Digital future for newspapers. Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation. Nothing Fails Like Success. Political Moment for Climate Change. — No.78

This week: Digital future for newspapers. Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation. Nothing Fails Like Success. Extinction Rebellion and a Remarkable Political Moment for Climate Change. Venice and Fairbnb.

A year ago: The economics of artificial intelligence.

Want to see what one digital future for newspapers looks like? Look at The Guardian, which isn’t losing money anymore

Joshua Benton at Nieman labs looks at some of the numbers of the Guardian and various other papers as the former finally makes some money—after twenty years of losing it. Perhaps the most interesting bit of this achievement; they made it without a paywall, “simply” with voluntary membership, which is pretty fantastic and closely related to Tim Carmody’s idea of Unlocking the commons, which Sentiers and many other newsletters and miscellaneous media also use. Benton closes with three lessons: Have an identity. Remember that people’s financial relationship with a publication isn’t purely transactional. Just ask.

Our unique ownership model means we are not controlled by a billionaire owner, or a group of shareholders demanding financial returns — any profits made, and all financial contributions from readers, are reinvested directly into our journalism. […]

Perhaps the most amazing number of all: Only 8 percent of Guardian revenue now comes from print advertising — which for literal centuries was the bedrock of the newspaper business model. […]

Becoming majority digital means you can think of print the way you probably should in 2019: a high-end product, still appealing to a very loyal set of subscribers, that is fundamentally a reshaping of digital output — not the other way around. There’s still money in print, but it can’t be your guiding light anymore. […]

In the past year, more than 300,000 people gave one-off contributions — but more importantly, 365,000 are now on an automatic recurring plan.

Related (kind of): Support Sentiers, Become a Patron ?.

Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation

What’s that sound you say? Oh nothing, just me endlessly screaming into the void. danah boyd threading some paths we’ve covered before but this one is a more manageable read at 9 min and introduces some terms I hadn’t seen before in what I’ve read from boyd (like the two in the title). She does a great overview of how they work, how various groups and individuals use data voids, and how the media get played again and again. Closes with a call to understand these mechanisms and to not trust that credibility is enough, “you have to understand the networked nature of the information war we’re in, actively be there when people are looking, and blanket the information ecosystem with the information people need to make informed decisions.”

But what if ignorance is strategically manufactured? What if the tools of knowledge production are perverted to enable ignorance? In 1995, Robert Proctor and Iain Boal coined the term “agnotology” to describe the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance. … Whether we’re talking about the erasure of history or the undoing of scientific knowledge, agnotology is a tool of oppression by the powerful. […]

One of the best ways to seed agnotology is to make sure that doubtful and conspiratorial content is easier to reach than scientific material. […]

The goal is no longer just to go straight to the news media. It’s to first create a world of content and then to push the term through to the news media at the right time so that people search for that term and receive specific content. […]

The creation of sides is a political project.

Nothing Fails Like Success

Webdesign legend Jeffrey Zeldman (who’s now at Automattic??) looks at some of the ways our halcyon days of the indy web fell into money and all its VC corruptions, which other models might work, and ends with a good question: “So here we are. Now what do we do about it? “

Websites and internet startups used to be you and your friends making cool stuff for your other friends, and maybe building new friendships and even small communities in the process. […]

“Most of my startups have the decency to fail in the first year,” one investor told him. My friend’s business was taking in several million dollars a year and was slowly growing in staff and customers. It was profitable. Just not obscenely so. […]

From our naive belief that content wants to be free, and our inability to create businesses that pay for themselves, we are turning our era’s greatest inventions into engines of doom and despair. […]

On an individual and small collective basis, the IndieWeb already works. But does an IndieWeb approach scale to the general public? If it doesn’t scale yet, can we, who envision and design and build, create a new generation of tools that will help give birth to a flourishing, independent web? One that is as accessible to ordinary internet users as Twitter and Facebook and Instagram?

Related: The Libertarian Freedom of Cyberspace Is Over

Cyberspace was a way of thinking about the radical changes brought about by the internet. It gave internet companies, regular people, odd collectives, weird technologies, and other entities space to create something transnational, individualistic, largely unregulated, and free.

If Politicians Can’t Face Climate Change, Extinction Rebellion Will

David Graeber looks at the Extinction Rebellion, the change in conversation globally around climate change, wonders where our politicians are, and writes that “if the government can’t bring itself to do so, the people will have to” take action.

But the squabbling and endless recriminations in Westminster are just a particularly farcical version of a global phenomenon. The world’s political classes are, increasingly, rendering themselves almost completely irrelevant in the eyes of their constituents. […]

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of climate change. Scientists agree that humanity faces an existential threat. The global public overwhelmingly agrees with them. Young people even in rich countries like America and Britain, terrified of what the world will look like when they are in their 50s and the current governing elites are safely dead, are increasingly willing to embrace extraordinary measures. In both countries, more young people are questioning or rejecting capitalism itself.

Notes from a Remarkable Political Moment for Climate Change

For the second time over the last few weeks, Bill McKibben sounds almost hopeful (!?!). Maybe we’re finally on our way to doing something serious about this?

I think I can say that we’re in a remarkable moment, when, after years of languishing, climate concern is suddenly and explosively rising to the top of the political agenda. Maybe, though not certainly, it is rising fast enough that we’ll get real action. […]

The problem is that the ultimate negotiation is being carried out with science, which adamantly rejects compromise. It doesn’t even really negotiate. It’s not interested in who gave what contribution to whom: it just takes the carbon we produce and makes the oceans ever more acidic. To answer that, at this point, means, in policy terms, a Second World War–scale mobilization to deploy renewable energy and a commitment to stop new exploration and development of fossil fuels. It means an explicit acknowledgment that their age is over, and that the transition to clean energy is our top priority.

Sinking city: how Venice is managing Europe’s worst tourism crisis

Come for the crazy tourism numbers in Europe and Venice (and the waste), stay for the excellent Fairbnb project.

[T]he act of sustaining the lagoon for over a millennium is a singular human achievement, because a lagoon by definition is a temporary natural phenomenon. Venice’s lagoon would have silted in 500 years ago if it hadn’t been for careful environmental protection, sensitive technical intervention and strict commercial regulation – a historic blueprint that provides useful lessons for tourism. […]

This June will see the launch of Fairbnb, a not-for-profit home-sharing site that only permits resident hosts; mandates one home per host; and contributes half of the 15% booking fee to social projects.


  • ? A Full Life. Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl, The Water Knife) has a short story up at the MIT Technology Review.
  • Visions for the Future Internet. At Nesta, “As part of the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative – the European Commission’s new flagship programme working on building a more democratic, inclusive and resilient internet – we have created this “visions book”, a collection of essays, short stories, poetry and artworks from over 30 contributors from 15 countries and five continents.” I’ve only scanned through, lots of interesting people interviewed. It looks great, but use the accessible version for legibility and not killing your laptop.
  • ?? Why drones often aren’t the solution to developing-world problems. “Drones are imagined as a replacement for other forms of infrastructure, but maybe those other forms of infrastructure are actually really necessary.”
  • ? Your phone is not recording your conversations. “It’s because inside of a Google server or a Facebook server is a little voodoo doll, avatar-like version of you. Like a model of you. And I don’t have to listen to your conversations because I’ve accumulated all the …clicks and likes you’ve ever made, and it makes this voodoo doll act more and more like you. All I have to do is simulate what conversation the voodoo doll is having, and I know the conversation you just had without having to listen to the microphone.”
  • ?? Mariana Mazzucato: ‘Green New Deal could fuel growth’. The economist gives a quick interview on Amanpour, explaining some of her thinking on the US GND and more.
  • ? Jack Dorsey Is Gwyneth Paltrow for Silicon Valley. “They are the followers of Jack Dorsey, Silicon Valley’s answer to the mega-influencer Gwyneth Paltrow. The lithe, 42-year-old tech founder has become a one-man Goop.”
  • ?Are the hyper-specialist shops of Berlin the future of retail?. “On Boxhagener Strasse in bustling Friedrichshain, the 38-year-old garment engineer Silvia Wald has set up shop in an old butcher’s store to sell the kind of wares older customers used to see behind the counter: legs of pork, chains of sausages, mortadella ham, bacon rashers – but all made of fabric, to be used as decorative cushions.”
  • ?? ‘Lost’ book of Cuban botany drawings rediscovered after 190 years