Weekly Links & Thoughts #116

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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  • Cloud computing’s history foretells the future of automotive (diginomica.com, 2)
    About the parallels between how individual computing gave way to cloud computing (which in turn changed the role and characteristics of computers at large) and the shift from individual car usage to connected, distributed mobility. Fascinating analogy.
  • The Crisis of Attention Theft—Ads That Steal Your Time for Nothing in Return (wired.com, 2)
    “Attention theft” – what a brilliant term. Personally I find it applicable to many more circumstances than those commercials shown on TV screens in public mentioned in the article.
  • What it’s really like to work in a Chinese mega-factory, according to a student who spent 6 weeks there (businessinsider.com, 3)
    This interview with a guy who assembled iPhones is very long (about 30 minutes reading time), but exceptionally informative.
  • Sky Mining (reallifemag.com, 2)
    Contemplating conflicting motivators behind today’s re-surge in enthusiasm for space travel. It seems to be equally about escaping the destructive impact of the threats to planet Earth that at least in parts could be considered side effects of capitalism and about exporting capitalism (and inevitability its side effects) to other planets.
  • The despair of learning that experience no longer matters (newyorker.com, 2)
    This piece left me with a lot of thoughts which I have not been able to sort properly yet. In any case, I find it quite intriguing to ponder whether many populist voters’s realization that their decades-long professional experience is not valued enough anymore could explain their  frustration.
  • Facebook and the Cost of Monopoly (stratechery.com, 3)
    Ben Thompson is disappointed by the announcements made at Facebook’s developer conference F8 (which were mostly related to AR/VR and aimed squarely at squashing Snapchat – which the latter admittedly is making easier than it has to). He considers them a sign that Facebook’s (network-powered) monopolistic characteristics are harming innovation. The possible connection between monopolism of today’s Silicon Valley culture and lack of customer-centric innovation is also the topic of this piece arguing that the Valley’s tech industry is destroying itself.
  • Build a Better Monster (idlewords.com, 3)
    The founder of the beloved niche bookmarking site Pinboard, Maciej Cegłowski, has published the written version of a speech in which he connects a lot of dots and events of recent times to outline the problematic status of quo of today’s digital business models and monopolistic tendencies of a few large companies, the increasingly massive side effects on politics and public debate, as well as possible solutions. Long but worth it and filled with succinct and observant lines to remember for later (such as this one: “One problem is that any system trying to maximize engagement will try to push users towards the fringes.“)
  • Selling Mark Zuckerberg (buzzfeed.com, 3)
    A detailed look at Mark Zuckerberg’s personal transformation.
  • Will Tech-Driven Deflation Export Japan’s Economic Woes to the World? (singularityhub.com, 2)
    Japan historically has been chasing efficiencies through technologies, which in combination with a low birth rate is being seen as a major reason for the country’s economic woes. In the light of current technological and demographic trends, it’s not to be ruled out that this could become the fate for plenty of other nations.
  • Why Kickstarter Decided To Radically Transform Its Business Model (fastcompany.com, 3)
    Gotta love Kickstarter for adopting the new U.S. corporate entity type called Public Benefit Corporation. It came with the pledge to never sell the company or go public and to offer a “general public benefit.” Remarkably, the investors were on board with the decision.
  • AI: Process v Output (thewavingcat.com, 3)
    An in-depth, well-researched and well-curated analysis of what’s considered to be one of the major challenges of applied artificial intelligence: the inability of humans to understand the process with which an AI produces its output, and the trade-off which would happen if transparency of the computing process would be the goal. For the author, there is no question: “Transparent messiness is more desirable than oblique efficiency.” Meanwhile, Albert Wenger, who actually is the VC who according to the previous piece introduced the Kickstarter founders to the concept of the Public Benefit Corporation, puts things into perspective by pointing out that no one really knows how humans do what they do.
  • Primitive reflexes and artificial intelligence (medium.com, 1)
    That’s something which humans have for sure ahead of AI: We are born with reflexes that require no external teaching at all.
  • Steve Ballmer Serves Up a Fascinating Data Trove (nytimes.com, 2)
    Traditionally non-innovating former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is back with a new project, and it seems to be quite useful (from a U.S. tax payer perspective). I loved how his new endeavor was commented here: “Those of us who have been in or around the technology space since the 1990s when Microsoft used to bulldozer all in front of it are completely unused to Steve Ballmer doing things that we can uncomplicatedly see as good”.
  • The Art of Writing One-Sentence Product Descriptions (medium.dave-bailey.com, 1)
    Especially useful advice for people building or promoting products/services, but essentially good advice for a lot of things one creates in life: “If we want our product to be shared by word of mouth, then we must accept that it will likely pass from person to person as a single sentence.”
  • Smartphones Are the New Cigarettes (markmanson.net, 2)
    An apt analogy if you consider how hastingly people pull out their phones after a longer period of forced abstinence (or forced offline mode). Not really accurate when comparing the use cases though. Unlike cigarettes, smartphones actually can be used for a lot of good and useful tasks.
  • Why Americans Don’t Understand The European Startup Scene (arc.applause.com, 2)
    The fragmentation of Europe makes the startup scene hard to understand even for Europeans, I’d argue.
  • On Growing: 7 Lessons from the Story of WeChat (blog.ycombinator.com, 3)
    The Chinese messaging and social media giant did a lot of things right and followed quite an innovative playbook.
  • Meet Algo, the VPN that works (blog.trailofbits.com, 2)
    Something different: I recently created my own VPN tunnel in the cloud with this self-hosted VPN server. It’s a slightly technical task but fun if you like to challenge yourself a bit. However, if you are technical, than you will laugh at me calling this a “challenge”. Important note: As you will run this software on a commercial cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or DigitalOcean where you’ll add your payment details, you should not use this if your goal is to be completely anonymous. Use cases are encryption in public WiFis and circumvention of locally blocked websites (when traveling) as well as possibly even of geo-blocking.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Exponent.fm Episode 110: Moral Hazard
    Great exchange between Ben Thompson and James Allworth about constructive and destructive entrepreneurship and the consequences for technology and capitalism.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #115

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 3 to 10 minutes, 3 = more than 10 minutes

  • Critical States (medium.com, 2)
    The moment when water is ready to turn into ice is called a critical state. For shallow observers, the surface doesn’t look different to the previous state though. For success in life or business, it is crucial to identify those metaphorical critical states early on to spot and seize opportunities that others are missing. Inspiring.
  • What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017? (theatlantic.com, 2)
    A sound compilation of causes for the massive number of retail bankruptcies in the US in 2017. There already have been as many this year (9) as in all of 2016. The most fascinating suggested reason on the list: “Many young people are driven by the experiences that will make the best social media content—whether it’s a conventional beach pic or a well-lit plate of glistening avocado toast. Laugh if you want, but these sorts of questions—“what experience will reliably deliver the most popular Instagram post?”—really drive the behavior of people ages 13 and up.” I’m not 13 anymore but I would be lying to say that I have never caught myself thinking “This would look pretty cool on Instagram!” before doing something.
  • An off-grid social network (staltz.com, 2)
    Compared to the freaky-sounding peer-to-peer social network called Scuttlebutt profiled in this piece, Mastodon suddenly looks like pure establishment.
  • Why Uber Won’t Fire Its CEO (backchannel.com, 2)
    Due in part to the dual-class share structure which many tech founders have come to embrace, company boards’ influence over who gets to be CEO is being diminished. In the case of Uber, according to Jessi Hempel, the only person who can decide whether Uber needs a new CEO is its cofounder and current CEO, Travis Kalanick. I guess, if we would talk about heads of state, such a scenario would be labeled “dictatorship”.
  • Autonomous Trucking Overlooks Skilled Labor Need (supplychain247.com, 2)
    The looming disappearance of millions of truck driver jobs is often cited as a consequence of the ongoing trends towards automation and the emergence of self-driving vehicles. However, as always, things are more multifaceted.
  • End of road for trucking startup Palleter (medium.com, 2)
    Staying on the topic of trucking: The European startup Palleter had an interesting idea: Using a smart technical platform to fill unused capacity in trucks on demand. However, as the founders detail in this piece, their hypotheses had a a few flaws which made the whole idea unfeasible. So they shut down the company instead of raising money. As their update at the end of text notes, after its publication they received a lot of ideas and proposals, so this might not be the end of Palleter after all.
  • How BlaBlaCar faced growing pains and had to change its focus (techcrunch.com, 2)
    One more article focusing on vehicles on four wheels: Informative account of the French ride sharing company BlaBlaCar’s pivot away from Western Europe towards the Russian market.
  • The Spiritual, Reductionist Consciousness of Christof Koch (nautil.us, 3)
    An Illuminating interview about consciousness. The more you think about this feature of the brain, the more enigmatic it appears.
  • Shenzhen is a hothouse of innovation (economist.com, 2)
    Yet another insightful profile of the southern Chinese city Shenzhen’s rise as a hardware and innovation hub.
  • OK Google, do you track ads? (internetofpeople.eu, 1)
    A controversial Burger King commercial deliberately triggered Google’s smart speaker Google Home. Here are two relevant observations/conclusions.
  • A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel (hbr.org, 2)
    Worth noting: The quantity of the Facebook usage matters according to the research. So checking Facebook occasionally won’t make people instantly feel worse. With extensive usage, the risk rises significantly.
  • The News Feed is Outdated: How Stories Changed the Way I Think About Social Media (blog.bufferapp.com, 2)
    But maybe all this will be obsolete very soon, considering the rise of stories as (possibly) the successor of the feed concept. The stories feature is being used very differently than a feed-based system, so researchers can start over.
  • This is the Jeff Bezos playbook for preventing Amazon’s demise (recode.net, 2)
    Jeff Bezos’s yearly letter to the shareholders, including lots of advice for professional flourishing. I instantly loved the concept of “disagree and commit” highlighted in the text.
  • It’s time for Google and Facebook to freak out about Amazon (mashable.com, 1)
    It’s certainly going well for Jeff Bezos’s company. Google is responding by turning its image search into a product search engine.
  • Apple’s AirPods make me feel like an alien (theverge.com, 1)
    What happens next is crucial: Will this feeling persist or will an increased number of people wearing AirPods help to normalize the AirPods product design? I am optimistic for the product.
  • Is Slack a product or a feature? The pros, cons and competition (diginomica.com, 2)
    A relevant question, well explained. Related observation: It’s a very subjective impression but lately I haven’t heard anyone rave about Slack anymore. Novelty definitely has worn off, which means the company is entering a more challenging stage.
  • The art inside you (medium.com, 1)
    A beautiful motto for the age of automation: Finding the art inside you.
  • Fuck virality, I want my ideas to be radioactive (markcarrigan.net, 1)
    I have made it my mission to only recommend radioactive articles in this weekly list, no viral ones… in all seriousness, while the label “radioactive” sounds pretty absurd, I like the point being made.
  • Singapore scientists teleport lemonade over the internet (cnet.com, 2)
    Eye-catching headline, and only a bit sensationalistic. The main difference to “real” teleportation is that the lemonade on the sender’s side didn’t vanish after the procedure. So it was rather a reproduction over a long distance instead of an actual “teleportation”. Still, kind of cool.
  • The new age of Ayn Rand: how she won over Trump and Silicon Valley (theguardian.com, 2)
    The works of the Russian-American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand have influenced the world view of many of Silicon Valley’s tech libertarians – and not only those.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • The internet brings people into space
    Tesla & SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Amazo founder Jeff Bezos have earned a lot of money with their web companies, which they now use to fund bold, visionary and pretty risky endeavors far beyond their initial focus areas. Seen through this lens, the effects of the internet are actually changing the world twice.
  • The end of roaming surcharges is a milestone for the EU
    For people living in the European Union, June 15 this year will be a date as import and symbolic as March 26 1995 was. At that day the Schengen agreement of open borders went into effect.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • The Knowledge Project: Naval Ravikant
    Naval Ravikant is the CEO and co-founder of AngelList and has invested in more than 100 companies. In this podcast interview he talks for a full 2 hours about a wide spectrum of topics, such as reading, habits, decision-making, mental models, and life. I was not bored a single second.

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The internet brings people into space

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During the Q&A following a talk with the a16z investor and Netscape inventor Marc Andreessen at Stanford Graduate School of Business (54 minute-long video recording here, very worth watching), a student sitting in the audience asked the Silicon Valley mastermind about his advice for people who have big ideas that might be very capital intensive. The questioner managed to score some laughter after quoting Elon Musk who – according to him – answered the same question a few years ago with the recommendation to “become an internet billionaire first”.

That’s witty. But it is also the truth. Musk used money he had earned from various deals in the online industry (including his biggest exit PayPal, which was acquired for $1.5 billion and made him a 9-digit sum in USD) to fund the initial stages of both his electrical car company Tesla and his rocket company SpaceX – to the point at which he literally ran out of cash. Without the dotcom companies that the South Africa-born serial entrepreneur did launch and sell before he took on the really big problems, Tesla and SpaceX might not exist. Continue Reading

The end of roaming surcharges is a milestone for the EU

Here is a German version of this text.

On March 26 1995, the Schengen Agreement about open borders within the then “European Economic Community” (predecessor of the European Union) went into effect. From that day on, people crossing borders between initially seven countries didn’t have to undergo the usual border checks. Today, people living in or visiting 26 European countries do not have to show their passport or ID when crossing the border to another participating country (with a few temporary exceptions). The treaty must be considered a milestone for the internal integration of Europe. This week’s finalized decision by the European Parliament to end EU roaming surcharges has a similarly significant dimension.

After many years of tenacious negotiations, various setbacks and fierce resistance by the telecommunications carriers, customers of mobile operators from EU countries who travel to another EU country will, timely for the summer holidays, be able to call, send texts and use the Internet without additional charges. The target date of June 15 2017 will therefore go into the history books of European integration as March 26 1995 did previously. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #114

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

If you like this weekly selection and want to support it with a few bucks, you can do that through Patreon. A big thank you to the existing Patrons. You are great!

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Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Becoming a “better” human in the digital age
    In the digital age, the human brain can be tricked and manipulated more effectively than ever before, as most recently shown by Uber’s attempts to influence its drivers’ behavior. So how to maintain a level of autonomy then? Most probably by developing the ability to go against one’s nature and primal instincts – which humans have done many times before.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • a16z Podcast: Cryptocurrencies, App Coins, and Investing in Protocols
    This podcast offers rather challenging content due to the complicated nature of the topic, but the participants try their best to make it as comprehensible as possible. In my opinion, the potential of using cryptocurrencies to fund and finance startups, open source software and new protocols is too intriguing to be ignored.

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Becoming a “better” human in the digital age

You might have read the widely shared New York Times feature about how Uber uses psychological tricks in its app to influence its drivers’ behavior in order to get them to work exactly as needed.

If you have been following the developments in the tech sectory, this report won’t surprise you. Large parts of the consumer tech industry have been built based on learnings from evolutionary psychology and experiments in the booming field of behavioral economics. The success of the sector is also a success in exploiting loopholes in the human brain (scroll to the bottom for a reading list). Whether the goal is to make people constantly and almost unconsciously open an app, whether it is “nudging” you into choosing one price plan over another, whether it is to produce outrage in order to gain attention, or whether it is the targeted manipulation of an individual’s or a group’s political identity and world view through propaganda and fake news  – in the digital age, the approach with which one can get there is always the same: Leveraging ancient evolutionary behavioral patterns and thinking processes that evolved in humans over hundreds of thousands of years – and that increasingly are becoming a burden for the individual. Simply put, the world we live in today is not the world our brain was built for.

After pondering on this problem for a long time, I have concluded that a crucial “skill” for thriving in such an environment is the enhanced ability to go against one’s nature and primal instincts. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #113

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

Personal note: Back from vacation!

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  • The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands (medium.freecodecamp.com, 3)
    A griping depiction of the repeating dynamic that steers information technology towards corporate monopolies until a new technology comes and disrupts the old order. But when it comes to the Internet, there might be no disruptor.
  • Tech and the fake market tactic (anildash.com, 3)
    How the tech industry leverages the advantages of the free market in order to create rigged markets.
  • Systems smart enough to know when they’re not smart enough (bigmedium.com, 3)
    Machines have an over-confidence problem, writes Josh Clark, who also has some ideas about how to handle this situation. One might want to add that most humans have an over-confidence problem as well.
  • The Trade-Off Every AI Company Will Make (digitopoly.org, 2)
    Like a person who starts a new job, an AI with machine learning capabilities has to “practice” in order to get better. Companies that want to utilize AI are therefore faced with a tricky question: when to shift from in-house training to on-the-job learning.
  • The Wonders of the Future (collaborativefund.com, 2)
    Big breakthroughs don’t happen on their own. They are a conglomeration of small discoveries and often unforeseen.
  • Tech Bigwigs Know How Addictive Their Products Are. Why Don’t the Rest of Us? (wired.com, 2)
    In my eyes, psychological dependency (or addiction if you want to call it that way) on digital technology is a massive challenge. Those who fail to resist and fail to remain in control are, more than with any other information technology before, becoming subject to large-scale manipulation by commercial and ideological actors.
  • Why we can’t put our smartphones down – and what it’s doing to our relationships (newatlas.com, 2)
    Related to the previous article. It’s the first time I hear the term “phubbing”. It stands for “phone snubbing” – phone distractions that occur in the presence of other people. What’s described here makes a lot of sense to me: “The more one romantic partner perceives that they are being phubbed, the more it hurts their feelings, which ultimately fed into reporting higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.”
  • Reframe Work And Be Free (truthhawk.com, 1)
    A brilliant way to view work: investing time instead of spending time. An added thought from myself: If a certain work doesn’t feel like a good investment, it’s probably something one should try to let go as soon as possible.
  • Lessons in Tenacity from the Co-Founder of Foursquare (firstround.com, 3)
    For over ten years, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley had a vision, and he never gave up.
  • Is Netflix ringing the death knell for cinemas? (denofgeek.com, 2)
    Betteridge’s law applies of course. But Netflix undeniably is changing movie distribution and consumption patterns, so it will have an impact on cinema.
  • The Google Pixel does not exist (phonearena.com, 1)
    Google’s Pixel phone is said to be the best Android smartphone on the market – but it appears as if Google is not really keen on selling it to people.
  • Apple Is Pushing iPad Like Never Before (aboveavalon.com, 2)
    A lengthy, in-depth analysis of Apple’s latest strategy for the iPad. The tablet market is not as dead as some claim it to be.
  • Why Employees At Apple And Google Are More Productive (fastcompany.com, 2)
    Some companies from the tech sector are remarkably more productive than the average company, while having not significantly more “star players” among their employees. The key to this success lies in how these high performers are distributed among the teams.
  • Poaching passengers: An Uber driver endorses Juno (blog.wandr.me, 2)
    Occurrences during which Uber drivers try to get a passenger to join them on another ride-sharing app highlight Uber’s issue with lacking driver loyalty – which only remains unproblematic for Uber as long as no serious (global) competitor exists.
  • Upgrade your Medium (blog.medium.com, 2)
    Evan Williams, founder of Medium, outlines the rough details of the platform’s upcoming subscription system. This will be interesting to watch.
  • It Will Take Google 22 Days to Find You (motherboard.vice.com, 1)
    If you launch a website that you don’t index for search engines and that you solely tell a few friends about who you encourage to spread the word, how long does it take until Google finds you? One guy tried it.
  • Now We Know Why Microsoft Bought LinkedIn (backchannel.com, 2)
    At least in parts the reason my be: LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who is extremely well connected, appreciated and influential in Silicon Valley.
  • Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse (vanityfair.com, 3)
    I have seen some criticism about this long read (for example here) but I found it to be pretty effective at making the reader feel how much the (possibly sensationalist) debate about AI as a potential threat is captivating the industry big shots’s minds. In the end, no one knows. In comparison to this superior AI that some are afraid and others are excited about, an Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking or Ray Kurzweil are not much more intelligent than anyone else. So everyone is just speculating about the future while being subject to the same cognitive limitations.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

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A radical idea for Twitter: Kill the timeline, and kill the call center

I just had a pleasant customer service experience with United Airlines through Twitter’s direct messaging feature (no I wasn’t asking about whether I could wear leggings on the plane). That’s the first positive thing you hear from me about Twitter since I stopped tweeting and consuming my timeline in November 2016.

This positive and highly time-saving experience in comparison to a traditional call or email brought me to a radical idea: Twitter should abandon the whole timeline and tweet concept altogether and focus entirely on becoming the world’s major service that connects every single consumer business, from large organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees to the mom-and-pop shop, with their customers.

Twitter has everything that is needed: The brands, the brand recognition among consumers as well as organizations, the technology, the sales force and a good install base of a couple of hundred million smartphones to start with. By becoming the definite customer support platform and thereby saving companies huge amounts of money, Twitter can charge businesses modest fees and increase the potential revenue per participating business almost infinitely considering the opportunities for b2c direct sales, market research and loyalty activities. In the example above, Twitter should now provide the airline with all kinds of tools to leverage the established contact. The limits really are only in one’s imagination and in my acceptance of commercial approaches – but I wouldn’t mind at all to get personalized fare suggestions from United, for example. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #112

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

A personal note: I’ll be taking a few days off next week. Edition #113 of meshedsociety.com weekly will be published on March 30.

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  • Is Facebook a Structural Threat to Free Society? (truthhawk.com, 3)
    I honestly have a hard time finding flaws in this comprehensive, well laid out argumentation. While I deeply admire Mark Zuckerberg for his achievements, the amount of power that he has been able to accumulate along the way is absolutely terrifying, as is the quasi-impossibility (for regular human beings who don’t want to go to the forest to talk) to completely remove oneself from his digital empire. Related: The Data Selfie extension for the Chrome browser shows what Facebook can learn about their users.
  • We didn’t lose control – it was stolen (ar.al, 2)
    The inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, is worried that the public has lost control over their personal data and concerned about the general state of the web. Aral Balkan argues that Silicon Valley stole the data and the web as it was intended from the people and used it for the creation of “surveillance capitalism”.
  • The Token Economy (thecontrol.co, 2)
    The network effect is a powerful force for products to gain exposure and users/customers. With the rise of the Blockchain an iteration of the network effect is emerging, labeled by the author as “network ownership effect”. This effect is occurring when users of a service/product are being turned into owners through the purchase/provision of Blockchain-based tokens.
  • Airpods are Apple’s Best Product Since the iPad (calacanis.com, 2)
    Without having used them yet I am very optimistic as well. Read my previous post “Apple Airpods vs Google Glass”.
  • If Your iPhone is Stolen, These Guys May Try to iPhish You (krebsonsecurity.com, 2)
    When iOS devices get stolen, thieves often use third-party iCloud phishing services to get hold of the iCloud account credentials in order to remotely unlock their prey. Here is an inside look into this dubious industry.
  • What’s Apple’s next chapter in podcasting? (sixcolors.com, 2)
    Apple’s (and iTunes’s) leading role in the distribution of podcasts is remarkable considering how little focus Apple has put on the podcast ecosystem. It can only be a question of time though until the company gets serious about offering a superior podcast experience for both the consumer as well as the producer.
  • How Ed Sheeran Broke The Charts (musicindustryblog.wordpress.com, 2)
    The English musician Ed Sheeran is clocking up billions of plays on the leading music streaming services, leading to a massive domination of the official music charts which attempt to simultaneously measure sales and streams – a pretty flawed approach.
  • Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs With Smartphones? (nytimes.com, 2)
    If that’s the case, is that a better outcome or not? (part of the answer might be given in this week’s podcast recommendation, see below)
  • The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines (aeon.co, 2)
    AIs need an embodied relationship with their environment in order to really “think” like a human, argues Ben Medlock, the co-founder of SwiftKey which was acquired by Microsoft.
  • Voice and the uncanny valley of AI (ben-evans.com, 2)
    A lot of people in the tech industry want voice to be the next big thing. While it in some regards definitely is, the existing concepts still struggle with huge unsolved problems. Expectations of an immediate shift of most digital interactions towards voice are therefore most likely way too optimistic.
  • Can you be friends with a robot? Aristotelian Friendship and Robotics (philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com, 3)
    Great food for thought which challenges one’s mental concept of friendship.
  • What Will Matter In The Future? (anothervoice.co, 2)
    A couple of smart suggestions for and ideas on how to think about the future and upcoming changes. I like the quote by Marshall McLuhan mentioned in the text a lot: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
  • The Uber Bombshell About to Drop (danielcompton.net, 2)
    This post has been widely shared over the past days. In the wake of an ongoing lawsuit against Uber filed by Google, the author compiled a list of indicators that would suggest that Uber and a former Google employee came up with a canny (and highly unethical) plot to gain access to Google’s knowledge in the field of self-driving cars. As far as I can say, it is speculative but worth reading nonetheless.
  • Silicon Valley Is Having a Meltdown Because It Can’t Use Uber and Lyft at SXSW (slate.com, 2)
    The tech crowd complains about the absence of Uber and Lyft during the SXSW conference in Austin, and here is a response to that which I find very adequate. This paragraph nails it, especially the last sentence: “The outburst from SXSW reminds me that so many loud voices don’t just not participate in that conversation about general mobility improvements in cities, they’re not even conscious of its existence. They think a city like Austin could reach “full function” with a handful of multinational taxi companies. They didn’t even think to complain about how Austin’s transit system has cut service in recent years, and ridership has fallen along with it—down an astounding 12 percent in 2016. Looking for a bus isn’t an instinct they have anymore.”
  • Airbnb CEO Says Its IPO Is ‘Halfway’ Ready (skift.com, 2)
    Considering how well tech IPOs of unprofitable companies are often doing, the upcoming public listing of profitable Airbnb should break records.
  • ShatChat (500ish.com, 2)
    A justified rant about Facebook’s introduction of a Snapchat-like Stories feature in its Messenger app.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Towns, commerce and the future
    The creation of shopping clusters outside of city centers and the rise of e-commerce are leaving the hearts of towns (in Europe) or the suburbs (in the US) deserted and in decay. But there is a solution. It requires to put conventional thinking aside.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Cracked podcast about online outrage culture
    The cracked editors discuss the little “outrage machine” in our pockets, the addictive character of micro-outrage which now can be had as many times as one wishes during a day, and how certain actors are extremely skilled at using this situation for their own benefit. This is stuff with serious implications for public discourse, politics and individual health.

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Towns, commerce and the future

French towns are withering and losing their core, while shopping centers outside of the cities are booming, as recently described by the New York Times. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the suburbs are going through an equally dramatic transition. Malls are being outcompeted by e-commerce and eventually have to shut down, leading to shrinking demand for chain-restaurants and other services that previously were being frequented by hungry and entertainment-seeking shoppers.

Stories like this could be written about towns in various countries. The creation of shopping clusters outside of city centers and the rise of e-commerce are two global themes that no one will be able to stop. The best way to look at the shift and its negative consequences is therefore with a stoic mindset, following the principle that what you cannot control, you shouldn’t not spend a lot of time trying to control. As long as a city doesn’t force its population to shop at the local stores (which hopefully will never happen), more shops and old school businesses will vanish. The economics and experience of getting things from the giant mall or – increasingly more likely – from the internet, are generally too intriguing for consumers to let the undesirable side effects for the community come in between themselves and the convenient purchase or unbeatable bargain. Continue Reading