Google could do more to prevent men killing women

Update: The research about increases in the number of Google searches re: domestic abuse had flaws in its methodology. The researcher addressed it on Twitter.

While good to know, that doesn’t change the overall argument of this article: that search engines could do more to break the cycle of abuse and that there’s precedence for their doing so. As such, I’m leaving the article as-is. Just know that the numbers reference below, in regards to search numbers, are’t accurate.

Domestic abuse has spiked over the past year. Both its perpetrators and its victims are turning to search engines like Google for advice. And Google isn’t doing enough to address the problem.

Liz Plank, writing for MSNBC puts it bluntly:

Men on a global scale are increasingly killing the women they purport to love.

As Plank explains, this violence is “usually premeditated”. The Google searches back it up. A recent study tracked searches about domestic abuse made in the US between March and August 2020 to the amount made in 2019.

A few searches, and how often they happened:

  • “How to hit a woman so no one knows” – 163 million (up 31%)
  • “I am going to kill her when she gets home” – 178 million (up 39%)
  • “How to control your woman” – 165 million (up 67%)

They’re all upsetting but the phrasing of the third one – “control your woman” – is insidious. It feels innocuous compared to the imminent threat of violence but the desire for for control is often the first step towards that violence. It reveals a sense of ownership and entitlement, for one, but it also shows someone reaching out a way to dominate someone’s life. People are looking ways to coerce someone else, be it subtly or not, and they’re finding it. To see people reaching for that power over someone gets under my skin (and the fact that they’re getting advice on how to achieve it is even worse).

Here’s the other half of the story:

  • “He will kill me” – 107 million (up 84%)
  • “Help me, he won’t leave” – 222 million (up 95%)
  • “He beats me up all the time” – 320 million (up 36%)

These aren’t just numbers. They’re people looking for help because their partners, their communities, and society as a whole has failed them. And Google isn’t helping.

According to Plank, “none of the aforementioned searches appear to return any domestic violence resources or hotlines.” This stands in contrast with Google’s approach to suicide prevention: since 2010, people have been presented with resources to help and phone numbers to reach out to when they enter search for certain terms.

Meanwhile, searching for “how to control your woman” brings you tips on coercive control, one of the most insidious and vile forms of domestic abuse. (See Jess Hill’s book See what you made me do for some must-read reporting on the subject.)

I searched for “He beats me up all the time” and I got a list of posts on Quora, a few advice columnists, a few opinion pieces, and a helpful list of things “people also search for” that includes things like “My man beats me” and “Is it my fault he hit me”.

No-one expects Google to single-handedly solve this problem. But the information we receive shapes our behaviour, our norms, and, thus, our society. As a facilitator for the info – not to mention, a stop on people’s path to both perpetuate and escape violence – Google and all other search engines have a responsibility to do better.


No, Bitcoin doesn’t incentivise renewable energy

People who are super into Bitcoin are really into recasting it as more than just another speculative asset. It’s incredible. This pursuit, like Bitcoin itself, is also a waste of energy.

In among artists making NFT artworks to fight climate change (a real head scratcher) Jack Dorsey has put in some work on Twitter:

#bitcoin  incentivizes renewable energy

Elon Musk, of course, agreed.

This is, of course, incorrect. Thankfully Maciej Cegłowski has done all the important work of blithely dismissing it for us:

This is like when I drank all your beer and told you I was incentivizing home brewing

Bitcoin is notable for how astonishingly not-good it is for the environment due to energy use. It’d be great if it ran exclusively on renewable energy. But that doesn’t mean Bitcoin “incentivises” renewable energy anymore than, say, coal mining does.

This is another attempt to recast Bitcoin in a positive light, as if it contributes anything productive to society beyond being another asset for people to speculate on.

That’s not to say that Bitcoin (or the tech that powers it) can’t become a positive part of life. It can and I hope it does. But it’s not right now. And it certainly isn’t doing anything for renewables.


Misinformation and the missing piece

Everyone is vulnerable to misinformation. We’ve all, at some point, believed something untrue. And it can be surprisingly hard to shake that belief.

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska explored why for Aeon. Part of the problem is “the continued influence effect”. Basically, it helps explain why people can keep on believing a myth or falsehood even after it’s been debunked. The misinformation persists, shaping our decisions, long into the future.

Part of the problem, Dermendzhiyska explains, is that we tend to take other people on face value. We act in good faith and assume others will do the same. Then there’s the fact that life is hard and busy – there’s too much going on to really interrogate everything.

That helps explain why we can believe something that isn’t true in the first place. But the difficulty in debunking that mistruth goes beyond that:

One of the most common explanations for the continued influence effect puts it down to a gap in our mental model, or the story we tell ourselves about what happened. If the myth fits the ‘logic’ of events, its retraction leaves a hole, and the cogs of the story no longer click into place… If we aren’t to lose coherence, it makes sense to hold on to both the actual fact and the fitting falsehood – but keep them separate, compartmentalised, so that they don’t clash. This might be why, as studies show, we could be well aware of the truth, yet still allow the myth to creep in elsewhere and corrupt tangential judgments.

Our minds are impressive things but they can often latch onto simplicity. We love stories; stories are how we understand the world. So it can be hard to give up a story that, on the surface, makes sense to you. (It’s also why a series of facts can’t compete with a well-told mistruth.)

This idea – that people will reject a correction or a retraction of a falsehood if it leaves a whole in your understanding – becomes even more complex when you look at the way information is shared online.

Context collapse strikes again

A post on Facebook or a message in a WhatsApp group can totally decontextualise a story, emphasising the “hole” in a stories logic left by a correction. A headline explaining why something was wrong just tells you that it’s wrong – it doesn’t explain why and, really, a whole lot of people won’t bother finding out.

Information is shared in drips and drabs and highlights and grabs. That doesn’t fill the context gap so someone who believes a mistruth is left trying to reconcile a story that no longer makes sense to them. And that’s if they’re prepared to change their mind at all. If not, they can just say “pfft” and move on.

Combine this with the other explanations for misinformation explored by Dermendzhiyska, chief among them repetition (wherein a mistruth is repeated so often it feels true because it’s familiar), and you have a pernicious problem. And that’s without people who actively want you to believe something that isn’t true.

Get a bell and start yelling “shame”

It’s a lot. But trying to understand the psychology behind the problem can help. But there are alternatives.

Here’s Dermendzhiyska again:

Perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation.

Social norms are a powerful thing. They shape our lives on a fundamental level. It also highlights our role, as individuals, in fixing this problem. Dermendzhiyska quotes biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in her piece and it’s apt:

Everything is what it is because it got that way.

That means we can change it too.


Missing blogs is missing people in the machine

There’s a great line in Bojack Horseman where Wanda Pierce looks back at her relationship with the toxic Bojack and the warning signs she missed:

When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.

The same thing applies to nostalgia. People have been waxing lyrical about Web 2.0 and blogging, casting both in a golden light befitting a “Golden Age”. The wonderful Tressie McMillan Cottom spoke about it with Ezra Klein on his show:

There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.

But that nostalgia, McMillan Cottom points out, misses a lot. She explains that it was a horrible time for young queer people, for example, and that the more narrow spaces of the web – which certainly describes a series of disconnected blogs, written by people sharing and quoting each other’s work – created “little safe pockets of space… where it was still very okay to be homophobic” (among other things).

And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table.

The table is busier than ever and that can be overwhelming or confronting. But the discussion is wider and, really, that can be a great way to learn.

The benefits of quiet

That scale, however, helps drive nostalgia for a place that’s a bit quieter. Here’s how McMillan Cottom puts it:

At the same time, I’m like, yeah. I also laugh and go, I really miss having a blog… It’s me being nostalgic for having a place where I could put thoughts that didn’t fit into any other discourse or genre, and I wanted a space where I could talk to people who were actually interacting like real people. They weren’t acting like bots, or trolls, or whatever your internet persona is.

As a reader, that’s what I miss. I wasn’t writing in the Web 2.0 age of the internet and I only started reading in the tail end. I got the survivors.

But I’ve been reading those survivors for a while now and, you know, that’s something I value. I only know about McMillan Cottom’s chat with Klein because of a post on Jason Kottke’s blog. Not only did I only learn about it because I follow Kottke’s site, my understanding and interpretation of it is mediated through my relationship with his site. It’s context.

You don’t get that with social media platforms (not as well, at least). The feed itself is the context. Things like blogs are a context unto themselves and they can lead to a richer relationship, both with the work and the person behind it.

That’s a preference thing, really. You can undoubtedly get the same thing elsewhere – people have built friendships on Twitter, people feel immensely close to their favourite creators on YouTube – but Web 3.0 hasn’t recreated the same something that reading a blog can create over time. Podcasts come close but it’s still not the same. It’s the reading that’s the thing for me.

Blogs, at their best, have a similar effect as a memoir. They differ in content, sure, but both are a mediated, curated slice of someone’s life or interests. They’re both a sustained glimpse into someone’s world – a few hundred pages for a memoir, potentially years for a blog – that make you feel as though you know someone. Why they’ve chosen the headline they have, how they describe something, the people and places they’ve chosen to link away too. That’s something particular.

I want people to read my blog, is what I’m saying

It doesn’t deserve romanticising, of course. McMillan Cottom points out some real flaws. The spaces made by blogs can be destructive. But they can be made well.1

I agree with McMillan Cottom – the nostalgia for blogs and Web 2.0 is about “the people in the machine”. Now that there are more people at the table then ever before, it’d be great to get to know those people better.

Because that’s what blogs are about, for me. The act of seeing people and the potential, in turn, to be seen. Not through rose-coloured glasses or golden light. Just seeing.

  1. I’d argue that fan fiction communities have a lot of the benefits of Web 2.0 and have generally been much more open to marginalised people. The big ones have also evolved well and figured out how to moderate their platforms. 


Languishing in the feed

It’s a weird feeling, when you just kind of realise that your default state has been “bleh” for so long you can’t remember when it wasn’t. It’s not bad, per say. Not out-and-out worrying. You’re just a little bit down, a little bit flat. Just bleh.

There’s a state of being in between being at your best (or even just pretty alright) and depression: languishing. It’s you at your most meh.

Adam Grant wrote about it for the New York Times:

Languishing is… the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.

It’s a dull fatigue or slow, barely perceptible lack of drive. No pep, no zazz. It mightn’t even be noticeable. It’s the background malaise of life.

Flow right

Grant provides one possible “antidote to languishing”: flow.

Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.

You know that magical sense of timelessness when you’re just lost in what you’re doing? That’s flow.

But there’s a danger here, too. There are a lot of things that evoke a sense of flow that aren’t the best places to be. Social media feeds, for example, are designed to create a sense of flow so you stay in app for as long as possible. Free-to-play games are the same. They’re filled with little hooks and tricks that keep you absorbed and flowing because that’s how they make money.

At a time when social media platforms are awash nihilism- or radicalisation-inducing content, they mightn’t be the best places to get your flow on. Those are worst-case scenarios, of course. And they don’t come about all at once.

But, like a good flow state, the road to some truly dark places on social happen with a series of small steps. Each a little bit more intriguing or challenging or provocative.

Even if you don’t end up in a thicket of extreme political content, spending too long on any social platform can drag you in bramble-patch of blandness that reinforces the sense of languishing you set out to avoid.

But it’s easy

The challenge: options like social media are the easiest thing available to you when your impulse is to fall into something. It mightn’t even be deliberate – it’s just a habit, an association you’ve picked up without realising.

James Clear talks about this in his book Atomic habits:

The less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur. Look at any behavior that fills up much of your life and you’ll see that it can be performed with very low levels of motivation. Habits like scrolling on our phones, checking email, and watching television steal so much of our time because they can be performed almost without effort. They are remarkably convenient.

The goal, he argues, isn’t the habit itself: it’s whatever feeling the habit provides. “Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit,” he says. “Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm.”

We tend towards the easiest obstacle to overcome. If the goal is find a quick spark to fight of a nameless sense of ennui, you might want to do something profound or meaningful but, chances are your life isn’t set up in such a way that you can easily do so. So you gravitate towards the easiest way to do that. Often, you know, your content feed of choice.

Again, this doesn’t have to be a conscious choice. You know content holes, no matter your poison, create a sense of flow. The habit is there, built up by years of practice. That pathway in your brain is well trod.

Maybe this doesn’t necessarily seem like a problem. What’s an hour or so on social, in a mobile game, binging a show? As a conscious choice, sure, whatever. But as a response to something as amorphous and draining as languishing, it sets you up for failure.

Some choices set up your entire day. Clear calls them “decisive moments”:

Decisive moments set the options available to your future self. For instance, walking into a restaurant is a decisive moment because it determines what you’ll be eating for lunch. Technically, you are in control of what you order, but in a larger sense, you can only order an item if it is on the menu. If you walk into a steakhouse, you can get a sirloin or a rib eye, but not sushi. Your options are constrained by what’s available. They are shaped by the first choice.

Put another way, Clear argues that “the habits you follow without thinking often determine the choices you make when you are thinking.” When it comes to something as important as your mental health, you want to make those choices as helpful as possible.

It doesn’t have to be a big change. It might be better if it’s not, really. You want it to be easy. Something that gets you flowing right. Anything’s better than being bleh.


What kind of world is Amazon selling?

You can say a lot about Amazon, both interesting and worrisome. But I’ve never really asked myself what kind of world it’s creating. It’s a big question, sure, and one with a myriad of answers. But it’s worth asking, given how influential the company is.

Thankfully, Anand Giridharadas has done it for me. He put it to Alec MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica and author of Fulfillment: winning and losing in one-click America, a new book about Amazon.

Anand: If Amazon is left unchecked, what kind of world do you think it will eventually create?

Alec: A world where the fortunate among us fulfill most of our daily needs and whims by placing a one-click order, and where the less fortunate among us rush to fulfill those orders for us. And a world where the communities we live in — both the winner-take-all cities and the left-behind towns — become the poorer for it.

It’s a brief interview that covers a lot of ground, including how Amazon benefitted from the decline of manufacturing in the US and how they exploit tax breaks on local and national levels.


Zhush up your computing life with Hannah Montana Linux

You know what all contemporary operating systems are missing? Deeply embedded pop-star stylings. Thankfully, Linux is here to help.

Brian Feldman, in his quest for a modern OS, stumbled upon some choice Linux forks. There’s Biebian, wrapped in Justin Bieber accoutrement, and explicitly not based on Debian (which is “part of the joke”) and, of course, Hannah Montana Linux:

As far as I can tell, Hannah Montana Linux isn’t a joke. The project was registered on SourceForge in 2008 and was last updated in 2013. Its creator writes on an FAQ page that “I thought - what would attract young users to Linux? So I created this idea after a lot of reading and work.”

There’s also a parody of Hannah Montana’s theme song, “Best of Both Worlds”, if you really want to jam.

Honestly, it’s wild that this wasn’t the thing to finally ring in the Year of Linux.


For whom the Mac bell tolls, it tolls for thee

The Mac startup sound is iconic. It’s a lovely way to start your computing day.

But Macs also used to have death tones. Fun. Stephen Hackett, Apple historian about town, has the lowdown:

What you may not know is that for years, the Mac also came with a death sound, that would play when the machine crashed.

And they are glorious

He’s right. They are glorious. Go have a listen.

The Macintosh II era swan songs make it sound like you’ve won something, which is fun. They’re also reminiscent of the sounds you might hear before an announcement in Japan. That’s just good gear.

Now, if only someone could add the sounds of a screaming Roomba to my MacBook Pro when it crashes.


WWDC ‘21 Wishlist

I’m not a picky nor demanding Apple user. The wants I have are minor when they’re not courageous. So, while some people have a mountainous list of suggestions for Apple, I have but a few dreams and wishes.

That said, while I may present them humbly, I’ll still expect them to be delivered to the letter. I’ll be in the subreddit if they’re not.

Buzz me when I need to recharge my AirPods case

Give me a friendly notification when my AirPods case is at 20% battery. Yes, there’s a widget for battery levels. But the case doesn’t appear there very often. Just give me a notification.

Any hint, whatsoever, that the Apple TV hardware has a future

And, no, those rumours of a TV, HomePod, camera combo don’t count.

I’m an unabashed Apple TV hardware apologist and I want the little box to have a future. It’s simple, it’s effect, and just straight up prefer it over the alternatives. Plus, like, I just bought all of Deadwood from Apple.

Whether it’s a hardware refresh or just a new remote, hook me up, Apple.

Update: Looks like I got my wish. Updated hardware (a spec bump, but okay) and a new Siri Remote. Good times.

More cool stuff in more countries

Expand your new Maps format and things like sending people money over iMessage to more countries. Or just Australia. That’s fine. I accept that I live in a less-than-key market but, you know, let me dream for a day.

Baked-in VPN

I’m tired of waiting for Mozilla VPN to launch in Australia. So bake a VPN service into your devices, Apple.

This won’t happen. China, for one, would have a conniption. And there’s something to be said for having a VPN that isn’t provided by a company that’s all about the walled garden. But it’d be simple and it’d match up well to all of Apple’s moves on privacy.

Try again with Apple News+

They might get it right eventually.

A Keychain app

The service is there and it’s not all that elegant. Just sherlock 1Password already (if you’re prepared to launch Keychain apps on Windows and Android, that is).

Option to default to alphabetical view in the App Library

I don’t care for your automatic folder options in the App Library and I don’t care to see them.

Normalise volume across different apps and sources

Every now and then, the volume of whatever I’m watching or listening to will just explode. The reason: usually ads. And it’s awful. This, realistically, is an app problem and it’s on developers to actually care about and fix. But it’d be nice if it could happen on an operating system level.

Literally any improvements to the App Store that acknowledge the myriad of fair grievances developers have

They may as well.


Dapper Labs, the company behind NBA Top Shot, valued at $2.6 billion (or half the New York Knicks)

Another day, another story about the success of NFTs. This one’s about Dapper Labs, the company behind NBA Top Shot: they’ve raised $305 million in new funding, bringing them up to a valuation of $2.6 billion. They could almost buy half of the New York Knicks with that money. We’re on our way to ridding ourselves of James Dolan, y’all.

Looks like they’re only getting more popular, as well. Here’s Kellen Browning for the New York Times:

Top Shot has exploded in popularity, part of a larger frenzy for cryptocurrencies and NFTs that has driven up the value of Bitcoin and led to head-turning bids for digital artwork. There have been more than three million Top Shot transactions, Dapper Labs said, generating $500 million in sales. The company makes money through the sale of the digital moments and also collects a cut whenever a moment is resold.

Dapper’s new investors include a few NBA stars as well, “including Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson”. I might get involved if they release a Klay Thompson toaster moment.

In some ways, it’s nice to feel vindicated about my prediction for NFTs. In other, more important ways, every article about NFTs being a hit should mention how astonishingly bad they are for the environment.

It’d be interesting to know how much Dapper contributes to the problem: a lot of the furore is about Ethereum, and Dapper use their own crypto system called Flow. Haven’t seen much of anything about that, carbon wise, but it should be less energy hungry than Ethereum.