Tuesday 14th July 2020

Lies, damn lies and misinformation

Simon Pitt

This week: misinformation. I was writing a piece for OneZero when I realized I regularly hear people using the terms misinformation and disinformation interchangeably. But actually they’re completely different. Even more fascinating is where the words originally came from:

There is misinformation and then there is disinformation. Misinformation is incorrect ideas that are shared in good faith, or, at least (as with me sharing the monkey brain game video) in neutral faith, to harmlessly entertain. Disinformation is intentionally incorrect information spread to deceive. Even the word’s origins are disinformed. In the book Disinformationauthor Ion Mihai Pacepa explains that the word comes from the Russian, dezinformatsiya, a term invented by Stalin, who chose a French-sounding word to make it seem like the idea of intentionally lying came from the West. Disinformation is self-referential, almost onomatopoeia. It is a word leaking its history.

This and more is in OneZero this week from me. Indeed, OneZero has a whole cornucopia of articles on misinformation if that’s your jam.


Things

I realized the other day that certain items bring me a disproportionate amount of pleasure, and I wanted to share those items and try to put my finger on what it was about them I like so much.

I have a USB to USB-C dongle. It’s not much. You plug a USB device in one end, and you plug the other end into your USB-C computer. It’s tiny. A little nubbin of an adapter.

I’ve never liked the Apple adapters, the white dingly, dangly, dongles with the ridiculous strip of wire that gradually wears away. (Weird, I know, but I wrote a whole article about this a while back). This one, on the other is small, compact and neat. It’s strange to say, but every time I have a cause to use it, I feel happy.

I was nervous getting a laptop with exclusively USB-C ports. After gathering USB devices, dongles and do-dads for literally decades, the thought of not being able to plug them in was alarming. Of course, the reality was anti-climactic. I bought this adapter and a couple of cables and it’s been fine. Most of the time when using my computer, I am not plugging in esoteric USB devices. And on the off chance I need to, I have this fellow to help out.

Obviously, it doesn’t do much. USB in one end, USB-C out the other. But it does it well, it looks nice and it makes me happy. It is compact, and there’s something nifty about its size. I’m not sure I can ask for more than that from an adapter like this.


Elsewhere

An absolutely fascinating piece from 2019 in the New Yorker about about moderating Hacker News. If you’ve ever used Hacker News, you’ll know what it’s like, but if not, the conversations there vary between being more valuable than the articles themselves, and devolving into dysfunctional meta-arguments. The story of the two people that moderate this site, used by literally millions of people daily, is fascinating but also kind of heart-warming.

Gackle and Bell, by contrast, practice a personal, focussed, and slow approach to moderation, which they see as a conversational act. They treat their community like an encounter group or Esalen workshop; often, they correspond with individual Hacker News readers over e-mail, coaching and encouraging them in long, heartfelt exchanges.


An artful, thoughtful piece about parentheses and this current moment we’re living through.

Since March, I (and, more important, the entire human race) have been living inside a set of massive parentheses. Our lives as we knew them before the coronavirus — the subjects of our days marching crisply along, the verbs of our every hour thoughtfully chosen — have been suspended. And until God or Merck blesses us with an end-parenthesis, we are stuck here. Is it Saturday? Would it matter?


That is it for this time. Off we go for another week of however we spend our time.i hope it’s a good one for you all.

Yours,

Simon