How to map nothing ⊗ Why a more feminist internet would be better for everyone ⊗ Civilizations don’t really die — No.168

This week → How to map nothing ⊗ Why a more feminist internet would be better for everyone ⊗ Civilizations don’t really die. They just take new forms. ⊗ Beyond human-centered design ⊗ Policy futures and a politics of care

A year ago → The most clicked article in issue No.121 was 18 Lessons of Quarantine Urbanism by Benjamin Bratton.

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

How to map nothing

Last week I almost included this talk by Sharron Mattern but I rarely share videos in this section. Thankfully, Alexandra pointed out the excellent piece linked above, which covers much of the same terrain. I’ve often shared articles that in one form or another are about some type of obfuscation, this one looks at what is not usually mapped, how it can be, and who is doing the hard work of surfacing and representing that “nothing.”

Whether it’s the work of people not benefitting from the privilege of living a minimalized life during the pandemic (and otherwise), or communities, minorities, actively racist erasure and the counter concept of refusal, or an ableist ignorance of differently abled people, Mattern attaches a lot of ideas together and covers LOADS of information, people and topics to better grasp and further look into.

Creating these new maps also connects to one of the fundamental threads of this newsletter, the Asby-Benjamin manoeuvre; speaking (map making) about the futures we want in order to reify them.

Postcolonial literary scholar Isabel Hofmeyr reminds us that “the myth of the empty sea, is largely the product of European imperialisms and their map-making traditions in which the sea becomes blank space across which power can be projected.” […]

A lack of valorization and long history of underfunding such services; the prevalence of black-boxed, automated technologies that defy comprehension and repair; a tendency to prioritize innovation over upkeep — all contribute to the obscurity of vital but uncharismatic systems. […]

Through her work to map global solidarity economies — worker co-ops, co-housing communities, community land trusts, care work and barter networks, credit unions, participatory budgeting, and so forth — Pavlovskaya realized that maps can serve as “tools for social transformation”; that they can “produce worlds instead of simply reflecting them.” […]

The multidisciplinary collective BlackSpace has drafted a manifesto calling for designers and planners to “reckon with the past as a means of healing … and deepening understanding”; to center Black joy and lived experience; to take the time to build trust and deconstruct hierarchies; to ensure that designers act as “humble learners” who “walk with people as they imagine and realize their own futures.” […]

Nothingness, then, for all its presumed vacuity, is a multi-faceted thing: it embodies ways of knowing, it has ontological agency and politics, it has degrees and dimensions.

Why a more feminist internet would be better for everyone

Charlotte Jee takes us through some of the feminist work being done for a better internet, and around the benefits for all that such concepts and values would bring to online spaces. To shorten the point horribly: hire, promote, speak to, and follow the opinion of people (women here but also basically everyone who gets ignored in the maps above, btw) who get ignored or harmed by products and services and make sure to address their experiences and fears.

It’s a great shame for society and an even greater one for Silicon Valley that such equality and respect is not already the norm and that feminists have to rally together and force the issue into the limelight and through policy. This should be universal common sense by now. It clearly isn’t.

Feminism is obviously about equality between men and women, but in essence it is about power—who gets to wield it, and who gets exploited. Building a feminist internet, then, is in part about redistributing that power away from Big Tech and into the hands of individuals—especially women, who have historically had less of a say. […]

The principles [of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)] state that a feminist internet would be less hierarchical. More cooperative. More democratic. More consensual. More customizable and suited to individual needs, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all model. […]

Widespread harassment would not be seen as a tolerable price women have to pay, but as an unacceptable sign of failure. People would be more aware of their data rights as individuals, and more willing to take collective action against tech companies that abused those rights. They’d be able to port their data easily from one company to another or revoke access to it altogether.

Civilizations don’t really die. They just take new forms.

Annalee Newitz at the Washington Post (love the illustration!) argues that “in truth, our apocalyptic stories are far too simplistic to capture what actually happens when a society melts down.” They go on to presenting various examples of civilizations that are usually seen as dead but actually lived-on in other forms and through their descendants and the cultures of their neighbours. Also, take the first quote below and ponder it alongside the manoeuvre I mentioned for the first article. Maybe there’s too much talk about the risks of apocalypse, not enough about what’s needed instead.

Put another way, the stories we’re telling about our future all seem to end with apocalypse. […]

Over time, civilizations eventually morph into something else entirely, but they infuse future societies with their lingering traumas — as well as their hopeful ideals. […]

Activist Julian Brave NoiseCat, a member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen, told me that he thinks indigenous tribes and nations already live in a post-apocalyptic world. They were nearly wiped out by the violence and disease brought by foreign invaders — but they survived.

Beyond human-centered design

The team at SPACE10 explaining how they are switching their design practice to one they’ve titled People & Planet. I’ve covered various other similar takes in the past, still good to share and integrate; too much focus on individual users has too often resulted in products and services that ignore and damage everything else.

‘In the pursuit of frictionless user experience, we have prioritised usability over everything else — including our health, and the well-being of our planet.’ […]

‘If we can design inclusively — not just products, but supply chains, manufacturing, distribution, etc. — , we can empower many more people, both individually and as part of a system, to tackle the biggest challenge of our generation.’ […]

We have seen and experienced that governments around the world can act on a global challenge, and that people can change their behaviour, in a very short amount of time. That should make us stubbornly optimistic about our collective capacity to design a more hopeful tomorrow.

Policy futures and a politics of care

This one by Richard Sandford is perhaps a bit more in the policy weeds than usual for me but I wanted to include it for the excellent intersection it puts forth. Seeing futures as the present of coming generations, not as an extension of our present, and using heritage “to think about previous generations and what they have to contribute to policy,” so as to bring practitioners “to think intergenerationally in all directions.”

In considering future generations alongside present generations we do two things. We make a shift from seeing the future as a resource to exploit or colonise, to understanding that we have an ethical responsibility to it and the people there. And we decentre our present, making our thinking less concerned with projecting forward from now, and more concerned with imagining multiple presents, ours and our descendants’. […]

[R]ather than attempting to use technologies of prediction to chase an illusion of control, we need to develop a politics of care that is able to move away from brittle, market-led notions of responsibility and citizenship, towards a more convivial, deliberative, inclusive way of facing uncertainty, and recognising the hope and possibility it contains.


  • 🇺🇸 🇭🇺 🤩 🙇🏼‍♂️ 👏🏼 👏🏼 👏🏼 Much respect and gratitude for her dedication! Dr. Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus. “But for many years her career at the University of Pennsylvania was fragile. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in. She never made more than $60,000 a year. By all accounts intense and single-minded, Dr. Kariko lives for ‘the bench’ — the spot in the lab where she works. She cares little for fame. ‘The bench is there, the science is good,’ she shrugged in a recent interview. ‘Who cares?’”
  • 😍 🧱 🇬🇭 🇨🇦 Massive Lego Kingdoms That Defy the Cultural Erasure of Africa’s Medieval Civilizations. “The centerpiece of the project, “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE” (2019), takes its name from the capital city of the ancient Ghana Empire. Constructed with 100,000 black Lego pieces, the 30-square-foot sculpture renders the lost trade capital into a futuristic, bustling metropolis with detailed references to the Islamic influences that shaped its architecture and history.”
  • 🎶 🇩🇪 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Brahms. “Now we want to convince those curious friends to love the music of Johannes Brahms (1833-97), master of stirring symphonic exclamations and moody piano solos. We hope you find lots here to discover and enjoy; leave your favorites in the comments.”
  • 🐙 Octopuses can feel pain both physically and abstractly. “After experiencing a short burst of pain, octopuses showed a conditioned preference for locations where pain was relieved, while avoiding the location where the pain occurred. The octopuses also demonstrated pain-specific grooming behaviors.”
  • 💶 🇪🇺 The Foundational Economy. “The Foundational Economy is a collective of (mainly) European academic researchers working together to develop a new way of thinking which challenges mainstream ideas about what economic policy should be. Our focus is on the foundational economy – including health, care, education, housing, utilities and food supply- because these basic goods and services are a driver of welfare and the basis of citizenship.”
  • 🇺🇸 🐻 🐺 🤬 In Montana, Bears and Wolves Become Part of the Culture Wars. “The politics of predators seem poised to enter a new chapter in the state, which now seems intent on reviving some of the practices of a century ago that virtually exterminated wolves from Montana.”
  • ✝ 🏇🏼 ⭐️ One tweet by Brenna, with an image of the article, but follow-ups in the replies. In 1990 8 nuns sold up their convent, bought a Mercedes, bet on racehorses and disappeared to the south of France. I want to be clear that when I talk about inspirational women this is who I mean