A high five that can’t land. Model Metropolis. A flâneur approach to social media. Micromobility. Greta Thunberg. The Big Here. — No.65

This week: A high five that can’t land. Model Metropolis. A flâneur approach to social media. Micromobility. Greta Thunberg. The Big Here.

A year ago: Post-work: the radical idea of a world without jobs

A high five that can’t land

Charlie Loyd beautifully weaving together stories about a bridge in Oakland, the Shinkansen to Hokkaido, tunnels, cement, Nagasaki, the Eameses, and Earthrise, into a tale about (some) hope and raising your hand towards it.

[I]t points to the idea of using public resources in a way that will matter on a timescale beyond political cycles. […]

If you could dust for intellectual fingerprints, you could place [Philip Morrison] at the Exploratorium, the Planetary Society, the Kepler mission, Carl Sagan’s work, the SETI League, and many of the other institutions that do the most to leaven American life. Over all of these is a negative triumph: “no third bomb”. […]

We can’t step out of it. And it’s not a time, an age that will end (as some people seem to really believe) when the last of the Boomers die. It can’t be cleanly cut away from the tunnels and photos. It’s culture, and we will have to change it while we’re inside it. Whoever makes it through the next few generations and ends up in whatever safer home we build there, whether it’s powered by fusion or sails, will have made it by raising one hand for a high five before the other one is ready.

Model Metropolis

I’m always fascinated by polymaths but also by “Forrest Gumps” people who pop up in multiple important points in history or around critical inventions, like Morrison in the article above or Forrester in this one who was around Gordon Brown’s Servomechanisms Laboratory at MIT, the Whirlwind computer, Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE, deploying fighters in case of nuclear war), then urban systems and influencing Will Wright, the development of Sim City, which in turn influenced urban planning students and policy. The article goes over this history and the ways in which Forrester’s ideas have had lasting, negative impact.

Forrester’s message proved popular among conservative and libertarian writers, Nixon Administration officials, and other critics of the Great Society for its hands-off approach to urban policy. This outlook, supposedly backed up by computer models, remains highly influential among establishment pundits and policymakers today. […]

Six months after beginning the project, and over 2000 pages of teletype printouts later, Forrester declared that he had reduced the problems of the city to a series of 150 equations and 200 parameters. […]

The city inside Forrester’s model was a highly abstracted one. There were no neighborhoods, no parks, no roads, no suburbs, and no racial or ethnic conflicts. (In fact, the people inside the model didn’t belong to racial, ethnic, or gender categories at all.) Economic and political life in the outside world had no effect on the simulated city. […]

When we consider the social effects of computers in political and social life, we usually think in terms of expanded power and new possibilities. This perspective on computation permeates even our critical visions of technology. But we should also be attentive to the power that computers and the accompanying language of “systems” and “complexity” have to narrow our conception of the politically possible.

Be happier on social media by acting like a 19th-century Parisian

Pretty good advice for social media, by way of Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt.

If you’re not quite ready to quit Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, a more measured approach is to treat virtual spaces more like a bustling street—a place where, like a flâneur, you can pick up a lot of information by observing the action, while being more reticent to offer opinions and circumspect about posting. […]

In other words, flânerie is a charmingly subversive act, a refusal to be swayed by the vagaries of the moment while committing to investigating the trends and events rather than ignoring them. […]

By simply refusing to provide the desired engagement, or at least slowing down the pace of our interactions and taking time to think, we can collectively, and very politely, undermine the expectations for empty affirmations and recognize the effects of groupthink. This could change the tenor of the cultural conversation and make actual engagement meaningful again.


Micromobility, An Introduction (and Part 2: Disruption)

Horace Dediu with an excellent two-part introduction to Micromobility (I linked to his manifesto a couple of weeks ago) where he presents his vision of that it means, what kinds of small vehicles are included, how the business is different to cars, what it enables, etc. To his mind, micro mobility is to cars as mobile phones are to personal computers, i.e. eating away at a slice of usage and dollars. Super interesting and an important developing trend for cities.

The revolution in transportation will come from the bottom. These are the smallest, the cheapest, the most likely to be used vehicles. They are the shared bikes, scooters, e-bikes and potentially many more types of vehicles coming down the line. […]

Ironically this accessibility is enabled by smartphones and GPS and cheap lithium ion batteries and cheap motors. All consumer technologies that cars have had difficulty absorbing. […]

[Part 2] As evidence consider that in the US Ford and GM have essentially abandoned cars in order to focus on SUVs and pick-up trucks—vehicles associated with rural and suburban travel and disassociated from urban travel. […]

I think the evidence is overwhelming that whether it’s a cycle or electric bicycle or a docked or dockless, or throttle based, two or three wheels, micromobility is resonating with users and there’s still plenty of room to go. […]

Autonomy engineers are trying to make an existing system better, that existing system being cars on streets. But the car is not the subject matter. The car is a bundle of trips. It is a bundle of trips ranging from a few hundred meters and a few hundred kilometers that we prepay for.

Also have a look at Apple’s Unit Economics on Dediu’s other site, to understand this concept vital to micromobility models.


We thought we had defeated the natural world because we defeated the animals and plants, but it turned out that they were only our fellow-travelers, struggling to survive. The real natural world is dust and fire and flood and hard radiation. It never sleeps and it always hungers.Noah Smith

Greta Thunberg, 16, urges leaders to act on climate

She is also on ?, telling truth to power and not flinching. Good work but I’m also wondering what might be the actual impact…

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

‘Everything is not going to be okay’: How to live with constant reminders that the Earth is in trouble

A surprising piece at the Washington Post. Read it not to learn about the latest horrifying numbers (you won’t) but to think about how we live with these changes and go forward.

You’re sitting at your desk, or on the subway, and deep in the southern Indian Ocean, blue whales are calling to each other at higher pitches, to be heard over the crack and whoosh of melting polar ice. What do you even do with that? […]

Being alive right now means rethinking boundaries, pushing on the walls of your imagination. It means feeling around in this world for another one. […]

Hold the problem in your mind. Freak out, but don’t put it down. Give it a quarter-turn. See it like a scientist, and as a poet. As a descendant. As an ancestor.

The Big Here and Long Now

We don’t yet, however, live in The Long Now. Our empathy doesn’t extend far forward in time. We need now to start thinking of our great-grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, as other fellow-humans who are going to live in a real world which we are incessantly, though only semi-consciously, building. But can we accept that our actions and decisions have distant consequences, and yet still dare do anything?

Via Alan Jacobs.


Sunshine Considered Harmful? Perhaps Not.

Blog post at Kottke concerning a longer piece at Outside. Intriguing take on our use of sunscreen.

Vitamin D now looks like the tip of the solar iceberg. Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of.

  • What an interesting mix of people and topics! The event Hours Beirut is organized by people from Beirut, Athens, Malmö, and Stockholm. “An intimate three-day conference exploring how maintenance and the act of maintaining can be understood in the context of innovation and creativity.“
  • The 25 Most Influential Movie Scenes of the Last 25 Years. I’m not enough of a movie buff to judge the selection but certainly lots of iconic scenes and memories.