Saving obsolete jobs

Information technology, automation and globalization are eliminating many jobs. The intensity of this process keeps increasing.

Meanwhile, new jobs are emerging. But this process takes time, and the new jobs require different skill sets than those that disappear. In consequence, a growing number of people in the “modern” world are facing unemployment and existential crisis. People who often lack the resources and mental frameworks to choose alternative roads (such as self-education or entrepreneurship). Not the cognitive capacity, but the tools to access it.

Politicians are faced with 2 alternatives for how to deal with the situation: Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #103

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.

I have been sick over the past days, which caused this week’s edition to be a bit more compact than usual.

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From someone in a country without Amazon, a few questions about Alexa

Switzerland and Sweden have a couple of things in common. First, the names seem to be similar enough in many languages so that mixing up both countries is a very common phenomenon. Second, there are certain commonalities in regards to people’s mentality, for example a tendency to avoid conflict (for me, as a German living in Sweden and working with Swiss companies, there has been and still is a lot to learn). Third, in neither of the two countries, Amazon is operating its online store. This is in so far remarkable as I know that many people in Amazon’s core markets cannot even imagine anymore how life would be without the e-commerce giant. The reality from a customer perspective: It’s a bit inconvenient.

For the Swiss, Amazon.ch forwards directly to Amazon.de, offers free standard shipping above a certain order value, and obviously there’s no language barrier navigating the site. However, if you order from Switzerland which is not part of the European Union, you might end up having to pay additional customs charges in order to be able to pickup your package. In Sweden and the other Nordic countries, people are also forced to order from Amazon sites in other European countries (or the U.S.). Local versions in Nordic languages don’t exist. In Sweden, amazon.se is only a parked domain. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #102

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.

I hope everyone had a good start into 2017! Let’s make this a good year, against all odds!

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  • Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People (3)
    Brilliant, critical, very extensive examination of the favorite topic of today’s smartest minds in tech.
  • On the Exponential View (3)
    Information technology is changing the face of humanity and leading to exponential developments. This very informative transcript of a talk explains why it is happening, what opportunities this offers and how it is the cause of a lot of today’s tension in politics and society. Basically, a lot of dots are being intelligently connected here.
  • At CES 2017, Amazon revs Alexa everywhere strategy (1)
  • AirPods Kick off Apple’s Battle for Our Ears (2)
    I group these two pieces together because both Amazon’s Echo hardware and Alexa personal assistant as well as Apple’s AirPods represent the “battle for our ears” proclaimed in the headline. In my eyes this will probably be the major story in consumer tech this year: Voice control and personal assistants are capturing everyone’s mind. For the moment, Amazon is focusing on homes (read here about simple things to use Echo with Alexa for), Apple on use outside of the home. Eventually of course, these use cases will merge, promising a pretty thrilling race. The competition currently lags behind, even if Google is trying its best with Google Home (and the software “Google Assistant”), while Microsoft pushes Cortana. But Amazon has definitely a leg up on the competion.
  • Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System (3)
    Smart explainer on the importance and history of consumer operating systems, culminating in the conclusion that Amazon has found its very own mass-market ready operating system in Alexa.
  • It’s too bad soft sexism isn’t a civil liberties issue (1)
    With personal assistants becoming ubiquitous, the issue of them reinforcing gender stereotypes is moving into the spotlight as well. I see why it is problematic that these assistants usually carry female names and default “personalities”. From that perspective, Google has made a better choice with “Google Assistant”. However, it sounds super boring. In my opinion, the ideal name would be one which does not instantly gets associated with a specific gender. Then users could make their own choice what “personality”/gender they prefer.
  • Google reveals secret test of AI bot to beat top Go players (1)
    A sign of things to come: A tech company testing a new AI program in public initially pretending for it to be an individual. Basically, a bot when you don’t expect a bot.
  • Virtual Reality Can Leave You With an Existential Hangover (2)
    When it comes to Virtual Reality, employing some systems thinking might be wise. There could be significant and possibly completely unexpected side-effects around the corner. Just think about if suddenly millions of people would develop strange mental conditions. I know, I know, this sounds like those fear mongers who thought the human body would be severely damaged when riding a train at 40 km/h. But with the immersion level that VR is promised to deliver, any comparison to earlier technology is kind of skewed.
  • The internet is broken. Starting from scratch, here’s how I’d fix it. (1)
    To stop the decline of what made the internet great, Walter Isaacson suggests a couple of improvements and changes to its core infrastructure, including a voluntary system for those who want to use it, to have verified identification and authentication.
  • How Digital Nomads Went From Niche to Normal (2)
    As someone who practices it myself, I don’t have the impression that location independent work (or “digital nomadism”, if you fancy that label) really has left its niche, but the headline makes more sense with some context from the article: For many startups and tech companies, having people working from other places than the office has become normal.
  • The Tesla Advantage: 1.3 Billion Miles of Data (2)
    Tesla’s big competitive advantage: Through its autopilot software, it can collect massive amounts of driver data, which is exactly what a car company needs for a future of self-driving vehicles.
  • The Difference Between Impatience and Having No Tolerance for Inefficiency (1)
    I dig that distinction proposed here: Impatience and having no tolerance for inefficiency are two different things. And boy, how little tolerance for inefficiency I have!
  • Why Hasn’t a Killer App Emerged for Finding Local Events? (1)
    The market of services for finding local events has indeed seen surprisingly little action and success stories.
  • Dropbox Could Have One of 2017’s Most Interesting IPOs (2)
    The narrative about Dropbox is changing quickly. From a company struggling to compete in an environment of fast-moving giants the outlook seemingly has gotten brighter again. At least according to this text.
  • Be Recklessly Confident when “Learning How to Code” (2)
    Highly motivating for everyone who is learning to code, and generally thought-provoking for everyone else as well: How to think and behave when learning a skill characterized by a steep and fluctuating learning curve.
  • Quantum computers ready to leap out of the lab in 2017 (2)
    Some high tech stuff here. I can’t say I understand everything about Quantum computing yet but things are clearly heating up.
  • Why Emojis are failing to evolve into a form of Language (2)
    “Emoji are so popular they’re killing off netspeak” – but not sufficient enough to form a totally new language.
  • Finland trials basic income for unemployed (1)
    I am excited that Finland’s highly anticipated basic income experiment has been launched. But I am also disappointed that it focuses on unemployed people only. That means this experiment won’t tell anything about how those who are employed would be impacted (e.g. whether they would quit current jobs and move to something they perceive as more meaningful, or for example start companies). It will neither help to position the basic income as a neutral type of social welfare, instead connecting it with the negative associations that many people already think of when hearing of social welfare. The goal of Finland’s trial is simply to incentivize unemployed people to get a job, even if it is pays little, because they’d keep the basic income. Basically, this is not an unconditional basic income, but one on the condition of being unemployed in order to be eligible in the first place – which is a completely different type of concept. But in order to remain optimistic, maybe this nevertheless turns out to be a smart way to get started; to slowly get the public used to it. The first of many small steps forward.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Really too big to fail
    Can today’s tech giants fail? The list of blunders, complaints and pessimistic predictions is long. But Facebook, Google, Amazon and a few others don’t seem to be affected at all. It’s time to make peace with the idea that these companies are becoming too big to fail.
  • The obsession with “Fast-moving consumer news”
    Some people promote the idea of quitting or at least significantly reducing the consumption of day-to-day news. But wouldn’t that be just looking away from the problems? Somehow, yes. But considering the sad state of online media today, maybe that’s still the better option? A couple of notes about a debate which is gaining relevancy.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Philosophize This: Are you living in a simulation?
    If you have read the first article linked to in this week’s list and haven’t totally lost your appetite for pondering the (admittedly obscure) idea of our existence being a simulation, you might like this podcast episode. Generally this is a recommended podcast, approaching a heavy topic such as philosophy in a lightweight, but (as far as I can judge) still not too shallow way.

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Really too big to fail

This article can be read in German here.

Let’s have a look at the following list of common points of criticism, alleged weaknesses, (pr) scandals and public missteps that many of today’s leading internet and IT giants are well familiar with from the various parts of their life cycle.

  • “One trick pony” – a business and revenue model based on only one pillar, which eventually will collapse.
  • Costly “moonshots” – experimental projects completely unrelated to the current business model which won’t be contributing to the company result for a long time.
  • Overpriced, highly speculative acquisitions of companies that maybe one day might become a threat or revenue source.
  • Lack of profitability
  • Massive overvaluation.
  • Burning of investor money.
  • Unethical predatory competition.
  • Unfair exploitation of a leading market position / tendencies to become monopolies.
  • Violations of data protection and privacy needs of users/customers.
  • Lack of innovation regarding upcoming products.
  • Introduction of features and changes which, at least initially, are not welcomed by the users/customers and are not in their interests.
  • Blatant copying of functions or ideas from rivals.
  • Negative impact of certain functions or products on the general well-being and happiness of users.
  • Prevention of interoperability with other services and data portability through limitations of developer APIs.
  • Creation of “walled gardens”.
  • Changing user needs that will lead to people leaving a service in huge numbers.
  • Participation in governmental surveillance programs which undermine the trust of users/customers.
  • Editorial censorship based on questionable moral principles.
  • Data leaks and security issues.
  • Systematic violations of existing laws.
  • Interference with Presidential elections.

Continue Reading

The obsession with “Fast-moving consumer news”

One suggested solution to the sheer unbearable state of today’s digital news landscape is quitting the consumption of day-to-day news. While a radical step would be to completely stop following any type of media used for the distribution of information that does not qualify as timeless, a more practical and in my opinion smarter approach is to limit one’s information intake to selected sources, trusted curators and channels that focus on specialist topics, bigger pictures and larger questions that remain relevant over longer periods of time.

Those who withdraw from what I would call “Fast-moving consumer news” (FMCN, as an information equivalent to the so called Fast-moving consumer goods) have to face one major point of criticism: To stop paying attention to the reports about tragedies, misery, human misconduct and violence, won’t stop these things from happening.

In the short term, that’s a fact. However, if the many hours not spent on following the latest breaking news are being invested into projects with a larger purpose, into entrepreneurship, or the creation and distribution of useful knowledge, then in the long-term, ignoring FMCN might in fact help improving the state of the world. But admittedly that’s still a shaky argument, because not consuming FMCN does not allow for the conclusion that the “gained” time actually is being directed towards more meaningful efforts. More likely it won’t be. 

Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #101

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.

This is the last edition of 2016. The next meshedsociety.com weekly will be published on January 5. Happy New Year!

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #100

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.

Edition #100 – it’s been a hell lot of reading for everyone. I hope you’ll stick around until #1000.

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  • Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News (2)
    Very good food for thought. In my opinion, quitting the news does not mean to stop informing yourself. I see it as a call to be selective, to be mindful about how one consumes news, and to question whether one is motivated by entertainment needs or an actual desire to better understand the world. For the latter, day-to-day news can be one tiny contributing factor.
  • The State of Technology at the End of 2016 (2)
    The risk is that the players of today’s technology industry have become the incumbents.
  • The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise (2)
    The smartwatch pioneer Pebble is becoming a part of Fitbit and ceases to exist in its current form. Informative story about what went wrong.
  • United We Stand, Divided We Fall (3)
    In a slightly optimistic take, the author argues that despite what it looks like, people today are actually united: in their fear. Fear of the “big shift” which is reshaping the global landscape. Fear that is perpetuated and increased by cognitive biases. What could help to tackle this challenge, according to him, would be the transformation of our institutions from a model of scalable efficiency to scalable learning.
  • This Is What Happens When Millions Of People Suddenly Get The Internet (3)
    Despite decades of time to get used to the new rules and laws of the digital information and media landscape, many people in the West lack the necessary mental tools to accurately evaluate the truthfulness of things they read online. Now imagine a country like Myanmar, which has been basically offline until very recently, but in which seemingly out of nowhere, everyone has access to Facebook.
  • This Is Water (1)
    Technology isn’t a tool or something we use to get a job done anymore. It’s the actual water we are swimming in. This sounds maybe trivial but if one really puts some effort into thinking about it, it can change one’s perspective.
  • Privatizing Our Past (1)
    Quite a straight-forward description of a looming problem: Machine learning uses our knowledge of the past to predict the future. Increasingly, that past (in form of data) is privately owned. This can’t be good.
  • Let Me Point out to you How Ridiculous the Trump Tech Meeting Was (1)
    Just for the protocol and historic documentation of this already legendary meeting that took place on Wednesday.
  • The Peter Thiel Pedigree (3)
    Of course Peter Thiel was present at the meeting. Here, we have an interesting long read profiling his quite successful Thiel Fellowship, which identifies young top talents and helps them grow and succeed through mentorship and what is said to be an extremely valuable network.
  • The Art and Science of Investing (1)
    Like technology, investing in it is not only science but also an art. Which explains why some are better at it than others.
  • A Short History Of The Most Important Economic Theory In Tech (2)
    About the importance of the principle of increasing returns and network effects for the success of Silicon Valley.
  • Hidden Complexities in Product Changes (1)
    A reminder for those who assume that changing or adding a little feature to an app or service must be a quick, simple task
  • Amazon’s deal to put an Echo in all Wynn Las Vegas hotel rooms is a brilliant marketing move (1)
    Yes. The same goes for VR and some other upcoming technologies. Also as part of their attempt to differentiate from Airbnb, hotels could choose to turn (some of) their rooms into high tech labs where curious people can try out the new stuff they wouldn’t be ready to buy for their homes yet.
  • If you get rich, you won’t quit working for long (2)
    A point very relevant in regards to the discussion about a universal basic income. The widespread assumption that everyone would get really lazy is based on the misconception that people mostly work to earn money.
  • How Tesla came out of nowhere and reinvented the car as we know it (3)
    The still rather brief history of Tesla in one handy article.
  • How the Swedish Capital Became Europe’s Unicorn Powerhouse (3)
    Extensive and, in my eyes, accurate analysis of the factors that made Stockholm become one of Europe’s most successful tech clusters.
  • The Future of Travel: Agentless Airports (1)
    I would not mind to see even more automation at airports.

Recently on meshedsociety.com

Video of the week

  • The Russian App That Has Destroyed Privacy Forever
    Facial recognition & identification is probably one of the scariest technologies, because its misuse by questionable characters and government authorities is guaranteed. This 6 minute video profiles the Russian app that is bringing such a system to the mainstream.

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6 years of working location independent

In fall 2010 I started an adventure which would change my life: 6 months of remote working from Thailand. It was my first trip to Asia and my first lenghty trip not intended as vacation. Many more were to follow. The Internet-enabled freedom to open your mobile office from anywhere in the world got me hooked instantly, and I haven’t manage to escape its fascination ever since.

The list of places from which I have spent from a week to several months working remotely has gotten fairly long: Several places in Thailand, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Barcelona, Lisbon, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), San Francisco Bay Area, Santiago de Chile and Vancouver are on it. The most recent addition is Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria, Spain), from which I am writing this text (it’s an outstanding choice for location independent work, by the way).

Creativity & serendipity

There is something magical about occasionally changing your complete environment, relocating to a place somewhere on this planet. It’s a perfect way to find inspiration, to foster creativity and to expose yourself to serendipity. Such as that I really wasn’t very interested to travel to Japan actually, but I still did. After 3 months in Tokyo, I had turned into a Japan fan. Over the years, one learns a lot and gets quite experienced when it comes to the “art” of working from (almost) anywhere. In the next paragraphs, I’ll share a few of my insights. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #99

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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  • The Secret, Dangerous World of Venezuelan Bitcoin Mining (3)
    After years of crisis and in the lights of galloping inflation, Venezuelans turn to Bitcoin, despite becoming even more vulnerable once they manage to create some wealth. Both a hopeful and depressing read.
  • Nobody is home (3)
    An enlightening essay about the meaning and importance of the concept of “home” and how it is being disrupted in our global, connected world. It made me think about why I never have a problem developing a feeling of “home” almost anywhere in the world, whereas others seem to struggle with this so much more. I concluded that my perception of home is virtual and not so much about physical location and tangible stuff.
  • Amazon Go and the Future of Work (3)
    You have probably heard the news of Amazon’s cashier-free supermarket. The concept is fantastic from a customer’s point of view (possible privacy implications aside). But the obvious flip side is the disappearing need for cashiers – which in the United States is the second most-common occupation as mentioned in the article. On the other hand, no one is born feeling the deep urge to work as a cashier. So the occupation itself does not need to be preserved. The question is only how to keep a society running in which additional millions of people with mixed to low skill sets are struggling to find new ways of making a living.
  • Understanding That Unregulated Monopoly Was Always Uber’s Central Objective (3)
    Uber would be happy of course if all those former cashiers would become drivers (until the large-scale roll out of driver less cars, of course). This long and pretty harsh analysis argues that Uber’s end goal is and has always been a monopoly. I disagree with the claim made by the author that Uber has not created innovation and that it adds little value in a competitive market, but I share the concern about Uber’s monopolistic tendencies.
  • The slow, uninteresting death of Android tablets is unfolding, and it is no one’s fault (2)
    One frequently hears about the decreasing demand for the iPad. But there is a similar trend happening for Android tablets – only that even less people seem to care about this.
  • Milking the iPhone (3)
    One of the reasons why tablets are being ignored? The cannibalization through large screen smartphones. This is an extensive and informative analysis of how Apple has built its product strategy around the iPhone, trying to squeeze as much profits out of it as possible until the need for the next groundbreaking cash-cow becomes pressing.
  • Best Buy vs. The Apple Store (2)
    An entertaining tale highlighting how Apple’s store concept might have peaked in regards to the customer experience.
  • How to Stay Informed Without Losing Your Mind (2)
    I bet many people who have proudly called themselves “information junkies” in the past are asking themselves this very question. I do and I actually have installed the Chrome extension mentioned by the author in order to remove the news feed from Facebook.
  • Facebook and Google make lies as pretty as truth (2)
    An interesting angle to the fake news debate: Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP reduce quality media sites’ abilities to distinguish themselves visually from fake news outlets – because on the new, lightweight, mobile-optimized layouts promoted by the two giants, content always looks the same.
  • How Jack Dorsey Runs Both Twitter, Square (2)
    This article is one year old, but it hasn’t lost its relevancy at all: The CEO of Twitter and Square has just confirmed that he does not plan to end his unusual double role. How he is able to pull that off is a mystery to me.
  • State of Startups 2016 (3)
    A bunch of numbers, facts and graphs about the state of the U.S. startup sector of 2016.
  • Without Technology Inside, How Can Prisoners Thrive When They Get Out? (3)
    This is probably not something most of us think about often, but it’s an important issue: If a prison sentence would come with any intention of rehabilitation and reintegration back into society, access to technology during the the time in prison is essential. Otherwise, how would anyone expect individuals released from prison to thrive in our digital economy?
  • A Governance Alternative to Faltering Nation-States (2)
    Majors of cities and urban areas from all over the world are participating in a new global governance project to discuss challenges that nation-states fail to tackle. Way to go, the city is the new nation state. Or something like that.
  • Berlin: The City With the World’s Toughest Anti-Airbnb Laws (3)
    A balanced analysis of how Berlin’s legislation intended to limit the spreading of Airbnb is affecting (or not affecting) the city’s housing market and its people.
  • 4chan raids: how one dark corner of the internet is spreading its shadows (2)
    One wonders what kind of individual would feel good about being part of a hate-driven community such as this one.
  • The age of outrage (3)
    The editor of the British satire magazine Private Eye’s take on the crumbling support for the principles of free speech and the growing lack of acceptance of opposing ideas. He reminds the readers of how George Orwell observed similar trends 70 years ago.
  • Crony Beliefs (3)
    Some psychology to end this week’s edition: An extremely fascinating essay investigating why the human brain seems to be so accepting of the weirdest, most unreasonable beliefs.

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