This week: You can handle the post-truth. As Systems Collapse, People Rise. Speculative Design and Glass Slaughterhouses. Design Is Not an Intellectual Exercise. How Politicians and Scholars Turned Against Big Tech.

A year ago: The need for readers.


You can handle the post-truth: a pocket guide to the surreal internet

Eminently quotable piece by Aaron Z. Lewis who attended two events, Theorizing the Web and RadicalxChange, and recaps some of the topics tackled, adding his own thinking. Spread over four sections, “The ‘souls’ of virtual folk, roll-your-own reality, digital rebirth & the death of consensus, the only way out is through.” People in my feed seemed to concentrate on the virtual folk bit, I think the meta-history concept towards the end is perhaps the strongest to reflect on, as well as the escapist quote below.

Inauthenticity is becoming the hallmark of our era: faked Facebook data, faked college admissions applications, faked resumes and “bullshit jobs”, faked news, faked mortgage-back security ratings, AI pretending to be humans, humans pretending to be AI. […]

Renee DiResta, a researcher at Mozilla, explains that online conversations are ripe for manipulation because they take place on an infrastructure that’s built for advertising. This infrastructure has three main components: audience consolidation, personalized targeting, and game-able algorithms. It’s a particularly powerful combo for those who wish to sow discord. […]

[T]he internet has democratized the ability to create new reality bubbles and distort old ones. We’re just beginning to grapple with the consequences of this seismic cultural shift. […]

To go meta is to study the way history has been (and is) written. It’s trying to understand the story of the stories we’ve told about ourselves. There’s no one narrative that rules them all, no one way to connect the dots from the past to the present. The “meta” stance inspires humble curiosity and peace-of-mind amidst the many versions of reality we face in 2019. […]

Most of our narratives are quite dystopian, and we’re surrounded by a bunch of escape artists: interplanetary escapists (Musk and Bezos), apocalypse escapists (doomsday preppers and bunker buyers), drug-fueled escapists (via opioids and psychedelics), death escapists (cryonics and anti-aging research), biology escapists (transhumanists and wannabe cyborgs), mainstream news escapists (the man profiled in NYT who fled to a cabin in the woods after the 2016 election).

Previously: Back in No.69 we had Metamodern Values for a Listening Society, which is worth a re-read.

As Systems Collapse, People Rise: Seven Faces of an Emerging Global Movement

Otto Scharmer, proposes that we are now going from horizontal left-right ideas to a vertical open eco vs closed ego. I like to think of it as looking to reinvent everything vs the imagined safety of the past. The second shift he proposes is along a well-being-for-all vs GDP axis. Scharmer also argues that since current economic and business models mostly ignore the questions we face about the ecological and social divides and the “learning challenge,” they are “unconsciously biased toward operating on the lower half of the spectrum.” Which is why debates focus so much on the lower end of these axes.

Furthermore, the study revealed that the most important political themes for Germans in 2019 are not what most people would expect: the top three issues deal with (1) education (69%), (2) social justice (65%), and (3) environment and climate change (64%). In other words: the challenge of deep learning, the social divide, and the ecological divide. […]

Parties operating on the vertical axis are winning: the neo-national populist autocrats at one end of the spectrum, and politicians such as New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Costa Rica’s Carlos Quesada, Indonesia’s Jokowi, or the German Greens at the other end. […]

(1) [R]einventing the economy to effect sustainable well-being for all. (2) [R]einventing the political process to bring about more direct, distributed, and dialogic modes of participation and conversation; (3) [R]einventing the educational and learning systems to build vertical literacy — that is, the capacity to integrate head, heart, and hand in order to co-shape transformative systems change. […]

(1) How sustainable is your business model (how does it address the ecological divide)? (2) How inclusive is your business model (how does it address the social divide)? (3) How generative is your business model (how does it address the learning challenge — i.e., how does it enhance co-creativity for people in the community)?

Speculative Design and Glass Slaughterhouses

Anne Galloway’s excellent interview (🎙) by Andy Polaine. I’m running out of time writing this issue but it’s got Le Guin, Haraway, speculative design, IoT, ethnography, anthropology, Merino sheep breeding, and of course, Galloway herself. So, you know, have a listen.

We’re in the world, not against it. It doesn’t work to try and stand outside things and run them that way, it just doesn’t work. It goes against life. There is a way, but you have to follow it, the world is, no matter how we think it ought to be, you have to be with it, you have to let it be. […]

Now, when you speculate using these technologies, what you’re doing is actually reinforcing the idea that these technologies are coming, you play right into the same technological determinism that you’re trying to critique. […]

On the most fantastic end, we have a genetically engineered half-sheepdog, half sheep, that becomes a pet that is networked, and sensor technologies keep the nation informed and allow people to maintain a sense of nationality and connection. […]

There are many cultures and religions around the world that don’t believe in happiness, they believe in contentedness. That goes back to that being in the world, instead of thinking that you have to rise above it somehow. […]

This idea that you’re supposed to love capitalist labour is beyond my comprehension, because, for me, this system is so flawed that I owe no loyalty to anyone. […]

I started my lab precisely because I thought that human-centred design is important, it does good work, I’m glad it exists. I need to look at something beyond that, that reintegrates us with the world and doesn’t make us special at all. That’s humbling and people don’t enjoy being humbled.

Design Is Not an Intellectual Exercise

Some excerpts from a talk by Teju Cole who’s encouraging designers to consider their influence and participation in a broader context beyond just the work. To meditate. (Also, connects nicely to the interview above.)

We face challenges, and we need you to be a door for us. We’re living in a time of toxic patriarchy still. We are living in a time of white supremacy still. There are those who agree to build prisons. There are those who agree to build detention camps. Oppression has always had great use for architects and designers and urban planners. Redlining was a technical skill. And everything that betrays our collective humanity depends on people just like you, with skills just like yours. […]

[Toni Morrison] Just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. […]

You will do work that allows you to live with yourself. That’s the bigger dream, putting feeling into form in a way that doesn’t do violence to what is human in you.

How Politicians and Scholars Turned Against Big Tech

Alexis Madrigal with a roundup of every group, organized or not, piling on big tech. Mostly deservedly, one might add.

First, the idea of cyberspace, a transnational, individualistic, largely unregulated, and free place that was not exactly located in any governmental domain, has completely collapsed. Second, the mythology of tech as the carrier of progress has imploded, just as it did for the robber barons of the late 19th century to usher in the trust-busting era. […]

After disrupting so many industries and having created so many enemies in consolidating control of the internet, it’s going to be difficult for tech companies to find friends.

Miscellany