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.

======

If you like what you read, you can support meshedsociety.com on Patreon!

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.

======

If you like what you read, you can support meshedsociety.com on Patreon!

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

Weekly Links & Thoughts #105

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:

  • The year when social media died
    It was nice while it lasted, but for me it’s time to move on. (please note: obviously the headline requires some abstraction. As everyone is aware of, social media services are still there and see a lot of activity. I hope what I mean with “dead” will get apparent when reading the article).
  • The internet does to the world what radio did to the world
    In finally found the time to (re)read Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding media”.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Rationally Speaking: Jason Brennan on “Against democracy”
    An extremely thought-provoking interview about the flaws of democracy and a concept called Epistocracy (knowledge-based voting) which could replace it. Here is a review of the interviewee’s recent book, “Against democracy”. Personally I don’t think making voting-rights depending on a basic competency test akin to a driver’s license (but of course free) necessarily would have to be labeled as abandonment of democracy, but I am not an expert on this topic so I keep the option open to change my mind (or to reject the whole idea of Epistocracy).

======

If you like what you read, you can support meshedsociety.com on Patreon!

The year when social media died

Here you can read this article in German.

To me, 2016 was the year when social media as we knew it died. About ten years after the rise of the Web 2.0, the emergence of mass-market social networking (which started in my definition with Facebook, not with MySpace) and Facebook’s introduction of the news feed, 2016 marked for me the end of an era. During the last quarter, I dramatically reduced the time spent with the leading feed-based (and story-based) social media services. I stopped tweeting and paying attention to my Twitter timeline, only using the app for direct messaging and as a push channel for this blog. I don’t post a lot individual stuff anymore on Facebook, and when accessing facebook.com, a browser extension hides the news feed. I also spend only a tiny amount of time with Snapchat (where I wasn’t really active anyway) and Instagram. And I feel great, experiencing no fear of missing out (FOMO) at all.

These steps are the result of a plain and simple personal cost-benefit-analysis. For about ten years, I perceived social media to deliver large amounts of value to my life and society with comparatively little costs. That changed in 2016. I started to see one-to-many social networking rather as a burden than as a source of pleasure and useful interaction. After a few months of introspection I decided that it was time to close the chapter; to stop permanently consuming and filling social feeds and to abandon constantly thinking aloud in 140 characters.

Let me explain what the costs are that led me onto this path. Continue Reading

The internet does to the world what radio did to the world

Over the holidays, I finally found the time to read Marshall McLuhan’s book “Understanding media” (I might have spent time with it during my studies but definitely didn’t pay too much attention back then). Last year, hardly a week went by without me stumbling upon a text which made a reference to the book and its most famous phrase, “The medium is the message”. Now I understand why. McLuhan’s media criticism laid out in his 1964 work feels incredibly contemporary. Occasionally to an almost scary degree.

Among the parts that intrigued me the most were the following three paragraphs, which in my opinion are very suitable to describe current media dynamics and societal events – if one, while reading, replaces the term “radio” with “internet” and “Hitler” with whoever comes to mind.

“That Hitler came into political existence at all is directly owing to radio and public-address systems. This is not to say that these media relayed his thoughts effectively to the German people. His thoughts were of very little consequence. Radio provided the first massive experience of electronic implosion, that reversal of the entire direction and meaning of literate Western civilization. For tribal peoples, for those whose entire social existence is an extension of family life, radio will continue to be a violent experience. Highly literate societies, that have long subordinated family life to individualist stress in business and politics, have managed to absorb and to neutralize the radio implosion without revolution. Not so, those communities that have had only brief or superficial experience of literacy. For them, radio is utterly explosive.

“The power of radio to retribalize mankind, its almost instant reversal of individualism into collectivism, Fascist or Marxist, has gone unnoticed. So extraordinary is this unawareness that it is what needs to be explained. The transforming power of media is easy to explain, but the ignoring of this power is not at all easy to explain. It goes without saying that the universal ignoring of the psychic action of technology bespeaks some inherent function, some essential numbing of consciousness such as occurs under stress and shock conditions.”

“Just as we now try to control atom-bomb fallout, so we will one day try to control media fallout. Education will become recognized as civil defense against media fallout. The only medium for which our education now offers some civil defense is the print medium. The educational establishment, founded on print, does not yet admit any other responsibilities.

Clearly, education has failed to offer a large-scale civil defense against internet fallout.

Update: Have a look at the excellent comment discussion about the thoughts in this post on Hacker News.

======
Do like more than 250 other smart people (as of December 2016) and sign up for the weekly email loaded with great things to read about the digital world. Example.
======

Photo: Flickr/Alan Levine, CC BY 2.0

Weekly Links & Thoughts #104

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 250 other smart people (as of December 2016) 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:

  • Saving obsolete jobs
    Does it really make sense to artificially save jobs that technically become obsolete? For politicians apparently it does. For society? Most likely not so much.

======

If you like what you read, you can support meshedsociety.com on Patreon!

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