This week → A world ordered only by search ⊗ Remystifying supply chains ⊗ The intelligence of bodies ⊗ ‘Pristine wilderness’ without human presence is a flawed construct ⊗ It’s not misinformation, it’s amplified propaganda
A favourite article from a year ago was Magic and the Machine by David Abram who “offers notes on technology and animism in an age of ecological wipeout.” Did you know that you can read this on the web, if you prefer? If you read right here, when you’re done hit reply and tell me about what drew your attention. And of course, forwarding to friends or using that same link to share elsewhere is always greatly appreciated.
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Another fascinating essay by L. M. Sacasas. Starting from Monica Chin’s piece File Not Found and then layering in a lot of Ivan Illich, he goes through monkish reading, mental palaces, the emergence of text as independent of the book, how media changes how we order and represent the world, and lots more besides. Sacasas is already building over Illich and Walter Ong who is himself considering Pierre de La Ramée so I won’t try to compress the ideas even further, have a proper sit-down with this one.
One thing I’d add, that I think he’s already edging towards, is that Chin’s students (who don’t really grok the use of folders) are perhaps not having issues with this way of sorting, storing, and accessing information but rather with the new external brain and almost infinite amount of information available. It might not be that they don’t understand folders, but that they find themselves like the Queen of England would if having to move into a one bedroom studio. It’s impossible to fathom how one fits everything in there. Monks constructed mental palaces for one book, how can our identical brains ‘place’ everything we can find?
Last note, L.M. writes “Perhaps you’ve gotten this far and are wondering what exactly the point of all of this might be. To be honest, I delight in this kind of encounter with the past for its own sake. ” I might need to rephrase that as a description of this newsletter. Most articles are here because I delighted in my encounters with them.
Thus technologies of communication shape how we come to understand both the world and the self. They shape our perception, they supply root metaphors and symbols, they alter the way we experience our senses, they generate social hierarchies of value, and they structure how we remember. […]
What do we imagine we are doing when we are reading? How have our digital tools—the ubiquity of the search function, for example—changed the way we relate to the written word? Is there a relationship between our digital databases and the experience of the world as a hot mess? How has the digital environment transformed not only how we encounter the word, but our experience of the world itself? […]
[T]he very idea of an order of things is implausible to those of us whose primary encounter with the world is mediated by massive externalized databases of variously coded information.
Many of us seem to have turned into supply chain watchers. Here Venkatesh Rao goes quite a bit further with an excellent exploration of supply chains, their relatively short history, the dearth of reliable models for analysis, and then presents the themes around which he understands them: “computation, circularity, and situatedness,” which “point to a great deal of phenomenology that’s either missing, or marginal in our mental models.” The “centering the mysteries” section with Rao’s examples of modelling problems is especially valuable, and so is the one on the emergent quality of the global system. I won’t be using his “mattervision” term, but be sure to checkout footnote 1 for further reading, and also my own notes on Benjamin Bratton’s writing which is in some ways adjacent.
Not just shipping containers full of durable manufactured goods, but bulk-carried materials, air-shipped perishables, seafood, livestock, piped materials, electricity, and so on. Viewed this way, the internet is just one supply chain among many, a bits-and-bytes-specific member of a cohort of technologies that date approximately to the 1960s. […]
Right now, for instance, world leaders are ponderously talking about how to hedge against China in alternate supply chain arrangements, but few have stopped to consider how supply chains actually emerge, learn, and grow over time. Or how we ended up wired to China in the first place. […]
Supply chains are a new class of engineered-emergent artifact, one that includes a few other globe-spanning things like the internet, the air travel system, and low earth orbit, that exist at a level of Gaian phenomenology, terraforming, and planet-scale husbandry
The independent online classical music magazine VAN asked the composer and writer Jan Swafford to listen to an artificial-intelligence-created realization of Beethoven’s unfinished Tenth Symphony and give his opinion. Lots of the essay is the habitual ‘AI can’t ever do this’ and part of it is inside baseball for classical music. Some years ago this might have been a ‘rap is not music’ essay. And yet, Swafford does go above the usual ‘computers can’t be creative’ by qualifying it further: “The only true, meaningful intelligence is in a body, and likewise the only true and meaningful creativity,” while also pointing to failure, drive, and emotions. Which is certainly a more useful reflection, not whether AIs can do something, but whether what they do will draw our interest as much as a human’s art can.
My main reason for including it though is that it’s another consideration of AI vs genius or champion. I’ve written about the model for just enough and I’m increasingly of the opinion that there’s also a ‘good enough.’ As I’ve mentioned in the past, “most people are quite satisfied with good enough and perhaps good enough doesn’t need that much ‘uniquely human’ creativity.” Lots of what AI ends up doing will be in that space, it will be a while (if ever) before there’s an artificial Beethoven or Prince or Bowie, a while before your favourite editorialist is out of a job (well, not for this reason anyway), and a while before Verne or Butler are supplanted, but there will certainly be good enough AIs for the random pop radio station, elevator muzak, romance novel, or sports roundup.
When it comes to art, we need to see a woman or a man struggling with the universal mediocrity that is the natural lot of all of us and somehow out of some mélange of talent, skill, and luck doing the impossible, making something happen that is splendid and moving—or funny, or frightening, or whatever the artist set out to do. […]
Along with all that and maybe above all that, the gnawing and relentless drive to do something really good, this time, for all the above reasons and more, whether it’s trying to convince the woman to love you, or the public or God to love you, and/or to pay the rent, and to show yourself that you can damned well do something at least in the direction of really good in this possibly cursed endeavor that you believe you’ve been born to do, and without which your life is something in the direction of meaningless.
An overview of a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which looks at the concept of “pristine wilderness,” The authors argue that it’s “an erroneous construct that doesn’t reflect the reality of how many high-value biodiverse landscapes have operated for millennia.”
During the Enlightenment came the view that humans are isolated from the surrounding world, separate from a nature that needed to be tamed. A framing later imposed on Indigenous Peoples, pushing them aside and obfuscating the millennia through which they took care of their lands. The “wild nature” “discovered” by European conquest was actually made of biodiverse landscapes tended by its inhabitants. Today, “fortress conservation” is the principal way in which preservation is planned, still obfuscating millennia of knowledge and a symbiotic relationship without which these ecosystems might falter.
We shouldn’t be surprised to find this out, humans have been the dominant species on Earth for a while now, of course ‘we’ have changed nature everywhere we’ve been. Just look at how a simple wolf reintroduction changed the Yellowstone ecosystem, it’s not hard to imagine that a people that respects nature might have a massive impact, which might not look like a concrete jungle.
“Mounting evidence confirms that Indigenous Peoples and other rural rights holders possess the knowledge and ability necessary to successfully conserve and manage biodiverse ecosystems more effectively than governments and at a fraction of the cost, particularly where their rights are recognized, respected and supported.” […]
[M]ore than half of the spatial landscape of the Amazon has seen and lived along with human activity over the last 10,000 years, to the extent that the region is shaped by it.
Southeast Asia and New Guinea, humans have been hunting and using horticulture techniques, such as swidden, for more than 40,000 years.
Honestly, I’m quite tired of the whole social network drama (it’s absolutely warranted, I’m just tired of it), and I don’t even like the word Renée DiResta is proposing here: ampliganda. But we are stuck with them for a while still so it’s good to keep abreast of some of the things going on there and this is a useful piece to understand the bottom-up dynamics of this user-generated propaganda.
Outrage generates engagement, which algorithmically begets more engagement, and even those who don’t want to shred the fabric of American society are nonetheless encouraged to play by these rules in their effort to call attention to their cause. […]
Today there is simply a rhetorical war of all against all: a maelstrom of viral hashtags competing for attention, hopping from community to community, amplified by crowds of true believers for whom sharing and retweeting is akin to a religious calling—even if the narrative they’re propagating is a ludicrous conspiracy theory about stolen ballots or Wayfair-trafficked children.
- 🌳 😨 The climate disaster is here – this is what the future looks like. Things are not looking good. Simple but gut punch visuals at The Guardian showing us how Earth is already becoming unliveable and how quickly things will get worse.
- Imperfect 🧵 by Josh Wolfe but still a good read for a certain vision of the Metaverse, and notice his Screens, Windows, and Mirrors framework. The good news: the METAVERSE is exciting but NOT for the reasons most people are talking about. The bad news: odds are the ‘Metaverse’ will be used by IBM in an add before year-end and further dilute + erode it as buzzword bs that we all grow AVERSE to…
- 🎥 🤯 🐟 😍 🇯🇵 The Japanese Puffer Fish is probably nature’s greatest artist. To grab a female’s attention he creates something that defies belief.
- 🇸🇪 🌲 🏢 Lovely. Isn’t it good, Swedish plywood: the miraculous eco-town with a 20-storey wooden skyscraper. “Skellefteå has wooden schools, bridges, even car parks. And now it has one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings. We visit Sweden to see what a climate-conscious future looks like”
- 🎥 🇮🇷 💨 Wonderful and sad. Iran's Centuries-Old Windmills May Soon Stop Turning. “Made of natural clay, straw, and wood, the windmills have been milling grain for flour for an estimated 1,000 years. The vertical axis design is probably similar to the windmills that were invented by the Persians around 500 C.E.—a design that slowly spread through the world and which was later adapted by the Dutch and others.”
- 🧱 🇩🇰 Shouldn’t have been there in the first place but good news. Lego to remove gender bias from its toys after findings of child survey. “Lego has announced it will work to remove gender stereotypes from its toys after a global survey the company commissioned found attitudes to play and future careers remain unequal and restrictive.” Also, bespoke alphabets created for the Lego building by BrikFont (Via Meanwhile.)
- 😍 😍 😍 The Expanse UI Design. I wonder when designers in sci fi will get over the transparent screen thing
- 🦋 Wow!!! Fuzzy Moths Taking Flight in Super Slow Motion.
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