Weekly Links & Thoughts #109

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.

By the way, meshedsociety.com weekly has now its own landing page where you can subscribe for the email: weekly.meshedsociety.com. If you tell your friends and colleagues, I’d be more than happy.

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

  • 4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump (medium.com, 3)
    When I saw the headline and the name “Trump”, I expected yet another interchangeable think-piece with little substance. But boy how I was wrong. This is a griping and well-informed feature detailing the significance of the legendary online messaging board 4chan for the emergence of a lot of contemporary cultural and political patterns and trends. While reading I realized how little I knew about 4chan. The author does a great job explaining how the community – which based on its own self-image has been made up of mostly young males living in their parent’s basements – is connected to cult memes, Anonymous, Gamergate, Pepe the frog, outdated left vs right politics, and the cultural war that eventually brought Trump into power. The text is extremely well-written and – according to a friend of mine – even offers new insights to people who already possess a fair share of knowledge about 4chan.
  • Zoltan Istvan on transhumanism, politics and why the human body has to go (newatlas.com, 3)
    Zoltan Istvan is an American transhumanist who intends to run for Governor of California in 2018 as Libertarian. In this interview, he talks about what he calls the “universal right to indefinite lifespans”, explains why he thinks that moving beyond the human body is better than trying to fix it, and drops a couple of other catchy lines that some people certainly will find crazy. But so would have been the thought of being able to do a wireless video call from one side of the planet to the other 100 years ago. So while Istvan clearly represents a form of fundamentalist ideology, there is no reason to at least entertain the ideas proposed by him and a few like-minded individuals. Which is something Yuval Harari has done – more about that further down below in the “Podcast episode of the week” section.
  • How Silicon Valley Is Trying to Hack Its Way Into a Longer Life (time.com, 2)
    So what are people associated with the Silicon Valley-centric transhumanist mindset doing in order to extend their life? Here is a list of undertakings.
  • Norway is reaching tipping point for electric vehicles as market share reaches record breaking 37% (electrek.co, 1)
    Incredible, particularly the fact that this is happening in oil-rich Norway.
  • In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant (theguardian.com, 2)
    Valid point, I guess. Adjusting to the age of automation means equipping today’s children with the skills that robots wont be able to compete on.
  • Interactive competence (medium.com, 1)
    One skill to learn, not only for children: interactive competence: The ability to connect with information and people, as and when needed.
  • George Orwell and Useless Work (shift.newco.co, 2)
    How does a person live day to day in poverty, being exclusively concerned with survival? George Orwell, widely known for his dystopian novel 1984, personally experienced such a state of existence, and wrote about it 80 years ago.
  • The race for autonomous cars is over. Silicon Valley lost (autoblog.com, 1)
    The verdict in this post might be premature, but for the moment it indeed looks as if the tech giants have realized that building and selling complete cars should better be left to other players, who know how to do it.
  • The Myth of the Entrepreneur (thinkgrowth.org, 2)
    Entrepreneurship is often glorified as the pinnacle and main driver of innovation. What these stories routinely ignore is the crucial role government funding for academic research plays in order to get to those entrepreneurial breakthroughs that captivate everyone’s attention.
  • Social Media Needs A Travel Mode (idlewords.com, 2)
    This is an intriguing idea: During travel, most people leave important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But with data stored on social media services, it’s all or nothing (unless you use a dedicated “travel smartphone”) – which can become a problem if you have to deal with overly invasive immigration officers.
  • Accuracy on the Internet: The Price of Freedom is Personal Responsibility (seapointcenter.com, 1)
    I’m linking to this short piece mostly because of the statement from the headline. It seems as if while many people have been embracing the freedom brought by the Internet, they have not understood the personal responsibility that comes with it.
  • Trump is causing a political app boom, data shows (techcrunch.com, 1)
    No surprise here. The demand for coverage of politics and Trumpism seems insatiable.
  • UberEVENTS is anything but über (hackernoon.com, 2)
    In the U.S., Uber offers less known service called “UberEVENTS”, which allows event organizers to provide rides for attendees free of charge. These rides are instead billed to the organizer. The author describes his rather frustrating experience using the service.
  • Apple Doesn’t Need to Buy Netflix (aboveavalon.com, 2)
    Why Apple would or wouldn’t have to buy Netflix, based on the performance of Apple Music.
  • The Robot Tax And Basic Income (avc.com, 1)
    Bill Gates is a proponent of a robot tax. Not everyone else agrees. But the topic will for sure be subject to intensifying debates.
  • Rule by Nobody (reallifemag.com, 3)
    A critical analogy of bureaucracies and algorithms, which share certain self-preserving and evasive characteristics.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Podcast episode of the week:

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Facebook, Uber and the outsider’s harsh perspective on Silicon Valley

Two companies based in the Silicon Valley (which not geographically but culturally includes San Francisco) have been making headlines over the past days: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his globalization manifesto and Uber was confronted with the extensive, high-profile revelations of a former female engineer about the company’s systematic ignorance of sexism and generally hostile work culture.

Both stories have led to widespread criticism. In the case of Uber, it’s obvious why. But even Facebook’s manifesto, despite having been an active PR effort, was not received too well in the media. When the leader of the arguably most powerful company in the world outlines how he wants to use that power to shape the world, few are getting enthusiastic. Two of the negative responses to these stories stuck out though: They didn’t come from the usual suspects who professionally cover or comment on technology but from representatives of other firms. They also didn’t only focus on the specific matter, but used the occasion for a direct attack on the Silicon Valley way of doing things. Continue Reading

Zuckerberg’s globalization manifesto says: “it’s really, really… really complicated”

That’s the type of coincidence I like: Just a few days after I opened a blog post with the rhetorical question about what’s keeping Mark Zuckerberg up at night, the Facebook CEO published an extensive open letter titled “Building a global community”, offering a few hints (reading time according to Instapaper: 23 minutes).

In what certainly must be called a “manifesto”, Zuckerberg offers his view on why globalization is experiencing a backlash and outlines on which principles Facebook will attempt to help tackling these issues.

Significant self-criticism is (unsurprisingly) missing. The text lacks any sincere acknowledgements of possible direct causations between certain unfortunate global trends and the rise of Facebook – which grew from 0 to almost 2 billion active members within only a bit more than 10 years.

Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #108

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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If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, do like more than 300 other smart people (as of January 2017) and sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out each Thursday right after this post goes live, including all the links. Example.
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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 3 to 10 minutes, 3 = more than 10 minutes

  • Universal Basic Income Accelerates Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure (evonomics.com, 2)
    A brilliant text. One of the best I’ve read about the potential of a basic income. When it comes to the core argumentation for considering such a solution, usually the focus lies on the angle of smarter, more efficient social welfare – about ensuring that even when millions of additional jobs are being automated, people will still be able to pay for basic needs. In this essay, the other, in fact more exciting angle is being emphasized: That a basic income would empower more people to take risks such as becoming entrepreneurs, by reducing fear of the consequences of failure. If you decide to read it, pay particular attention to the insurance analogy. I find that one very intriguing.
  • When Good Intentions Backfire (points.datasociety.net, 3)
    Engineers and journalists should think 10 steps ahead in order to imagine how products, ideas or principles that are born out of good intentions might be manipulated or repurposed in much less desirable ways later, suggests Danah Boyd.
  • Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple seeks design perfection at new ‘spaceship’ campus (reuters.com, 2)
    Amazing how much effort and focus on details Apple is putting into creating its new headquarter. Of course, if any company would be a candidate for such an approach, it’s Apple.
  • I’ll never bring my phone on an international flight again (medium.freecodecamp.com, 2)
    An eye-opening text that makes a gruesome prediction: “It’s only a matter of time before downloading the contents of people’s phones becomes a standard procedure for entering every country.”
  • Amazon Go For China? WeChat Store Of The Future (chinachannel.co, 1)
    A completely automated physical store that handles customer identification and payment through WeChat. Incredible.
  • Amazon’s Friction-Killing Tactics To Make Products More Seamless (firstround.com, 3)
    An interesting read even if you are not specifically involved with building products – it’s valuable to learn about the drive towards less and less friction even if you are just a user/customer. Often, it’s the presence of friction which makes incumbents vulnerable to the upstarts.
  • Trust: the inside story of the rise and fall of Ethereum (aeon.co, 3)
    Very thought-provoking take questioning Blockchain enthusiasts’ hope that technology could replace the human dimension of trust.
  • Why our company’s remote work system failed (medium.com, 2)
    When people prefer to keep coming to the office despite the availability of remote work opportunities, then this is a clear statement.
  • Inside Medium’s Meltdown (businessinsider.com, 2)
    After reading this I am undecided whether I now believe less or more in Medium. If the problems are caused by the personality and ideals of his founder & CEO Ev Williams, then the question is if he can put those aside.
  • How tech ate the media and our minds (axios.com, 2)
    This sums it up well. Also, this process happened while no one noticed it (the neo luddites don’t count, because they are generally against everything that has to do with digital technology).
  • In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books (qz.com, 2)
    A striking point.
  • A fuck-you money attitude (m.signalvnoise.com, 1)
    “Fuck-you money” means being well-off enough to be able to tell anyone off for any reason without risking one’s livelihood. But how often does this really happen? Asks David Heinermeier Hansson aka DHH.
  • The Disease of more (markmanson.net, 2)
    Maybe part of the answer to this question is the “disease of more”. Nothing is ever “enough” and relative happiness quickly plunges back to the famous “7” on a 1-10 scale, meaning that the next venture has to happen, and it has to be bigger than the previous one.
  • One person at a time (jarche.com, 1)
    A brief note on the importance of individuals as nodes in the networked society – which is what we are headed to right at this moment. These nodes become so crucial because “our institutions and markets will fail to deliver in a network era society because they were never designed for one.”
  • The Meaning of Decentralization (medium.com, 3)
    Apropos networks: These networks sometimes tend to show decentralized characterics. Here is a well thought out explanation of what decentralization actually means, what different types exist and why some of them are harder to achieve than others.
  • Here’s What Happens When @realDonaldTrump Tweets A Link (buzzfeed.com, 1)
    Trump uses the public version of the URL shortener Bitly which allows everyone to check click statistics for any Bitly URL.
  • Has Facebook slipped up with VR? (bbc.com, 3)
  • Google Daydream hasn’t done anything to fix VR’s biggest problem – it’s just not very good (androidpolice.com, 2)
    Two pieces that illustrate how the optimism about the short-term impact of VR is currently taking a few hits. Is there any limit to the number of times VR can loop through the different stages of the hype cycle?
  • Don’t Look Now, but the Great Unbundling Has Spun into Reverse (nytimes.com, 2)
    The great unbundling of traditional media is followed by the great bundling of digital media. The economics of bundling are too attractive and powerful to be neglected.
  • Mass entertainment in the digital age is still about blockbusters, not endless choice (economist.com, 2)
    That’s an interesting point considering how frequently it is lamented that during water cooler talks, people today are lacking this one single show or movie which everyone watched the evening before on TV. Other than that the consumption does not happen at exactly the same time for everyone, might that just be myth?
  • How Sonos will take on Alexa and Google: by integrating them (theverge.com, 3)
    Sonos could have been the company that introduced the concept of smart home speakers instead of Amazon. Now the iconic maker of wireless speakers is trying to catch up – by wanting to play nice with all the new contenders in the field.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • The crisis of optimism
    People have lost their optimism for the future – with the exception of the technology industry in Silicon Valley. And so they turn to the banal methods of the past. What could bring optimism back?

Video of the week:

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The crisis of optimism

Source: IPSOS MORI

The world is undergoing a crisis of optimism. Citizens especially but not only in developed countries are losing their hope for a better future. After decades of growth and prosperity following the world wars, now stagnation, loss of purchasing power and fear of decreasing wealth are the new default. That’s why seductive authoritarian strongmen are gaining support – once again. They promise a better future. Certainly only “better” in the sense of “for those of you who have always lived in this country and share a certain zero-sum worldview”, but nonetheless. The group is obviously big enough to make someone U.S. president. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #107

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 want to make sure not to miss this link selection, do like more than 300 other smart people (as of January 2017) and sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out each Thursday right after this post goes live, including all the links. Example.
======

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

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Zuckerberg’s Lock-in Effect
    Facebook has become a revenue and profit machine. But the company’s success comes at a cost for politics, societies and the maintenance of social peace. The undesirable effects of the “Facebook world” have become so apparent lately that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be seriously concerned. Tragically, even if the 32-year-old would start to have doubts about what he has unleashed, it wouldn’t matter: He cannot fix the damage anymore. He has locked the company into a highly effective business model. Abandoning it is not an option. It’s his very own Lock-in Effect.
  • Medium can be the better Twitter
    When looking at Medium.com not as a publishing platform but as a social network around smart ideas and constructive discussions, it has huge potential to actually become the better Twitter.

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Zuckerberg’s Lock-in Effect

What’s keeping Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg up at night? Is it imaginable that he, despite public denials, feels at least some kind of worry about Facebook’s prominent role in the dramatic reshaping of the political landscape and the increasing polarization that can be witnessed in many countries? Does he ever have doubts about whether the company lives up to its promise to “make the world more open and connected” in the long run? Could the 32-year-old at least occasionally ponder the possibility that the sweeping changes that are shaking the foundations and structures of modern societies, might be much more sever due to Facebook?

Only Mark Zuckerberg himself knows the honest answer. But let’s for hypothetical reasons entertain the idea that the creator and head of history’s probably most influential company at least wouldn’t totally rule out negative effects that his platform’s dominance has on trust in democracy and on the ability of public consensus-building – it tragically would not matter. Zuckerberg wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. And that despite him having managed to retain so many voting rights that he technically can do whatever he wants – as long as it serves the company goals, of course. Continue Reading

Medium can be the better Twitter

I have changed my mind about Medium, the service created by the Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone in 2012. Initially I was concerned about the startup’s effort to centralize content and how that would weaken the distributed publishing structure that made the web such a great place. 2 years ago I wrote:

“Nobody could be interested in a scenario in which all non-paid-for content is appearing first and foremost on Medium. A centralized approach like this means that one entity is in full control over who gets to publish what and how it is being monetized. Also, a centralized approach introduces a single point of failure. If Medium’s servers crash, all the content would be unavailable”

A lot has happened since then. Among other things, at least for me, existing social media platforms have lost most of their appeal. Especially Twitter became unbearable, and I am far from the only one who has come to this conclusion. Just read the comments here (and this article).

The reasons why Twitter turned from an exciting tool for networking and access to valuable information into a toxic, polarizing and frustrating time-sink are multifaceted. Based on my long-term observation, one of its core weaknesses is its brevity. In a time of mounting global complexity, a service that due to its limitation to 140 characters acts as an outlet for impulses, emotions and binary, one-dimensional simplifications is the worst that can happen.  Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #106

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 want to make sure not to miss this link selection, do like more than 300 other smart people (as of January 2017) and sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out each Thursday right after this post goes live, including all the links. Example.
======

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

  • On Progress and Historical Change (3)
    An absolutely brilliant essay shedding light on questions about inevitability of progress and historical changes. I found especially the second half to be truly enlightening and educating.
  • The Data That Turned the World Upside Down (3)
    This comprehensive article detailing the impact that big data analysis has on political marketing and opinion-making made huge waves when it was published in German a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s available in English as well. The authors drew criticism for too far-reaching conclusions and for buying all the claims made by Cambridge Analytica – the big data firm profiled. But in my eyes certain flaws of this work don’t invalidate its important message: That large-scale data collection and the new possibilities for microtargeting of single individuals based on their digital interest profiles offer powerful tools to subtly and effectively manipulate people’s political positions, thereby influencing public opinion.
  • More than one million people will work from coworking spaces in 2017 (1)
    To be honest, I found this number to be surprisingly low, considering how many people I know who at least occasionally hang out at co-working spaces. But that only shows in how much of a bubble we “tech people” live in.
  • The Schedule and the Stream (3)
    Thanks to the Internet, media consumption is moving from a schedule- to a stream-based paradigm. That also shifts the public space, which in the stream is currently quite contested. Thought-provoking reflection.
  • Does the era of No Interface also mean No Revenues? (2)
    Will the looming shift from screen to voice interaction kill large parts of the advertising market? A captivating question to ponder, and one which Amazon does not need to worry about too much. Theoretically, one could make a case for that Google (or Facebook) should buy e-commerce companies, to mitigate possible risks that will affect their advertising-based business models in a voice-first world.
  • Apple strategy in ‘smart home’ race threatened by Amazon (2)
    This piece offers interesting details on the different approaches by Apple and Amazon towards how third party manufacturers get their products connected to their respective company’s smart home platform. It’s a slow but thorough vetting approach taken by Apple vs a quick but less quality-focused one by Amazon, akin to the different app approval procedures for Apple’s App Store and Google Play. As we have learned, both paths come with their own particular set of weaknesses.
  • Silicon Valley’s criticism of Donald Trump (2)
    I’m admittedly rather thrilled by how the U.S. technology industry is being forced to take clear sides now that Donald Trump sits in the White House. For too long, the leading companies of the industry were able to adopt “good” policies only when it helped their PR or recruiting efforts. The rest of the time, they were busy externalizing the costs of their disruptive business models. Now they have to face reality like everyone else.
  • Is Tech Disruption Good for the Economy? (2)
    The study presented here, focusing on 85 years worth of patents, suggests that overall and seen over a long period, tech disruption is indeed good for the economy (in terms of total wealth created), despite its destructive impact on certain industries.
  • Google, in Post-Obama Era, Aggressively Woos Republicans (2)
    Is this an indicator for a broken system, or just an inevitable aspect of how the world works?
  • Instagram Stories is stealing Snapchat’s users (2)
    Snapchat must hate this narrative. Just imagine if Facebook’s Instagram would mange to screw up Snapchat’s imminent IPO in the last moment.
  • Hideo Kojima says games and films will merge together (2)
    That’s what I expect as well. My guess is that people will eventually be able to switch between a lean back (passive consumption) and a lean forward (active participation) experience as they please.
  • Earn Anywhere with the 21 App (1)
    A curious concept. 21 offers users a personal online profile and messaging inbox which pays users Bitcoins for reading messages as well as for accomplished micro tasks advertised through the service. Here is my personal profile.
  • Why is Successful Change so Difficult? (3)
    Intelligent analysis of the difficulty of getting an organization to accept and embrace change. Many of these insights should be applicable to other contexts such as a incentivizing change within a society as well.
  • India Is Building the Infrastructure for a Truly Digital Economy (2)
    Along with the controversial cash ban and ambitions to investigate a future implementation of an universal basic income, India appears to push hard towards transforming its society.
  • Smartphone orders clog Starbucks shops, forcing coffee giant to revamp store designs (2)
    The phenomenon of unintended consequences is always fascinating.
  • Software Is Politics (2)
    Not sure if the majority of IT engineers and tech entrepreneurs are aware of how political their actions are.
  • With the Internet of Things, we’re building a world-size robot (3)
    Renowned security expert Bruce Schneier comes up with an effective metaphor for the Internet of Things and explains in detail why the market is unable to ensure that all the parts of this “world-size robot” are properly secured.
  • United we stand, divided we fall (2)
    Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, wrote a passionate, gripping letter to the 27 EU heads of state or government, summarizing the challenges faced by the EU but also outlining the potential of a united Europe. Completely resonates with me.
  • The Throughput of Learning (3)
    This philosophical & somewhat abstract look at the goals and process of learning will require 100 percent focus of you, but it can change your perspective on the topic.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • What’s next?
    I am scratching my head about the state of the world, but don’t have any good conclusions. However, a few thoughts keep swirling through my mind, so I wanted to pen them down. Featuring Hegel, brain hacking, counter-intuitive outcomes and more.

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What’s next?

Like many people, I’m scratching my head about the state of the world, trying to make sense of the backlash against globalization, liberalism, science and secularism. The emphasis is on “trying”. It is not working. Too many dots to connect, too many contexts to consider, too many systems that are interdependent, too many ideologies and narratives that interfere with accurately assessing reality. Whenever I think I have arrived at some potentially all-comprising explanation, 10 other ideas pop up in my mind, some of them contradicting my previous hypotheses, while others adding additional layers to it, complicating everything.

And so, a lot of only loosely connected, unfinished thoughts are swirling through my head, which I’ll now pen down. Continue Reading