Invisible Landscapes ⊗ Freeing Ourselves From the Clutches of Big Tech ⊗ Deep in the Wilderness

No.292 — Blade Runner, cyberpunk, and our stuck future ⊗ Sci-Fi Crews ⊗ Design Futures Literacies ⊗ AI reproducibility crisis in science

Invisible Landscapes ⊗ Freeing Ourselves From the Clutches of Big Tech ⊗ Deep in the Wilderness
The interstitium but not the interstitium. Made with Midjourney.

Invisible landscapes

Readers J. and Keels sent me this one, and they were right. Fantastic piece by Jennifer Brandel. To quote Keels, “it hits that sweet spot of ‘this is about a curious scientific thing! But actually, it’s about multidisciplinaries and generalists and how we work!’”

Scientists have recently discovered a new organ in the human body called the interstitium, which is a fluid-filled superhighway that spans the entire body. The structure of the interstitium is fractal and connects the entire body, just underneath the skin, wrapping around organs, arteries, capillaries, veins, head to toes. Though already interesting purely for the science, Brandel uses it as a metaphor for the kind of roles she and others have taken. “It turns out, we’re interstitionaries. That is, our work is on all things in between — connecting insights, people and resources between sectors, industries, companies, projects and individuals.”

Fellow generalists will recognise themselves in her piece, although what she is really talking about is a deeper role, not just connecting ideas and disciplines, but communities and doing important social work.

I’d also like to tie this to two ideas I’ve come back to often. First, the half-life of knowledge (Sam Arbesman wrote a book on this), which is well represented here with how it upends decades of beliefs in how the body works. Second, Brandel’s description of all things in between reminds me of Dan Hill’s dark matter frame, the hidden workings in between the visible matter of politics and organisations.

The reason I’m so hyped about this discovery, despite my last science class having been decades ago, is that the interstitium is a conceptual skeleton key, unlocking a more sophisticated, accurate way of seeing everything in the environment. […]

We need more navigators skipping between these constructed categories to subvert and replace a perspective of separation that has reached its limits and logical conclusion. […]

We’re in a paradigm shift. We’re moving away from the scientific way of looking at the world as objects, to seeing a system-based world that’s all about fluid, currents, connections and relationships.” […]

Our cosmologies, worldviews, conceptions of the environment and how it works, are limited or expanded by what we can perceive. Our experiences then transmute into the metaphors and grammar that organize our thoughts. New language gives us new worldviews.

Freeing ourselves from the clutches of Big Tech

Two weeks ago, I shared an article on positive climate tipping points, picking specific combinations of tech and policy that can push parts of systems beyond certain tresholds. Here Cory Doctorow explains something I think is similar, which we might call pressure points. The “Big Tech” in the title is misleading, he’s actually talking about every large companies who leverages tech (and law) to gain power and rights they often weren’t given freely through democratic processes. Think automakers, military providers, etc., not just Silicon Valley.

My example of this phenomenon is always books. Large publishers gave themselves some controlling rights on the books you technically own, locking them behind DRM, pushing for legislation preventing the circumvention of DRM only after the fact. Doctorow starts his piece with car manufacturers and talks about interoperability between internet platforms. But really, it’s everywhere.

Which is where the pressure points come in. Legal fights to repeal all the laws propping up these ‘rights’ that large companies have given themselves, and then locked, would take decades. Doctorow offers three scenarios where relatively simpler methods could have similar results as all-out repealing, providing quicker results than the necessary but sure to be dragged out legal battles.

We can also circle back to the above piece and Hill’s dark matter, as what Doctorow is advocating is the use of mechanisms between systems, outside of what monopolies have worked on, circling around their blockades with innovative policies.

Related →{.caps} In How to fix the internet, Katie Notopoulos doesn’t mention another Doctorow battle horse, enshittification, but explains how we got to today’s internet and how we might fix it, including interoperability.

The thicket that blocks competitive compatability is woven out of software patents, exotic contract theories and trademark and cybersecurity laws. The thicket took decades to grow. Dismantling it will be the work of decades. […]

Governments can — and should — have rules about interoperability in their procurement policies. They should require companies hoping to receive public money to supply the schematics, error codes, keys and other technical matter needed to maintain and improve the things they sell and provide to our public institutions. […]

The tech giants cheat all the time. They are pathologically incapable of not cheating. Whether it’s privacy law, competition law, labor law, environmental law — you name it, they cheat on it.

Deep in the wilderness, the world’s largest beaver dam endures

You can read this one two ways, or in two phases, first is simply as another one of those ‘nature is awesome’ articles, where Ian Frazier writes about the largest beaver dam in the world, in northern Canada. The second is when, after starting to grasp how remote the area is, you learn that the climate crisis and the very dirty tar sands of Alberta are having effects all the way to the National Park where the dam is located. Also, wood buffalo, wolves, and beavers that are all descendants of the original population, not saved, re-introduced, or imported from elsewhere. A rare thing in these anthropocene years.

The largest beaver dam on Earth was discovered via satellite imagery in 2007, and since then only one person has trekked into the Canadian wild to see it. It’s a half-mile long and has created a 17-acre lake in the northern forest — a testament to the beaver’s resilience. […]

The park is suffering the worst drought in its history. Flows are down by half in many places, owing to climate change, water diversion, poor seasonal snowpack, and dams on the Peace River, upstream in British Columbia. A danger that seems inescapable comes from the oil sands that are being mined for crude-oil-containing bitumen, and from tailing ponds that hold trillions of liters of mine-contaminated water.

§ Blade Runner, cyberpunk, and our stuck future. “It’s not a failing of creators’ imaginations that we’re stuck in dystopian visions of the future; it’s that politically, economically, and socially, we’ve been stuck on the same trajectory toward futures that are decidedly dystopian.”

§ Sci-Fi Crews. I looove Owen D. Pomery’s illustrations. His recent and excellent book featured a spaceship crew, so he made a list of others. “Here are 9 great sci-fi crews. My only rule is they have to be in charge of some kind of ship, otherwise it’s a ‘team’.” I was pleasantly surprised to see Tintin’s Objectif Lune in the list.

Futures, fictions & fabulations

Design Futures Literacies in 2 volumes
Free to download. “The publications draw on a diversity of views, experience, practices and commitments that have led to the development of resources, experiences and reflections on placing futures perspectives and anticipatory designing and pedagogies within design education.”

How to Navigate Change: The Change Matrix
“The Change Matrix is a personal foresight model designed to help you explore a how given change might impact your life. The goal of this model is to help you reduce your sense of uncertainty and anxiety, grasp how your future might change, and plan accordingly. Think of it as a two-dimensional pros and cons list.”

On Foresight by Foresight Folk
“A quick academic review of definitions, objectives, outcomes, barriers, and developments in Organisational Foresight.”

Algorithms, Automation, Augmentation

Is AI leading to a reproducibility crisis in science?
The promise of AI in science is not as talked about as other fields, yet the most interesting. But this will definitely be an issue; “Scientists worry that ill-informed use of artificial intelligence is driving a deluge of unreliable or useless research.”

Axel Springer, OpenAI strike “real-time news” deal for ChatGPT
There’s a financial agreement, so it’s not the same, but there’s definitely a “let’s share all our content on Facebook, scrap our comments sections and … oups!” vibe.

When AI unplugs, all bets are off
“Run natively on edge devices [(personal computers, phones, smaller ‘smart’ things)], personalized AI assistants will get wild, and weird, soon.”


  • 😍 😍 😍 🧱 🇨🇦 🇬🇭 🎥 This LEGO Artist Builds Masterpieces Using All Black Bricks. I’ve shared Ekow Nimako’s fantastic work before, this is a new short doc about his practice.
  • 😂 🐦 💩 A special series from The Verge. The year Twitter died. “Twitter was so many things. Elon Musk killed Twitter. First, he did it figuratively: firing most employees, destabilizing it as a technology and a business, leaving the platform virtually unusable for those who remained. Then, he killed it literally: renaming it X, giving Twitter a final ending after 15 years of chaotic existence.”
  • 😍 📚 The 139 Best Book Covers of 2023. “This year, I asked 47 designers to share their favorite covers of the year, and they came back with a grand total of 139 covers (!), representing work by 85 different designers for 74 different imprints at home and abroad.” (Via Storythings.)
  • 🚲 🚌 🇫🇮 🇳🇱 Helsinki, Amsterdam Named Best Cities for Urban Transportation. “The analysis considers dozens of factors — from commute time and road safety to walkability and innovation — in an attempt to capture how well people and goods can move through a city and to surrounding population centers.”
  • 😨 ♳ The gift that keeps on giving. ‘Nanoplastics’ Could Be Worse Than Microplastics and We Know Almost Nothing About Them. “They’re not just tinier versions of the same scourge. Early research conducted over the past five years shows that they interact with the environment and living organisms in a totally different way than microplastics.”
  • 🇳🇬 🎬 Nigeria’s filmmakers turn to YouTube for distribution “to control the distribution of their work, fight piracy, and increase earnings. Experts say international platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, and Showmax are picky, which makes it harder for low-budget films to meet their standards.”
  • 🤩 📸 🇺🇸 Uncanny Woven Portraits by Jason Chen Splice Two Moments in Time. “Rather than capture a single moment, Jason Chen weaves together photographs taken just seconds apart, creating disjointed portraits that convey movement and the passage of time.”

Your Futures Thinking Observatory