKING HAS AN EXCLUSION PROBLEM

She purposefully describes CRXLAB’s workshops, for example, as spaces that use “creative problem solving” to address instances of inequity, rather than the commonly used “design thinking.” The latter, which originated in the field of design but is now used more broadly in business and social sectors, is a solutions-based process that relies on the feedback of the end user. “While I’m a fan of it, I think it’s flawed, because it’s a system that continues to have outsiders,” says Carroll. The people who are being designed for are invited to give their perspective and to give their feedback, but are otherwise left out of the design process.

the communities that are impacted the most by a movement should have a prominent place in leading the movement. “You cannot say that you are effectively addressing these issues if you are not including the people affected by them into your efforts, and giving them access to power,” Carroll says. To come up with community-led responses to racial inequity in St. Louis, CRXLAB not only consults with the black and Latino communities who experience that inequity; they are the people participating in the workshops, benefiting from the resources, and building out their ideas.

ACT FAST—THEN KEEP ITERATING

Importantly, the workshop did more than just get people together to discuss ideas—it got them to start working on them that night, which built momentum.

“APPROACHES, NOT SOLUTIONS”

These systems are so embedded into history and society they are invisible to many, meaning there’s no one simple thing to solve for. That’s why Carroll prefers to use the word “approaches” rather than “solutions” when talking about the results of CRXLAB’s work. “I like the word ‘approach’ because it shows this is not a finite type of solution—it’s flexible, it’s agile,” she says. “I’m a ‘drops in the bucket’ type of girl.”

Source: Want To Fight Inequality? Forget Design Thinking | Co.Design | business + design

Unpacking the “common sense” of bathroom bills

This thread applies critical thinking to the “common sense” argument for bathroom bills.

Programming and prejudice

With comments from Anil on platforms pretending we’re neutral to avoid regulatory and social infrastructure.

Technical Majority and Tech Forward

Her Story

http://www.herstoryshow.com/season-1/

Blog for inclusion

Civil rights data

Race in architecture

The most craven instincts drove these statements, and they are to be repudiated. They are completely at odds with the fundamentally progressive mission that architecture not only represents, but that virtually every student and faculty member that I know in architecture espouses.

Leadership in the field has to be way more diverse. We need to see a complete sea change in who is running this profession. Because it isn’t just about the diversity of identity politics; it’s about the work that architects create and how they impact the cities in which they work.

As I became more interested in theory and questions around race and my own background and family history, I kept thinking, “Well, why isn’t my experience in the architecture narrative?”

I have an undergraduate education in architecture as well, and I never saw anything about work by black architects or architecture about black people unless it was traditional African architecture or the pyramids in Egypt. That’s as far as it went.

The content of what I was learning was very Eurocentric—the histories, the methodologies, all of the references. You’re in this space of whiteness; my critical questioning came about through a kind of absence of representation.

If we don’t change the body of knowledge, then people will always have that same reaction. You have to change the terms for it to have a profound effect.

The entire hip-hop culture is a critique of failed urban planning and architecture, so who better to now come and try to solve some of those issues than the hip-hop community? Now that you have individuals, such as myself, who went through the traditional architectural educational process, and also grew up in some of these failed areas, we have an opportunity to help solve some of the mistakes of modernism made in urban cities.

When stylistic approaches are applied in different regions, different cities, different states, it restricts the opportunity to create specific vernaculars that speak directly to the people in those communities. Those cookie-cutter approaches—take housing projects, these tall mountainous towers—are directly related to the destruction of African-American communities.

The profession needs to accept this idea that a lot of minorities might not follow some of these stylistic approaches of the past because those approaches have a direct relationship to significant traumas. Architectural curriculum is based on these stylistic approaches, which creates additional problems for new ideas and new concepts.

For a lot of designers and architects starting out, we often have to take very low-paying or unpaid internships. But if you don’t come from a privileged background, you can’t afford to do that.

How can you ask a kid from a minority background whose family doesn’t make that much—and the kid probably has $50,000 to $100,000 in loans—to take a long, unpaid internship? That’s a very unfair thing. In order to improve diversity, they have to completely make unpaid internships against the law.

I think that the greatest thing to happen to diversity was the advent of the internet. If you have a good idea, if you have a good project, don’t wait until somebody gives you an opportunity to take it out there—use the internet as a tool. Don’t wait for people to hand things to you, because you will wait for a very long time.

Source: 16 architects of color speak out about the industry’s race problem – Curbed

Domestic violence, stress cases, and personas

https://twitter.com/alexstamos/status/835913919591899136

Mental health and stigma

Dyslexia and tech

‘Please enclose your CV and cover letter’. A statement that makes many dyslexics tremble and in itself I’m sure will have stopped thousands of gifted individuals from bothering to apply. When you’re being told that the first thing in the hiring process is to review a CV and cover letter, it’s easy to lose hope. Especially if, like me, you often look down to find your paper empty after 2 hours. All key skills for businesses during these times were based on paperwork, organisation and writing. For some dyslexics, myself included, even writing a simple sentence can cause anxiety.

The arrival of the computer and the adoption of the cloud have been nothing less than a miracle for the dyslexic brain. Social media, in particular, has changed business forever, the combination of web and mobile has dramatically altered people’s way of communicating, which has led to a drastic shift in the needs of businesses, almost overnight. Some content has been reduced to 140 characters instead of long story telling. Many websites have switched from written content to visual. Users’ attention spans have narrowed, making creativity in marketing a key skill.

Dyslexic brains have been identified not as worse or less intelligent, but as different, with different characteristics and capabilities. People with dyslexia may have a learning ‘disability’ when it comes to the traditional way of education. If success is based on spreadsheets and 30 page long documents, then yes, I have a disability. But people with dyslexia can have a different way to approach and process information and often find that they can be very skilled in other areas such as creative and spatial fields with abilities to engage a bigger picture approach. They can often see a problem from various angles at the same time, and sometimes their unique way of viewing the world gives those with dyslexia the advantage of creativity, ideas and imagination. And as technology advances, traditional business goals like productivity can very well become automated. Spreadsheets and documents can very well find and correct grammatical and spelling mistakes. Miraculous software like http://www.grammarly.com take this even further, giving anyone the possibility to write on the web with no grammatical or spelling mistakes, just by having it as an add-on on your browser, balancing thus the scales between dyslexic and non-dyslexic individuals when it comes to writing and changing the lives of people like myself in the workplace.

With this in mind, those with dyslexia can embrace and excel in the current technology climate, where the playing fields appear to have levelled and success is measured in innovative thinking. This is an environment where those with dyslexia could find themselves naturally at the top of the pile and included in determining the future direction of the technology industry itself.

Source: Why breaking down the ignorance to dyslexia will change the world | Jonathan Scott | Pulse | LinkedIn

Ethics in algorithms

Emily Gorcenski on algorithms outing people, facial recognition biases, inferred behaviors, databases, and more.

Aro, ace, cishet, and allosexual

Interesting threads on aro (aromantic), ace (asexual), cishet (cisgender heterosexual), and allosexual (not asexual).

And here’s some great history on the LGBT[QIPA] acronym:

Exponential growth devours and corrupts

The internet and tech are wonders that bring people together. They connect autistic people like me. They connect the disabled. They bring marginalized people together where we can build communities and provide the support and psychological safety we lack in the structurally racist, sexist, ableist, and childist societies our bodies inhabit. Without the internet, many of us would be detached from identity and tribe. We’d have no voice. We’d be unemployed and homeless. We’d be dead.

Technology also sacrifices our souls to growth. Growth is the great corruptor, and the companies running much of the modern economy run on exponential growth. Companies prey on the automatron class. Let’s stop feeding them automatrons and instead educate digital citizens who can take back some power, restore lost humanity, and challenge the post-employment, unpaid internship, automatron economy.

There is no higher God in Silicon Valley than growth. No sacrifice too big for its craving altar. As long as you keep your curve exponential, all your sins will be forgotten at the exit.

Principles are no match for the long-term corrosion of market realities and expectations.

It’s a hyper-evolutionary process that rewards the most extractive, most addictive, most viral strain from the cohort. The key measurement isENGAGEMENT. Who cares about the virtue of the endeavor, as long as your product is maximally addictive.

The normalization of questionable motives in the public perception is key to enabling the next iteration to proceed without obstacle.

Data mining has also successfully been rebranded to the more palatable Machine Learning. Who wants to stop anyone, human or machine, from learning? What are you, the digital taliban?

How can we turn more of the Twitters and Facebooks and Googles into generics? What shifts in underlying technology and cost do we need to hit to make it feasible to run something like Twitter on Wikipedia’s budget (and fund it by donations rather than ads)? What if the next Big Idea looked more like email and less like the walled gardens of today?

Technological and algorithmic advances from closed-source software have been turned into generics via open source. With spectacular commercial success, no less. As one boat sinks, a thousand new ones float. One software company or product’s death is easier to celebrate, rather than mourn, when you know the intellectual organs are giving life to ten new ones.

Yeah, the automatron class. People treated as literal cogs in transportation and delivery machines. Complete with machine-like tolerance specifications for quality. Dip below a 4.7? You’re in trouble. No explanations. No room for a bad day or a bad week because the bills were mounting. No room for humanity, no room for frailty. Just put on your happy face and Have A Great Day.

Friction is interaction. Human psyches rubbing against each other. And in this friction-less society we wonder how on earth someone could vote Brexit or Trump. It wouldn’t be such a mystery if we didn’t do all we could to isolate ourselves from the world.

And I think that’s the truly insidious part of the tech lords solution to everything. This fantasy that they will be greeted as liberators. When the new boss is really a lot like the old boss, except the big stick is replaced with the big algorithm. Depersonalizing all punishment but doling it out just the same.

Because competition is for the little people. Pitting one individual contractor against another in a race to the bottom. Hoarding all the bargaining power at the top. Disparaging any attempts against those at the bottom to organize with unions or otherwise. Ragging on that as “untapped energy”.

As Douglas Rushkoff says, we need a new operating system for startups. The current one will keep producing the same extractive and monopolistic empires we’ve gotten so far. No, what we need is a new crop of companies that are institutionally comfortable with leaving money on the table. Leaving growth on the table. Leaving some conveniences and some progress on the board, in order to lead the world into a better direction.

Source: Exponential growth devours and corrupts

Identity, tribe, and voice

I’m always going on about identity, tribe, and voice. Neurodivergent and disabled kids need these.

Intersectionally exhausted

A week as a woman

Respectful collection of data

  1. Ask affected communities for their input.
  2. Identify whether you truly need all of the information you ask for.
  3. Explain your purpose and your privacy policy.
  4. Offer multi-select checkboxes, not single-select radio buttons.
  5. Allow users to self-describe.
  6. Do not require a response.
  7. Consider your defaults.
  8. Consider the presentation and influence of your survey.
  9. Learn how to write questions about gender and sexuality.

Source: Respectful Collection of Demographic Data – SheNomads – Medium

Interaction badges

I added this interaction badge spotting to my Interaction Badgespost.

Low-functioning and high-functioning labels

I’m so freaking tired of people throwing around functioning labels. “High” functioning autism. “Low” functioning autism. “Moderately,” “mildly,” or “severely” affected by autism.

Aside from the fact that these labels are arbitrary, divisive, imprecise, and inaccurate, they just don’t make sense. As someone (not me) brilliantly stated, “Low functioning means that your strengths are ignored; high functioning means that your deficits are ignored.”

There are several GREAT blog posts about functioning levels written by adult Autistics and by parent allies that discuss functioning labels far more eloquently than I, and I encourage you to read them.

In discussions about treatment, about services, and about “cure,” the false dichotomy between the “levels” of autism is ever-present.

The “high-functioning” people are supposedly “draining resources” needed for others – that’s IF they’re even accepted as truly being autistic and not just “quirky.” (Because of course they’re “too high-functioning” to understand “what it’s REALLY like” to be on the spectrum.)

And the “low-functioning” people are “suffering” and their families are supposedly “desperate” for “any” treatment that will help – be it compliance training, questionable biomed, or even the ever-elusive “cure” of the month being peddled by autism’s many snake-oil salesmen.

NO, I don’t think everyone on the spectrum is the same. YES, people present differently. That’s why it’s considered a “spectrum.” There is a phrase that some people use pretty frequently that describes this well: “If you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve met one person with autism.” Although in recent years that phrase has unfortunately been used unkindly by some autism parents as a dismissive tactic to silence adult Autistics who are “not like my child,” I think the phrase’s original intent before it was twisted by others was to acknowledge the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum.

Source: Respectfully Connected | Face the truth: what you REALLY mean when you say “low-functioning”

Autism and LGBTQIA intersectionality

I added a reference to this piece in my post on Neurodiversity and Gender Non-conformity, Dysphoria and Fluidity.

The ableism of #EndofDisability

A hashtag that smacks of eugenics is not a good choice for a talk on disability.

Representation in online gaming

Overwatch is popular in my house. The release of a new character is a big event. Sombra’s release was eagerly anticipated.

We’ve noticed and appreciate the efforts at diversity, inclusion, and representation. I’m glad to see my elementary school aged boys and their peers playing as the female characters regularly, appreciating the skills of each. There are lessons in inclusive team building based on strengths and differences to be had in Overwatch.

Source: ‘Overwatch’ reveals one of its playable characters is on the autism spectrum

Uber

Susan Fowler’s piece on her year at Uber created a lot of necessary discussion and soul searching. Here are some reactions.

Sexism is a problem everywhere. In politics, in publishing, in academia. If this is a wake-up call for HR, for SREs, and for Uber, then that’s wonderful. But it needs to be more. It needs to be a wake-up call for everyone.

Source: Reflecting on Susan Fowler’s Reflections – Medium

It’s time for Silicon Valley to realize that being a good employee means more than just being good at your job—and that being good to employees means more than just stock options, free snacks, and a foosball table.

Source: An Ex-Uber Coder’s Accusations of Discrimination and Harrassment Show Tech Still Has a Big Problem | WIRED