meshedsociety weekly #229

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Major Technological Changes Are Coming More Slowly Than They Once Did (scientificamerican.com, 4 minutes)
    It’s a well popularized narrative by now that technological progress has been slowing down significantly over the past decades. This article makes stresses this point once again, and it indeed seems so. Yet, at the same time, another common narrative we hear about often is pointing towards accelerating change, which leaves people struggling for stability and certainty. Can both be true at the same time? My theory is: yes. While technological change appears to be slowing and becoming more incremental, cultural, social and economical change is accelerating, fueled by the new technologies of the past decades, from airplane and the mainframe computer to the internet and the smartphone.
  • The Nightmare of Disintermediation (medium.com, 4 minutes)
    When middlemen and institutional gatekeepers are gone, they are replaced by chaos and polarization. I share the concerns laid out by Jill Carlson.
  • Parlez-Vous Anglais? Yes, of Course. (nytimes.com via msn.com, 5 minutes)
    Europe is turning into a continent of people who speak English almost as good as native speakers. That has various implications.
  • Jeff Bezos is quietly letting his charities do something radical — whatever they want (vox.com, 10 minutes)
    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hasn’t made itself a name as a big charity giver so far. But with this, he suddenly appears to be an innovator when it comes to philanthropy.
  • WeWork IPO Shows It’s the Most Magical Unicorn (bloomberg.com, 6 minutes)
    I’m extremely skeptical about WeWork’s IPO, and about WeWork as a company. There are just too many risky and even dubious aspects around this whole undertaking, and if the global economy will go into a recession which is how it looks like right now, the consequence will be lower demand for WeWork’s office real estate. Framing itself as a “tech business” won’t change any of this. Also: “WeWork isn’t a tech company; it’s a soap opera“.
  • How a Norwegian Viking Comedy Producer Hacked Netflix’s Algorithm (hollywoodreporter.com, 3 minutes)
    With a carefully targeted advertising campaign on social media, producers can get Netflix’s recommendation algorithm to notice their show and start promoting it.
  • Your Apple Card changes colors depending on what you buy (businessinsider.com, 1 minute)
    One typical example of Apple’s attention to detail. Seemingly a minor thing, but sometimes minor things get people excited.
  • Europe’s Cobbled Streets Are Breaking Scooters (bloomberg.com, 5 minutes)
    That’s quite a symbol for the occasional clash of old and new.
  • The original Kindle was crazy (fastcompany.com, 5 minutes)
    Amazon’s first version of the e-book reader Kindle, released in 2007, “got a lot of things wrong but it was daring. It was unapologetically strange”.
  • Disregard ideas, acquire assets (blog.bumblebeelabs.com, 4 minutes)
    From some nobodies’ genius idea to the creation of a startup that changes the world? Not the way how things usually go. Here is a plea for a new startup narrative to emerge: “One that focuses on the less sexy aspects of building a startup which is the 10 years before you write the first piece of code.”
  • Promise of “instant” (blog.amitgawande.com, 1 minute)
    Amit Gawande laments the lack of patience in an age of instant, which “has ruined us”. I have a different view on this. In my eyes, there are at least 2 types of patience: Waiting for the pay offs of one’s work (whether on oneself or external projects), and waiting for things one needs. I consider the first type a virtue. The latter type however, seems to be mostly a mental hack to make a virtue out of necessity. Have to wait for 4 hours to get your 5 minutes at the doctor? Be patient! Have to wait one week to get the thing you bought online? Be patient! Have to wait one day until your bank transfer has been processed? Be patient! In these cases, there is nothing inherently virtuous or positive in waiting. The better solution would be to actually improve the processes, so people don’t have to wait for things and can use their time for more enjoyable things.
  • Twelve Virtues of Rationality (yudkowsky.net, 10 minutes)
    Apropos virtues: Rather deep guide outlining the different parts that make a rational thinker and debater.
  • The 2 “Oh Shit!s” (medium.com, 9 minutes)
    “Oh shit” is the first reaction when people realize that a system designed from a trust approach (such as Wikipedia) actually can work out fairly well, writes Jerry Michalski.
  • A new book asserts that rich countries grow with lighter environmental impacts (technologyreview.com, 4 minutes)
    “Andrew McAfee makes a strong case that some long-held assumptions about the inevitable costs of growth are simplistic and frequently wrong. And while it may clash with some of our deeply ingrained intuitions, it’s clear that technology can play, and perhaps must play, a role in solving some of the same problems it creates.”
  • Inside the Hidden World of Hacking Elevator Phones (wired.com, 9 minutes)
    US elevators are legally mandated to have emergency call boxes. If you can determine their numbers, you can call in and chat with whoever happens to be in there.
  • QAnon – A New Kind of Conspiracy (theness.com, 6 minutes)
    Compelling perspective: QAnon represents the evolution of conspiracy theories; a phenomenon that combines elements from social media, video games, and live-action role playing. Essentially, a conspiracy internet roleplaying game which blurs fiction and reality.
  • His mission: Meet 10,000 people, one at a time, for an hour at a time (inquirer.com, 6 minutes)
    Interesting experiment. It’s probably quite fun if one, like this guy, is a “full-blown extrovert”.

Quotation of the week:

  • There are no original thoughts around a shared cultural experience (political, entertainment, sports, news). Every idea or observations that passes through your head has not only been thought of by a number of other people, it’s also been posted on social media. The hive mind is always one step ahead.
    Ranjan Roy in “The Rule of 140” (themargins.substack.com)

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meshedsociety weekly #228

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new CO2 (luminategroup.com, 3 minutes)
    A smart and thought-provoking argumentation: “We are more impacted by other people’s data (with whom we are grouped) than we are by data about us”, writes Martin Tisné. And: “We are bound by other people’s consent. Our own consent (or lack thereof) is becoming increasingly irrelevant” (thanks Viktor for pointing me to it).
  • Chasing the Pink (logicmag.io 16 minutes)
    An insightful feature by Sarah Mason on how gamification is changing work (using the example of on-demand driving).
  • Study finds workers would rather be replaced by a robot than another person (techxplore.com, 2 minutes)
    Fascinating. The researchers suggest based on the results that people do not feel the need to compete with a robot the way they would with another person.
  • VW exec says ‘tipping point is near’ for electric vehicles (europe.autonews.com, 2 minutes)
    Good news. The tipping point will be price equity, and that’s near, says a VW top manager. Another interesting point: Focus groups have revealed that there is fear about driving electric cars through water. “For 50 years, we’ve educated people that electricity and water don’t mix”.
  • Python is eating the world (techrepublic.com, 15 minutes)
    An accessible long read detailing “how one developer’s side project became the hottest programming language on the planet”. This seems to be a good moment to point to my own experience report on how I taught myself Python (which I believe anyone can do if they are willing and able to prioritize some time for it).
  • Contrary to Musk’s claim, Lidar has some advantages in Self Driving technology (arstechnica.com, 11 minutes) Cars can “see” the world around them either through Lidar, a type of sensor that uses lasers to build a three-dimensional map of the world around the car, or cameras. Or both. But top-of-the-line lidar sensors currently cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Smartphone Sales Are in Freefall, and That’s Okay (ifixit.com, 4 minutes)
    It is. Some paradigms are clearly moving right now, and that’s kind of exciting.
  • Apple Deserves More Credit for Wearables (aboveavalon.com, 4 minutes)
    While many observers are focusing on Apple’s staling iPhone business and the rise of the services unit, another success story is the growth of the wearable segment, namely AirPods and Apple Watch.
  • Streaks (seths.blog, 1 minute)
    Seth Godin on the power of streaks. I love streaks as well. They don’t seem to work for everyone’s mental structure, but they do for me. I currently “operate” two streaks: Writing a daily journal entry in Spanish since January (to practice the language), and a weekly “soft” streak where I try to not eat meat for 5 days in a row (usually Monday to Friday), or longer. This latter streak is actually getting easier all the time.
  • Predictably Successful Ideas (benjaminreinhardt.com, 1 minute)
    A framework that can be applied not only to startups. What are the things that predictably can work out, if just some controllable factors work out?
  • The firm with 900 staff and no office (bbc.com, 4 minutes)
    At Automattic, the company behind WordPress, every single one of the 930 staff work remotely. The business has no fixed office presence at all.
  • People are using voice notes to pre-screen their date’s personality (mashable.com, 4 minutes)
    Voice noting on messaging apps has become a stepping stone that exists “somewhere between exchanging numbers and the actual first date”, according to this piece. Although I’ve made the experience that one might as well just skip this step in between. But obviously preferences differ on this.
  • The Audio App That’s Transforming Erotica (newyorker.com, 6 minutes)
    Dipsea, an app founded in 2018, is a subscription-based purveyor of original erotic short stories, designed with women in mind. “Many of Dipsea’s stories end abruptly…”
  • What If We Visualized Humanity’s Future in Millennia Instead of Centuries? (singularityhub.com, 5 minutes)
    It doesn’t come natural to plan for and imagine centuries or even millennia ahead, but at the same time, it can be intriguing indeed.
  • Deutschlandtakt and Country Size (pedestrianobservations.com, 10 minutes)
    Are you up for some train-timetable nerdery about different ways of train scheduling in France, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands? Here you go!
  • Writing to find out what you don’t want to know (austinkleon.com, 1 minutes)
    This is a cool framing of a reason to write. It resonates with me. Nowadays whenever I start writing a longer blog post, I eventually give up and never publish it, because while writing, I do stumble upon gaps in my own understanding, contradictions in my thinking, etc. That’s why I end up curating instead :)
  • Our Bias Toward Big Events (bethanycrystal.com, 5 minutes)
    Conferences are usually formed as “big events”, even though most people get much more value from small gatherings, according to Bethany Crystal.
  • Why the French love to say no (bbc.com, 9 minutes)
    The same is largely true for Germans, too. But definitely not for Swedes (who would often prefer a “Yes sure. Or…”). I’m still sometimes struggling with that.

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meshedsociety weekly #227

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • What Technology Is Most Likely to Become Obsolete During Your Lifetime? (paleofuture.gizmodo.com, 11 minutes)
    Five historians of technology present their suggestions. Among them, tongue in cheek: the neck tie. There’s probably no point in starting to argue about whether this counts as “technology”. In any case, 2020 US Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang seems to agree about the fate of the tie.
  • The Banana Trick and Other Acts of Self-Checkout Thievery (theatlantic.com, 3 minutes)
    From last year but not less relevant today: Apparently, at least in the US, self-checkout cashiers turn some people into thieves who would not engage in such an activity under other circumstances.
  • Hidden Networks: Network Effects That Don’t Look Like Network Effects (a16z.com, 13 minutes)
    There are more network effects playing out online and elsewhere than the conventional, obvious ones. Examples are “slow networks”, “unfinished networks” and “throttled networks”. Very informative analysis if you are interested in network effects (which are a significant force driving our connected world).
  • What should Apple do with its $210 billion in cash? (saastr.com, 2 minutes)
    The answer to the question has some counter-intuitive aspects. For example, using the money to hire more engineers or invest in more R&D decrease profits and thus “earnings per share”. At least seen from the logic of the market, it’s the hardest thing to do for a company such as Apple.
  • We Need a New Science of Progress (theatlantic.com, 9 minutes)
    Progress and how to most effectively achieve it is understudied, argue Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen.
  • Calls for an AI to be credited as an inventor (bbc.com, 3 minutes)
    Currently patents offices insist innovations are attributed to humans. But a team of academics says that it should be possible to credit an artificial intelligence that produces ideas as inventor, too.
  • On Hanging Out (raptitude.com, 4 minutes)
    An inspiring tribute to the practice of hanging out with other people at the end of a day on porches, benches facing some kind of water, or coffee places.
  • When Having Friends Is More Alluring Than Being Right (theferrett.com, 6 minutes)
    This connects well to the previous point: Since most people experience a lot of positive feelings from being with friends (whether on a porch or elsewhere), oftentimes, they prefer acquiring and maintaining friendships over being right. This is one likely factor which makes fringe conspiracy theories such as the one of a flat earth so sticky and attractive to some.
  • How older generations share news articles in the smartphone era (mashable.com, 4 minutes)
    “When millennials head home, a lot of them are greeted with a pile of newspaper clippings. Others receive highlighted articles sent in the mail, usually from grandparents or old-school parents. The more “with it” parents snap a photo of articles and email or text that over. And yes, some parents have figured out how to email or text over a link to a news story.”
  • The Beginning of the End of the Beef Industry (outsideonline.com, 11 minutes)
    An extremely bullish take on “alt meat” (yes, that’s the term the author uses for plant-based “meat”).
  • A Founder Metric That Matters (om.co, 1 minute)
    When founders and executives are active users of their product, it shows. Om Malik wonders if Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi actually uses Uber.
  • In Hong Kong Protests, Faces Become Weapons (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    Signs of the looming age in which no one is anonymous anymore in public.
  • Iranians manage to surf the web despite tide of censorship (apnews.com, 4 minutes)
    Using the internet in Iran in an uncensored manner is not impossible, but it is a daily struggle.
  • Coincidence and the Law of Large Numbers (theness.com, 5 minutes)
    If we do the math, then it becomes clear that very unlikely events should happen all the time. Yet, the narrative value of coincidences is so tempting.
  • Consent Matters: When Tech Takes Remote Control Without Your Permission (puri.sm, 8 minutes)
    Increasingly, tech companies are coming to the consensus that they can change a user’s computer remotely (and often silently) without their knowledge or permission.
  • How to keep buildings cool without air conditioning (theconversation.com, 4 minutes)
    It looks as if this will be very valuable knowledge.
  • The Paradox of Ambition (perell.com, 6 minutes)
    “We’re taught that hard goals are hard and easy goals are easy. In entrepreneurial environments, the inverse is true. Paradoxically, hard goals can be easier to accomplish.”

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meshedsociety weekly #226

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • The Hidden Costs of Automated Thinking (thenewyorker.com, 9 minutes)
    Intellectual debt is the gap between working methods to solve human problems and the knowledge about how and why they work, according to Jonathan Zittrain. He mentions the example of Aspirin which was discovered in 1897 but only convincingly explained in 1995. Zittrain worries that with artificial intelligence, the amount of intellectual debt is becoming too large.
  • A timeline of high-profile tech apologies (vox.com, 11 minutes)
    Amusing term coined by Kaitlyn Tiffany in this overview of high-profile apologies from tech people: regreditorial.
  • The Metamorphosis (theatlantic.com, 10 minutes)
    Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher see the historic significance of the rise of AI as unprecedented or at best comparable with the transition from the medieval to the modern period.
  • How Banksy Authenticates His Work (reprage.com, 4 minutes)
    The famous anonymous street artist Banksy uses a clever system relying on a public and private key to authenticate the sold art work.
  • The coming deepfakes threat to businesses (axios.com, 2 minutes)
    Criminals are starting to use deepfakes — starting with AI-generated audio — to impersonate CEOs and steal millions from companies.
  • Facebook Is a New Form of Power (newrepublic.com, 5 minutes)
    This nails it. Facebook is much more than just a company, but it’s not a state either (although it’s always tempting to use the analogy).
  • The Trouble with Emoji (continuations.com, 3 minutes)
    Thought-provoking perspective on a difference between words and emoji: Due to their high level of abstraction, written words let readers fill in whatever they imagine (for example, when reading “human”, everyone imagines a human how it is most common to them). Emoji lack this universally, which means they have to add ever more representations.
  • Most YouTube climate change videos oppose the scientific consensus (theguardian.com, 3 minutes)
    YouTube’s response: More scientists should start taking YouTube seriously as a platform for sharing information.
  • Finnish company makes food out of thin air (bigthink.com, 6 minutes)
    The startup Solar Foods is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO₂, water and electricity.
  • The $60 Gadget That’s Changing Electronic Music (nytimes.com, 13 minutes)
    A feature on the Swedish company Teenage Engineering, which until now has sold more than 350,000 affordable pocket synthesizers, compared to the famous Korg M1 synthesizer which was sold about 250,000 times.
  • The Challenges with Single Toggle Buttons (uxmovement.com, 2 minutes)
    Insightful even if you aren’t a web designer but only a user.
  • An Underground Economy Selling Links From Major News Sites (buzzfeednews.com, 5 minutes)
    Search engine optimization consultants buy expired URLs that have been linked to by prominent news websites and redirect these domains to their clients’ sites in a bid to game search results.
  • The Benefits of Two Computer Monitors (onezero.medium.com, 6 minutes)
    This piece makes it sound as if it is almost universally better to work with two monitors. I’d argue it depends a lot on one’s type of work and work philosophy. If the second monitor is used mostly for Slack and Twitter, then this might actually decreasing productivity (while possibly creating the illusion of increased productivity). But again, it depends on many factors.
  • Plex makes piracy just another streaming service (theverge.com, 8 minutes)
    Plex, a project that started over 10 years ago, lets people set up their own media servers and share content with others. According to this piece, it has a growing community of happy users.
  • Demetrification: Removing the numbers of likes and retweets from public view (onezero.medium.com, 10 minutes)
    I don’t understand why the author decided to focus on who came up with the idea of demetrification first instead of making the trend the object of the piece (the underlying intellectual work is not exactly Nobel Prize worthy-level) but the trend itself is refreshing and probably healthy. I hope it spreads.
  • I was Insta-famous and it was one of the worst things to happen in my 20s (theguardian.com, 4 minutes)
    “Normally you take a photo because you want to capture a great moment, right? But as an influencer you have to manufacture those moments, stripmining the fun out of coffee dates because you’re managing the scene like Annie Leibovitz – if Annie Leibovitz was a basic bitch with a passion for latte art.”
  • From South Korea to Malaysia, ‘smart cities’ turn to ghost towns (scmp.com, 8 minutes)
    Hailed as answer to world’s urban ills, at least for now, urban developments aren’t living up to expectations, and create new ills.
  • How to become a restaurant regular (eater.com, 1 minutes)
    Funny, I try to achieve the opposite: To remain an “anonymous” customer even if I frequent a certain place often.

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meshedsociety weekly #225

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Quotation of the week:

  • “I believe that it makes sense to run your whole life on the lean startup model. Always be figuring out simple experiments that you can run and get data from. Always be ready to pivot.”
    Duncan Riach in “I spent all of my millions. This is what I learned” (hackernoon.com, 20 minutes)

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meshedsociety weekly #224

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant information bits, thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world, and a bit serendipity.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • I Tried Emailing Like a CEO and Quite Frankly, It Made My Life Better (buzzfeed.com, 7 minutes)
    Being slightly impolite (because extremely brief) but quick worked very well for Katie Notopoulos.
  • Fake News Is an Oracle (locusmag.com, 9 minutes)
    Cory Doctorow explores the topic of fake news and conspiracy theories from a different angle than what is usually being done: He likens these phenomena to the trauma of living in a world where there is ample evidence that our truth-seeking exer­cises can’t be trusted.
  • What content dominates on YouTube? (blog.pex.com, 5 minutes)
    Music. And when it comes to the distribution of views in general: 0.64% of all videos ever reach more than 100,000 views, and these videos represent 81.6% of all views on the platform.
  • How I made money podcasting and why you probably don’t want to (blog.usejournal.com, 13 minutes)
    Fascinating account from Tim Romero about how he becameJapan’s first professional podcaster”, built a little media business, worked 80-hour-weeks with good revenue for one person but not enough to hire staff, gave up on the business by taking a full time job, and also about how podcasting changed him as a person.
  • The Threat Of Automation Is A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (palladiummag.com, 15 minutes)
    The last sentence of this article is a good tl;dr: “Automation is a threat only because we believe it to be a threat, but it would stop being one if we acknowledged just how underrated humans are.
  • How the Smartphone Helped Save the Planet (wired.com, 6 minutes)
    Some might find the headline hyperbolic (and I actually modified it and replaced “iPhone” with “Smartphone”), but the point made is important to take into account: Billions of people buying smartphones isn’t automatically damaging the environment more than if these people wouldn’t have bought smartphones – because the smartphone replaced so many tools and gadgets that people now don’t buy anymore. As the author puts it, the smartphone let us dematerialize our consumption.
  • Jony Ive’s Fragmented Legacy: Unreliable, Unrepairable, Beautiful Gadgets (ifixit.com, 4 minutes)
    Seen from the perspective presented in the previous piece, maybe this “unrepairable” legacy must be considered the price we paid for having gotten the ability to dematerialize our consumption elsewhere…?
  • Eskilstuna: how a Swedish town became the world capital of recycling (theguardian.com, 12 minutes)
    The city of Eskilstuna is home to a small shopping mall named “ReTuna“, where everything on sale is secondhand or recycled.
  • In Japan, a growing number of car-sharing users don’t rent cars for driving (asahi.com, 4 minutes)
    This makes sense: In crowded (Japanese) cities, paying a few bucks for short-term access to a car in order to get a break from all the people to nap, relax or think, can be totally worth it.
  • The Families Who Use Slack and Asana at Home (theatlantic.com, 7 minutes)
    Makes me wonder if there is a market opportunity/need for a particular communication and management app targeting families.
  • Hidden VPN owners unveiled: 97 VPN products run by just 23 companies (vpnpro.com, 10 minutes)
    The VPN industry is characterized by lack of transparency and convoluted ownership structures – and a few of the companies involved are based in China.
  • Hong Kong’s protesters use AirDrop to breach China’s Firewall (qz.com, 3 minutes)
    Smart use case for AirDrop. Who knows where else this will come handy in the future.
  • Social Media and Thought Leadership for Founders (thisisgoingtobebig.com, 10 minutes)
    How to combine being an entrepreneur/startup founder and a thought leader, and why that can be a good move.
  • Response Rate is a Quality Signal (acrowdedspace.com, 3 minutes)
    Some insightful remarks on the information that emails which ask how happy a customer was with a specific service/product, provide to the sender.
  • Diversify Your Friendship Portfolio (lesswrong.com, 2 minutes)
    An intriguing analogy: As it is widely suggested to diversify one’s financial investments, one could apply the same concept to friendships.
  • Hey, grownups, it’s time to lose the backpack (inquirer.com, 3 minutes)
    Turns out, the backpack has become a thing in day-to-day (business) life among grown-ups  (in the moment I read this I realized how true this is, at least in the countries in which I spend my time), but the simple backpack etiquette (“Take it off in crowded spaces”) isn’t always followed. It’s meant as a serious read (I guess) but it’s also hilarious.
  • Why LinkedIn is the only social network that survives breakups (cnbc.com, 4 minutes)
    Apropos hilarious (as a topic someone felt worth covering). But at least for myself, it’s definitely true.
  • For 40 Years, Crashing Trains Was One of America’s Favorite Pastimes (atlasobscura.com, 6 minutes)
    Incredible. I can see why people found this fascinating. Let’s see whether in 100 years there’ll be an equivalent for today’s new technology.

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meshedsociety weekly #223

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • The 8chan story: Destroyer of worlds (members.tortoisemedia.com, 16 minutes)
    Incredible but also gloomy read: A profile of Fredrick Brennan, who created 8chan, “one of the most dangerous sites on the internet”. According to the piece, he had done so not out of ideology or inherent evilness, but rather by accident, as a result of his own very challenging personal situation and the need to find community in loneliness. 
  • Can you stop yourself being infected with other peoples’ desires? (aeon.co, 10 minutes)
    Can you?
  • A glimpse into the sweeping — and potentially troubling — cloud kitchens trend (techcrunch.com, 7 minutes)
    The trend towards “cloud kitchens” (centralized facilities without storefronts where food for a large number of restaurant delivery brands is being cooked) could change the game of food delivery as well as our cities.
  • This neural net would like to deliver these petitions (aiweirdness.com, 3 minutes)
    If you train a neural network with 190,000 petition titles from Change.org and then ask it to produce its own petition titles, this is the result. I kept laughing while reading through the list. A favorite: “Anyone: Stop the use of the word ‘shoe’ in a derogatory way.
  • Why Google Duplex might make my design job redundant (thenextweb.com, 4 minutes)
    A web designer ponders what it means for webdesign und websites now that an AI such as Google Duplex is able to use websites on behalf of its users. The money quote: “Duplex is making websites redundant. Designers like me are now faced with the possibility that we could ‘optimize’ the experience by simply removing it altogether and have the AI interact with the server instead”.
  • When You Listen, They Watch: Pre-Saving Albums Can Allow Labels to Track Users on Spotify (billboard.com, 6 minutes)
    I have never used the “pre-save” feature on Spotify (not sure if it is available everywhere yet), but turns out that utilizing it means sharing a lot of personal data with music labels – and most people are probably not aware of it.
  • Soon, satellites will be able to watch you everywhere all the time (technologyreview.com, 9 minutes)
    Every year, commercially available satellite images are becoming sharper and taken more frequently. Unless stricter limits will be imposed, one day everyone from ad companies to suspicious spouses to terrorist organizations will have access to tools previously reserved for government spy agencies.
  • Intelligent, Automated Self-Service (the-vital-edge.com, 5 minutes)
    Intriguing point: Most of what we think of as the “high-tech sector” is actually just the service economy becoming automated. And this process simultaneously generates vast quantities of data that allow the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon to dominate the field of machine learning.
  • The Easy Way Out (reallifemag.com, 10 minutes)
    L. M. Sacasas on the modern tech-driven society’s tendency to prioritize convenience and accept costly trade-offs.
  • Facebook, Libra, and the Long Game (stratechery.com, 11 minutes)
    At first I wanted to write a separate blog post, but then I saw Ben Thompson’s analysis and figured I might simply recommend it (chances are many of you have read it already though) and emphasize the – in my opinion – most important point: “Just as Google long boasted that the more people use the Internet the more revenue Google generates, it stands to reason that the more people use digital money the more it would benefit dominant digital companies like Facebook, whether that be through advertising, transactions, or simply making networks that much more valuable.” In other words: Facebook does not need any formal control over Libra in order to be its biggest beneficiary (and therefore, becoming even more dominating).
  • What if All Your Slack Chats Were Leaked? (nytimes.com, 3 minutes, )
    If you think about this, it actually is astonishing, in 2019, for this type of service: Slack stores everything you do on its platform by default — your username and password, every message you’ve sent, every lunch you’ve planned and every confidential decision you’ve made. And: The data is not end-to-end encrypted.
  • At 9.8 GB per month, India has the highest data usage per smartphone (thehindu.com, 2 minutes)
    In 2018, mobile data traffic per smartphone per month stood at 7 GB for North America, 3.1 GB for Latin America, 6.7 GB for Western Europe, 4.5 GB for Central and Eastern Europe, 3 GB for Middle East and Africa, 7.1 GB for northeast Asia and 3.6 GB for southeast Asia and Oceania region.
  • Memes Are the New Pop Stars: How TikTok Became the Future of the Music Industry (theringer.com, 15 minutes)
    An emerging class of TikTok musicians represents a new wave of music made to burn fast and bright in an era of smartphone-first media consumption. “In a way, TikTok users are both the new A&R and publicity team, supplanting many of the functions traditionally performed by record labels“.
  • We moved to Turkey from San Francisco to continue working on our startup (shafyy.com, 4 minutes)
    This isn’t a solution for many startups, but under certain circumstances, not accepting the absurd living costs of the San Francisco Bay Area (or other expensive hubs) can be a smart way to cut down on costs and increase quality of life.
  • Here are 10 ways AI could help fight climate change (technologyreview.com, 5 minutes)
    Two of the strengths of AI are that it can be brought to “think” in ways that are entirely different than the human way of thought, and of course the ability to quickly find patterns in large amounts of data. And so, it can be used to produce all kinds of possible solutions to problems that humans themselves might not have the capacity to come up with.
  • Researchers develop first contactless cardiac arrest AI system for smart speakers (washington.edu, 5 minutes)
    What an amazing sounding use case for smart speakers: The device could monitor the noise people make during sleep, and spot signs of (acute) health issues – in this specific case, agonal breathing which is a symptom of cardiac arrest.
  • The Paradox of Connection (edgeperspectives.typepad.com, 8 minutes)
    We are becoming more connected with each other and less connected with each other at the same time.
  • Is the Immediate Playback of Events Changing Children’s Memories? (nytimes.com, 5 minutes)
    Fascinating question (you might not be able to read the article though because The New York Times has started to block users who open the site with the browser’s private mode. This will probably lead to that I’ll link to fewer NYT articles in the future).
  • A virtual reality massage center will open in Los Angeles this week (engadget.com, 2 minutes)
    Sounds enticing: A place offering 10 different virtual reality environments for people to relax in while sitting in automated massage chairs, including a sauna, a koi pond at an ocean-side resort and a ski cabin with a crackling fireplace.
  • Stockholm family wraps home in greenhouse to warm up weather (faircompanies.com, 2 minutes)
    And something different to wrap up: this piece from 2015. The house can apparently be visited (although the project’s website shows the next visiting date as “June 2018”, so not sure about the current status).

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meshedsociety weekly #222

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • What is Happening to Streaming’s Superstars? (rollingstone.com, 6 minutes)
    Fascinating trend: The world’s biggest music artists are losing market share of total streams — and therefore total money distributed by the likes of Spotify. Meanwhile, a “middle tier” of new artists, operating away from the million-dollar advances of streaming’s biggest acts, are increasing their share of the format’s economics.
  • Is Lo-Fi House the First Genre of the Algorithm Age? (vice.com, 5 minutes)
    An interesting hypothesis: The combination of streaming and algorithmic recommendations are eventually leading to new genres, which at least in part are the result of what the algorithm has “favored”, based on patterns it recognized are popular among humans.
  • Why Google+ Failed (onezero.medium.com, 13 minutes)
    From April this year but I missed it at that time. A software engineer who spent 3 years on Google’s highly ambitious but failed social networking endaviour Google+, analyzes what went wrong, according to him. Among the culprits that prevented the service to really catch on with the masses: the choice of asymmetric following, excessive reliance on ranking, and large numbers of inactive accounts. Also: group think. From the piece: “When the execs are extremely smart people making 10 times the salary you do, there’s a tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt. Surely they must know what they are doing.
  • The Slack Public Listing’s Surprise Winners: Other Startup CEOs (forbes.com, 7 minutes)
    On the trend that high-valued tech companies are likely to have an overlapping, but ever-changing, group of their unicorn CEO peers as personal investors. Small checks that can generate big profits for tech CEOs like in the case of this week’s Slack stock market debut.
  • The Return of Niche Communities (nicholasjrobinson.com, 5 minutes)
    The experiment of throwing billions of people into the same virtual space without a common goal or shared passion has failed. Tribal instincts kick in and fights ensue. Luckily, passions unite diverse groups. By organizing around a shared goal or passion, the bright side of humanity emerges.”
  • With cryptocurrency launch, Facebook sets its path toward becoming an independent nation (theconversation.com, 6 minutes)
    I find this thought particularly striking: “I cannot help but reflect on the name that Facebook chose for this, the Libra, which is a reference to the Roman measurement for a pound, once used to mint coins. In many ways the company that Mark Zuckerberg is building is beginning to look more like a Roman Empire, now with its own central bank and currency, than a corporation.
  • Facebook’s Libra will not help the unbanked (ftalphaville.ft.com, 6 minutes, open in incognito mode)
    The argument of “we’ll help the unbanked” made by the Libra initiators is really nothing but a red herring. There is no reason to believe that Facebook and most of the other Libra supporters have a genuine interest in “helping the unbanked”. As this piece points out, if someone wants to help people without access to the equivalent of a bank account, an entirely different approach would be required.
  • The Libra Masterplan (medium.com, 9 minutes)
    With Libra, Facebook tries to loan pages from the Bitcoin Playbook and the WeChat Playbook both at once, as well as to offload the regulatory burden of operating crypto exchanges to other businesses.
  • Food-Delivery Couriers Exploit Desperate Migrants in France (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    Some food-delivery couriers, already among the economy’s least advantaged, outsource their work to people even poorer than them – migrants and asylum seekers, often without work permit or even permission to stay.
  • The Next Big Privacy Hurdle? Teaching AI to Forget (wired.com, 7 minutes)
    Adults understand that missteps of children or teenagers may deserve a bit of leniency, as they are part of a learning process. But algorithms don’t have that kind of understanding. They might weight one stupid thing someone did as a 13-year old like any other data point, with obvious problematic consequences.
  • The “inhumanely fast” next phase of globalization (qz.com, 9 minutes)
    The professor and author Richard Baldwin warns that we are unprepared for the ways in which new technology is changing the nature of globalization, mainly because of two trends: “white-collar” robots (software that can do stuff that only humans could do before) and “telemigrants”, who are working from remote countries. For both trends taken together, he has coined the term “globots”. “Globotics is coming inhumanely fast, and it will seem unbelievably unfair”
  • The Problem With “Content” (om.co, 5 minutes)
    Om Malik on the transactional nature of what people mean when they describe their work as creating “content”.
  • The Modern Trap of Feeling Obligated to Turn Hobbies Into Hustles (manrepeller.com, 6 minutes)
    Apropos transactions: Molly Conway on today’s widespread expectation that if we are good at something that we do for joy, we should turn it into a business and make money. Related to “I Can’t Do Anything for Fun Anymore” from #215.
  • The Variable Money Value of Time (medium.com, 6 minutes)
    How much value has time (as in “hourly rate” if you would charge for it) for oneself? It depends a lot on the circumstances. Not every hour has the same value.
  • When Everything That Counts Can’t Be Counted (thereformedbroker.com, 11 minutes)
    A thought-provoking piece on how what financial investors value has changed dramatically, encapsulated by this remark: “If Ford Motor were a savvier marketer of their stock (…) they’d be calling buyers of their cars a user base and the cars themselves would be rechristened “physical mobility apps”.
  • How you lock your smartphone can reveal your age (techxplore.com, 3 minutes)
    A study shows: Older smartphone users tend to rely more on their phones’ auto lock feature compared to younger users. Also, older users used their phone less frequently than younger users. For every 10-year interval in age, there was a corresponding 25 per cent decrease in the number of user sessions. In other words, a 25-year-old might use their phone 20 times a day, but a 35-year-old might use it only 15 times.
  • Deepfake 3.0 (beta): This AI can turn ONE photo of you into a talking head (theregister.co.uk, 5 minutes)
    There currently is a tight flow of news about progress in the field of deepfakes (videos or audio, often of people, manipulated by artificial intelligence). I really hope society can handle this transition away from the learned expectation that when we see or hear a recording of an assumed real-life event or comment, it must be real.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Pessimists Archive: the elevator
    My favorite episode of this podcast so far: About the century-long struggles of humans to adjust to, develop etiquette for and get comfortable in elevators.

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Libra is another WhatsApp moment for Facebook and regulators must not let it happen

In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, and two years later it acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Despite initial mockery for what many perceived to be outlandish amounts for startups with zero revenue, these deals turned out to be some of the most important strategic decisions Facebook ever made. The company prevented future competitors (as well as another tech giant from buying them), gained access to massive amounts of additional user data, and – maybe most importantly – it created fallback solutions in case the original Facebook would lose its appeal to people. The positive psychological effect of this cannot be underestimated, because it allowed for entire different forms of risk taking. Instagram and WhatsApp became Facebook’s psychological “safety net”.

WhatsApp and Instagram play a critical role in how the company Facebook got into today’s dominant position. Through at least one (but often two or even all) of these services, the company is entrenched in the daily life of billions of people. At times Facebook already appears too big to fail, considering that the vast number of cases of serious missteps and data scandals that the company has been involved in over the past years haven’t diminished the company’s societal role at all, nor significantly impacted its financial performance. Many people simply feel that they cannot leave Facebook (or WhatsApp, or Instagram).

Today even some market-friendly observers acknowledge that the competition authorities shouldn’t have given green light for the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. But at their time, the evaluation of whether an acquisition would threaten competition was made solely based on the financial numbers. And since WhatsApp and Instagram didn’t make any money, the regulators didn’t see any major problems.

Now everybody is wiser, and there is widespread understanding that in today’s digital economy, the perspective of antitrust has to change and to adjust to new circumstances and phenomenon.

Facebook’s announced launch of Libra, a “simple global currency and financial infrastructure that can empower billions of people”, is in an important way another WhatsApp moment: It is again Facebook making a move without precedent which doesn’t show any measurable signs of potential anti-competitiveness right now, but which risks massively increasing the company’s entrenchment in the future, making it invincible possibly for decades to come.

Libra is not an acquisition but a joint financial project with about two dozen other tech & payment firms, venture capitalists and some non-profits (presumably to make it look friendlier), so the tools regulators have at their disposal and the entities that could be involved are different ones. Also, I am not a regulation and antitrust expert. My argument therefore is not a legal one. It’s a reminder of how the regulators twice missed putting brakes on Facebook’s expansion when they should have done it, and how Libra likely can turn out to be another watershed moment for Facebook, with far reaching-consequences if not prevented.

My stance is straight forward: Facebook should not be allowed to run, lead or play a significant role in any kind of undertaking which involves the creation of an alternative currency which extends beyond one of its own services, or any other undertaking which will, in the long run, make it harder for consumers to choose alternatives to critical services provided by Facebook or its subsidiaries. And looking at the level of ambition of Libra as well as Facebook’s massive reach, nobody should believe that the goal would be anything else than total domination of the global payments market.

Facebook is already very powerful, featuring multiple layers of lock-in effects. Therefore, for this company, an extreme level of regulatory scrutiny is justified. Because there is such a thing as too big, too powerful. Particularly in the age of algorithms and surveillance capitalism. A lot is at stake. Too much to take this lightly or to let oneself be lured by the appeal of “crypto”.

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meshedsociety weekly #221

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • WeChat and the Surveillance State (bbc.com, 4 minutes)
    The Chinese surveillance state is already quite scary. Defending indivdiual freedom will clearly be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, alongside fixing the climate crisis.
  • The New Wilderness (idlewords.com, 9 minutes)
    Same topic, and something which does happen in democratic countries as well: We are slowly losing “ambient privacy”, writes Maciej Cegłowski. He describes this form of privacy as the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. He also makes the following crucial point: “Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. “
  • The Solution to Free Speech is a Functional Marketplace of Varied Venues (nextbison.wordpress.com, 4 minutes)
    Important observation by Amy Bruckman who among other things is a moderator at Reddit: When there are multiple spaces with different social norms, we can have a marketplace of ideas, and people can choose the space where they are most comfortable. This is the case on Reddit, where – for example – different subreddits for science topics have different norms and rules (e.g. “no jokes” in one, but not in another). But that type of marketplace doesn’t work unless people have alternatives and make smart choice.
  • A restaurant owner who asked for 1-star Yelp reviews (thehustle.co, 9 minutes)
    I wasn’t aware of how controversial Yelp is among restaurant owners, and how questionable its sales practices are considered to be. One restaurant owner had the truly ingenious idea to fight back and to create awareness by asking customers to write 1-star reviews.
  • Does the news reflect what we die from? (ourworldindata.org, 8 minutes)
    No, they don’t. Entirely unsurprising, but the discrepancy is nicely visualized. Personally I don’t think this is fixable with the current evolutionary state of the human mind. Factoring in statistics into our thinking and emotional processing isn’t something that comes natural for most (for many, it doesn’t seem to function at all). Therefore, both the reporting as well as the demand for certain types of news are skewed.
  • Google’s 7 best acquisitions (om.co, 3 minutes)
    Not only Facebook hit the jackpot with its past acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Google also made some important strategic deals that have helped the giant evolve and keeping it a dominant player in the ever-changing Internet ecosystem.
  • How Did WeWork’s Adam Neumann Build a $47B Company? (nymag.com, 30 minutes)
    The WeWork founder appears to be yet another megalomaniacal entrepreneur type. Although he doesn’t want to build a colony in space but instead to “elevate the world’s consciousness”.
  • How Dropbox is finally breaking free of the folder (fastcompany.com, 9 minutes)
    Reinventing oneself at this stage is not without risks. Let’s see how this’ll go.
  • Parts List for the Metaverse (highfidelity.com, 9 minutes)
    The Metaverse is the name for a collective AR/VR-powered shared virtual space. Philip Rosedale, founder of legendary virtual world Second Life, is now working on creating the metaverse. In this blog post, he describes the key parts that need to be in place to make the concept become reality: 3D audio, big crowds, reputation, interconnected spaces, infinite detail, live editing, programmable atoms, payments.
  • Estonia’s government AI will tell you when to see the doctor (sifted.eu, 5 minutes)
    Estonia doesn’t worry about the risks of AI and instead looks to embrace it wherever possible. It’s a boon and very useful to have pioneers like this. Other, more cautious countries should observe and try to adopt what works well (although there isn’t a guarantee of course that what works in one country and culture would produce similar outcomes elsewhere).
  • Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes (technologyreview.com, 14 minutes)
    Much of the latest research in AI neglects efficiency, and that’s a problem.
  • Driverless Congestion (ethz.ch, 5 minutes)
    A simulation for the city of Zurich shows that driverless taxis would not displace personal transport in cities as long as automated private vehicles are also available, simply because people would find their own driverless vehicle extremely convenient to use, and might even increase their driving.
  • Finland leads list of Europe’s most digitally advanced nations (venturebeat.com, 2 minutes)
    According to the European Union’s (EU) annual report on digital societies, Finland, Sweden and The Netherlands are the 3 most digitally advanced countries in the EU.
  • The Discipline of Mastering Mental States (zenhabits.net, 5 minutes)
    For doing meaningful work, the appropriate mental state matters, which is why it is important to monitor mental states. However, an advanced skill is to be able to do what one needs to do, regardless of the mental state one is in. Either way, it requires mastery.
  • The Surprisingly Simple Method to Get Good at Anything (optimizemy.life, 6 minutes)
    Repetition. Maybe it is too obvious, but this piece does a good job of explaining why this applied to all the historical geniuses as well, from Isaac Asimov to Thomas Edison, from Mozart to Picasso.
  • They See It. They Like It. They Want It. They Rent It. (nytimes.com, 9 minutes)
    Many young (American) urbanites have resigned themselves to a life of non-ownership, abandoning the dream of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before them, often out of financial necessity. But renting isn’t just a matter of necessity these days. It’s become almost posh.
  • IKEA creates easily packable furniture for urban nomads (newatlas.com, 2 minutes)
    Smart idea! If you, after all, want to own furniture (instead of renting it), it should be easy to move it to a different location.
  • Micropayments-for-news pioneer Blendle is pivoting from micropayments (niemanlab.org, 5 minutes)
    Time to face it: The business model of charging on a per article-basis doesn’t work well when targeting a broader, general interest audience. The mental costs for the user are too high.

Quotation of the week:

  • “Putting more and more mental models into your brain is like putting more and more windows into a house: more light comes in, and you see things better and better.
    Oussama Ammar in “Learn to learn” (salon.thefamily.co, 12 minutes)


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