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Interview - Marion Gibson

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

Barring any charges (and let’s face it, there will be changes) I interviewed my last early modern historian today, Dr. Marion Gibson, Associate Dean for Education in the College of Humanities, and Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at the University of Exeter. We had a fantastic talk about early modern witches and cunning folk, the famed John Walsh (who you can read about in her book Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing, and interconnections between the witchcraft trial pamphlets, the courts they depicted, and common beliefs about diabolic witchcraft.

In early July I’ll conduct my last interviews (see caveat above) with computer scientists, and then it’s time to put this Frankenstein’s monster together.

In animation, we often talk about writing and storyboarding as the most creative parts of the production pipeline. Once storyboarding is locked in, it gets progressively less, well, free-spirits-flying. Researching and interviewing for this documentary has been incredibly inspiring. I’ve learned so incredibly much and I really can’t wait to share it with others. But documentary is different from animation: the whole production has shifted several times, and will continue to shift until the very end. Yet as Marion and I talked, we got close to the ‘it’ of this documentary. I’m paraphrasing, but she observed that both the bot and the familiar, get inside you in a way: they affect your agency.

Ah. Agency. Yes.

There are many times we willingly give up our agency because, well, hell: it can be a lot of work. Or there are other things pulling at our attention that need it more: a scheduled committee meeting, a child who needs feeding, an oil light reminding you that the change is due soon, etc. These things also limit our perception of agency, but don’t actually change it. We make practical and sometimes ethical decisions to attend to things that might work against what we’d much rather be doing.

But then there are things that manipulate us into thinking we need to attend to them, when really they’re impacting our agency. These things might even be well intentioned, but when does social engineering in digital spaces cross that line?

As happens to people all the time, I got an alert (yet another) that a seemingly secure system had been hacked, and my email was (likely) one of the ones affected, and that I should probably (definitely) change my password ASAP. And as I’m doing this, I’m feeling really grumpy about it because I think, if I just didn’t use the web at all, didn’t use it for interactions or transactions, I wouldn’t spend so much damn time worrying about the security of things. There was a time when folks would keep secure information in a lockbox somewhere, or even under a mattress. It’s tempting: I’ve had secure information on various sites hacked many, many more times than I’ve ever had my house broken into (touch wood).

I know I sound like a luddite, and I know (and accept) that there’s no going backwards. But it makes me wish I could pay a cunning man to find my stolen information and then curse the bastards who took it. Right now, what agency do I have?

I can change my password.

And then wait until it happens again.

And again.

And again.

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