Just enough Internet ⊗ Techno-fix futures accelerate climate chaos ⊗ We misremember the Internet’s origins ⊗ How a 24/7 world destroyed time — No.101

This week → Just enough Internet ⊗ Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos ⊗ How we misremember the Internet’s origins ⊗ Douglas Coupland: How a 24/7 world destroyed time ⊗ Never underestimate the intelligence of trees.

A year ago → Climate change and technology define the rural future.

Current line of thought: balancing the need to reach for things oft deemed impossible (hello “solutions” to the climate crise!) with, in other fields, the need to tone down wants and expectations to work towards the sufficient and appropriate.

In other news, I’m guest editing Kottke.org again next Monday through Thursday, have a look!

Just enough Internet

Essay version of a talk given by Rachel Coldicutt at the BBC Research & Development and PublicSpaces. How the public sector should stop “following big business, and think back to the social contract.” She makes a number of excellent points, referring to her experience at the BBC, on measurements, ways of working, and “new decisions.” Although framed mainly around digital services, it’s actually something public services should think about in all aspects of their work; whether competing with the private sector, especially using their metrics, makes for better service… or worse. Actually, this needs to be a theme for much of what anyone does these days: What is sufficient? What is appropriate?

Creating this new social contract requires new norms, new institutions, new laws – and a stronger public sector, that is prepared to hold a different space: uphold different kinds of progress, measure different kinds of success, and celebrate a different kind of innovation to that of big technology platforms and venture capitalists. […]

If the answer from business is to add data to everything, then perhaps the public sector should be more measured. Perhaps a public service Internet should be a model of restraint; a counterweight to the ballast of peak data, that knows and provides just enough. […]

But tax-payer funded public services need different affordances to Amazon and Google; they should not feel magical, they should be data light, they should meet social needs not just user needs; they should work in context, not simply fulfil a job to be done. Sometimes they should be compassionate. […]

It might look like a policy of Sufficient Technology: just enough to make it work better for the people that count. … Which might also be the best thing for the planet.

Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos

Excellent piece showing how various visions of techno-fix futures (namely ecomodernism, left accelerationism, and fully automated luxury communism) are still too embedded in old ideas and conceptions of the world to invent futures addressing everything which needs to be changed.

The scientific evidence tells us that it is simply not possible to continue increasing consumption and greenhouse gas emissions on the current trajectory without exhausting Earth’s resources and crossing planetary boundaries – limits to Earth’s biological, chemical and physical systems that represent a safe operating space for humanity. […]

As a result, they tend to overlook and devalue aspects of our world that are less obviously associated with luxury: the natural environment, clean air, animal life, time spent with family and friends, local communities. These things may not provide material luxury, but they do make life worth living – and do not necessarily have to use up our scarce energy and material resources. […]

We propose a redesign of future ways of living based on different values: the ethics of care, regenerating nature, and distributing its benefits fairly.

How We Misremember the Internet’s Origins

Ingrid Burrington explains how the recent anniversary of the Internet’s origins was celebrated and framed just like much of Silicon Valley’s history and ongoing work. Developed in a political vacuum, through “ad hoc actions and experiments undertaken with little sense of foresight or posterity.”

In practice, California’s trailblazing spirit came with environmental destruction, racism, and the rending of existing social fabrics. […]

In popular culture and industry circles, the story of the ARPANET, like most of the story of the internet, is told in a political vacuum, because that’s how most of the people involved in its creation treated the project. […]

By emphasizing the technical innovations (and obsessive dedication to them) as more important than the political and economic contexts in which they were germinated, the graybeards of internet history and PR machines of the tech industry perpetuate the illusion that technology magically exists outside of politics, rather than existing in a constant dialogue with it.

Douglas Coupland: How a 24/7 world destroyed time

One of a number of “time” pieces in the last few weeks, like The 2010s Have Broken Our Sense Of Time and On TikTok, There Is No Time. Honestly, I didn’t read all of them thoroughly and it seems a bit like overthought hand wringing. Perhaps I’ll revisit since some people I respect loved the Buzzfeed News piece. I’m including this Coupland editorial though because the quotes below have more to do with the formats of our (work)days than the supposed compression of our perception of time, the former being more relevant and useful to me.

We inhabit the temporal ruins of an agrarian economy long made obsolescent, in which productivity can be tweaked by changing the nature of time itself. […]

This swing-shift is where I first felt personally conflicted about the industrial time-for-labour relationship: it wants to colonise your sleep, not just your waking time. This was disturbing to me … that someone, or a thing, could annexe my sleeping life, and do so in a manner that left no room for rebuttal or flexibility. […]

I sometimes wonder if the reason we all go to school until our late teens isn’t so much to gain knowledge or for society to keep kids off the street — rather, it’s a way of enculturating future adults into the entirely artificial nine-to-five workweek.

Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees

This interview with professor Suzanne Simard about trees, fungi, their networks of communication, collaboration, intelligence, and “feelings” would certainly make for a super interesting conversation with people from other disciplines since her view of all of these would likely be interpreted differently. I still liked it a lot and it’s a good intro to the mind expanding research she has been doing on trees. (Check out the fungi pictures in Miscellany below.)

Fungi don’t register at all except for a sprinkling of mushrooms; those are regarded in isolation, rather than as the fruiting tips of a vast underground lattice intertwined with those roots. The world beneath the earth is as rich as the one above. […]

Simard went on to show how mycorrhizae-linked trees form networks, with individuals she dubbed Mother Trees at the center of communities that are in turn linked to one another, exchanging nutrients and water in a literally pulsing web that includes not only trees but all of a forest’s life. […]

Rather than biological automata, they might be understood as creatures with capacities that in animals are readily regarded as learning, memory, decision-making, and even agency. […]

I’ve come to think that root systems and the mycorrhizal networks that link those systems are designed like neural networks, and behave like neural networks, and a neural network is the seeding of intelligence in our brains. […]

We know these old trees are changing their behavior in ways that give advantages to their own kin. Then the kin responds in sophisticated ways by growing better or having better chemistry. A parent tree will even kill off its own offspring if they’re not in a good place to grow.

Open Tabs

I haven’t been able to have a thorough look at this yet but the list of contributors in the Some Thoughts publication is just a bit insane so download it asap!

We asked contributors for a short, standalone description of an idea, policy, strategy, or best practice that might expand this conversation about cities. The people we asked met three basic criteria: a) people that have shown an interest in contributing to the discussion b) people that have a history of participating in public discourse and c) people with an explicit mission of inclusivity in their work. This list of contributors is not comprehensive or complete.

Another must download: “In Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Easily Be Exploited, Michael Golebiewski of Microsoft teams up with danah boyd (Microsoft Research; Data & Society) to demonstrate how data voids are exploited by manipulators eager to expose people to problematic content including falsehoods, misinformation, and disinformation.”


Header image: Spectacular Mushrooms and Fungi Documented by Photographer Alison Pollack.