Nerf Herding

6Artboard 1@2x

By AP Joseph

Hey there! A month into 2018, and there’s already plenty of geek action going on (gaction?)

What can you expect from this column, you ask, apart from rubbish attempts at humour? A not-entirely-Brownian-movement-inspired  result of trawling through the ether to find artefacts to delight the hearts of geek anthropologists. So, here we go.

For those of us working in academia, there’s the constant challenge of sifting through tomes of data, while also finding ways to articulate a coherent and original thought. We don’t have any magic solutions yet, but the next best thing is a series of blog posts from the folks at anthro{dendum} around refining the process of working with copious amounts of text – the actual material text in all its varied, sometimes frustrating forms. In the same breath, I ought to mention this post around the realities of undertaking digital ethnography practices since I expect a fair few of us might occupy anthropology at the intersection of digital worlds.

The dismantling of net neutrality seems to be making its way into Canada as well now, with a push for blocking websites that allow piracy. Speaking of doing things one shouldn’t be doing, if the darknet drug market is your field site of choice, then you’ll want to read this piece on navigating your way through the contentious issues you might come up against – from intentional site instability to avoid law enforcement attempts, to the risks of resistance within illegal virtual landscapes.

With every industry attempting to apply machine learning and AI for better predictability, among other things, companies have been attempting to predict recidivism. Reminiscent of Minority Report? Just that these algorithms come loaded with all sorts of biases, as do all AI that are trained by humans! Since we’re on the topic of implicit biases, this review of Jonathan Kahn’s critique of the implicit bias discourse is a thought-provoking argument for structural change rather than merely addressing the symptoms of the malaise.

As ubiquitous wearable self-tracking and monitoring devices like Apple watches and Fitbits take over increasingly varied roles in our lives, if you’ve been part of the quantified-self movement, here’s some news for you – apparently, you aren’t ahead of your times, this is merely another avatar of Victorian prudery! Let’s dig up the past them, shall we? While keeping our eyes firmly on the future, if possible. We found a fascinating case study in VR archaeology working off the game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which might serve as a prototype of sorts for archaeology in synthetic worlds. Nintendo has announced that it will launch a new Switch accessory made of cardboard, slated for release mid this year. These Labo kits promise to be lots of fun!

If Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Arwen are more your flavour of fantasy though, check out this fan-made Lego Lord of the Rings pinball machine – talk about intersectionality and the worlds that fandom births. We’d be remiss to speak about fantasy without paying our respects to Ursula K Le Guin, whose rich legacy in science fiction and fantasy challenged the stronghold of male writers in these genres. The writer, whose parents were both anthropologists, and whose work was seminal in creating and shifting worlds of the mind in fiction, passed away this month. Anthro{dendum} has not one, but two articles reflecting on her legacy.

How can a post end without a proverbial fist being shaken at neoliberal capitalism and the ways in which it informs our every move. If you’re on Facebook and missed the cryptocurrency bandwagon, but have been considering it, chances are the advertising algorithms been targeting you with bitcoin ads – well, no more, since the social media giant has just banned cryptocurrency advertising.

If this roundup was enjoyable, let us know! If you’d like to see us cover something else, send in your suggestions to pavithranoel [at] gmail.com.

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About Nick Mizer

Although much of my work focuses on tabletop role-playing games, I think that geek culture in general has a lot to offer for anthropological study, from understandings of modernity and consumerism to the role of the imagination and wonder in the midst of those more “serious” trends. As I explore these things, I find myself straddling the borders between anthropology, folkloristics, and performance studies.

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