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#MainCharacter: pandemic brings TikTok self-parody to the fore | TikTok

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Staring longingly out of a window watching the sunset across the New York skyline, or sitting on a balcony while Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey plays softly in the background. These are just a couple examples of a TikTok trend which sees young people act out scenarios and imagine themselves as a protagonist or the “main character” in a fictionalised version of their life – usually based on film cliches.

With more than 5.2bn views of the app’s #maincharacter hashtag – psychologists say the trend has gained momentum because lockdown and the feelings of isolation that come with it have created a gap once plugged by social connection.

Social media users are now even claiming to be inflicted with what they call “main character syndrome” (not an official medical term), with symptoms being that a person’s every action “fits into a narrative”, as if it were scripted.

For Eddie Brummelman, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam who specialises in child development, the recent prominence of the main character trend can be viewed as a natural consequence of the past year. “We know the pandemic has caused people to feel nostalgic, lonely and helpless, especially young people because they have been deprived of so many significant parts of their lives, especially social parts,” he says.

“Creating a story around you may be a way of filling that gap, or taking away that lonely feeling. Imagining yourself as a protagonist not only gives you a sense of agency that has been taken away due to the pandemic, but also this feeling that other people are watching you or care about what’s happening to your story.”

Olivia Yallop, author of the book Break the Internet and the director of the youth-focused marketing agency the Digital Fairy, says that the trend is a “means of repositioning and recontextualising your identity to feel more empowered and to become the centre of your own story”.

She says: “Becoming your own protagonist speaks to the way that younger generations self-narrativise, particularly given the tools at their disposal: a front-facing camera.”

She adds that intertwined with the concept of the main character is “perpetual self-surveillance – ‘everyone is always looking at me, and I’m always looking at me looking at myself’. Main characters can’t exist without an audience.” Yallop, who observes social trends as part of her work, doesn’t believe the timing of this trend emerging is a coincidence. “It’s interesting that main character is blowing up at a moment when so many are isolated and craving social connection”, she says.

The idea of young people feeling like they are performing, or creating a narrative of their life, in front of an audience is not a new concept, or one inextricably connected to social media. David Elkind, a child psychologist coined the term “imaginary audience” in the 1960s, which he used to argue that adolescents who experience the concept feel as though their actions are the primary focus of other people’s attention.

Viewing yourself as a main character may at first glance be dismissed as a product of unhealthy individualism, but some have argued that there are benefits. According to Michael Karson, a psychology professor at the University of Denver, viewing yourself as the main character in your life is something positive, as it can result in being “more likely to place energy into actions which may make your life go well”.

“Whereas if you think of yourself as unimportant, even in your own life, you’re more likely to take a passive approach to what you can do to make things better,” he says. But central to Karson’s viewpoint is that the goal is to be “the main character of your own life, but not the main character of everybody else’s lives”. “The other extreme is when you think you’re the only person that matters,” Karson says.

Although the trend has become popular recently, Yallop says she is wary of suggesting that #maincharacter is anything new. “It’s an evolution of previous internet iterations of self-confidence through digital documentation,” she says. “Like any viral trend, main character mythology has since collapsed in on itself: it went viral, then became a meme, and then became reclaimed from that meme. I’m sure the sentiment will evolve quickly into something else.”



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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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