WhatsApp Is Changing the Way India Talks About Food

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It has been three years since India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, started Digital India, an initiative to increase internet connectivity across the country, especially in rural areas. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has become the medium of choice: It is free, requires only an internet connection, and often comes installed on new phones. As a result, India now has more users of the application — over 200 million, or one in six Indians — than any other country, a WhatsApp spokeswoman said.

But among Indians who produce, cook or care about food, the service has been a godsend. In a country where culinary traditions are often spoken but not written, WhatsApp has provided an open, democratic forum where Indians can share and codify their knowledge and skills, in new ways, and even profit from them.

“One of the problems with documenting Indian food is that the people who prepare it” — mainly homemakers, farmers and young cooks — “tend to be less empowered and less formally educated,” said Vikram Doctor, 51, a journalist in Mumbai. “They just don’t document. They are not comfortable using a computer or blogging, or people just don’t ask them.”

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Period-tracking apps are not for women

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“The design of these tools often doesn’t acknowledge the full range of women’s needs. There are strong assumptions built into their design that can marginalize a lot of women’s sexual health experiences,” Karen Levy, an assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, tells me in an email, after explaining that her period tracker couldn’t understand her pregnancy, “a several-hundred-day menstrual cycle.”

Levy coined the term “intimate surveillance” in an expansive paper on the topic in the Iowa Law Review in 2015. At the time, when she described intimate data collection as having passed from the state’s public health authorities to every citizen with a smartphone, she was mostly alone in her level of alarm. This was just after Apple Health launched (sans menstrual tracking), hailed as the future of medical care. But even before that, Levy argued, the “data-fication” of romantic and sexual behaviors was everywhere. There were smart pelvic floor exercisers that could pair with smartphones via Bluetooth. There were sex-tracking apps that quantified performance by counting thrusts and duration and “noise.”

“The act of measurement is not neutral,” Levy wrote. “Every technology of measurement and classification legitimates certain forms of knowledge and experience, while rendering others invisible.” Sex tracking apps and their ilk “simplify highly personal and subjective experiences to commensurable data points.”

The best memes are nonsense and I love ‘karma is a bitch’

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That legacy, thank goodness, lives on with the latest meme out of lip-synching app musical.ly, brought to you by dozens of creative Chinese teenagers.

Called the Karma’s a Bitch Challenge, the joke is both simple to explain and impossible to explain, similar in spirit to classic Vine entries like “back at it again at Krispy Kreme,” “wtf is a chonce,” and “SKITTLES.” Simply put: teens lip-synch to a sound clip from The CW’s Riverdale, a show that is, itself, non-stop delirious nonsense and an absolute joy to watch. The clip is of Veronica Lodge — played by new Hollywood “it girl” Camila Mendes — saying “karma is a bitch,” in response to some news about a horrific car accident. After that, the lip-synchers change their outfits, expressions, or makeup in some dramatic way and the audio cuts to a clip from Kreayshawn’s 2011 viral hit “Gucci Gucci.” It makes no sense at all and why should it? It’s fun to watch. Each entry is approximately 12 seconds of bliss — far more than any of us has been conditioned to expect on the internet on any given day.

How China Walled Off the Internet

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Today, China has the world’s only internet companies that can match America’s in ambition and reach. It is years ahead of the United States in replacing paper money with smartphone payments, turning tech giants into vital gatekeepers of the consumer economy. And it is host to a supernova of creative expression — in short videos, podcasts, blogs and streaming TV — that ought to dispel any notions of Chinese culture as drearily conformist. All this, on a patch of cyberspace that is walled off from Facebook and Google, policed by tens of thousands of censors and subject to strict controls on how data is collected, stored and shared.

If people in the West didn’t see this coming, it was because they mistook China’s authoritarianism for hostility toward technology. But in some ways Chinese tech firms are less fettered than American ones. Witness the backlash against Big Data in the United States, the calls to break up giants like Facebook and the anxiety about digital addiction. None of those are big problems for Chinese companies. In China, there is pretty much only one rule, and it is simple: Don’t undermine the state.

What I Learned from Watching My iPad’s Slow Death

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My old iPad just turned five, and it’s starting to die…

I’ve lost plenty of devices before, but this death feels different. When my old iPad is powered down, it seems practically new; when I turn it on, it feels instantly old. Tap the familiar YouTube app, and I am met with a pregnant pause: one, two, three, app. Ditto for the App Store, Podcasts, Netflix and e-books. Newer games are often out of the question, which wouldn’t bother me much if Safari, the web browser, wasn’t constantly overwhelmed by complicated pages. My attempt to install an alternative browser ended with this message: Firefox requires iOS 10.3 or later. My old iPad stopped getting updates in the 9s. I wouldn’t say my old electronics always aged gracefully, but their obsolescence wasn’t a death sentence. My old digital camera doesn’t do what some new cameras do — but it’s still a camera. My iPad, by contrast, feels as though it has been abandoned from on high, cut loose from the cloud on which it depends.

It hasn’t been used up; it’s just too old. A pristine iPad from the same era, forgotten in a storeroom and never touched, would be equally useless. The moment it came online, it would demand to be updated; as soon as it was, it would find itself in the same grim predicament as my device, which has been at work for half a decade.

On Instagram, Seeing Between the (Gender) Lines

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Her research found that social media is a gathering place for discussing the logistics of gender — providing advice, reassurance and emotional support, as well as soliciting feedback about everything from voice modulation to hairstyles. The internet is a place where nonbinary people can learn about mixing masculine and feminine elements to the point of obscuring concrete identification as either. As one person she interviewed put it, “Every day someone can’t tell what I am is a good day.”

Nearly everyone Darwin interviewed remarked about the power of acquiring language that spoke to their identity, and they tended to find that language on the internet. But Harry Barbee, a nonbinary sociologist at Florida State University who studies sex, gender and sexuality, cautioned against treating social media as a curative. “When the world assumes you don’t exist, you’re forced to define yourself into existence if you want some semblance of recognition and social viability, and so the internet and social media helps achieve this,” Barbee said. “But it’s not a dream world where we are free to be you and me, because it can also be a mechanism for social control.” Barbee has been researching what it means to live as nonbinary in a binary world. Social media, Barbee said, is “one realm where they do feel free to share who they are, but they’re realistic about the limitations of the space. Even online, they are confronted by hostility…

 

Everything on Amazon Is Amazon!

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There are vanishingly few types of consumer goods that you can’t buy, in some form, on Amazon. But it is missing plenty of brands. In 2009, the company started selling products under its own name. It soon moved beyond the first AmazonBasics — items including budget electronics and batteries — to a wider range of Amazon-branded products. This was followed by an explosion of company-owned brands, including dozens with Amazon-free names.

Lark & Ro sells women’s wear, Buttoned Down sells men’s dress shirts; Pike Street sells linens; Strathwood sells furniture. These brands are intended to stand on their own, sort of. They are associated with Amazon, and listed on the site’s dozens of different contexts as “Our Brand” or “by Amazon” or “An Amazon Brand.” (Some new brands are undercover but then blow their cover, as in “Amazon Brand – Solimo Pasta, Thin Spaghetti, 16oz.”)