This week → Dancing with systems ⊗ Unboxing the toolkit ⊗ Cartographic evidence of invisible cities ⊗ Why does utopian architecture suck? ⊗ Is content moderation a dead end? ⊗ Why NASA keeps sending squid into space
Systems thinker and whisperer Donella Meadows summarizes fourteen points of general “systems wisdom” she absorbed while modeling complex systems and hanging out with modelers. I’d probably read a long essay about each of these, but for now it’s a quick take on each. One thing I noticed is how quite a few overlap with other lessons I’ve picked up myself or read about elsewhere, independently of systems discussions, and which have been covered here with some regularity: using but challenging mental models; looking at what’s already there; constant learning; noticing what’s actually valuable, not just what can be measured; holistic thinking; being interdisciplinary. Logical that interpreting large systems results in some of the same conclusions ‘located’ in smaller settings, but still, nice parallel. “Nature designs in fractals,” after all.
One that I haven’t seen before, “make feedback policies for feedback systems,” seems especially appropriate for these times and one I’ll be paying more attention to.
It’s as I was reading that essay that I tweeted “Interdisciplinary, Interdependent, Interconnected, Intertwingled, Interpreted, Internet.” I’ve been trying to reduce my use of ‘interesting,’ as some find it bland and non-descriptive, but perhaps I’ll change my mind again ;).
[S]elf-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable. […]
We can’t find a proper, sustainable relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from the role of omniscient conqueror. […]
And finally, starting with history discourages the common and distracting tendency we all have to define a problem not by the system’s actual behavior, but by the lack of our favorite solution. […]
It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system. […]
No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can precisely define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist. […]
Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as creativity, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability–whether they are easily measured or not.
The excellent Shannon Mattern with an essay about toolkits, grouped in four categories: basic survival; toolkits as means of inclusion and structures of social relations; toolkits that facilitate material pedagogy; and toolkitting as a design method. Kind of fascinating to look at boxes of stuff and be able to find meaning in how they are constructed, produced, used, and everything one can read into them. They can be seen as boundary objects; mediators; translators; like maps, they are political in the choices that are made; some are meant to be scaled in production, while others “down-scale an intimidatingly inaccessible complex infrastructure to make it intelligible.”
The essay itself might be seen as a kit, weaving together meaning from the topics of survivalists, bug out vehicles, Black Lives Matter, Médecins Sans Frontières, IKEA, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
Kathryn Shroyer describes how we can “cognitively offload information into the environment through the organization of tools”; kits are a mechanism for distributed cognition. […]
As Iris van der Tuin explains, toolkits are particularly useful in interdisciplinary research collaboration; they help to construct a shared language and process – they “externalize and formalize a set of steps,” as we saw with the Doctors Without Borders kits – and thereby cultivate “just enough commonality” to create “conceptual, epistemic, and empirical common ground.” […]
Kits are what Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer call “boundary objects”: they’re “both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites.” They’re mediators, translators. […]
As Audre Lorde has reminded us, tools forged through a particular politics – whether patriarchy or racism or neoliberal technofetishism – might not be able to undermine that political regime. Yet perhaps our toolkits can offer new ethical and pedagogical frames, reshaping the contexts for tool use – and informing the worlds we build with them.
This piece at MAS Context intersects with last week’s everyone should decide how their digital data are used, Olga Subirós explains interactions between data ownership and choices in what is mapped, and why it’s important for citizens to create and collect cartographic evidence of “invisible cities.”
After setting the groundwork for how mapping can be a powerful tool, Subirós lists and details a number of great projects and organizations doing that kind of work, tracking things like: community justice, spending on incarceration; conflict urbanism; human rights violations; evictions; and programs that enable citizen to participate in mapping projects.
The conclusion connects these efforts with two important issues: what should a smart city actually be, and fake news.
There is data sovereignty, which we must demand from the public sphere, and also the data we can produce from active citizenship. The aim is to redraw the city by creating new cartographies to support the best analysis and diagnosis to resolve our coexistence and guarantee the right to a just city. […]
Mapping the invisible in the city means putting what is ephemeral on the map. The city is, above all, invisible activity: the data on telephone use, social networks, banking transactions, the consumption of basic supplies, check-ins at restaurants and leisure venues, complaints, etc. and also environmental data such as air quality, water and soil quality, noise pollution, etc. This represents huge amounts of data and metadata. […]
Because a “smart” city is one in which citizens use data to diagnose its problems. It is urbanism using big data for the common good as a tool to uphold the social contract, a tool that complements citizen participation. […]
At a time when fake news has become widespread and sectors of power persist in denying the crimes that are committed, the creation of evidence is a fundamental tool for citizens to combat exploitation, systemic inequality, and mass surveillance by governments and corporations.
Kate Wagner, the creator of the blog McMansion Hell and an architecture and cultural critic, considers Ingels, megastructures, Japanese Metabolists, Buckminster Fuller, the Arts and Crafts movement, and why utopian architecture of the 60s and 70s was cool but sucked, and how today’s … still sucks.
What we are seeing here is, in effect, a scarcity mentality couched in the jargon of sustainability, pure escapism masquerading as some kind of vague ideal society of (checks notes) people who live on floating solar-panel islands presumably working from home while the rest of New York drowns. […]
The reason they suck is simple: Design, while obviously involved in the process of world transformation, cannot by itself solve social problems related to climate and urbanization.
When Microsoft couldn’t solve it’s malware problem through more security, a changing model of computing (more mobile and cloud) helped the issue. Perhaps social, and specifically Facebook, can’t solve anything through more moderation, and we ‘just’ need a new model. (Perhaps something like the dark forest?)
We can try to control that, but perhaps a certain level of bad behaviour on the internet and on social might just be inevitable, and we have to decide what we want, just as we did for cars or telephones - we require seat belts and safety standards, and speed limits, but don’t demand that cars be unable to exceed the speed limit.
Short answer: to research how microbes function in space and better understand how our own trillions of bacteria will react on longer journeys.
Inhabiting a specialized light organ within the squid's mantle cavity, vibrio cause their bobtail hosts to glow at night in a way that mimics downwelling starlight, preventing the squid from casting a shadow and making them harder for predators to spot.
No.182 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤩 🌳 💥 Loads of information in an accessible form in Céline Keller’s Comic, Discourses of Climate Delay “This is a comic adaption of the ‘Discourses of Climate Delay’ study by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). I used the quotes from their supplementary materials and added some extra examples with context information gathered mostly from the fantastic Climate Disinformation Database at Desmog.” (Via Bopuc.)
- 👀 🏙 🇨🇳 One of the things I have in mind when I say “synthetic reality.” Digital twins offer “a very powerful way of developing our cities”. “The technology, which involves creating a digital clone of a real-world object or system, is revolutionising the fields of healthcare, manufacturing and logistics. It is now having a profound impact on architecture and urbanism too.”
- 🇳🇿 🌳 🐸 👍🏼 The nature reserve with a 500-year plan. ”Zealandia is a perfect example of a living laboratory that can be a boon for conservation research, even within cities. ‘It’s a place where restoration techniques can be trialled, which is important for advancing conservation management outside of these areas,’ Stanley says. ‘It’s also an accessible way for the public to see research in action.’” (Via Eliot Peper)
- 👽 NASA Is Quietly Funding a Hunt for Alien Megastructures. “The strategy for the team’s survey is to “search for the weird,” Croft said–simply, light curves that lack good explanations. The difficulty is in the sheer size of the data. The team is developing machine learning pipelines to automatically classify the millions of light variations that TESS will pick up. The aim is to create algorithms good enough to sort most of these into known causes, such as transiting exoplanets, allowing the researchers to focus on the cases that truly stand out.”
- 🦠 🧰 🤯Imagine a strange foreign entity, neither alive nor dead, that assimilates and shares important genes… A floating toolbox, likely full of blueprints, some that we may one day harness, like CRISPR…
- 🌎 🤔 Earth System Interventions for Sustainability. “In my research on solar geoengineering, carbon dioxide removal, and gene drives, I began to wonder whether these proposed technologies are–as many claim–fundamental breaks from past activities or merely additional points along a continuum, albeit somewhat further out.”
- 🤑 It’s at Andreessen Horowitz so be warned, but long list I intend to look at more throughly at some point. NFT Canon “It’s a curated list of readings and resources on all things NFTs, and is organized from the big picture of what NFTs are and why they matter to how to mint, collect, and do more with them — including FAQs, ecosystem overviews, and various applications such as art, music, gaming, social tokens, creator DAOs, and others.”
- 🇨🇳 Why China’s Young People Are Embracing Chairman Mao. “Chairman Mao is making a comeback among China’s Generation Z. The Communist Party’s supreme leader, whose decades of nonstop political campaigns cost millions of lives, is inspiring and comforting disaffected people born long after his death in 1976. To them, Mao Zedong is a hero who speaks to their despair as struggling nobodies.”
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