Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 18th, 2016

Hail the maintainers

Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance,

And for most lives it is maintenance that matters more

by Lee Vinsel & Andrew Russell

Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite.

As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important.

Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.

The fates of nations on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain illustrate good reasons that led to the rise of innovation as a buzzword and organising concept. Over the course of the 20th century, open societies that celebrated diversity, novelty, and progress performed better than closed societies that defended uniformity and order.

In the late 1960s, in the face of the Vietnam War, environmental degradation, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and other social and technological disappointments, it grew more difficult for many to have faith in moral and social progress.

To take the place of progress, ‘innovation’, a smaller, and morally neutral, concept arose. Innovation provided a way to celebrate the accomplishments of a high-tech age without expecting too much from them in the way of moral and social improvement.

Before the dreams of the New Left had been dashed by massacres at My Lai and Altamont, economists had already turned to technology to explain the economic growth and high standards of living in capitalist democracies.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the prominent economists Robert Solow and Kenneth Arrow found that traditional explanations – changes in education and capital, for example – could not account for significant portions of growth. They hypothesised that technological change was the hidden X factor. Their finding fit hand-in-glove with all of the technical marvels that had come out of the Second World War, the Cold War, the post-Sputnik craze for science and technology, and the post-war vision of a material abundance.

Robert Gordon’s important new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, offers the most comprehensive history of this golden age in the US economy.

As Gordon explains, between 1870 and 1940, the United States experienced an unprecedented – and probably unrepeatable – period of economic growth. That century saw a host of new technologies and new industries produced, including the electrical, chemical, telephone, automobile, radio, television, petroleum, gas and electronics.

Demand for a wealth of new home equipment and kitchen appliances, that typically made life easier and more bearable, drove the growth.

After the Second World War, Americans treated new consumer technologies as proxies for societal progress – most famously, in the ‘Kitchen Debate’ of 1959 between the US vice-president Richard Nixon and the Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev. Critics wondered if Nixon was wise to point to modern appliances such as blenders and dishwashers as the emblems of American superiority.

Nevertheless, growth was strongly tied to continued social improvement. As older industries matured and declined, ‘new industries associated with new technologies’ would have to rise to take their place.

Yet, this need for booming new industries became problematic as the United States headed into the troubled times of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Whole economic sectors, the auto industry, for example, hit the skids. A new term – ‘innovation policy’ – arose, designed to spur economic growth by fostering technological change, particularly in the face of international economic competition from Japan. Silicon Valley, a term that had just emerged in the late 1970s, became the exemplar of innovation during this time.

By the early 1980s, books casting Silicon Valley as a land of almost magical technological ingenuity had begun to hit the market.

Innovation policy turned to focus more and more on ‘regional innovation systems’ and ‘innovation clusters’. Everywhere was potentially the next Silicon Valley of X.

This theme of locality reached its apotheosis in Richard Florida’s 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which argued that regions succeeded by becoming the kinds of places that granola-crunching, mountain-bike-riding, computer-coding creative types wanted to live in. The book used the word ‘innovation’ more than 90 times and heavily idealised Silicon Valley.

During the 1990s, scholars and pop audiences also rediscovered the work of Joseph Schumpeter. Schumpeter was an Austrian economist who championed innovation and its partner term, entrepreneurship.

Schumpeter pictured economic growth and change in capitalism as a ‘gale of creative destruction’, in which new technologies and business practices outmoded or totally destroyed old ones. Neo-Schumpeterian thought sometimes led to a mountain of dubious scholarship and magical thinking, most notably, Clayton M Christensen’s 1997 tome, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business.

Now mostly discredited, Christensen’s work exerted tremendous influence, with its emphasis on ‘disruptive’ technologies that undermined whole industries to make fortunes.

At the turn of the millennium, in the world of business and technology, innovation had transformed into an erotic fetish.

Armies of young tech wizards aspired to become disrupters. The ambition to disrupt in pursuit of innovation transcended politics, enlisting liberals and conservatives alike. Conservative politicians could gut government and cut taxes in the name of spurring entrepreneurship, while liberals could create new programmes aimed at fostering research.

The idea was vague enough to do nearly anything in its name without feeling the slightest conflict, just as long as you repeated the mantra: INNOVATION!! ENTREPRENEURSHIP!!

A professional innovation consultant advised his clients to ban the word at their companies. He said it was just a ‘word to hide the lack of substance’

A few years later, however, one could detect tremors of dissent.

In a biting essay titled ‘Innovation is the New Black’, Michael Bierut, writing in Design Observer in 2005, lamented the ‘mania for innovation, or at least for endlessly repeating the word “innovation”’. Soon, even business publications began to raise the question of inherent worth.

In 2006, The Economist noted that Chinese officials had made innovation into a ‘national buzzword’, even as it smugly reported that China’s educational system ‘stresses conformity and does little to foster independent thinking’, and that the Communist Party’s new catchphrases ‘mostly end up fizzling out in puddles of rhetoric’.

Later that year, Businessweek warned: ‘Innovation is in grave danger of becoming the latest overused buzzword. We’re doing our part at Businessweek.’ Again in Businessweek, on the last day of 2008, the design critic Bruce Nussbaum returned to the theme, declaring that innovation ‘died in 2008, killed off by overuse, misuse, narrowness, incrementalism and failure to evolve… In the end, “Innovation” proved to be weak as both a tactic and strategy in the face of economic and social turmoil.’

In 2012, even the Wall Street Journal got into innovation-bashing act, noting ‘the Term Has Begun to Lose Meaning’.

At the time, it counted ‘more than 250 books with “innovation” in the title and published in the last three months’. A professional innovation consultant it interviewed advised his clients to ban the word at their companies. He said it was just a ‘word to hide the lack of substance’.

Evidence has emerged that regions of intense innovation also have systemic problems with inequality.

In 2013, protests erupted in San Francisco over the gentrification and social stratification symbolised by Google buses and other private commuter buses. These shuttles brought high-tech employees from hip, pricey urban homes to their lush suburban campuses, without exposing them to the inconvenience of public transportation or to the vast populations of the poor and homeless who also call Silicon Valley their home. (Same thing in Israel that provide private highways to a few Jewish settlements)

The dramatic, unnecessary suffering exposed by such juxtapositions of economic inequality seems to be a feature, not a bug of highly innovative regions.

The trajectory of ‘innovation’ from core, valued practice to slogan of dystopian societies, is not entirely surprising, at a certain level. There is a formulaic feel: a term gains popularity because it resonates with the zeitgeist, reaches buzzword status, then suffers from overexposure and cooptation. Right now, the formula has brought society to a question: after ‘innovation’ has been exposed as hucksterism, is there a better way to characterise relationships between society and technology?

There are three basic ways to answer that question.

First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old.

In his book, Shock of the Old (2007), the historian David Edgerton examines technology-in-use. He finds that common objects, like the electric fan and many parts of the automobile, have been virtually unchanged for a century or more. When we take this broader perspective, we can tell different stories with drastically different geographical, chronological, and sociological emphases.

The stalest innovation stories focus on well-to-do white guys sitting in garages in a small region of California, but human beings in the Global South live with technologies too. Which ones? Where do they come from? How are they produced, used, repaired?

Yes, novel objects preoccupy the privileged, and can generate huge profits. But the most remarkable tales of cunning, effort, and care that people direct toward technologies exist far beyond the same old anecdotes about invention and innovation.

Second, by dropping innovation, we can recognise the essential role of basic infrastructures. ‘Infrastructure’ is a most unglamorous term, the type of word that would have vanished from our lexicon long ago if it didn’t point to something of immense social importance. Remarkably, in 2015 ‘infrastructure’ came to the fore of conversations in many walks of American life. In the wake of a fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia, President Obama wrestled with Congress to pass an infrastructure bill that Republicans had been blocking, but finally approved in December 2015.

‘Infrastructure’ also became the focus of scholarly communities in history and anthropology, even appearing 78 times on the programme of the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Artists, journalists, and even comedians joined the fray, most memorably with John Oliver’s hilarious sketch starring Edward Norton and Steve Buscemi in a trailer for an imaginary blockbuster on the dullest of subjects.

By early 2016, the New York Review of Books brought the ‘earnest and passive word’ to the attention of its readers, with a depressing essay titled ‘A Country Breaking Down’.

Third, Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work, the central fact of our industrial civilisation is labour, most of which falls far outside the realm of innovation

The best of these conversations about infrastructure move away from narrow technical matters to engage deeper moral implications. Infrastructure failures – train crashes, bridge failures, urban flooding, and so on – are manifestations of and allegories for America’s dysfunctional political system, its frayed social safety net, and its enduring fascination with flashy, shiny, trivial things.

But, especially in some corners of the academic world, a focus on the material structures of everyday life can take a bizarre turn, as exemplified in work that grants ‘agency’ to material things or wraps commodity fetishism in the language of high cultural theory, slick marketing, and design.

For example, Bloomsbury’s ‘Object Lessons’ series features biographies of and philosophical reflections on human-built things, like the golf ball. What a shame it would be if American society matured to the point where the shallowness of the innovation concept became clear, but the most prominent response was an equally superficial fascination with golf balls, refrigerators, and remote controls.

Fourth, focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going. Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilisation is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation.

Inventors and innovators are a small slice of 1% of this workforce.

If gadgets are to be profitable, corporations need people to manufacture, sell, and distribute them.

Another important facet of technological labour comes when people actually use a product. In some cases, the image of the ‘user’ could be an individual like you, sitting at your computer, but in other cases, end users are institutions – companies, governments, or universities that struggle to make technologies work in ways that their inventors and makers never envisioned.

The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago.

This shift in emphasis involves focusing on the constant processes of entropy and un-doing – which the media scholar Steven Jackson calls ‘broken world thinking’ – and the work we do to slow or halt them, rather than on the introduction of novel things.

In recent years, scholars have produced a number of studies of people who do this kind of work. For example, the science studies researcher Lilly Irani has examined the work low-wage labourers do to scrub digital information for the web, including Indian workers who check advertisements to ‘filter out porn, alcohol, and violence’.

Why not extend this style of analysis to think more clearly about subjects such as ‘cybersecurity’? The need for coders and programmers in the cybersecurity field is obvious, but it should be equally obvious that fundamental vulnerabilities in our cyber-infrastructures are protected by the guards who work graveyard shifts and staff who repair fences and ID card-readers.

We can think of labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things.

Brief reflection demonstrates that the vast majority of human labour, from laundry and trash removal to janitorial work and food preparation, is of this type: upkeep. This realisation has significant implications for gender relations in and around technology.

Feminist theorists have long argued that obsessions with technological novelty obscures all of the labour, including housework, that women, disproportionately, do to keep life on track.

Domestic labour has huge financial ramifications but largely falls outside economic accounting, like Gross Domestic Product.

In her classic 1983 book, More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan examined home technologies – such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners – and how they fit into women’s ceaseless labour of domestic upkeep. One of her more famous findings was that new housekeeping technologies, which promised to save labour, literally created more work for mother as cleanliness standards rose, leaving women perpetually unable to keep up.

There is no point in keeping the practice of hero-worship that merely changes the cast of heroes without confronting the deeper problems

Nixon, wrong about so many things, also was wrong to point to household appliances as self-evident indicators of American progress.

Ironically, Cowan’s work first met with scepticism among male scholars working in the history of technology, whose focus was a male pantheon of inventors: Bell, Morse, Edison, Tesla, Diesel, Shockley, and so on.

A renewed focus on maintenance and repair also has implications beyond the gender politics that More Work for Mother brought to light. When they set innovation-obsession to the side, scholars can confront various kinds of low-wage labour performed by many African-Americans, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic minorities. From this perspective, recent struggles over increasing the minimum wage, including for fast food workers, can be seen as arguments for the dignity of being a maintainer.

We organised a conference to bring the work of the maintainers into clearer focus. More than 40 scholars answered a call for papers asking, ‘What is at stake if we move scholarship away from innovation and toward maintenance?’ Historians, social scientists, economists, business scholars, artists, and activists responded. They all want to talk about technology outside of innovation’s shadow.

One important topic of conversation is the danger of moving too triumphantly from innovation to maintenance.

There is no point in keeping the practice of hero-worship that merely changes the cast of heroes without confronting some of the deeper problems underlying the innovation obsession. One of the most significant problems is the male-dominated culture of technology, manifest in recent embarrassments such as the flagrant misogyny in the ‘#GamerGate’ row a couple of years ago, as well as the persistent pay gap between men and women doing the same work.

There is an urgent need to reckon more squarely and honestly with our machines and ourselves. Ultimately, emphasising maintenance involves moving from buzzwords to values, and from means to ends.

In formal economic terms, ‘innovation’ involves the diffusion of new things and practices. The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility.

Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies.

What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?

We must shift from means, including the technologies that underpin our everyday actions, to ends, including the many kinds of social beneficence and improvement that technology can offer. Our increasingly unequal and fearful world would be grateful.

Dark Side of The Guardian comments

As part of a series on the rising global phenomenon of online harassment, the Guardian commissioned research into the 70m comments left on its site since 2006 and discovered that of the 10 most abused writers eight are women, and the two men are black.

Hear from three of those writers, explore the data and help us host better conversations online

by , , , , and

Comments allow readers to respond to an article instantly, asking questions, pointing out errors, giving new leads.

At their best, comment threads are thoughtful, enlightening, funny: online communities where readers interact with journalists and others in ways that enrich the Guardian’s journalism.

Jana Bou Reslan  shared this lin

“The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay.

And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.”|By Becky Gardiner

But at their worst, they are something else entirely.

The Guardian was not the only news site to turn comments on, nor has it been the only one to find that some of what is written “below the line” is crude, bigoted or just vile.

On all news sites where comments appear, too often things are said to journalists and other readers that would be unimaginable face to face – the Guardian is no exception.

New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not.

The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

At the Guardian, we felt it was high time to examine the problem rather than turn away.

We decided to treat the 70m comments that have been left on the Guardian – and in particular the comments that have been blocked by our moderators – as a huge data set to be explored rather than a problem to be brushed under the carpet.

This is what we discovered.

To date, 1.4 million comments (2% of the total) have been blocked by Guardian moderators because they violated the Guardian’s community standards. Most of these are abusive to some degree (they may use insulting language, or be ad hominem attacks) or are so off-topic that they derail the conversation. Full methodology

1 of 6 To see if men and women were treated differently by commenters, we began by classifying the authors of the articles by gender. While the number of articles published increased over time, the writers’ gender gap stayed pretty much the same, as it has in most media organisations.

2 of 6 This gender gap is bigger in some sections than others. Sport had the smallest proportion of articles written by women writers, but World News and Technology were not far behind. The only section that had significantly more articles written by women was Fashion.

3 of 6 Articles written by women got more blocked (ie abusive or disruptive) comments across almost all sections. But the more male-dominated the section, the more blocked comments the women who wrote there got (look at Sport and Technology). Fashion, where most articles were written by women, was one of the few sections where male authors consistently received more blocked comments

4 of 6 Another way of looking at this, is that since around 2010 articles written by women consistently attracted a higher proportion of blocked comments than articles written by men.

5 of 6 Some sections attracted more blocked comments than others. World news, Opinion and Environment had more than the average number of abusive or disruptive comments. And so did Fashion.

6 of 6 We also found that some subjects attracted more abusive or disruptive comments than others. Conversations about crosswords, cricket, horse racing and jazz were respectful; discussions about the Israel/Palestine conflict were not. Articles about feminism attracted very high levels of blocked comments. And so did rape.

We focused on gender in this research partly because we wanted to test the theory that women experience more abuse than men. But both writers and moderators observe that ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBT people also appear to experience a disproportionate amount of abuse.

On the Guardian, commenters are asked to abide by our community standards, which aim to keep the conversation respectful and constructive – those that fall foul of those standards are blocked. The Guardian’s moderators don’t block comments simply because they don’t agree with them.

The Guardian also blocks comments for legal reasons, but this makes up a very small proportion of blocked comments. Spam is not blocked (ie replaced by a standard moderator’s message) but deleted, and is not included in our findings; neither are replies to blocked comments, which are themselves automatically deleted.

The vast majority of blocked comments, therefore, were blocked because they were considered abusive to some degree, or were otherwise disruptive to the conversation (they were off-topic, for example).

For the purposes of this research, therefore, we used blocked comments as an indicator of abuse and disruptive behaviour. Even allowing for human error, the large number of comments in this data set gave us confidence in the results.

But what do we mean by abuse and disruptive behaviour?

At its most extreme, online abuse takes the form of threats to kill, rape or maim. Thankfully, such abuse was extremely rare on the Guardian – and when it did appear it was immediately blocked and the commenter banned.

Less extreme “author abuse” – demeaning and insulting speech targeted at the writer of the article or another comment – is much more common on all online news sites, and it formed a significant proportion of the comments that were blocked on the Guardian site, too.

Here are some examples:

a female journalist reports on a demonstration outside an abortion clinic, and a reader responds, “You are so ugly that if you got pregnant I would drive you to the abortion clinic myself”;

a British Muslim writes about her experiences of Islamophobia and is told to “marry an ISIS fighter and then see how you like that!”;

a black correspondent is called “a racist who hates white people” when he reports the news that another black American has been shot by the police. We wouldn’t tolerate such insults offline, and at the Guardian we don’t tolerate it online either.

The Guardian also blocked ad hominem attacks (on both readers and journalists): comments such as “You are so unintelligent”, “Call yourself a journalist?” or “Do you get paid for writing this?” are facile and add nothing of value to the debate.

“Dismissive trolling” was blocked too – comments such as “Calm down, dear”, which mocked or otherwise dismissed the author or other readers rather than engaged with the piece itself.

We know that abuse online isn’t always aimed at individuals.

Hate speech as defined by law was rarely seen on Guardian comment threads (and when it did appear it was blocked and the commenter banned). But xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia were all seen regularly.

Take for example, some of the comments left below an article on the mass drownings of migrant men, women and children in the Mediterranean: “These people contribute nothing to the countries they enter”; “The more corpses floating in the sea, the better”; “LET THEM ALL DROWN!” At the Guardian, comments like these are considered abusive and were blocked from appearing on the site.

The Guardian also blocked comments that would otherwise disrupt or derail the debate: whataboutery of various kinds, or remarks that are clearly off-topic. While not abusive in themselves, such comments serve to make a constructive debate impossible, and show a lack of respect to the journalist and to other commenters in the thread.

Sometimes moderation decisions are easy, other times it can be difficult to know where to draw the line. All are based on the Guardian’s community standards, not moderators’ personal tastes and opinions.

Which comment would you block? Play the moderator role and take our quiz to see how your decisions compare to those of Guardian moderators

What do we mean by ‘abuse’?
‘Imagine going to work every day and walking through a gauntlet of 100 people saying “You’re stupid”, “You’re terrible”, “You suck”, “I can’t believe you get paid for this”. It’s a terrible way to go to work’
Jessica Valenti, Guardian writer
What harm is done?
‘Even if I tell myself that somebody calling me a nigger or a faggot doesn’t mean anything, it has a toll on me: it has an emotional effect, it takes a physical toll. And over time it builds up’
Steven Thrasher, Guardian writer
How can we create the web we want?
‘I think it is a worthy venture to keep comments open, even if you don’t like what readers are saying or how they are saying it. Journalists need to be challenged’
Nesrine Malik, writer and commentator

1 of 8 In an opinion piece about what makes one a “feminazi”

“Funny how so many journalists are female, and how many are feminists! A disproportionate number pollute journalism. Jusrt shows that men DO tend to do ‘harder’ jobs than keyboard bashing, while the technology that men designed and built is used to provide these harpies with a medium from which to spout their biased, sexist, hateful misandry.”

At the Guardian, readers and journalists can report abusive or off-topic comments, and moderators will quickly block them if they break the community standards. Moderation minimises the harm done by abuse that is posted on the site.

But for journalists, abuse is rarely confined to the site on which their work appears, and on some sites and social media platforms it can be very hard to get abusive posts removed.

So for them, the abuse they receive below the article they have written is not experienced in isolation: each snarky comment, each spiteful tweet, is (as Zoe Quinn once put it) just one snowflake in an avalanche.

And avalanches happen easily online.

Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel.

This abuse can move across platforms at great speed – from Twitter, to Facebook, to blogposts – and it can be viewed on multiple devices – the desktop at work, the mobile phone at home. To the person targeted, it can feel like the perpetrator is everywhere: at home, in the office, on the bus, in the street.

People who find themselves abused online are often told to ignore it – it’s only words; it isn’t real life.

But in extreme cases, that distinction breaks down completely, such as when a person is doxed, or SWATed, when nude photos are posted of the person without consent, or when a stalker assumes the person’s identity on an online dating site and a string of all-too-real men appear at their door expecting sex. As one woman who had this experience said: “Virtual reality can become reality, and it ruins your life.”

But in addition to the psychological and professional harm online abuse and harassment can cause to individuals, there are social harms, too.

Recent research by the Pew Centre found that not only had 40% of adults experienced harassment online but 73% had witnessed others being harassed. This must surely have a chilling effect, silencing people who might otherwise contribute to public debates – particularly women, LGBT people and people from racial or religious minorities, who see others like themselves being racially and sexually abused.

Is that the kind of culture we want to live in?

Is that the web we want?

Even five years ago, online abuse and harassment were dismissed as no big deal. That is not true now.

There is widespread public concern, and more support for anti-harassment proposals. But no one is pretending that this is an easy problem to fix – not on the Guardian’s comment threads, where most commenters are respectful, and where there is already a high level of moderation, and certainly not elsewhere on the web as a whole, where there are sometimes no safeguards at all.

The Guardian is committed to tackling the problem. This research is a part of that: an attempt to be open, and to share publicly what has been discovered. We hope to do more research to dig deeper into the problem, and to discover not only what can cause online conversations to go awry, but also what media organisations can do to help make those conversations better, and more inclusive.

The Guardian has already taken the decision to cut down the number of places where comments are open on stories relating to a few particularly contentious subjects, such as migration and race. This allows moderators to keep a closer watch on conversations that we know are more likely to attract abuse.

However, unlike many news sites, the Guardian has no plans to close comments altogether. For the most part, Guardian readers enrich the journalism.

Only 2% of comments are blocked (a further 2% are deleted because they are spam or replies to blocked comments); the majority are respectful and many are wonderful. A good comment thread is a joy to read – and more common than the “don’t read the comments” detractors believe.

As Prof Danielle Keats Citron argues in her book, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, abusive behaviour is neither normal nor inevitable. Where it exists, it is a cultural problem that, collectively, we must try to solve using all the means at our disposal: technological and social.

Which is where you come in. We want to hear from Guardian readers: when it comes to providing a space where everyone feels able to participate, what is the Guardian doing right, and how could we improve? Please take a moment to tell us here.

Can you afford to live in Beirut? And save on the circulation hassles?

 Sura Chehaitli. April 14 at 1:21am · Sidon, Lebanon ·

Dear inexperienced, minimum-salary requiring job seekers,

Let us calculate the very minimum monthly amount required to live a normal, mildly decent life in Beirut:

1) Rent: if you are lucky enough, you will find a room in an apartment for an average of 500$ a month. If you’re lucky.

2) Food: If you want to pay the minimum, to eat really unhealthy and quick (as you’ll reach home at 6 after a tiring day and one hour in Beirut’s traffic). Let’s put 3$ for breakfast, 7$ for lunch and 5$ for dinner. Keep an extra 3$ if you crave chocolate, or a can of soda… Add an extra 2$ for the narcotics necessary for you to cope with life here, including cigarettes, coffee, tea, cheap hash, etc…

That’s 20$ per day if you want to eat basic crappy food. 20×30=600$

3) Transportation: Look, if you have a car, don’t rent a place. Seriously. Furnish the car and sleep in it. Because gas expenses and rent expenses donti mix.
Let’s say you need service in raw7a, service in raj3a. That’s if you’re living in Beirut. If you live outside of Beirut, ensa ya foufi. That’s 6$ per day, 6×21=126$ per month.

4) Phone expenses: In case you’re lucky enough not to have too many phone calls to make, one recharge card would suffice for a month. That would be 27$ as a minimum, haida eza ma badak teshterik ma3na b khedmit “Mobile Internet”.

5) Internet: it’s either you download an application that can hack your neighbor’s router, or go stand outside of Starbucks when you need Internet, or you’ll have to pay a minimum of 30$ Internet per month.

6) Girlfriend/boyfriend: you really shouldn’t be having one. You can’t afford it.

7) Leisure: Let’s say, eno, eno massalan you are in your early twenties and you want to go out at least once a month. Ha. Now, I am not saying drink to forget point number 6 (especially if you were male), but just have one beer on happy hour once every Friday.

Have a 15$ worth dinner once per month. Spoil yourself with ice cream two or three times a week. Meet up and study, chat, spend time with a friend in a café. Go see that movie you’ve been waiting for. Let’s say, you cannot need more than 100$ per month entertainment.

8) Shopping: Look, keep wearing the same pants, but let’s say you gain weight because of point number 2, and you need to buy a new pair. Maybe underwear, you know, cause you’ll need to change that quite frequently (despite point number 6, ey?). Let’s say you’ll need 50$ per month.
Now, if you’re a bookworm, and you’re addicted to buying books, the only solution is to download torrents of ebooks, or just kill yourself.

Or try, try and try so hard to walk into Librarie Antoine with 10$ and walk out with one book, and ONE book only.
So that is a total of 60$ per month emergency shopping expenses.

9) Birthday presents: forget it. You fuckin crazy? If you want to merely attend a birthday party, you’ll have to drink, and that doesn’t come for free. And you wanna bring a present as well?! Sure, but remember, no one is really your friend, and people are selfish by nature and you know, these college friends, you’ll probably never see them again after 10 years,

.A great thing to do when there are birthday parties is to say “oh sorry, I already have plans of being ill in two weeks” or “I think my grandpa is going to die for the 7th time on Friday unsure emoticon

10) Miscellaneous: books, pens, a haircut once every blue moon, hygiene and sanitary products, detergents, mamsa7a, lifet jali, sha2fit majla, fairy, random house expenses, etc…A minimum of 30$ per month.

That makes a total of: $1,473 the minimum required to live a life on junk food and pirated books and dvds and once a week happy hour beer in a 2x2m tiny room in Hamra with a shared bathroom.

Careful now, in this equation, there are no savings, pension plans, or health coverage and insurance, which should add up for at least 200$ per month (and which most institutions never provide).

You now know how to answer to the “what are your salary expectations” question, and differentiate between decent institutions that respect human dignity, and those who abusively have no soul or respect for the youth and for encouraging them for independence and comfort/decency.

If a job costs you more than it pays you (yes, money-wise, because you can’t live as Ghandi in a capitalist city that is as expensive as Monaco), you’d be either really rich and working for fun, either still counting on your personal bank named Daddy.


What if ruins talk no more?

So many ruins

Stones, dying languages, ethnic minorities, religious minorities

All kinds of new ruins piling up


Archeologists are becoming scarce.

Ethnologists are dwindling:

Modern customers no longer care for the past.

The past resembles the present so strikingly;

A past turned shameful any which way the story is retold.

God of Time, Space, Places

How can we remember you when your ruins

Talk no more?

You have a steady job of Eternal Reservist

The soldier not having to wait long

To be called upon in times of wars and calamities.

A symbol of mankind domination falls;

They have got to build another monument to hide the ruin.

What a better memorial of man’s futility

Than a horrible gigantic ruin?

God of Time, Space, Places

You are resurrected every second

By someone, somewhere

For no reasons

And that is your Sacred Power:

Nobody knows why they have got to resurrect You.

You the Eternal Mute favoring a few crazies

Interpreting your coded languages

Speaking in your name, divulging your secret purposes

To the billions of hapless souls:

Your less fortunate offspring

Dying every second of famine, curable diseases, and collateral war damages.

A few crazies not knowing how their day will end

But knowing perfectly well how their night will unfold:

Steams of nightmarish dreams

Of the worst kinds of horror movies.

God of Time, Space, Places

You archaic decrepit F of an entity.

You can’t even follow-up on the updates of your creations;

Can’t fathom the many theories of how you have created and what is your nature.

Old theories that keep recurring as if Time Space, and Places

Never changed.

Your creations seem never to learn much of anything.

God of Time, Space, Places

You archaic decrepit F of an entity;

You can’t manipulate the latest inventions of your creations

Ever more “performing”

Ever more confusing,

Even to the intelligence of your most Sacred Power.

I have a quick simple question to ask your Entity

“Are you at least having fun?”

Say YES  my Eternal Mute and I will be satisfied.




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