Weekly Links & Thoughts #185

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com 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. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.


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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).

  • As Germans Seek News, YouTube Delivers Far-Right Tirades (nytimes.com, 8 minutes)
    It is time to acknowledge that YouTube’s algorithms are at least as big of a threat to a well-informed, enlightened public as Facebook’s.
  • The Constant Consumer (reallifemag.com, 12 minutes)
    Amazon’s mission is to make customer identity more primary than citizenship, writes Drew Austin.
  • Sweden offers glimpse of a world without Amazon (politico.com, 6 minutes)
    It’s certainly a less convenient world than in countries where Amazon is the dominant e-commerce player. As someone who grew up in Germany and now has my home base in Sweden, I know both worlds well. But on the macro level, the absence of incredibly powerful player such as Amazon probably has advantages, too. It somehow “feels” like a more healthy economy, based on the knowledge of the negative effects of too much market concentration.
  • Welcome to the Drone Valley (swissinfo.ch, 5 minutes)
    When Sweden is mentioned, Switzerland is usually not far :) How and why Switzerland became a leading force in the research and development of drones.
  • Europe’s New Copyright Law Could Change the Web Worldwide (wired.com, 4 minutes)
    Despite the numerous doomsayers who see this copyright legislation passed by the European Parliament this week as the end of the internet as we know it, I feel (to my own surprise) rather unemotional. Sure, the copyright-loving protagonists of the entertainment industry cannot be trusted. But how much can “we” friends of the often cited “open and free internet” trust our own instincts of what’s the best way to go forward? If the last years have shown something, it is that even internet activists and open web evangelists should show some humility. Yet many commentators behave as if they know exactly the detailed consequences that this law will have – and all are apparently bad. Maybe they’ll turn out to be that bad indeed. Maybe not. Maybe some sacrifices are simply necessary. Fact is: The good old web from the past decades is gone. It’ll never come back. Maybe it’s time to let go and replace idealism with realism.
  • Elon Musk’s Brain Isn’t Like Yours (bloombergquint.com, 8 minutes)
    Admittedly, Elon Musk had a strong presence here over the past months. But this interview with Melissa Schilling, author of the book “Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World”, offers very intriguing insights about the behavior and characteristics of brain chemistry of a rare breed of serial breakthrough innovators, who in management could be described as “low self-monitors” – people who don’t monitor their persona or the way they present themselves very carefully.
  • 10 Years Is A Long Time: The Difficulty of Predicting Interesting Markets for Startups (innospective.net, 14 minutes)
    A decade-old list of startup ideas provides an interesting perspective on how hard it is to predict the markets in which startups have the best chances to be successful.
  • Don’t Become A Startup Addict! (hackernoon.com 4 minutes)
    Speaking about startups – to some people, building a company is addictive.
  • The Rise of Anti-Notifications (medium.com, 4 minutes)
    “Anti-notifications” aren’t meant for you; they’re meant for everybody else. Their sole purpose isn’t increasing value, but optimizing for short-term engagement.
  • In-store good vs. At-home good (m.signalvnoise.com, 3 minutes)
    Jason Fried bought a bath tub which looked fantastic – but was not good at all when actually being used. He calls it a product that is “in-store good”. Something which seems great in theory (/in store /in the description), but isn’t.
  • Designing Automation Systems to Be Calm: Five Principles (medium.com, 8 minutes)
    All too often, the assumption is that automated systems must be complex, and imposing. We take the damage it can do to cultures and peoples for granted, as a necessary evil for better efficiency. The philosophy of calm technology aims to achieve more efficiency by making automation simple and unobtrusive — and searching for friction points where it is not.
  • These familiar sounds will soon disappear from our world (fastcompany.com, 2 minutes)
    Short piece about “Conserve the Sound”, an online archive of sounds that are “endangered” in our world, created by two Germans.
  • A New Spotify Initiative Makes the Big Record Labels Nervous (nytimes.com, 5 minutes)
    This has been evident from the first days of Spotify’s existence: Eventually, the company needs to get rid of its dependency on the major labels. Spotify technically doesn’t actually need labels to provide its service. Except of course, that most of the music people want to listen to has to be licensed from the labels. But what if Spotify slowly but steadily could build up its own catalog of tunes from directly signed artists? That’s the obvious end goal. But getting there is so tricky, because the labels know they must not let it happen.
  • Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say (time.com, 6 minutes)
    The short answer appears to be “no” with some caveats, and of course audiobooks are still better than not consuming the book.
  • This Lens-less Camera Is Built Specially for AI and Computer Vision Programs (spectrum.ieee.org, 5 minutes)
    Fascinating point: “If machines are going to be seeing these images and video more than humans, then why don’t we think about redesigning the cameras purely for machines? Take the human out of the loop entirely, and think of cameras purely from a non-human perspective.”
  • The End of More – The Death of Moore’s Law (steveblank.com, 5 minutes)
    For 60 years, computer chip manufacturers have been able to pack more transistors onto a single piece of silicon every year. Not anymore. The result is the end of the type of innovation we’ve been used to. Instead of just faster versions of what we’ve been used to seeing, device designers now need to get more creative with the 10 billion transistors they have to work with. The world of computing is moving into new and uncharted territory.
  • Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code (theguardian.com, 23 minutes)
    We have entered an era in which we slowly lose control over the increasingly complex systems of interconnected, self-learning yet still kind of dumb algorithms. At the end of the text, the author Andrew Smith makes a particularly crucial point: “So what is the opposite of an optimization, ie the least optimal case, and how do we identify and measure it? The question we need to ask, which we never do, is: ‘What’s the most extreme possible behavior in a system I thought I was optimizing?'”

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