This week → Against technological inevitability ⊗ Surface tension ⊗ A conversation about Indigenous Futurisms ⊗ Don’t kick the robot ⊗ The awesome importance of imagination
A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.151 was If Wes Anderson Designed The Simpsons.
Against Technological Inevitability – On 20th Century Critics of Technology ⊕ Source
I kept expecting this piece at LibrarianShipwreck to end with a list of quotes from those 20th Century critics but it didn’t come (recognized some Ursula M. Franklin wording though). Still, an intriguing exercise to contrast last century’s critics with today’s, the fact they were critiquing technology within broader opinions about society, the use of ‘tech’ v ‘technology,’ and the historical context for many of them.
“Remember that these critics were not so much professors as public intellectuals, back when the term ‘public intellectual’ actually meant something.” Which of today’s critics of technology would you call ‘public intellectuals’?
And the crux of the essay: “In trying to make sense of where we are today, and in trying to make sense of how it is that we got here, it is worth remembering that there were many people who tried to sound the alarm.” Why didn’t ‘we,’ broadly speaking, listen to them and kept (and keep) going along so blindly and enthusiastically?
[T]o fully understand the perspectives of many of these critics it is necessary to see their technological critiques as part of their much broader critiques of society. Technology clearly mattered to them, but they did not treat technology as if it existed in a vacuum outside of other social factors. They were interested in the way that technology could shape society, but they were also interested in the ways that societies shape their technologies. […]
[T]oo often we ignore the warnings about technological systems, confident that we will be able to change directions before things get too bad, only to later shrug at the idea of changing directions because we “can’t go backward.” […]
These critics warned of technology’s capacity to surveil, they warned of people being overwhelmed by an information glut they could not sort through, they warned of how shiny technological gadgets could distract people from what was happening all around them, they warned of how a share in the technological goodies could function as a sort of “bribe” to get people to overlook technology’s downsides, they warned of the threat to democracy complex technological systems could represent, they warned that the speed of technology would overwhelm and exhaust us, they emphasized the environmental destruction that is caused by much technological advancement, and over and over again they emphasized that technological progress and social progress are not synonymous.
Surface Tension ⊕ Source
Perhaps, like me, you’re on-again, off-again with regards to George Monbiot. I quite like this one which might be seen as a wrapping together of many of his ideas, looking at climate tipping points, complex systems, mass extinctions, and general ‘doomage.’ He also considers that media is generally not paying enough attention to the climate crisis, micro-consumerist bollocks (MCB), and the various campaigns to shift the blame to us lowly citizen-consumers.
It’s a good read and a quite holistic view of the situation, something I seem to have a need for recently. More importantly, he introduced me to the term limitarianism and to Ingrid Robeyns, both of which I’ll have to investigate further (pointers welcome).
In the back of our minds, there’s a voice whispering, “If it were really so serious, someone would stop us.” If we attend to these issues at all, we do so in ways that are petty, tokenistic, comically ill-matched to the scale of our predicament. […]
But we seem unable or unwilling to break the surface film. I think of this strange state as our “surface tension”. It’s the tension between what we know about the crisis we face, and the frivolity with which we distance ourselves from it. […]
The looting takes place not just across geography, but also across time. The apparent health of our economies today depends on seizing natural wealth from future generations. This is what the oil companies, seeking to distract us with MCB and carbon footprints, are doing. Such theft from the future is the motor of economic growth. […]
We need to pursue what the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns calls limitarianism. Just as there is a poverty line below which no one should fall, there is a wealth line above which no one should rise. What we need are not carbon taxes, but wealth taxes. […]
While there is not enough ecological or even physical space on Earth for everyone to enjoy private luxury, there is enough to provide everyone with public luxury: magnificent parks, hospitals, swimming pools, art galleries, tennis courts and transport systems, playgrounds and community centres.
A Conversation About Indigenous Futurisms ⊕ Source
Grace Dillon and Pedro Neves Marques on Dillon’s work and thinking around Indigenous Futurisms. This is a very cursory opinion so make of it what you will (and correct / enlighten me in replies if needed), but so far I’m under the impression that Indigenous Futurisms are not only emancipatory but also seem like a logical and natural continuation of centuries-old storytelling traditions. In other words, not only seizing on science fiction because of a need to create futures they are part of, but also a natural fit of cultures.
[T]o me the current obsession with dystopias, in books and television series, reads as a final appropriation of sorts. While Indigenous peoples have lived through apocalypses for centuries, white people now steal even that space, or airtime if you will, of both Native trauma and survivance, only to push their own anguish, seemingly erasing any colonial differences with statements like, “We’re all together in this climatic mess.” […]
[T]he relation between the future and technological advancement leading to a “better world” is fundamentally a modern Western invention. And we know how that future not only led to but is based on the colonization of other peoples’ worlds, including their particular perception of technology, humanity, and the environment. […]
The first thing I’d like to do is to eradicate the term “myth” or “mythology,” because that implies that these stories are false or that they are fictions that should be questioned. Instead, what I do—and this is what I grew up with—is to call them “stories.” Everything is storytelling. Indigenous sciences are embedded in stories; this is how we share our Indigenous sciences.
Don’t Kick the Robot ⊕ Source
The Prepared’s Members’ reading group in conversation with Kate Darling on our future with robots. I already featured an article / book excerpt by Darling back in April, here much of the same ground is covered but also shows how her thinking has advanced since then. Social robotics, and the speed of development of robots as compared to the slow changes in animal genetics are two new facets to read about.
We might think of a robot as something that automates a task, but once it becomes mainstream we call it something mundane, like a dishwasher. Our concept of robots has to do with novelty and excitement and is informed by these weird biases. […]
The point isn't to say that robots and animals are the same, but to explore how we've been able to use the physical and sensory abilities of animals to extend our own abilities and partner with them. This comparison helps open people's minds to new possibilities for robots. […]
If we compare algorithms to animals we've gone back to this age where we have put pigs on trials for the crimes they've committed, rather than holding the humans who are in charge of the pigs accountable. I think that that's a very important piece; what I want is rules that ensure humans are held accountable.
The Awesome Importance of Imagination ⊕ Source
Short piece by David Brooks, nothing especially insightful but some lovely wording around a topic that always draws my attention.
Can you improve your imagination? Yes. By creating complex and varied lenses through which to see the world. […]
A person who feeds his or her imagination with a fuller repertoire of thoughts and experiences has the ability not only to see reality more richly but also — even more rare — to imagine the world through the imaginations of others. […]
Imagination helps you perceive reality, try on other realities, predict possible futures, experience other viewpoints. And yet how much do schools prioritize the cultivation of this essential ability?
- 🌳 🗺 🎙 🎥 Fantastic feature at Emergence with video, sound, animations, maps. They Carry Us With Them: The Great Tree Migration. “But what if a new generation of seeds is cast into the wind during a period of drought? What if winters are no longer as cold as they once were? … As the climate changes in and around forests, seeds might succeed in places where they did not before or fail where they once succeeded.” (Via Dan Hill.)
- 🇨🇰 🐋 🥰 Such a great story. A Humpback Whale Saved My Life. “[W]hale scientist Nan Hauser tells the story about how a humpback whale she was swimming with saved her from what she calls ‘the largest tiger shark I’ve ever seen’. It turns out this is not atypical behavior for humpbacks — they’re one of the nicest animals in the sea or on land and have been known to rescue animals from other species from predators.”
- 🇺🇸 🚲 ⚡️ The Popularity of E-Bikes Isn’t Slowing Down. “That sort of trend has the potential to transform urban transit. In New York City, just over half of all car trips are three miles or less… Many short car trips could be replaced, hypothetically, with a short, brisk e-bike ride. So what would it take to get there?”
- 🇰🇷 🚗 ⚡️ I’ve been expecting these kinds of projects for a while now (flat electric platforms X old school designs). It’s also going in the ‘soon in a sci-fi film near you’ file. Hyundai releases electric version of 1980s Grandeur saloon car. “Designers at Korean car company Hyundai have built the Heritage Series Grandeur, a modernised, all-electric version of its 1980s saloon car. The carmaker kept the first generation Grandeur’s original boxy shape while adding features such as pixel-style LED headlights and taillights.”
- 🇯🇵 ☕️ 🤩 OMOKEN Park by Yabashi Architects. “But this simple and modern box is entirely multi-purposed in which its roof are be able to be used as sitting and social area. Its stepped roof system also provides space in different levels while visitors observing what is happening inside the cafe.”
- 🇺🇸 📱 🔧 In case you hadn’t heard. (Is it still good news when it should always have been like this?) Apple announces Self Service Repair. “Available first for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups, and soon to be followed by Mac computers featuring M1 chips, Self Service Repair will be available early next year in the US and expand to additional countries throughout 2022.”
- 🇦🇶 😵💫 Woah! What does the Sun do at the poles on the summer solstice? It never sets. It just circles the pole. This is a timelapse from the South Pole.
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Each issue of the weekly features a selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures.