Why The Disinformation Problem Is This Bad, And What We Can Do To Start Fixing It 

War in 2022 does not only involve combat boots on the ground. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there have been countless cyberattacks all over the globe, even here at Olin. The United States and European Union have used sanctions, financial and travel limits, and other economic levers to put pressure on Vladimir Putin’s government. But one of the most deeply unsettling and dangerous fronts in this war is being fought in the form of (dis)information. In this article, I’ll explain some of the reasons why disinformation has become a virulent social problem in the United States and offer tips on how to be a more mindful consumer of what you read online. This is an incredibly complex issue, so for more reading on the topic, please see the resources linked throughout this piece.

The public spending decisions in the U.S. that have impoverished schools, libraries, institutes of higher education, and more – combined with declining trust in the government and the mainstream media – have created a fertile environment for disinformation to spread. With even trusted organizations like the CDC backtracking some of their findings during the COVID response, it’s legitimately difficult to know who or what to trust. Disinformation also fills a social gap. Former QAnon adherent Lenka Perron told the New York Times in 2021 about how, feeling abandoned by politicians, ignored by the media, and lonely in her life, she found emotional support among Q believers. Stories like Perron’s demonstrate that the response to disinformation can’t only be teaching people how to better evaluate the news. People are not seeking the truth so much as they are seeking validation of existing beliefs and community support.

Disinformation researchers and librarians also blame the rise of social media platforms using algorithms that promote the most incendiary and divisive voices. Big Tech dominates the information landscape with billions of users, creates uncontrolled vectors of “fake news,” and undermines everyone’s ability to thoughtfully consume information. Educators are simply not equipped to combat these issues when advertising and social media giants like Facebook and YouTube design their algorithms to encourage maximum engagement rather than accuracy or reliability. While some platforms are finally attempting to squelch disinformation, corporations should not be allowed to serve as the sole arbiters of speech in a democracy. 

Worsening economic conditions, widespread fear and loneliness, the engagement-driven algorithms of Big Tech, and defunded educational institutions have created a serious problem that needs to be fought from multiple fronts. This is all in combination with a deluge of calculated disinformation tactics utilized by actors with nationalist interests and a desire for global destabilization. These tactics are the product of decades-old state-sponsored disinformation campaigns in Russia, described by one KGB defector as having a goal of changing “the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that, despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community and their country.”

Disinformation about Ukraine isn’t just coming from Russian intelligence agencies and rogue agents, though. On the one hand, you have a master propagandist in Putin, unabashedly playing the victim even as he orchestrates aggression, using his administration to spin tales of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his “Nazi guys,” as a Russian politician repeatedly said in a recent interview with BBC Newshour. On the other, you have the French media outlet that published a moving video of a Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier…that was actually a Palestinian girl confronting an Israeli soldier in 2012. This is not to establish a false equivalency between the significance of these stories, but to make the point that no matter who we support, our very human confirmation bias diminishes our ability to evaluate information.

Shifting gears to techniques we might use for assessing the information we see online, I want to start by invoking the SIFT method we teach in library instruction sessions at Olin. SIFT is a four-step process for learning to think like a fact checker. We usually teach it in the context of the much more slow-moving and deliberate process of research vs. assessing stories shared through chat or social media, but the core strategies still apply.

Stop

News is generated and spread in such an overwhelming and lightning-fast manner in 2022 that it is disorienting and tough to keep up with even in “slower” news cycles. The first step of SIFT is to stop and think – what are you even looking at? If you’re tracking stories from many miles away in areas you don’t have much familiarity with, you are going to be inherently limited in your ability to understand what’s going on. You may also be overly emotional while you’re reading or watching, and that can sway your interpretations. It’s okay to recognize you may not be able to follow certain kinds or sources of news. The next step in the process can help you find ways to stay up to date while acknowledging your limitations.

Investigate the Source

There are many kinds of sources visible on the web these days, not just encyclopedias, newspapers, and research articles. Independent writers and freelance journalists can be critical trustworthy eyewitnesses during events, sharing their firsthand experiences as they happen. Unfortunately, there are also fake accounts, bots, and spammers to watch out for. Mike Caulfield, misinformation researcher and one of the creators of SIFT, prompts us to ask if a source is “‘in the know’ — do they have *significantly* above average knowledge of a situation because of expertise, profession, life experience, or location?” He also asks us to consider a source’s personal and professional incentives, and to wait for better sources or more verification of developing news stories rather than rushing to share breaking stories the moment you find them.

Find Better Coverage

This step is a close partner with “investigate the source.” It’s critical to be extra careful about this when dealing with contexts that you may not be familiar with because of your geographic location, upbringing, or other limitations of perspectives. Ukraine is a country of over 40 million people; there are numerous mainstream media outlets, and most Americans need to do quite a bit of homework on learning which ones are reliable. It’s important to distinguish where finding better coverage is more important than investigating a source. “If you get an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, your best bet might not be to investigate the source, but to go out and find the best source you can on this topic,” Caulfield suggests, “or, just as importantly, to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be.”

Trace Back to the Original Context

In the final move of SIFT, we acknowledge that the internet strips images and words of their original context. You might see the middle minutes of a video, hear audio edited to change the speaker’s intended meaning, or see a reference to a medical study in an article that describes its conclusions inaccurately. In these cases, you should try to find the original, undoctored source or the cited article, but it may not be possible to do that. When it’s not, try to let it go. Is your best option to share something when you have 20% of the story, or an incorrect but interesting interpretation of it?

SIFT is not the solution to disinformation. Disinformation is a complex and entrenched problem in the U.S. exacerbated not only by slashed education budgets, crumbling public infrastructure, and social media giants with too much power, but also by state-sponsored or independent actors who are deliberately working to destabilize trust in democracy. It’s not something that any one individual can solve. That said, learning how to start thinking like a fact checker is one action we can individually take to help today. This article only begins to unpack small parts of the disinformation ecosystem, but a better understanding of how we got here can inspire us to work on rebuilding the support systems we have lost.

Street Symphony: A Solution?

In this 2012 TED Talk, Robert Vijay Gupta announces to the world that he will be stepping into the footsteps of the Medicinal Musicians and Community-based healthcare pioneers that preceded him. Referencing people like Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, Gupta tells us of the neurological benefits of music and his work with the homeless population of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. Listening to Gupta as he stands up on the stage in a, according to TEDMed, several thousand dollar-per seat auditorium, playing classical music and referencing intellectuals it is hard not to feel conflicted about his proclamation.

Today we hop online and see so many snake-oil salespeople and saviors superficially taking action to save the world. Often, their action is unsustainable and unable to effect positive structural change. It makes it difficult for consumers to discern the sincere from the insincere. So, as Gupta presents himself as an obviously educated man, praising other educated men, and playing what I’ve been told is Bach, it is almost impossible not to wonder how sincere he actually is. And if he is sincere, what is his plan to serve the homeless population of Skid Row?

His solution, Street Symphony, is a nonprofit that “brings the light of music into very dark places.” By offering incarcerated people as well as the homeless, formerly incarcerated and mentally ill people of Skid Row, opportunities to engage with music, Gupta hopes to successfully apply music therapy concepts, like melodic intonation therapy, to positively impact their lives. 

Despite the aesthetic of privilege that veils this lecture, Gupta conveys with real depth the value of music in medicine as well as the importance of his application of such value. By referencing the topical example of music in neurology,  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ use of music in her therapy after being the victim of  an assassination attempt, as well as the work of other prominent modern neurologists, he convinces the audience of the value of Medicinal Music. And, through his personal experience with Nathaniel Ayers, a once musical prodigy battling with homelessness and schizophrenia that uses music as a therapy, Gupta takes another step, showing that Medicinal Music has the potential to create real value for critically underprivileged and often forgotten communities.

After watching the lecture, I was certainly intrigued by the narratives and goals that Gupta shared. But, I am also a privileged and educated man listening. This is a TED Talk, and I am the intended audience. The existence of privilege in this lecture, just like the medium of the lecture, are all tools that Gupta employs to generate interest for his cause in the privileged. 

Since this 2012 lecture, Gupta has continued Street Symphony and in 2018 received a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Gupta has certainly proven his sincerity to the cause with his dedication over time. Today he refers to this dedication as his “creative ‘sadhana’ – the Sanskrit word meaning ‘daily spiritual practice.’” This is even more impactful considering the strain that following his creative “sadhana”  has created in his personal life. Gupta shared with the L.A. Times that “[Street Symphony] has a real financial impact on [his] life.” This MacArthur grant is a life buoy, not in the sense that Gupta has been drowning, but instead that he no longer has to keep swimming so vigorously. 

The MacArthur grant is one metric by which we can assume that Street Symphony has made a real impact in the Skid Row community. But, a more real metric is what the organization has accomplished within the community. Today Street Symphony has put on over 400 free concerts for severely disenfranchised communities. Since 2015 they have presented yearly performances of Handel’s Messiah, and have launched a program that pairs professional artists with members of the homeless community. And, on top of that, the organization has grown with the community that it serves by giving career opportunities to participants. 

I have still not resolved the conflict that stirred while watching Gupta’s 2012 lecture. Has the impact been as he initially claimed? How has the community that Street Symphony serves been positively and significantly impacted? Just like Paul Farmer’s work with the global poor’s impact is controversial, so is Gupta’s work with the Skid Row communities. Both applications of community-based outreach could be described as ineffective due to their inherent limitations in impact and as potentially harmful given the power that the privileged have over the population the programs aim to serve. Paul Farmer’s Partners In Health, while good at providing medical assistance to the community, does not impact the other, arguably more, fundamental problems that the community experiences and has been subjected to backlash from the community in several of their locations due to these limitations and uneven power dynamics. 

With some caution, I am inspired by Gupta’s lecture and work. One could also argue that problems only exist in the current models of community-based outreach because not enough people are doing it. If more people do it then maybe a more fundamental impact would be achieved. So, I look forward to seeing how Street Symphony continues to evolve especially after the infusion from the MacArthur grant and the current pandemic. 

The Day Everything Changed, Part 2: 5 Minutes in 658 Words

We last left off with Tracy learning that they are going to be living with One Direction from now on. What will happen next?!?!?!

…Before I could say anything, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. She knelt down and gave me a hug. “You’re going to live with One Direction now.”   

I tried to suppress my smile as I felt my mother’s arms surround me. I could hear her attempt to present a reassuring front, and as I hugged her back I tried to convey through my squeeze that everything was going to be okay. 

As the hug ended, I took a step away from my mom and looked at my father’s face. He was solemn, and I shot him a smile before turning and facing the five boys across the room from us. I could tell they were sitting on the couch before I arrived, they were still standing in front of the slightly deflated cushions they previously occupied. They looked strangely nervous. 

I smiled wide, and slowly approached them. I could tell that my smile put them at ease, and before I was within arms reach I stopped. I stood across from them, the only thing in between us the antique mahogany coffee table riddled with water marks from years of use. I looked down at the old wood table and noticed the small chips from when I ran into it or dropped something on it over my past 14 years. It was comforting to see this relic and to know that no matter what happens next, everything’s going to be okay. 

And so I took a deep breath, and exhaled before kicking the table in front of me, triggering the hidden compartment to launch the anti-shape-shifter quasar beam about 4 to 5 feet into the air, so I could comfortably and ergonomically grab it. It was so smooth, and made me happy that I spent the extra $50 to get it installed with Murphy’s Secret Compartments.

Murphy’s Secret Compartments

Discreet, Unnoticeable, Murphy’s

With the quasar beam in hand, I blasted Zane in the face. As the rest of 1-Directions’ faces morphed into surprise, Zane’s melted into a multidimensional cosmic geometry that was unrecognizable from a human perspective. My dad quickly sprang across the room and punched the thermostat, which triggered the dimensional phase reaffirmer; banishing all revealed multidimensional beings from our reality. 

As Zane was bleeped out of existence, I could smell fecal matter coming from the part of the room occupied by the remaining 1-Directioners. I tossed my beam to my mother, barking “Cover me” as I kicked the table two more times resulting in two more beams being launched out. The first landed in my hands smoothly, and the second flew past my father’s hands, missing his reach by inches. “Dammit, Murphy!” I heard my dad mutter. 

“Dad, don’t blame Murphy. That’s what happens when you don’t keep up with your training.”

“You’re right, Tracy.” My dad said with his head slightly hanging. 

“No time for this though,” I said with authority. “It’s time to take care of some multidimensional cosmic beings that we haven’t come up with a catchy name for yet but would appreciate suggestions!”

“Hell yeah!” My mom said as she shot a beam at Niel. But he dodged it as Harry picked up the landline and threw it through the bay windows that Murphy’s brother Richard was supposed to make bullet-proof next weekend. The 4 remaining boys jumped through the glass hole as we let beams fly after them, but they got away safely. 

“Dammit!” my dad said, slamming his blaster to the ground. 

“Calm down dad! We don’t have the budget to be replacing anti-shape-shifter quasar beams willy-nilly.”

“Sorry Tracy.” My dad said with a timbre of remorse in his voice. He picked up his beam and wiped it off. 

“It’s okay dad, now let’s banish this boy band!” I said as I donned my aviators. 

The Olin Purity Test

The Purity Test is a voluntary opportunity for students to bond, and to track the maturation of their experiences throughout college.

Add one point for every item you have done. Your total number of points at the end is the % corrupted by Olin you are.

Caution: This is not intended to be a bucket list. Completion of all items on this test will likely result in becoming Olin Man.

1. Been a NINJA/CA

2. Watched a movie in the Nord

3. Hosted a Slack event

4. Asked for an extension

5. Tickled the gate

6. Played pool in the pool room

7. Been to midnight Dodgeball

8. Made a post it mural

9. Played spoon assassins

10. Drifted in lot D

11. Been to an SG meeting

12. Been on the roof

13. Sent an accidental all students

14. Taken clothes from freecycle

15. Broken your Olin laptop (+1 for taking it apart and then trying to get IT to get you a new one)

16. Gone to parcel B past midnight

17. Reached a first name basis with custodial/kitchen staff

18. Attended friendsgiving

19. Started a club

20. Done a personal project in the shop

21. Left your door unlocked/key in door for weeks or months

22. Celebrated Bill Warner day (+1 for organizing)

23. Celebrated California day/Florida day (+1 if it was you)

24. Attended a party

25. Played rage cage

26. Gone to Power Hour

27. Hosted a party

28. Attended 30 second videos

29. Make a 30 second video

30. Drank in the Nord

31. Used the Olin van

32. Had a one on one with PGP

33. Cross registered

34. Joined a research team

35. Met another Oliner outside of Massachusetts by chance (Lost the Olin Challenge)

36. Given a campus tour (official or unofficial) 

37. Attended dark roast

38. Performed at dark roast

39. Completed floor to four

40. Changed majors

41. Went to ACRONYM

42. Unlocked your mailbox less than 8 times

43. Dropped a class right before the deadline 

44. Broken something in the dining hall

45. Sold a SERV auction item

46. Played sardines in the MAC

47. Went to the dump

48. Used a soldering iron without fume succ

49. Pulled an all nighter

50. Had a fire in parcel B

51. Broke a shop tool

52. Participated in hosting candidates week/weekend

53. Parked in secret spot

54. Were part of a club that no longer exists

55. Had your AHS concentration rejected

56. Spun fire

57. Sent out a P&M survey

58. Lost your prox

59. Damaged your dorm drywall

60. Dinner in the dining hall as “team bonding”

61. Did 24-hour POE/PIE

62. Gone to a FWOP show (+1 if you were audience participated on) 

63. Gone a whole semester without writing a paper or taking a test

64. Used an Olin acronym around non-Oliners and forgotten to explain it

65. Checked out a non-book item from the library

66. Ridden a unicycle

67. Procrastinated on a passionate pursuit until the last minute

68. Dated an Oliner

69. With another Oliner ;)

70. Presented at Expo

71. Driven people for FlyOlinFly

72. Gone to free skate night at the Babson rink

73. Tried to open a door from the wrong side

74. Had a spontaneous conversation in the dining hall that lasted past closing

75. Did a co curricular 

76. Spent more than 5 consecutive hours at NINJA/CA hours

77. Posted flyers anywhere on campus

78. Taught a class 

79. Kept a “fish” in the dorms

80. Started your own business

81. Used the poster printer for personal use

82. Killed an arduino/microcontroller

83. Slept in a lounge

84. Performed in front of the student body (+1 for each different medium, e.g., FWOP + OCO + Story Slam + …)

85. Met a non-Oliner who already knew about Olin

86. Gotten a concussion while at Olin

87. Taken an LOA/studied abroad

88. Missed a final

89. Done a naked lap

90. Honor Boarded someone

91. Brought your own spices/sauces to the dining hall

92. Broken a project the night before its due

93. Done a whole project the night before its due

94. Buried or unburied something in parcel B

95. Presented an Olin project/research at a conference off campus

96. Texted a professor

97. Drank with a professor

98. Spent more than $500 on a p-card for a single item

99. Wore a blue morph suit with a vinyl-cut “O” on the front and called yourself “Olin Man”

100. Contributed to Frankly Speaking

Job Posting; Software Engineer

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Our company is revolutionizing the world of communication. We bring billions of people closer together on a daily basis, and we think this is a good idea because we haven’t really thought about this and have no plans to start doing so. Also, our founders grew up in white upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods and have no concept of what “revolution” actually means.

We are looking for a rockstar-guru-ninja-genius-wizard-10x-coder to join our team of rule-breakers who are changing the world through distributed hyper-automated peer-to-peer machine-learning-powered SaaS platforms.

Our Values

  • We work in a highly collaborative, team-based environment! Wow, “we” has a ring to it! Maybe we should have a new motto? Something like “Made by We”.
  • We are truly committed to our mission of using disruptive and groundbreaking* technology to democratize communication. This is something that we say so that we don’t feel too bad about destroying actual democracies.

Minimum qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent coding bootcamp experience. We like to point to coding bootcamp graduates as examples that upward mobility really does exist!
  • Excited to find life-fulfilling work in optimizing ad delivery on mobile platforms
  • Below the age of 30, because young people are just smarter™

Nice to have

  • Proof of white men in tech worship—Bezos bobblehead preferred
  • No experience working in retail or manual labor, but willing to criticize gig economy workers who want to unionize for not working hard enough
  • Medium post explaining that homeless San Franciscans just have the wrong mindset

Benefits include

  • Working with some of the smartest people in the world, who definitely should be working on a website that turns middle-aged men into QAnon fanatics instead of developing solutions to the climate crisis or advocating for human rights
  • Making the world a better place while conveniently earning $200,000 a year
  • Contributing to rapid gentrification of neighboring communities by being able to pay 2x the asking price on a home with your tech salary
  • Coworkers who write memos explaining why women and minorities are unqualified to be working at our company
  • Regular New York Times exposés of company leadership’s poor handling of sexual harassment cases

*But not literally groundbreaking! We’re not at all like the bad guys in the oil-and-gas industry, who pay their workers lots of money to help them forget they’re ruining the world. Not at all like them.

How To Be An Oliner (Tips From ARCs!)

Based on similar articles from November 2020 and February 2021

Happy February! As we settle into spring semester, it’s the perfect time to evaluate how your academic year has been going and if there’s anything you want to change. College is hard, especially now, and we know that it can be challenging to figure out how to improve your work habits or organize your life. That’s where ARCs come in! ARCs are Academic Resource Co-designers – fellow students who’re here to help you out with any organization, time management, or general productivity skills you want to work on. You can think of us like executive function tutors, not tied to a specific class, happy to chat about anything from sending scary emails to prioritizing your to-do list for the day.

We don’t need to list all of the reasons everyone has to be stressed and anxious right now – there are a lot and everyone has their own struggles to get through. Amidst all of it, though, we are still students, with classes, homework, and projects to juggle (not to mention clubs, activities, and socializing… the list goes on). So, at the start of this semester, we ARCs would like to offer some tips and tricks we’ve collected from fellow Oliners on what has helped them navigate being an Oliner.

Task Management

  • Post-it notes
    • Write out tasks by hand on a post-it and stick it to anything you see often (next to your trackpad or on the wall near your desk are great options). You’ll have a convenient place to keep track of what you need to do and you’ll get to cross things out as you do them which is super satisfying.
  • Electronic to do lists
    • If you prefer an electronic to do list, consider creating or finding a simple version that works for you! Google Sheets can be a great starting point, with checkboxes, sorting, and date formats built in. If you’re the kind of person who remembers That Thing You Should Do while walking around away from your desk, look for options that you can access from both your phone and your laptop, such as Asana or Trello. There are even game-ified to-do lists, like Habitica!
  • Schedule it!
    • In addition to adding classes and meetings to your personal calendar, try scheduling “do not disturb” work time. You can use your main calendar so others can’t schedule meetings with you during this time, or create another calendar that only you can see.
  • Track Canvas assignments
    • Did you know you can subscribe to your Canvas in Outlook and Google Calendar? Events appear for submission due dates for all of your classes and are updated automatically.

Getting Into the Flow

  • Create a commute
    • Now that we’re back in person, we have built in commutes before and after class to walk around campus. Before sitting down to do a bunch of work, try taking a walk or just moving a bit to create your own separation between school life and personal life. Working outside of your dorm can also help – the library and MAC both have great options for working at tables, on couches, or even on funky chairs.
  • Find where work is happening
    • Working with other students around is a great way to build momentum towards getting things done while adding a little friendly accountability. You don’t have to all work on the same assignment to work together!
  • Focused work
    • Many Oliners use the Pomodoro Method to get into focused work. The base version uses 25 minute blocks of focused work, broken up by 5 minute breaks.There are tons of apps and extensions with variations, but you can also use your calendar or a simple timer for the same effect.
  • Hide your phone
    • Notifications are designed to be distracting! Moving your phone away from your work area and quitting apps that send non-work-related notifications on your laptop can help limit distractions. There are many apps that offer various rewards for staying off of your phone for a set amount of time – we recommend Flora and Tide (both free) – and Windows has a Focus Assist feature that can also come in handy here.

If you want help implementing any of these strategies, want to see more options, or just want to chat about organization and productivity, feel free to fill out the ARC request form to get connected with an ARC! Getting work done can be challenging for many reasons, but ARCs are here to help you figure out how to get through those barriers as much as possible!

We hope that your spring semester is as engaging, well-focused, organized, and restful as possible. You are not alone!

Love,

The ARCs

Riya Aggarwal, Reid Bowen, Jocelyn Jimenez, Evelyn Kessler, Vedaant Kuchhal, Manu Patil, Charlotte Ramiro de Huelbes, Laurel Rodriguez Mitton, Prisha Sadhwani, and Arwen Sadler

ARC request form: https://tinyurl.com/arc-requests

Tinyurl links to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeinsVQQs-Fd-1xq2TDmhj3wbwginXmIpLISo_6DG47ZAxoTg/viewform

Ethics Only Matters for Software

At least, that’s what it seems like. Since I started at Olin in 2018 I’ve seen ethics mentioned more and more often on campus and in the world. I’ve chased after it but, as a “hardware person,” the conversation rarely reaches my domain. I attend ethics talks and everyone there is in software or data privacy or something along those lines. I hear about Public Interest Technology and get excited–I would like to apply my degree to good work that puts the public first, but then I learn that “Technology” actually means something very specific. I look at the classes that I hear are incorporating ethics into their curriculum, classes like ModSim, QEA, Machine Learning, and maybe SoftDes. All of them focus on… software. Sure, there are some diamonds in the hardware rough that are trying to start the conversations but a match in the peripheral does not light a path. 

It’s not like there aren’t any problems with hardware. In fact, most of the problems in tech are around hardware. Arguably, more people are adversely affected by the problems in hardware than software, and the unethical practices in the hardware industry have been around for much longer. The practices we see today are those that have been around for centuries. Colonialism, imperialism, and slavery are all deeply embedded in hardware. The semiconductor industry is a source of conflict in international politics between the US’s and China’s governments. The supply chains for the materials we use in our hardware involve unsafe work environments, poverty, and just general political and economic extortion. Capitalist practices exist everywhere. And while software suffers from similar problems, it also exists on the foundation of hardware. We have to address both. 

But why don’t we talk about the ethics around hardware? It could just be my social circle here at Olin but after a little bit of asking around, none of the “hardware people” I talked to could think of any classes they had taken that involved their major and touched on ethics in any meaningful way. I have two theories:

The first is that these problems don’t directly affect  us, so we don’t care. We don’t experience the poverty, extortion, and physical duress that takes place in hardware supply chains, manufacturing, and design. But the software problems, like data privacy and computer vision, do affect us. We experience them, so we talk about them. If this is the case, I would question if this is ethics or just looking out for yourself. We worry about the problems that come with the privileges we gain due to our convenient geographic locations and don’t question anything that would shake the foundation of that privilege. Yeah, we could make our supply chains ethical, but that would make things more expensive. Do you really want that? Yeah, I really want that. It’s not like it’s going to happen tomorrow, and because things will get more expensive the larger system will have to change. We saw this with the pandemic, change happened and the capitalist systems floundered. Let’s figure out how to do it purposefully, and in a way that doesn’t force small businesses and the employees to suffer. It’s tough, but if we don’t talk about it nothing is ever going to happen. How can we expect anyone to really treat us fairly, if we don’t hold them to it across the board? 

The second theory is that we choose to focus on software problems because these hardware problems have been around for so long that they are deeply entrenched in our culture and society. Software didn’t exist 100 years ago or 1000+ years ago, hardware did. Software is digitally oppressive in origin, hardware is tangibly. So why would we waste our time on hardware? It’s just the way things are. But let’s turn that on its head: because hardware problems have existed for so long, because they are so deeply embedded we need to talk about them. Yeah, we exist within the problematic system, but that doesn’t mean we have to be sheep to it. Talking about it, feeling bad about it, and being uncomfortable because of it is all progress, though it may not feel like it. Social change is the first domino, the rest will follow when it does but if we don’t talk about it, nothing will happen. 

Software is problematic, hardware is problematic, most things in the system we exist in are problematic. We were born into a shit-covered word, no one knows how to clean it up and all we do is perpetuate it and move it around. It sucks but all we can do is talk about it, brainstorm about it, and confront it. 

We can start by bringing it into every classroom. Do it today, ask the questions and bring up the problems. Talking about ethics doesn’t have to be hard–why can’t it be normal? I can’t think of a single topic discussed or taught at this school that doesn’t involve ethics. It’s not like dedicating the time to these subjects would cause the quality of our education to suffer. The only thing that would suffer is our willingness to perpetuate the shit. Adding ethics to our curriculum and discussions would make us more effective and more impactful both socially and technically: socially because we would be more conscious of the impact we make with our work and in our lives, and technically because understanding these ethical problems requires a deep understanding of the systems they exist in. You can’t understand them with a passing glance, you have to learn about how the system works to understand how it is broken. The only thing talking about it will do is force us to be actual changemakers instead of just passive creators. So let’s talk about it, let’s collaborate on how we can make the change we want to see in the world.

Different?

Maybe it’s just me, but if you’ve ever studied in the West Hall 2 antelounge after midnight, sometimes you hear a certain tapping. It’s not a faint ticking, but rather a loud, consistent beating that goes on for hours. It’s happening right now as I write these words. 83 beats per minute. You can tune it out, but it’s still mildly alarming – like someone’s stuck outside where it’s cold and snowing, slowly freezing stiff, waiting for you to prove something or go to sleep.

Tap tap tap or go to bed. To be clear – I’m not here to complain about Olin’s work culture. Work is honestly the last thing on my mind right now. I’m talking about the relentless restlessness of Olin – to prove, to socialize, to care. I still really really love the college and the people and community. But therein lies the problem. Tap tap tap or go to bed. 

Last semester, I wanted to write an article criticizing the criticism at Olin. The lack of empathy, the blatant disregard for one’s own privilege, the excitement of being in a cushion community where students listen when you yell. It all disgusted me. When I saw Olin staff and faculty have emotional breakdowns in the face of disrespectful student criticism, it made me so so angry. 

But I never found the time. Winter Break happened, and my position completely flipped. I was now angry at the administration. I was frustrated with how clubs were being asked to create safe spaces at Olin; spaces that Olin loves to advertise but should be created by the institution in the first place. About how Olin’s administration needs to rebuild fractured trust among students with more leadership, openness, and professionalism.

But the reality is both. We’re a baby school with big dreams striving relentlessly to prove ourselves. An insecure college with small grounds but wide-open skies. A little colony of people trying to establish themselves and softening under the protection of a pressure-cooker community. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

The phrase that makes me shudder the most at Olin is, “Everybody here is -”. So much has been appended to that. Liberal, privileged, burnt-out, anti-capitalist, an engineer, well-intentioned. And the truth is – at least MY truth is – that’s never the case. It’s one thing to have a shared culture, and another to assume unwavering conformity to it. The vibe I feel running through campus runs through us all, but it doesn’t mean we all interact with it in the same way.

I’m not making a revolutionary point here – we’re all different. Period… or not, for your take on this may be different from mine. And a lot more can be accomplished at Olin if this simple fact is culturally recognized.

Some examples:

There is mistrust between students and Olin’s administration. Trust that needs to be rebuilt. And the key insight lies in recognizing that not all students mistrust the administration. Unfortunately, the students with the least faith in Olin’s administration, in a twist of cruel irony, are also the students who need the support of the administration the most. But acknowledging that not everyone has this attitude reduces frustration among students who feel privileged to be at Olin in the first place! Much more importantly, an administration that recognizes this nuance can use it to improve their approach – reducing the burden of advocacy on struggling students, creating structures to proactively be a resource for students, stepping in to break the self-destructive cycle of “Need Information (/assistance/health support/accommodations) Now? Just Ask” – because for many there’s never a “just” to asking.

Or the assumption that everyone at Olin has the best intentions. This is a tricky one, because all the way back from OFYI we’re taught to “assume best intentions”. And that’s definitely a huge part of Olin, an intrinsic piece of our culture. But again, it’s naive to assume this is always true, certainly not in the world, but even at Olin. I have been in situations where people have definitely NOT acted with good intentions in mind, and I have struggled to find ways to deal with those situations simply because I don’t know how to. 

There is a danger to the mindset of “we’re a close-knit community of nice people and we look out for each other”. ‘Cause while a lot of us agree with that, it really sucks for those who don’t. Olin becomes a 4-year long summer camp of trying to fit into your niches, finding your Olin brand, and having a happy, productive time overall. Good vibes only, cause we’ve created something special here in this little innovative school. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

To reiterate: I love this college. I love the people who run it, I love being able to say hi to people I walk by and (mostly) getting a response, and I just feel so gosh darn lucky to be here. Yet, on the days that I’m exhausted and pissed and don’t want to say hi to the people I walk by, I don’t feel like Olin’s got my back. And that would be okay – except I feel pushed from the front by the sheer Olin-ness of things. What do you mean you’re not going to join the laughter in the dining hall but sulk in the mezz of introversion, privacy, and tight friend groups? 

I want to emphasize one last thing before I go to bed. Don’t take this scrappily-written article as the only perspective. My complaints about Olin are by no means important: something that everyone – students, staff, and faculty – need to recognize. The students who this college is harshest on don’t write  articles, buzzing with middle-school energy. The folks who need to be heard the most are the ones who don’t feel empowered to speak up. Listen to what they have to say, be honest and gentle, and create that space. It’s okay to be uncomfortably different. Or disagree with me and tell me about it!

The Day Everything Changed Pt. 1

It was a normal day; a day like any other. I awoke at 5 AM to the sounds of birdsongs and Harry Styles’s voice angelically singing the chorus to “What Makes You Beautiful,” which was radiating from my iPod Touch. My breath tasted awful, I probably shouldn’t have snuck to the kitchen and ate that cookie dough while my parents were asleep. As I rose out of bed, I felt another twinge of regret from my late night binge and rushed to the bathroom. Like I said, a normal day like any other. 

After the color returned to my face, and I brushed my teeth I started heading to the kitchen. The day didn’t feel like a breakfast day, so I sipped on some orange juice. While savoring the taste of citrus mixing with toothpaste in my mouth, I glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was 5:50AM, did I spend that long in the bathroom? I shot a glance at the freezer, and a shiver ran down my spine as I visualized the half eaten tub of cookie dough. Shamefully, I opened the drawer next to the fridge and grabbed a spoon. But as I started to open the freezer, my mouth salivating at the sugar waiting for me in its cold plastic packaging, I heard shuffling from upstairs.

I quickly shut the door and returned to my glass of orange juice as my father entered. 

“Good morning, Tracy.” He said, paternally. He examined my face for a moment before adding, “Got into the cookie dough again?”

I put my hand, still holding the conspicuous spoon, behind my back instinctively, trying to get out a very convincing “What makes you think that?” but only succeeding in snorting on my half-swallowed OJ. My father smiled in amusement, handing me a roll of paper towels while simultaneously texting something on his Blackberry. “Careful there!” he said with a chuckle, “You’ll need all of that orange juice to get the energy you need for today!”

I might’ve asked what he meant by that if I hadn’t been so annoyed and embarrassed. Wiping my face off, and wishing for nothing more than for my father to just get out and get to work already, I said, “Thanks, Dad,” while barely suppressing an eye roll. I probably didn’t have to hide my teenage disgruntlement though, because he was still fixated on that tiny plastic keyboard, clicking away as he walked through the kitchen. “Where are you going?” I asked before he could reach the door.

“What?” he said, not even looking up. His phone buzzed, and he said, “I’m off to work–you’d better get ready for school, honey. You never know when it’s going to be a big day!”

Whatever he meant by that I couldn’t tell, as he did not elaborate before heading into the hallway and out the front door. And while, as I said, this was a normal day like any other, my father was correct about one thing: that I needed to get ready for school. With the clock now reading 5:55 and my mousy brown hair looking positively feral, I was in no position to be headed to school.

I rushed upstairs and blasted the sweet sweet sounds of pop rock as I groggily got myself together. When I was ready, I switched over to my portable earbuds (after spending about 15 minutes untangling them, of course) and, shoving an untoasted piece of toast in my mouth (because who doesn’t have time for bread?), ventured out the front door and into the unforgivingly harsh light of morning.

The rumble of the school bus gave me the perfect ambiance for a mid-morning nap. A nap which, if I’d had it my way, could’ve been longer, but the wheels of the bus had unfortunately ceased to go round and round. I followed the line of tired students into the highschool and prepared for a long boring day of doing anything I could to avoid learning anything in my classes.

At the strike of the 8:00 AM bell, Ms. Rogers, the most dreaded Calc 1 substitute teacher, jauntily walked into class. I opened my text-book and pulled out some sheets. And with a sigh, I started folding an origami crane.

“Tracy ‘cookie dough’ Evans, there is a message for you!” I snapped out of my origami frog reverie (the latest in a dreamy, artistic 2-hour sequence) to see the teacher waiting with a piece of paper. I cringed. ‘Cookie dough’ Evans, from the freaking substitute teacher? 

I felt the eyes of the rest of the class burying their gaze into me as I walked to the front and accepted the slip. 

“Please come outside; I’m waiting in the parking lot. It’s urgent.

-Mom”

“Huh?”

Still confused, I left the classroom and made my way out to where my Mom was waiting for me in her Dodge Charger. 

“Hey Mom, is everything okay?” I asked nervously. She didn’t seem stressed, but the energy in the car was weird. 

“Yeah sweetie, everything is fine. We do have some news for you, but I think it’s best if we go home first.” Her calm tone was slightly reassuring, but did not answer any of my questions. I studied her face as she started to drive, and found no hints of stress. 

“Maybe we are going on a surprise vacation,” I thought to myself. I allowed myself to feel some excitement, as we passed the suburban houses dotting the street. It was still during the day, so there wasn’t much going on. It was weird to see the street so quiet, there’s usually some liveliness when the bus passes through at the end of the school day. 

After a few more minutes, we pulled into our driveway, and my mom released a slight sigh. My nerves returned as she looked at me solemnly and said, “Tracy, please know that no matter what, your father and I still love you.” 

My mind was racing, what on Earth could be going on? As my mother led me inside, I felt the urge to run but then my dad opened the door and invited me in. 

As I stepped through the threshold of the door I heard a beautiful voice count down from three, and then an angelic “You’re insecure, don’t know what for, you’re turning heads when you walk through the door” crawls out from the living room. My heart skipped a beat, and I ran over to see Zayn, Harry, Louis, Niall, and Liam standing in front of my couch singing “What Makes You Beautiful.” My jaw dropped. 

Before I could say anything, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. She knelt down and gave me a hug. “You’re going to live with One Direction now.”    

What happens next? You decide!

Link: https://forms.gle/BtdjLsBLLHd9jeMw7

What Your Dining Hall Plate Type Says About You

Maroon – You want to blend in at the busiest lunch table, but being around people is scary. Not as scary as being alone, though.

Red – You always sit down at the busiest table in the dining hall, you need lunch buddies to fill the void of loneliness in your heart.

Orange – You love sunlight and golden hour. You’re sad that the sun sets so early in winter. You’re… not from around here, are you?

Yellow – You aren’t good at checking your phone, which means you never know when your friends are eating lunch. So when you sit down at the table they all get up to leave and you are left there with your sandwich with only one bite in it and your thoughts. 

Lime green – Like the green m&m you were once sexy and cool but now you’ve changed to be more appealing to the public (and to distract from the child slavery lawsuits).

Teal blue – Are you a California kid who’s missing the beach and warm weather? This won’t get you any closer, but props for trying. 

Navy blue – You enjoy sitting alone on cold, winter nights. Loser.

Purple – You talk with your hands, and always a tad bit louder than the person you are talking to. You have main character energy but your friends like you anyway.

White – Your Mii is the default Mii, you are more basic than pumpkin spice, you haven’t changed your laptop’s wallpaper.

Black – You’re feeling edgy, trying to relive your middle school emo phase. You have RGB LEDs in your room that you never turn off. 

Has only used navy blue plates since you started at Olin – You are Bennett Taylor… why?

Napkin – Class started 5 min ago you are never going to be on time again in your life why did you ever think “Olin time” was funny? You haven’t done your laundry in at least two weeks.