Losing rider safety when losing Uber

The authorities of Colombia said they are planning to enforce existing laws that could cause drivers of on-demand transportation apps such as Uber and Cabify to lose their driver’s license for a duration of up to 25 years, according to CNN Español. In other words, if you drive for Uber or competitor Cabify (headquartered in Madrid) and get caught, your whole livelihood would be in danger.

This is great news for the country’s taxi lobby and cab drivers, but bad news for riders, whether locals or tourists. For several reasons, taking an Uber in Bogota or Medellín is much wiser than hailing a cab.

Taxis in Medellín protesting against Uber

Locals I met during my travels to Medellín had all bad experiences about taxi drivers to tell, from having been robbed by a driver to having been harassed. Also, many cab drivers possess surprisingly little knowledge of the roads and seem to be unwilling or unable to properly use smartphone apps to find their best way through the traffic (that’s based on my own experience as well as what I have been told by locals). Presumably, the real black sheep are in the minority. Yet, it’s enough for the younger generation of locals who live in areas with good Uber coverage to prefer Uber over taxis. Of course, even using Uber doesn’t guarantee total safety, but thanks to the ratings systems and the driver tracking, the probability of a seamless ride increases significantly.

In addition, the yellow taxis are an easy target for robbers who tend to operate on motorbikes and who threaten passengers at gunpoint to get valuables. While regular cars can be a target as well, when sitting in a taxi, one makes it particularly easy to those looking for a victim.

Furthermore, most taxis in Colombia are rather small vehicles, often without (working) AC, and some are not in the best condition. Generally, the Uber X rides I took happened in cars that were of better standard and size than the average taxi would be.

In the moment in which transportation apps are forced to cease operations in a country such as Colombia, it significantly reduces people’s ability to opt for safety when having to go somewhere.

Other than during travel in developing countries, I personally hardly ever use Uber (nor Taxis). I am in no way an Uber evangelist. But in certain markets, aside from potential savings for riders (which are a more controversial topic, in my eyes) there are undeniable benefits to Uber which – if removed – would make life harder for locals. And naturally, for visitors even more.

meshedsociety weekly #198

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.


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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).

  • 25 Things that Won’t Exist in 25 Years (hackernoon.com, 6 minutes)
    Pure speculation of course, and in parts U.S.-centric, but also including a couple of noteworthy points. Among the things that the author expects to disappear within the next 25 years: Zoos, keys, handheld smartphones, trustworthy video evidence, cigarettes and – I had to chuckle – baldness.
  • Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD (techcrunch.com, 4 minutes)
    One great thing about podcasts is that they still are comparatively non-intrusive when it comes to tracking. But of course, the growing podcast industry wants to change that.
  • Some Words Defy Translation (nytimes.com, 4 minutes)
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the word “shitstorm” in a public speech. Among native English speakers, the term is considered a vulgarity. In German however, it has become quite established.
  • My Roommate’s Tik Tok Fame Made My Life Hell (flip.lease, 14 minutes)
    An entertaining and quite insightful read (despite being content marketing – but in the end, what isn’t?! See next link). When your work consists of pleasing a big social media crowd with selfies and short video challenges, you might become a bit weird.
  • Is there an actual Facebook crisis, or media narrative about Facebook crisis? (jakeseliger.com, 3 minutes)
    Facebook might be indeed in a crisis, or it only is the media narrative. But aside from Facebook, I think there is a bigger phenomenon going on: Media narratives increasingly are living their own lives, based on what editors, writers and columnist would like to be perceived as reality – which is often partly or even fully detached from the lived reality of most. In the end, one might easily call most stuff that is published in media outlets “ideological content marketing”.
  • The dark side of too much information (newatlas.com, 4 minutes)
    A new study offers some not extremely surprising conclusions: When faced with an overwhelming volume of information, humans lean on a series of biases in order to wade through the torrent of data: bias towards negative information, confirmation bias, bias towards social consensus, pattern recognition.
  • An interview with the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis (economist.com, 38 minutes)
    If you liked HyperNormalisation or Curtis’ older documentaries, you’ll probably find this lengthy interview worth the time.
  • Yep, Bitcoin Was a Bubble. And It Popped. (bloomberg.com, 5 minutes)
    It did, but as the article notes, there is one important thing to remember: “The total amount of wealth involved — a few hundred billion dollars, spread out around the globe — was small compared to the 2000s housing bubble or the 1990s dot-com bubble, meaning the pain will be limited.”
  • On Blogs in the Social Media Age (calnewport.com, 4 minutes)
    I find the distinction between “collectivist attention markets” and “capitalist attention markets” proposed in this text worth pondering more.
  • Where The Wild Things Are (perell.com, 7 minutes)
    Brilliant mental model: Creativity always starts at the edge.
  • Land of the “Super Founders“— A Data-Driven Approach to Uncover the Secrets of Billion Dollar Startups (medium.com, 18 minutes)
    The result of 300 hours (according to the author) gathering data: An impressive and in parts extremely informative compilation of charts and statistics on what made the most valued startups become who they are today.
  • Can you grow a startup on the side? (justinjackson.ca, 7 minutes)
    Yes, but it means you’ll be slower and the chances to become one of the aforementioned billion dollar startups probably decrease (regardless of whether that’s a desirable goal to have or not).
  • ‘Start-up nation’: a symptom, but of what? (theconversation.com, 6 minutes)
    “Everywhere, institutional pressure to transform young people into entrepreneurs is becoming an obsession. It’s a symptom, but of what? Can it not be seen as a sign of panic among politicians contemplating the shortage of prospects to offer young people?”
  • The Interplanetary File System (IPFs) explained (achainofblocks.com, 11 minutes)
    The IPFS is a peer-to-peer web protocol, similar to torrent technology but for web content. Basically, people are storing parts of the data on their computers. The IFPS is still extremely niche and might never get beyond that, but who knows.
  • When Two Partners Have Very Different Feelings About Tech (medium.com, 6 minutes)
    A rarely discussed topic, but an interesting one.
  • Mechanical Keyboards (mattgemmell.com, 6 minutes)
    A mechanical keyboard is a more modern and practical equivalent of a typewriter. Writer Matt Gemmell got himself one.
  • Meet Zora, the Robot Caregiver (nytimes.com, 4 minutes)
    Short piece about the robot “Zora”, which is tested in France to change care for elderly patients. First results are promising: “Many patients developed an emotional attachment, treating it like a baby, holding and cooing, giving it kisses on the head.”

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quotation of the week:

  • “Talk about ‘green growth’, not about saving the planet. When societies are asked to choose between economic growth or cutting emissions, they always choose growth. So the green story should be: let’s modernise our economies, creating jobs and cleaner air.
    Stop predicting doomsday. The message should be, ‘Yes we can, and without much pain.’ Sacrifice doesn’t sell, and when most scenarios are pessimistic, people see little point in acting.

    Simon Kuper in “How to sell climate change and save the planet (paywall, ft.com, 4 minutes)

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How Facebook and Google could collapse

What do Google and Facebook have in common, aside from that they are multi-billion dollar tech giants headquartered in Silicon Valley? Both companies currently experience massive internal tension.

At Google, the issue seems to be particularly related to ideological division (the whole “Google Memo” controversy last year was a clear sign of something bigger bubbling under the surface) and to moral questions about which type of projects the company should engage in or not (e.g., Should it get involved with the Pentagon for development of AI technology? Should it launch a censored search-engine in China?). In addition, many employees are protesting against how accusations and cases of sexual misbehavior and harassment are being handled inside the company.

Facebook doesn’t have the same culture of open, even public dissent as Google (at least from my perspective as an outside observer). However, based on recent media reports, internally tensions are boiling over. No surprise considering the never-ending stream of scandals and revelations of alleged or proven Facebook wrongdoing. It must be tough working at a company which increasingly is being blamed for all the world’s evils; one that evidently has a pretty significant and in parts destructive impact on politics and the public debate.

These internal conflicts might just blow over. But looking at their nature and how much they touch and are fueled by fundamental contemporary issues such as political polarization (this all is happening against the backdrop of Donald Trump, his impact on society and the debilitating strife between progressives and conservatives ), social justice, ethics, surveillance and the limits (and obligations) of capitalism, it’s more likely that things will keep escalating.

Essentially, what’s happening in many Western countries right now is happening inside Facebook and Google: Debates that in many regards are necessary but that have a tendency to polarize and to require a lot of attention.

For these companies’ business, which are built around the principle of moving forward fast (and often ruthlessly), these conflicts are a threat. They make it harder to maintain the pace and level of innovation that shareholders haven gotten accustomed to. They presumably also create internal uncertainty and confusion about what “disruptive” ideas can and should be openly discussed. One can imagine people walking on eggshells, mistrust grows, every little issue turns into a big thing because of existing tensions. Leaks are becoming more frequent, public scrutiny and pressure increases, more controversial decisions and past missteps are being revealed. The stock price is tanking. Morale plunges. Eventually people will look for jobs elsewhere.

And this how Facebook’s and Google’s dominant role could slowly deteriorate, until it collapses entirely.

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meshedsociety weekly #197

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.


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By the way, I launched a free curated newsletter, bringing you the most important news from Sweden’s vibrant startup and tech industry. You can sign up here.

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).

  • A roadblock to productivity is the smartphone on your desk (nytimes, 7 minutes)
    Isn’t it a bit tragic that the human will power is so easily sabotaged?
  • How to use Google Duplex to make a restaurant reservation (theverge.com, 5 minutes)
    When Duplex was presented, I speculated that Google might never have the intentions to actually release it. I was clearly wrong. It’s now available for users in certain U.S. cities who own the latest Pixel phones. This article describes the experience in the current early stage of Duplex. Notably, “some Duplex calls are placed by human operators at Google”.
  • Tech company patterns (richg42.blogspot.com, 10 minutes)
    A marvelous taxonomy of different company types and organizational dynamics, ranging from the “megacorp pattern” and the “acquired company pattern” to the “wealthy dictator pattern” and the “world domination pattern”.
  • Emotion Science Keeps Getting More Complicated. Can AI Keep Up? (howwegettonext.com, 13 minutes)
    Human emotions are complicated and very much culturally-dependent. So how is AI going to deal with this? Thought-provoking reflections.
  • Uber Is Headed for a Crash (nymag.com, 10 minutes)
    No one knows whether the authors conclusion will turn out to be correct or not. But in one regard, Uber has certainly failed: Even after nine years of its existence and after having created a global transportation empire beloved by dozens of millions of customers, the narrative of the company’s inevitable upcoming crash still is alive and thriving – regularly fueled by new reports of billion dollar losses.
  • Tumblr’s anti-porn algorithm is flagging basically everything as NSFW (dailydot.com, 3 minutes)
    Tumblr is banning pornographic content – but its algorithm to identify this content appears to be rather clueless of what to look for.
  • Tips on Getting Through a Bear Market (medium.com, 5 minutes)
    This piece is specifically about the crypto bear market and a pretty good read even if one isn’t a cryptohead. Good point here, I guess: “Bear markets suck because of social pressure. It’s not enough that there’s financial pressure, but the I-told-you-so’s of the critics that come out at every bear market can be a lot to bear (pun intended). “
  • I quit Instagram and Facebook and it made me happier (cnbc.com, 8 minutes)
    Totally. Apart from direct messaging, groups (on Facebook) and the benefits of using either service as a casual networking tool, the endless comparison, narcissism and presentation of only the best aspects of people’s lives are true happiness killers. I’m still opening Instagram way too often, sadly.
  • French riots: When Facebook Gets Involved With Local News (buzzfeednews.com, 12 minutes)
    This is a tricky one! How much has Facebook’s algorithm influenced the recent riots in France? That it plays a role is undeniable based on this article. But to what extend? What would have happened in alternative scenarios, in which a) the algorithm would have been optimized for other things b) there wouldn’t have been an algorithm c) Facebook would not have existed (but maybe a different platform) d) the internet would not have existed?
  • From aliens to immigration, international study finds most believe a conspiracy theory (newatlas.com, 4 minutes)
    The research mentioned surveyed over 11,000 adults across the US, Britain, Poland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, and Hungary. Sweden was the most skeptical country with 48 percent of people disbelieving every conspiracy presented.
  • Why Xiaomi’s fancy phones aren’t selling (techinasia.com, 5 minutes)
    Turns out: The smartphones of Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi are sold at such a low price that despite their good features, people don’t feel comfortable buying them or pulling them out of their pocket when being with others. There is such a thing as “too cheap”.
  • Hero worship and the Sheryl Sandberg takedown (medium.com, 4 minutes)
    An intelligent defense of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who has been subject to a lot of criticism lately. I agree with Fred Destin: The focus on individuals is mostly irrelevant. What matters is that we are faced with platforms that have aggregated insane economic power.
  • Daniel Kahneman: Your Intuition Is Wrong, Unless These 3 Conditions Are Met (thinkadvisor.com, 2 minutes)
    1. Regularity so that repeating patters can be picked up 2. A lot of practice 3. Immediate feedback.
  • Subtract (sivers.org, 1 minute)
    “Life can be improved by adding, or by subtracting. The world pushes us to add, because that benefits them. But the secret is to focus on subtracting.”
  • It *Should* Be Freakin’ Hard To Be In Media (rafat.org, 2 minutes)
    Various digital media companies are struggling. But starting something in media, building in, being in it, building a career in it, should be hard and a struggle, argues Rafat Ali.
  • Starting a Business in Silicon Valley (tlalexander.com, 21 minutes)
    What’s also hard, actually: Starting a hardware business in Silicon Valley.
  • European tech start-ups are having a record year — and the US isn’t keeping up (cnbc.com, 4 minutes)
    What a great angle to London-based VC firm Atomico’s  recently published “2018 State of European Tech Report”. There might be serious momentum building up for Europe’s tech industry.
  • South Korea’s “Hikikomori” health crisis (unherd.com, 6 minutes)
    Hikikomoris (“the departed”) are recluses who have retreated from offline life and live entirely online. At a rehab center in Seoul, some of them are being helped in taking their first steps on the long journey from the bedroom back into society.
  • The World’s Most Efficient Languages (theatlantic.com, 9 minutes)
    Fascinating. Some languages are more efficient than others. How does that impact people’s thinking? It’s evident that language does impact thinking. I witness it myself: I am communicating differently in German, English or Swedish. Certain ideas, values and sentiments are easier to express in one language than in another.

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meshedsociety weekly #196

Here is issue #195 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.


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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 rise of 8D Audio (mel.com, 9 minutes)
    A phenomenon called “8D Audio” music has taken off on YouTube in the past several months, seemingly out of nowhere. At least some of its roots are at the University of Medellin in Colombia, from where the 18-year-old student of audiovisual communication Samuel Correa runs one of the biggest YouTube accounts dedicated to this sound effect. Here is one of his 8D Audio reworks of an existing song. The suggestion is to use headphones and close one’s eyes for the best experience. It’s actually quite intense!
  • Electric scooters are causing injuries and accidents (cnet.com, 12 minutes)
    Really no surprise here. Riding on a little electric scooter through urban environments makes you quite a vulnerable protagonist. It’s similar for people on bikes, however, at least subjectively, I feel more unsafe and unstable on a scooter. Of course this could simply be due to lack of practice.
  • The $100 Million Bot Heist (nautil.us, 17 minutes)
    The story of Evgeniy Bogachev, the world’s most-wanted cybercriminal, and of how he stole millions with a giant global botnet. Some people’s criminal energy is astonishing.
  • The problem with invisible branding (fastcompany.com, 5 minutes)
    I find the application of the term “branding” confusing in this context, but the author makes a thought-provoking point: Sites like YouTube, which make heavy use of AI to create the user experience (and choice of content), ought to market their heavy use of AI to the users, and maybe even allow them to be active participants (unlike currently – unknowing participants) in the machine learning used to train AI systems.
  • What Kind of Happiness Do People Value Most? (hbr.org, 5 minutes)
    Interesting distinction: experienced happiness over remembered happiness.
  • Swiss hotels are hiring Instagram “sitters” to post photos for you (quartz.com, 3 minutes)
    This appears mostly to be a marketing campaign. Still, it has to be said again: Weird times we’re living in.
  • Time is different now (theverge.com, 2 minutes)
    Maybe another factor contributing to today’s weirdness? Or just in fact the same as it always has been? Bijan Stephen writes that our perception of time has been totally skewed. Something that happened last week has flattened into things that happened in the past, a category that holds everything. People are “living in a perpetual present, where events are disconnected from their antecedents and where history is counted in minutes and days rather than in months and years”.
  • You probably won’t make it to the top (m.signalvnoise.com, 3 minutes)
    Love this! “The top is full of people who hate what they had to do or who they had to become to get there. Even for the people who get there with a clean conscience often end up disappointed by how shallow the satisfaction really is.
  • My battle with ‘Post Founder Depression’ (medium.com, 6 minutes)
    Deep reflections by a former founder who struggles with the tricky question of: What now?!
  • What made me go to the doctor? (vowe.net, 2 minutes)
    Some people trust the data about their body from a health tracker more than signals the body sends via the brain. Understandable. The body’s signals are often ambiguous and rather confusing (think, psychosomatic symptoms).
  • Study shows Apple Watch health insurance deals yield substantial increase in exercise (9to5mac.com, 2 minutes)
    Leveraging the cognitive bias of loss aversion: If you offer people a fitness smartwatch and make them pay part of its price through variable monthly fees dependent on the amount of exercise – with those most active not paying any monthly fee – people on average become more active.
  • Cafe opens with robot waiters remotely controlled by disabled people (japantoday.com, 2 minutes)
    “Five robots, 1.2 meters tall, controlled by disabled people with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease, took orders and served food at the cafe that opened on a trial basis.”
  • Finland’s digital-based curriculum impedes learning (yle.fi, 3 minutes)
    What if it turns out that learning with analogue tools overall generates better results in school than with digital-based ones? Would that create a moral and ethical requirement to go back to paper, pen and books only?
  • Wanted: The ‘perfect babysitter.’ Must pass AI scan for respect and attitude. (washingtonpost.com, 9 minutes)
    That parents will do everything to minimize the risk of picking an unsuitable or even dangerous babysitter is entirely understandable. It’s a typical case where accepting false positives (not choosing a potential babysitter who’s inaccurately deemed unsuitable by an AI) over false negatives (picking a babysitter which turns out to be unsuitable) makes sense for the individual. The issue is that this fact encourages the provider of the software to make its AI really picky, selective and possibly even discriminating. In aggregate, that creates ethical challenges, and a tension between individual and collective needs.
  • How a Mysterious Tech Billionaire Created Two Fortunes – And a Global Sweatshop (forbes.com, 14 minutes)
    “The world is going to a cloud wage“, says Andy Tryba, chief executive of Crossover. The firm is looking for anyone who can commit to a 40- or 50-hour workweek, but it has no interest in full-time employees. It wants contract workers who are willing to toil from their homes or even in local cafes.
  • Can Engineers Boost Corporate Value? (medium.com, 6 minutes)
    New research studies the returns on technological talent and investments in Artificial Intelligence. One result: An additional engineer at a U.S., publicly traded firm is correlated with approximately $854,000 more market value for the firm. But obviously, an additional engineer also costs the company lots of money.
  • The ‘Neo-Banks’ Are Finally Having Their Moment (nytimes.com, 6 minutes)
    Great! It took too long though.
  • Best non-fiction books of 2018 (marginalrevolution.com, 2 minutes)
    Tyler Cowen writes that 2018 was a remarkably strong year for intelligent non-fiction.

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meshedsociety weekly #195

Here is issue #195 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).

  • Inside an Amazon warehouse on Black Friday (vox.com,9 minutes)
    Working in an Amazon warehouse is incredibly tough, no doubt. On “shopping holidays” even more. My immediate thought is: “Hopefully these warehouses can soon be run entirely by robots”. But that obviously leads to new challenges. So what to wish for? That the warehouses would neither be optimized for efficiency (which leads to inhumane working conditions) nor be entirely run by robots (which leads to unemployment)? That does not really seem right either.
  • Engineered for Joy? (thefrailestthing.com, 3 minutes)
    Somewhat related to Black Friday: Decluttering one’s life with a simple question about a chosen item: Does it bring joy? The answer determines whether or not to keep it.
  • Video Games In East Germany: The Stasi Played Along (zeit.de, 22 minutes)
    A fantastic feature. How the Stasi – the GDR’s secret police – gathered information about and saw the underground computer and gaming scene in East Berlin. I recall that I myself have been at the “House of Young Talents” (HdjT) at Klosterstrasse which is described in the article as the place where the few owners of Commodore 64 computers (C64) in East Berlin met during the second part of the 80s. Although I was only 6 when the wall fell. So most likely I must have been there at some point during the early 90s.
  • A Few Principles for Better Emotional Clarity (nickwignall.com, 10 minutes)
    Let’s talk about feelings. Or well, read about it. I found this piece pretty amazing. The therapist and psychologist Nick Wignall offers a handful of the most helpful ideas and principles for achieving better emotional clarity. It all starts with labeling one’s emotions with plain language…
  • The Information Pathology (jjbeshara.com, 18 minutes)
    The consumption of information and food are biologically hardwired. And our biology could have never predicted (nor prepared us for) the excesses of both that surrounded us today. After the obesity crisis comes the information crisis. James Beshara wonders: What are we supposed to do with all this new information? Why do we seek it in the first place? What is a healthy amount? What is the healthy kind? What is an unhealthy amount? And what is the unhealthy kind?
  • Why Are Humans Suddenly Getting Better at Tetris? (kottke.org, 3 minutes)
    Fascinating phenomenon and thoughts about what the implications could be for other areas such as education.
  • People who live in smart-houses, shouldn’t throw parties (shkspr.mobi, 2 minutes)
    Smart homes and people who don’t live in the home don’t mix well yet.
  • Can Employees Change the Ethics of Tech Firms? (knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu, 11 minutes)
    The rising tension between tech firms and their employees about ethical implications of the companies’ projects is a very interesting development to watch.
  • The American Dream Is Alive in China (nytimes.com, 5 minutes)
    How things are changing
  • The Seven Wonders of AliExpress (hackernoon.com, 5 minutes)
    Informative observations from an AliExpress “addict”.
  • LinkedIn cuts off email address exports with new privacy setting (techcrunch.com, 3 minutes)
    I’m actually shocked to learn that this was even possible in the first place. I had no idea. So there was yet another reason not to accept any random contact request on LinkedIn (a principle I broke way too often). Well, good that this is taken care of now.
  • Resist Google’s Attempts to Turn You Into a Robot (medium.com, 5 minutes)
    Do you use Gmail’s smart replies feature? It might condition you into sounding like a machine.
  • Are Closed (and Secret) Facebook Groups the Future of Social Media? (medium.com, 5 minutes)
    Probably the answer is at least partially, yes. In fact, I lately joined a couple of Facebook groups, which after many months of almost total Facebok abstinence (except Messenger) has again increased my time spent on Facebook (but I’m using a browser extension to hide the newsfeed, so I won’t get pulled too much back into the service).
  • The Micro-Propaganda Machine: The Shadow Organizing of Facebook Groups (medium.com, 10 minutes)
    If conversations increasingly happen in closed groups, that naturally also has a flip side: Radicalization and the spreading of disinformation and propaganda hidden from the public eye.
  • On Bryce Harper and the Impact of Social Media on Athletes (calnewport.com, 3 minutes)
    At the elite level, athletes differentiate themselves by maximizing every physical and cognitive advantage. But then there’s social media. These services create cognitive drag by subjecting you to a compulsive mix of drama and distraction. If you’re famous, this drag is even more pronounced.
  • Swap Marc Andreessen for Mary Meeker with VC trading cards (cnet.com, 2 minutes)
    Which venture capitalist are you most excited to collect?
  • Climate Solutions: Is It Feasible to Remove Enough CO2 from the Air? (e360.yale.edu, 10 minutes)
    I’m not curating a lot about this topic although I probably should.
  • Will Germany’s plan for AI make it a leader? Or will it divide Europe? (ethicsofalgorithms.org, 8 minutes)
    Germany – like so many other countries – wants to become a leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI). But the government’s new strategy for AI development will likely launch a divisive AI race within Europe and further undermine an already divided union, writes Steven Hill.

Quotation of the week:

  • To condemn a person for their thoughts is to chain them to those thoughts forever. To punish someone for an opinion is to ensure that the opinion will matter to them, always; will become their treasure; will, in many cases, become the foundation they build the rest of their life upon.
    Annie Mueller in “You can cross the mountain, or you can fill the tunnel” (anniemueller.com, 7 minutes)

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meshedsociety weekly #194

Here is issue #194 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).

  • Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love with Their Principal Doomsayer (nytimes.com, 12 minutes)
    Why does the tech elite love Yuval Harari, even if he describes the technology sector and particularly the Silicon Valley as an engine of dystopian ruin? He also is wondering that, according to this lovely feature. Meanwhile, John Battelle suggests an answer: Every member of the tech elite believes he/she will be part of the tiny ruling class whose emergence Harari predicts.
  • Crazy Work Hours and Lots of Cameras: Silicon Valley Goes to China (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    Meanwhile, representatives of the Western tech sector are both deeply impressed by and kind of worried about the rise of China’s tech industry. The piece quotes the German entrepreneur Alexander Weidauer with the following words: “Every time I go to the U.S., I feel that I’ll need to grow 10 times faster. Now I feel I’ll need to grow 100 times faster. The pace in China is crazy.”
  • Winds of Change: The Case for New Digital Currency (imf.org, 10 minutes)
    The transcript of a speech given by Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, highlighting the opportunities and risks with government-backed digital currencies.
  • When Accounts are “Hacked” Due to Poor Passwords, Victims Must Share the Blame (troyhunt.com, 8 minutes)
    It’s pretty unbelievable that this obvious fact requires such a lengthy defensive post.
  • Where the streets have no change: how buskers are surviving in cashless times (theguardian.com, 12 minutes)
    Tapping a card isn’t the same as giving some coins to a street musician, according to this piece. But maybe this is just nostalgia and people will get used to it.
  • Quitting Instagram: She’s one of the millions disillusioned with social media. But she also helped create it. (washingtonpost.com, 9 minutes)
    Bailey Richardson was one of the 13 original employees working at Instagram in 2012 when Facebook bought the viral photo-sharing app for $1 billion. Now she laments what Instagram has became.
  • Are You Ready for the Nanoinfluencers? (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    Who knows, maybe soon even people with only a few hundred followers will become vehicles for advertising and product placement.
  • Chelsea is using our AI research for smarter football coaching (theconversation.com, 4 minutes)
    This could change football (soccer): researchers are building an AI which will be able to state with statistical confidence which action players should have taken instead of whatever they did, based on their complete past performance, which the AI has analyzed in depth.
  • Is this AI? We drew you a flowchart to work it out (technologyreview.com, 2 minutes)
    This flowchart is handy.
  • This former venture capitalist is reinventing the way a company works (bostonglobe.com, 5 minutes)
    The former Evernote CEO Phil Libin says that the whole venture capital model is stupid.
  • Initiative Q doesn’t exist. But its marketing is genius. (mashable.com, 6 minutes)
    Some people (like those behind Initiative Q) are just a bit better than others at exploiting human psychology.
  • People are “consistently inconsistent” in reasoning about controversial topics (digest.bps.org.uk, 4 minutes)
    No one is consistent about their view on the world and controversial topics of course, because we lack sophisticated, structured understanding of and access to our inner mind sphere. So we don’t see how the moral values, mental models and principles that we’ve adopted since childhood regularly contradict each other. About this topic, I’ve also just finished the book “The Elephant in the brain“, which is fantastic but also won’t directly help to make you more confident in your own or other people’s reasoning.
  • Financial Times tool warns if articles quote too many men (theguardian.com, 2 minutes)
    This seems to be a smart example for augmentation of human work through (what potentially is an application of) AI.
  • Let’s talk about startup costs (justinjackson.ca, 5 minutes)
    The general advise from this post is valuable even beyond the startup world: Sometimes, instead of focusing on the revenue side, cutting costs can be the smarter move. Often when people discuss salary, they ignore implications for their cost-base. From a financial perspective, a high-salary job offer from a tech firm in Silicon Valley gets significantly less attractive once one factors in the massive increase in costs to maintain a good standard of living.
  • Explore/Exploit for Conversations (lesswrong.com, 6 minutes)
    For me, this is a new way of thinking about conversations:  There is an explore and an exploit mode. You are in explore mode if you are introducing ideas/topics to the conversation and aren’t sure how much the others will enjoy them. You are in exploit mode if you are talking about stuff that you already know everyone will enjoy.
  • The Thing about Rabbit Holes (hackernoon.com, 8 minutes)
    The rabbit hole is an interesting phenomenon particularly easy to go down to since the emergence of the internet.
  • From Memes to Infowars: How 75 Fascist Activists Were “Red-Pilled” (bellingcat.com, 13 minutes)
    Some rabbit holes lead to good things. Others don’t. In a study of 75 people who were radicalized and became convinced fascists, 39 credit the internet for this to happen. 4 fascists say they were “red-pilled” while tripping on LSD and watching Hitler documentaries.

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Algorithmic survival of the fittest

In Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the concept of survival of the fittest stands for the phenomenon that the traits of life forms that have the biggest reproductive success will, over time, become prevailing, while other traits disappear.

I would like to adopt this framework for the age of algorithms. On the leading tech platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok (gotta be inclusive here), algorithms play a key role in selecting what information people get to see, and who gets to be seen. Since these services’ business models are centered around advertising, their algorithms are optimized for making people spend as much time as possible on them.

Thanks to the vast amounts of usage data generated by billions of daily users as well as the ever-improving capabilities of machine learning (or “Artificial Intelligence”), one has to expect this optimization process to eventually become highly effective, if not truly perfect. Continue Reading

meshedsociety weekly #193

Here is issue #193 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.


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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 Art of Making You Feel Small (medium.com, 5 minutes)
    “Work in Silicon Valley long enough and you’re sure to have experienced this: you sit down to talk with someone… and get up feeling small”, writes Ceci Stallsmith. But: From the most accomplished people she has worked with, none made her feel small. Thought-provoking reflections and a few suggested action points.
  • The Algorithmic Trap (perell.com, 13 minutes)
    A fascinating, critical exploration of how the internet’s dominant algorithms lead to increasingly homogenic physical environments, and how this negatively impacts local culture and travel. My thoughts on this are overall a bit more ambivalent than the author’s, but I do think his overall description of the situation is correct.
  • To Make AI Smarter, Humans Perform Oddball Low-Paid Tasks (wired.com, 10 minutes)
    A new phenomenon is emerging, dubbed “crowd acting”: People getting paid for recording themselves while repeatedly doing everyday tasks (such as drinking from a can). These videos are then used to train AIs.
  • Like Being Judged by Strangers? Get Used to It (bloomberg.com, 5 minutes)
    There is no escape: Everybody is being rated by various companies and has their habits as consumers, borrowers, investors and producers quantified.
  • Believing without evidence is always morally wrong (aeon.co, 5 minutes)
    I couldn’t stop nodding in agreement while reading. One of several important points the author makes: “Careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans.”
  • Hunting for a Hot Job in High Tech? Try ‘Digitization Economist (hbswk.hbs.edu, 6 minutes)
    Amazon is the largest employer of tech economists—with more working full-time than even the largest academic economics department. But the company is far from alone in this trend. Some 50 tech companies “have been snapping up economists at a remarkable scale”.
  • The Original Sin of Internet Culture (thefrailestthing.com, 2 minutes)
    “We burdened the internet with messianic hopes—of course we were bound to be disappointed.”
  • LinkedIn Is Now Home To Hyperpartisan Political Content, False Memes, And Troll Battles (buzzfeednews.com, 7 minutes)
    It’s almost a bit of an insult to LinkedIn that armchair hyperpartisan commentators and trolls saw the platform only as their last resort.
  • Why the Google Walkout Was a Watershed Moment in Tech (nytimes.com, 6 minutes)
    After the recent protest of more than 20,000 Google employees against how the company handled high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment, little at the internet search giant — and, perhaps, little in Silicon Valley — will be the same again, predicts Farhad Manjoo.
  • Can Spotify Ever Meet Investors’ Expectations? (musicindustryblog.wordpress.com, 3 minutes)
    In music industry terms Spotify is doing a great job, in tech stock terms, less so. Pleasing both groups of stake holders – labels and shareholders – might be impossible.
  • The Quest to Build the Impossible Laptop (gizmodo.com, 4 minutes)
    Creating a superior 2-in-1 device (combining laptop and tablet) is actually quite a challenge.
  • The very human challenge of safe driving (medium.com, 3 minutes)
    Here is the Alphabet subsidiary Waymo explaining that a recent collision between a self-driving car and a motorcycle in Silicon Valley could have been avoided. How? Well, the crash happened shortly after a human safety driver had taken over the control over the car to avoid a potential accident with another car – and unfortunately missed the motorcycle. From the post: “Our simulation shows the self-driving system would have responded to the passenger car by reducing our vehicle’s speed, and nudging slightly in our own lane, avoiding a collision.
  • Technology Myths and Urban Legends (nngroup.com, 6 minutes)
    Technology myth: An (often inaccurate) user-generated theory about how a system functions, based on personal perceptions or second-hand experiences rather than any true understanding of the system’s functionality.
  • Relationship of gender differences in preferences to economic development and gender equality (science.sciencemag.org, 3 minutes)
    New research adding to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the gender equality paradox is a real thing. It comes down to this: The more that women have equal opportunities, the more they – on average – differ from men in their preferences.
  • In Praise of the Coin Flip (medium.com, 4 minutes)
    Sometimes, making a random choice is great. I also like rock–paper–scissors as a decision-making mechanism.
  • The three princes of Serendip: Notes on a mysterious phenomenon (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 7 minutes)
    If one allows randomness to take decisions, one effect is that serendipity comes as a by-product.
  • Half of YouTube viewers use it to learn how to do things they’ve never done (theverge.com, 3 minutes)
    Been there done that. Most recently I searched for videos showing how to make Eggs Benedict.

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Universal Basic Income and human dignity

Convinced critics of an Universal Basic Income (UBI) often point to the importance of work for human dignity as a major argument against the UBI. The most recent example gave AI pioneer Andrew Ng in this interview:

“Silicon Valley has a lot of excitement about unconditional basic income. I don’t support that. There’s a lot of dignity to work. For someone that’s unemployed I really support the government giving them a safety net with the expectation that they’ll do something to contribute back, such as study, so they can gain the skills they need to re-enter the workforce and contribute back to the tax base that is hopefully paying for all of this.”

But why is the UBI often presented as a dichotomy to working, and thus in consequence as a way to rob people of their dignity?

To me, the way an UBI would have to be constructed and framed is straightforward and very much in harmony with the critical role of work for people’s mental well-being:

An UBI is NOT meant to discourage people to work. It is meant to offer them more freedom to align how they spend their time with their areas of interest and with other life priorities. It is meant to offer more room for calculated risk-taking, as well as the ability to choose work which is deeply meaningful to them, but badly paid (such as helping people in need). And it is meant to remove the most basic existential fears from everyone’s mind, such as homelessness, not being able to buy food or not being able to pay for a necessary health procedure – while at the same time reducing the stigmatization and bureaucracy associated with traditional social welfare support.

The UBI is not meant to enable or encourage people to have a comfortable life without doing any work. Sure, if an individual who receives an UBI chooses to move to the most affordable place in a country, to only eat instant Ramen and to be content with that, good for him or her. But most humans would not be satisfied with that kind of lifestyle, so they’d still have to look for an occupation. However, unlike today, they could do this with a mind freed from the most pressing existential pressure, and maybe they would only choose a 20-hour- or 30-hour-week-job.

So the point of the UBI, according to my view, should be to give people more freedom in regards to their occupational choices. An UBI done right (according to me) would not rob anyone of their dignity.

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