VALENCE Recommended Reading

VALENCE is inspired and influenced by writings on current technology and culture — often specifically writings on data privacy. Here’s a list of our recommended readings for real-world ruminations on some of the themes in VALENCE.

If you have any other recommended readings for us, please contact us to let us know. If you read any of the sources below, let us know about that too! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

As a note, many of these sources may contain upsetting materials. Please read with caution, take care of yourself, and protect your magic.

Amazon’s New Fitness Tracker Sounds Like a Body-Shaming, Tone-Policing Disaster

Victoria Song, Gizmodo, 8/27/2020

The pitch here is that Halo Band is a more holistic health tracker. In its press release announcing the device and service, Amazon says that the Halo Band is “purpose-built to focus on your health and wellness—unlike smartwatches and fitness trackers, it doesn’t have a screen or constant notifications.” In that sense, it’s like the Whoop tracker—and frankly, it looks a whole lot like it too. The sensor array itself contains an accelerometer, temperature sensor, heart rate monitor, two microphones, LED indicator light, and a button you can use to turn microphones on or off. Amazon claims the Halo Band will last about a week on a charge. There’s also a companion app that measures things like activity and sleep, and like Fitbit, offers “Labs” for experimental apps with partners. Oh, and also the ability to scan your body fat percentage using your phone, as well as analyze the tone you’re speaking in.

[The] microphones on the Halo Band will occasionally listen in on your voice and judge it based on “energy” and “positivity” so you can “better understand how [you] may sound to others.”

Victoria Song

Domestic Abusers Are Weaponizing Apps And In-Home Devices To Monitor, Intimidate Victims

Robin Young and Kalyani Saxena, WBUR, 11/27/2019

“What happens is that quite often the abuser has set up some of the accounts on the person’s phone. They might have bought the device for the survivor,” she says. “And they are accessing information quite often through a shared family plan, through a shared iCloud account. But the person isn’t necessarily aware that they’re still sharing that information.”

How to Revisit the Ghosts of Your Past

Kalila Holt, The New York Times, 5/13/2019

The world, as it turns out, is not a competition to experience the saddest possible thing. We’ve done stories about very big things, like being on a jury in a death penalty case, and we’ve done stories about small things, like getting kicked out of a pizza parlor. I don’t think that one delegitimizes the other.

How to Survive a Lightning Strike

Feris Jabr, Outside Online, 6/22/2014

In popular culture, to be hit by a bolt of lightning is to suffer extremely bad luck. Rain, snow, and hail are largely indiscriminate: within a certain radius, everything is drenched, blanketed, or pelted. A cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is different. It blazes a discrete path through the sky. It appears to have choice. When lightning hits a human being, a survivor must reconcile not only what happened but why it happened. Why me? For most victims, it is not the unforgettable horror of an agonizing ordeal that haunts them—many can’t even recall the incident itself; it’s the mysterious physical and psychological symptoms that emerge, often long after their immediate wounds have healed and doctors have cleared them to return to their normal routines. But nothing is normal anymore. Chronic pain, memory trouble, personality changes, and mood swings can all follow an encounter with lightning, leaving friends and family members confused, while survivors, grappling with a fundamental shift in identity, feel increasingly alienated by the incomprehensible nature of their condition. Something happened in a single moment—something strange and rare, something unbelievable—and after that moment, everything has changed.

New York City is a mall

Alexandra Lange, Curbed New York, 6/26/2019

Dana Getman, the project architect for SHoP, took me on a tour of the space, but I didn’t really need her to hold my hand. It is two loops—one North-South, one East-West—and you can see the outside from almost every stall. The Market Line will have more underground confusion to face, but the architects have positioned two staircases down from the market adjacent to double-height expanses of glass. Shiny black tiles on the elevator cores should bounce additional light. When I ask Beth Lieberman, director of operations for the Market Line, whether it will resemble DeKalb Market in Downtown Brooklyn, she reacts with horror; this underground food court will not have dead ends, no natural light, and winding internal “streets” as that one does. I sigh, relieved.

Ghosts of the Future

Julia Foote, Real Life, 7/1/2019

In these plots, as in much canonical horror, houses are alive and full of secrets. They know things about their inhabitants, harbor intentions toward them, and are capable of exerting insidious control. Different iterations of AI haunt protagonists just like ghosts do, and like ghosts, their omnipresence, and liminality — in between human and inhuman, living and dead — makes them monstrous. The comparison is emotionally apt, and calls attention to a new batch of fears and anxieties we accept as the cost of convenience. But it also gets at a deeper sense of unease: as in ghost stories, the creatures that emerge from our technology are ultimately human or human-made.

Where Do Our Ideas About Queerness Come From?

Sam Van Pykeren, Mother Jones, 10/11/2019

Ryan, along with other local curators and queer community leaders, took the pop-up concept around the country, from Philadelphia to Indianapolis. Each new local event, Ryan recalls, was met with “an incredible response,” but when they brought the pop-up museum back to Brooklyn, “people kind of scratched their heads and were like, ‘Queer history’?”

That’s when Ryan realized: “Wait, I don’t know anything about the queer history of Brooklyn, either.”


David A. Banks and Britney Gil, Real Life, 7/22/2019

This community-by-association is a powerful force for brand loyalty, which is why tech companies want to deploy this feeling at all levels of customer experience. In nearly every Apple advertisement from 1984 to the invention of the iPod in 2001, computers and gadgets were presented as the necessary final ingredient to an individual’s creative genius; but as Apple shifted heavily into selling handheld devices meant for consuming media, they also began leaning on the idea that to own their products was to be a part of a community: iPhone ads barely mention technology at all, opting instead to show poignant, intimate moments with the device capturing or mediating the experience. As Starbucks showed in the ’90s, the feeling of inclusion can justify higher markups: Apple calls their flagship stores “town squares” that act as venues for events, not just shelves for products.

The Creators Of Pokémon Go Mapped The World. Now They’re Mapping You

Cecilia D’Anastasio and Dhruv Mehrotra, Kotaku, 10/15/2019

Because the location data collected by Wizards Unite and sent to Niantic is so granular, sometimes up to 13 location records a minute, it is possible to discern individual patterns of user behavior as well as intimate details about a player’s life. As an experiment, we approached players with insights we gleaned by combing through five days’ worth of their data, to find out how accurate our inferences were.

In five days of gameplay, Niantic kept 2304 location records for one player. By looking at the timestamps and frequency with which this user would return to particular areas, we were able to correctly identify their employer and address of residence. Furthermore, by plotting these data points on a map we could correctly discern the routes the user took from work to home, their daily schedule, and even their eating habits. When we asked them about their propensity to eat Burger King for lunch, they were surprised that we knew that, saying afterwards that they were “addicted to fast food.”


Jia Tolentino, The New York Times, 6/23/2019

On YouTube and Twitter and Instagram, recommendation algorithms have been making us feel individually catered to while bending our selfhood into profitable shapes. TikTok favors whatever will hold people’s eyeballs, and it provides the incentives and the tools for people to copy that content with ease. The platform then adjusts its predilections based on the closed loop of data that it has created. This pattern seems relatively trivial when the underlying material concerns shaving cream and Crocs, but it could determine much of our cultural future. The algorithm gives us whatever pleases us, and we, in turn, give the algorithm whatever pleases it. As the circle tightens, we become less and less able to separate algorithmic interests from our own.

Starbucks Isn’t a Coffee Business — It’s a Data Tech Company

Was Rahman, AI Prescience and Marker, 1/16/2020

Starbucks is a pretty typical example of a leading modern global business. How Starbucks uses data is an exemplar of managing data and technology to great effect. There’s nothing dramatically surprising about its use of data and A.I. Nor are there any breathtaking innovations about A.I. or analytics.

But the way Starbucks uses data is a textbook example of how to start a journey to use data strategically, executing plans systematically and thoroughly. The innovation appears, but in what you do in your core business because of A.I., not necessarily in the A.I. itself. And IoT is just a natural extension of this, along with the cloud.

Clearview app lets strangers find your name, info with snap of a photo, report says

Edward Moyer, CNET, 1/21/2020

What if a stranger could snap your picture on the sidewalk, then use an app to quickly discover your name, address and other details? A startup called Clearview AI has made that possible, and its app is being used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the US, including the FBI, according to a Saturday report in The New York Times.

The app, says the Times, works by comparing a photo to a database of more than 3 billion pictures that Clearview says it’s scraped off Facebook, Venmo, YouTube and other sites. It then serves up matches, along with links to the sites where those database photos originally appeared. A name might easily be unearthed, and from there other info could be dug up online.

The Evil List

SLATE, 1/15/2020

The tech industry doesn’t intoxicate us like it did just a few years ago. Keeping up with its problems—and its fixes, and its fixes that cause new problems—is dizzying. Separating out the meaningful threats from the noise is hard. Is Facebook really the danger to democracy it looks like? Is Uber really worse than the system it replaced? Isn’t Amazon’s same-day delivery worth it? Which harms are real and which are hypothetical? Has the techlash gotten it right? And which of these companies is really the worst? Which ones might be, well, evil?

23andMe has sold the rights to develop a drug based on its users’ DNA

Jessica Hamzelou, New Scientist, 1/10/2020

“In general, I think it’s really good that human genetic information is useful for drug discovery,” says Frayling. But he questions whether it is fair for the company to financially profit from genetic data that its customers volunteered for medical research.

23andMe’s terms of service state that by signing up for testing: “You specifically understand that you will not receive compensation for any research or commercial products that include or result from your genetic information or self-reported information.”

Toys ‘R’ Us Is Open for Business Again, But There’s a Bizarre Catch

Beth Elderkin, io9, 12/4/2020

There’s also the little detail in an NBC report that b8ta, the company who partnered with Tru Kids to create the new Toys “R” Us store, has installed dozens of sensors in the ceiling of the store to “monitor traffic patterns and shopper cadence” to see where kids and parents are going and what brands they’re more attracted to. That’s right: Toys “R” Us is monitoring where kids go to produce data for brands.

The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm

Francesca Gino, Scientific American, 11/17/2015

And yet, our research suggests, there may also be some unexpected benefits from sarcasm: greater creativity. The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.

Immaterial Girls

Rina Nkulu, REAL LIFE, 6/5/17

When the computer becomes invisible, the user stops considering the ways it shapes and limits experience, conceptions of “natural.” Glossier’s products live with you, causing minimal fuss, working to be forgotten. “We believe Glossier is more than just beauty or beauty products,” the brand’s CEO, Emily Weiss, told Fader, but “a way of life.”