How not to know ourselves ⊗ Assemblage Space ⊗ The Next Media Model — No.137

This week → How not to know ourselves ⊗ Introduction to Assemblage Space ⊗ Rise of the Renaissance Creator and the Next Media Model ⊗ How the Dutch invented our world

A year ago → Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

How Not to Know Ourselves

Points — This article by Angela Xiao Wu summarizes her paper written with Harsh Taneja which “offers a new take on social sciences’ ongoing embrace of platform log data by questioning their measurement conditions.” Basically, a lot of people use data from the big social or even media platforms, and try to draw conclusions about the quirks and desires of the users. However, those platforms are so skewed towards optimizing for engagement and ads, that they can’t really be said to represent any real sense of the people behind the account. Always ask, “what purpose does the measurement serve?” When Netflix pushes you to binge their new show, does your engagement or laziness really reveal anything of value?

The example I often use (cribbed from an article, I’ve forgotten which) is the car crash. Yes, everyone slows down to watch, but that doesn’t mean we want to watch an endless series of crashes, I’m not a Cronenberg character just because Youtube wants me to be. Yet that’s how many algorithms seem to work.

A closer look at the measurement conditions of platforms allows us to rethink the nature of platform log data: they are essentially “administrative data” that platforms generate to realize their own organizational goals, which go little beyond enlarging advertising income, harvesting intermediary fees, and attracting venture capitals. […]

With calculated neglect comes calibrated nudges: platform user activity, in the first place, is induced, coaxed, and experimented on by the platform environment. From multilayered graphical organization to complex algorithmic recommendation, it is from all these platform arrangements that user activity arises. […]

When we are experimental subjects oblivious to platforms’ treatments on us, taking our induced behaviors as “natural” means regarding these platforms as benign, transparent vehicles for our inherent intentions, and thus obscuring their prevailing power. […]

What are the human actions and predispositions that initially spark our curiosity? What is the kind of self-knowledge that we would cherish as a foundation for enriching our sociality, our civil and public institutions, and our democratic process?

Introduction to Assemblage Space

Smithery — Not able to teach his regular summer school in Barcelona, John V Willshire reviews some of the practices used through the years teaching with Scott Smith and presents one of them, the Assemblage Space. An insightful rethinking of the futures cone, created so participants don’t box themselves in, trying to “complete” the cone, which also includes a way to think about the lived experience of the past, using tangible, intangible, remembered, and forgotten things. The piece also includes a recorded audio track with slides, the lovely expression “information as illumination” and describes forecasting as “not seeking one certain future, but learning from many possible ones.”

You should fight against the trend of making lovely, designed versions of the Futures Cone with gradients, different coloured cones and so on; though they are perhaps logical in the act of making a nice presentation, they are not helpful for you in the practical application for the method. […]

“Assemblage theory provides a bottom-up framework for analyzing social complexity by emphasizing fluidity, exchangeability, and multiple functionalities through entities and their connectivity.” […]

Even if the idea they pull in is seemingly from their own head, not based on research at all, the world around them, and their experience so far, has led them to that point. […]

These four things (Tangible/Intangible/Remembered/Forgotten) seem so far to be a useful way to start unpicking the “where did that come from?” question, and naturally help people focus even the most flippant futuristic notion in some vestiges of evidence from the past.

Rise of the Renaissance Creator and the Next Media Model

Medium — Using the term “Renaissance Creator” might not have been my choice but I do like the premises of this piece; creators can gain their own authority and independence more easily, so big media companies can become umbrellas and talent management outfits regrouping creators; the latter can themselves stay autonomous and even and scale to becoming their own “labels.” The author focuses on various profiles of writers/journalists, making the parallel with musicians and their labels and talks about “the hybridization of the individual as both a creator and an entrepreneur” which I’d argue is actually even broader, for example extending even to intrapreneurship where larger companies can become portfolios of pretty independent sub-brands.

Sidenote: However, going on a bit of a tangent, remember that it’s always important not to idolize this transition. Independence is on a spectrum with massive successes like the top writers on Substack on one end and Uber or food delivery drivers—treated like indies but shackled inside a completely unfair market—on the other. Opportunities for some high performers are often used to give a nice sheen to the adjacent models who simply externalize employees. The commodification of comms and infrastructure makes possible both liberating opportunities and extraction through precarity.

And while media companies spend time working to restructure and focus their business on talent and become “the label”, we’ll see a lot of individuals exit the major “labels” and go independent. These creators will then structure themselves as independent media companies and develop micro labels themselves. […]

This is what I’m calling the age of the Renaissance Creator — the hybridization of the individual as both a creator and an entrepreneur. This development and definition of ‘creativity’ is one of the more interesting things happening today because it is contrary to the supposed logic for a creator to go independent. […]

Newsletters have put tangible value on a creator’s work that has allowed them to build a business around both their individual brand and the content that they create. It is both a platform and a format. It’s enabled the creator to deliver thoughtful analysis with a consistent point of view. It’s allowed them to create a “micro label” business outside of the management of larger holding companies. It’s valuable. […]

As you can see, not only has this format enabled any creator to enter the venue and launch a media company, but it’s also enabled a new way of thinking of putting value on the creator work which then breeds new business models tied to ownership, consumer relationship (ie. customers are fans) and beyond.

How the Dutch invented our world

UnHerd — The first “bourgeois revolution” was not the French Revolution of 1789, argues the author, but rather The Dutch Revolt that began in the late 16th century. It led to a Republic, to the early days of a proto-capitalism, to commerce domination, a freer nation, and a golden age for the Dutch… built in good part on colonialism and slavery.

Although he only referred to it briefly in scattered sentences across his works, Karl Marx also understood the significance of the Dutch revolt and the Dutch Republic as a key moment in the historic ascendancy of the bourgeoisie and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. […]

The revolt was about religion but it was also about money, and the right of the bourgeois to make it. […]

Spinoza’s stance on freedom of religion was intimately linked with his broader views on freedom of thought and speech. In 1670 he wrote that “in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks”.

All of these trends made Holland the wealthiest and freest country in Europe at the time, a haven for political refugees like Spinoza and Locke, at the cutting edge of the latest developments in art, science and philosophy, the first consumer society gobbling up luxury goods from around the world. Bourgeois society found its first unencumbered infant expression in 17th century Holland.


  • ?? ? 3D Printed Terra Cotta Tiles Are Helping Restore Coral Habitat. “a clever solution to help reverse some of the coral die off. Using 3D printed terra cotta, the team was able to create large, interlocking tiles, printed with a unique pattern that mimics some of the natural coral growth. The micro texture of the terra cotta, as well as its ocean-safe makeup, make it a uniquely suited medium for scientists to employ.”
  • ? Testing Chernobyl fungi as a radiation shield for astronauts. “In this new effort, the researchers have built on research that showed some kinds of fungus are able to flourish in a very highly radioactive place here on Earth—inside the destroyed reactors at the Chernobyl site in Ukraine. Testing of several types of the fungus has showed that they not only survive in the former reactors, but actually flourish.” (Via nothing here)
  • Fortnite Creator Sues Apple and Google After Ban From App Stores. “Then Epic rolled out a sophisticated public-relations campaign that depicted Apple, one of the industry’s most image-conscious companies, as the stodgy old guard trying to stifle the upstart. To do so, it used Apple’s own imagery against it, mimicking Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad from its own fight against IBM 36 years ago. ”
  • ? A Surveillance Standoff Over ‘Smart’ Streetlights. “The pilot was extended into a full-fledged program in 2018. Under a $30 million contract, GE retrofitted 14,000 of the city’s 60,000 streetlights with LEDs, and placed sophisticated sensors on 3,200 of them — including small nodes that captured video.”
  • ? Nvidia in Advanced Talks to Buy SoftBank’s Chip Company Arm. “Nvidia is the largest maker of graphics processors and it’s spreading the use of the gaming component into new areas such as artificial intelligence processing in data centers and self-driving cars. Marrying its own capabilities with central processor units designed by Arm may enable it to take on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in a more comprehensive way, according to Rosenblatt Securities analyst Hans Mosesmann. He estimates Nvidia would have to pay about $55 billion for Arm.”
  • ? Fairchild, Fairchildren, and the Family Tree of Silicon Valley. “Other Fairchildren produced IC chips and technologies that enabled new communications, computing, and consumer products and, in turn, spun-off companies to exploit them. The best of them grew and thrived in the heady atmosphere of Silicon Valley where employee stock options played an important role in individual motivation, encouraging risk taking and creating, in some cases, substantial personal wealth. Some of the most successful semiconductor companies shown on the tree include AMD, Altera, LSI Logic, National Semiconductor, and SanDisk.”
  • ?? ? ? Devastating Oil Spill is Wreaking Havoc on Pristine Mauritius. “The tanker is carrying over 4,000 tons of oil, and new photos show the extensive damage the oil is doing. Hundreds of local volunteers are scrambling to contain as much of the oil as they can, using whatever resources they can find, even hand-sewing oil booms filled with straw.”

Header image: Isle of Skye, Nils Leonhardt.