Rating Actions in “The Good Place”

In the hit Netflix sitcom The Good Place, every action people take is given a rating. Stepping carefully over a flower bed gives you 2.09 points, while ruining an opera takes away 90.90 points. However, because people live in worlds of complex systems, each action people triggers a cascade of unpredictable consequences. If you buy flowers for your significant other, they were grown with pesticides by people paid sub-minimum wage. You get 45.9 points for being thoughtful, but lose 647.2 points for ecological damage of the chemical industry and agricultural labor violations. Chidi and Eleanor slowly discover that this system…


Late last week, Twitter started buzzing with people texting their “number neighbor.” If you’re not familiar, your “number neighbor” (or #textdoorneighbor) is the person with a phone number one digit up or down from yours. If my phone number is 555–555–1212, my “number neighbors” would be 555–555–1211 and 555–555–1213. Text responses to number neighbors range from funny to being reported to the police for harassment. My own “number neighbor” (below) replied “sup homie.” Excited to get a response, I complemented her on her animated GIFs and shared where we lived. Sadly, my other neighbor never got back to me.

Talking With My “Number Neighbor”

Technically…


This is a lightly-edited version of my keynote presentation for the “Beyond Smart” Symposium at Georgia Institute of Technology, April 25–26, 2019.

Before I get started, I think it’s important to acknowledge the strides the idea of “smart cities” has made. It has brought together participants across disciplines and domains. In these places and collaborations, we have developed an understanding of our collective future with technology. As Christopher La Dantec noted, any vision of smart cities should foreground civic engagement. What has emerged is a kind of middle route that revives the notion of Jane Jacobs that cities are constructed…


Tech companies aspire to fail. Facebook implores its employees to “fail harder” and to “move fast and break things.” Plucky startups brag about being a “serial entrepreneur,” using failure stories to persuade investors of their potential. In part, they are mirroring messages from executives, who are keen to reinforce the idea that they had humble beginnings and learned from early companies that folded. Stories about Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard to eventually start Microsoft, or Steve Jobs’ rejection and triumphant return to Apple, have achieved mythological status. …


Stories are all around us. We are told that “everyone has a story,” and people are encouraged to use social media to “tell their story.” Stories appear in the news and are spread through word-of-mouth. In these ways, they can travel across institutional and cultural barriers. When community stories are shared, the results can be empowering for more than just the storyteller. But certain people are often in a more privileged position to tell stories and benefit from them. In these ways, stories — and the way they are told — are sources of power.

One way to think about…


“Civic Tech,” once a niche term, is now a topic of speculation and investment worldwide. Non-profit organizations, governments, and grassroots groups are using the term to describe their work. In light of this continued interest, Hana Schank and Sara Hudson recently revived a definitional debate on Civic Tech with their post, What We Mean When We Talk about “Civic Tech?Given that I’ve just finished an introductory book on Civic Tech, I’m offering some reflections about the importance of talk and the limits of the term.

“Civic Tech” has been notoriously difficult to talk about. Some have taken a broad…


I am a post-doctoral researcher who helps run a research group. Each week we devote a half-hour of our group meetings to discussing important topics to young academics. Last fall I wanted to assign an article on how to submit a journal article — a format intrinsically connected with professional success and the pleasures of being an academic. I have read many books on writing for academics, such as Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists, Thinking Like Your Editor, and How to Write a Lot (just to name a few). However, none directly addressed how to avoid the pitfalls of…


Self-publishing a book is an unusual decision in academia. Academics are expected to write books for publishers that have a high reputation in their respective fields. Self-publishing has the academic cred slightly above scribbling on cocktail napkins. I’ve been pretty successful at publishing articles in top publications for my field, and an edited volume on the Hacker and Maker movements I co-authored is coming out in early 2017. It is totally conceivable I could publish a monograph in an academic press.

So what gives? Why am I self-publishing a book financed through Kickstarter?

There are academic presses doing an excellent…


Last month I presented on Innovation Teams at UC Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society (CSTMS). Someone asked if I had thought of assembling a reading list for people on Innovation Teams or curious about them. I said no, but it sounded like a fantastic idea! Over lunch one day Holly (who is on the Long Beach iTeam) and I (who has worked with the Los Angeles iTeam) got to talking about what makes these teams tick. Luckily Holly was game for thinking through helpful concepts to keep Innovation Teams effective and reflexive. We pulled together a few…


In 2012 I became interested in the idea of “civic technology” and the people who created it. “Open data” figures prominently in their thinking about reforming government and improving community strength. For example, open data proponents believed that open data would bring about transparency, civic participation, and government-citizen collaboration (mirroring federal-level language). As a communication scholar I am curious about where people get their ideas and how they act on them. Where did these beliefs and desires come from? How did they manifest in particular practices? Once they do, does it lead to meaningful change? …

Andrew R. Schrock

Founder @AloiResearch・Communication, tech, & organizing・Author・Intersectional feminist・💍 @RebeccaSittler・Dad・🏳️‍🌈 he/him・Newsletter tinyletter.com/aschrock

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