Tech

What ‘Getting Curious’ Taught Jonathan Van Ness About … Everything


When podcasts Curiosity with Jonathan Van Ness first debuted in 2015, with an episode titled, “What’s the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims and why don’t they fall in love?” in which homosexuality of the throne The star spoke to a UCLA professor to resolve centuries of complex conflict. The show was a modest success, but three years later, Van Ness was lured by Netflix to become one of the queer eyesHis new Fab Five and suddenly found himself adored by millions of new fans.

Since then, Van Ness has written memoirs, children’s books and essay collections; nominated for multiple Emmy Awards; spend time lobbying in DC for LGBTQ+ rights; become non-bisexual and HIV-positive; began touring a live show that combined standing and gymnastics; and even launched its own line of hair care products. He also turned the podcast into a Netflix show.

Through it all, however, Van Ness still makes time for his podcast, with Curious dropped the 300th episode last week. Topics along the way have ranged from agoraphobia to Great British Grill, Van Ness insists that he will cover anything as long as he really cares about it. “I was curious about us in the United States, how things were, and how we became people,” Van Ness said. “I feel like I grew up with the show and so many things I know about life I learned while recording this podcast.”

Wishing to share some of that knowledge, Van Ness reduced the bulk Curious library for nine of his favorite episodes, picking an anthology for WIRED that he hopes “draws more people to their passions.”

Van Ness: [Data journalist] Meredith Broussard’s work is something I reference a lot. Technological chauvinism is generally the idea that machines know how to do things better than humans. She gives the example of an automatic curtain set. It’s nice to press a button and make it go up, but when it breaks, you can’t fix it. Whereas if you have manual blinds you can just go through and lower the curtain with a wire and it will work fine. It will be easier to fix.

A more important example she talks about is her algorithmic bias, such as how police scanners or facial recognition systems can’t identify a person who doesn’t match gender. . A lot of these algorithms are a reflection of their creators, and often the creators of these algorithms are men. The creators of the algorithms are not really diverse. It is discouraged to raise issues like that in those spaces, and dissenters tend to be strangely muted.

So technological chauvinism is embedded in the systems that affect our daily lives in really important ways. For example, if you’re at a TSA scanner, you might be pulled out of line because you’re listed as male but wear a longer shirt, so you might get a pat that others might not. get, just because those algorithms don’t know how to recognize shades that the human eye can identify.

Van Ness: Tina Lasisi is an evolutionary biologist and studies human hair variation, but she also studies how we got here, such as the evolution of human hair and scalp variation. . A lot of things I learned in hair school about why curly hair is curly, why wavy hair is wavy, why straight hair is straight… are all lies. It’s not even true. At hair school, we were told that if your hair was frizzy, it was more bean-shaped. Curly hair is more like an oval, and straight hair is more like a perfect circle. But in her work at the lab, they actually found every hair type with all those shapes.

What’s really scary about it is that all this science of wigs was used in crime scene investigations in the ’80s and ’90s, such as, “This hair is there, and because it’s grainy, beans so we know it’s from a Negro.” It has more nuance than that.

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