More-than-human design ⊗ degrowth ⊗ toxic hellscape — No.112

This week → What I mean when I talk about more-than-human design ⊗ Can we have prosperity without growth? ⊗ The Internet is a toxic hellscape—but we can fix it ⊗ Going back to the roots with production in rural Japan

A year ago → Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think.


What I mean when I talk about more-than-human design

I really need to spend more time reading up on Anne Galloway’s work. She focuses on more-than-human design and in this short post, gives some excellent insights into how this places her reflection, research, and work in the world. I come back time and again to the idea of shifting perspectives, looking at things from a slightly different angle, this is a career-spanning example of taking an innovative point of view on the world.

While some excellent design/researchers use the phrase “more than human” to refer to a range of technologies, my interests remain in the multispecies or environmental realm. This doesn’t mean that technology is irrelevant; it’s important for me to assess the political and ethical implications of any technology that attempts to mediate human relations with other forms of life. […]

Agriculture is also one of humanity’s most heavily designed activities, which should remind us that it can be re-designed, and needs to be re-designed when it stops working for all of us. […]

The ethos of the More-Than-Human Lab draws on Donna Haraway’s “staying with the trouble” and tries to go beyond the design of human-nonhuman interactions to reimagine human-nonhuman relations. For me, this means not trying to “fix” the world, and resisting both purity and progress to live well together through uncertain and difficult circumstances. […]

In dire times it may be tempting to conjure all too familiar utopias and dystopias, but I’m interested in reconnecting with violence, suffering, decay and death as part of life, entangled with all the love, beauty, and wonder.

Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?

Quite a good overview of a number of positions regarding degrowth or slow growth, including Vaclav Smil, Tim Jackson, Banerjee and Duflo, Dietrich Vollrath (I’d never heard of his view that “slower growth is appropriate for a society as rich and industrially developed as ours”), Kate Raworth, and the Green New Deal. I don’t think the piece spends enough time on the measure of GDP. Arguing about growing, stabilizing, or reducing growth takes for granted that we keep measuring GDP the same way. Changing what we measure is as (more?) important as whether we can slow the current “one number to rule them all” or not.

Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.” […]

Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.” […]

Drawing on their findings, Banerjee and Duflo argue that, rather than chase “the growth mirage,” governments should concentrate on specific measures with proven benefits, such as helping the poorest members of society get access to health care, education, and social advancement. […]

In the United Kingdom, the New Economics Foundation has called for the standard workweek to be shortened from thirty-five to twenty-one hours, a proposal that harks back to Victor’s modelling and Keynes’s 1930 essay. Proposals like these would have to be financed by higher taxes, particularly on the wealthy, but that redistributive aspect is a feature, not a bug.

The Internet Is a Toxic Hellscape—but We Can Fix It

Hard read. Because of the topic, and because Whitney Phillips spends the first half of the piece laying out the situation and sharing how she’s been feeling and dealing with all of it. But then there’s the flip, to seeing anxiety as a sign of awareness of consequences, and that we can find a way forward. (It’s also the introductory piece to her new column at WIRED, called Information Ecology, which is bound to be a must-read.)

There’s a flip side to all that anxiety, however; the story doesn’t end on a scene of me splayed out on my office floor, covered in bags of rice. That’s just the opening shot. Because, guess what: The same things that give me panic, that quite literally lay me out, also give me hope. They’re the same things that inspire me to open my eyes, stand up, and tell nihilism to go fuck itself. […]

If everything we believe about journalism is true, then why has none of it been working? The healthy response to this question is anxiety; paradigms hurt when they shift. […]

The kind of anxiety I’m describing is the north star guiding ships onward. At least it can be, when the worry itself is reframed and harnessed toward the common good. Because what is it, other than an awareness of consequence and connection? What is it, other than the recognition that things should be different? There is no yearning for a better world when there are no guiding stars. They are a necessary precondition for meaningful change. […]

The name reflects environmentalist Barry Commoner’s assertion that everything in nature is connected to everything else. The same rule holds online: Big things and small things are fundamentally entwined. Journalism, algorithms, bad actors, influencers, the everyday actions of everyday folks—each feeds into and is fed by all the rest. There are no wholly separate things.

Going Back to the Roots With Production in Rural Japan

Over the last decade plus, Fab Labs have had some years of great growth and visibility. Recently, some have had a harder go of it and a growing number of people, including most of media, seem to have dismissed them. Fab Lab Aso Minami-Oguni is one kind of project that can “keep the dream alive” and shows how local fabrication workshops can serve a number of functions and help different groups within a community.

[B]uilt with the intention of developing new products with Oguni Cedar, a locally prized resource. Oguni Cedar is a fine-grained, high-quality wood, known for its lustre, texture and beautiful pink colour. …All the products are made from Oguni Cedar, and their hallmark is the way in which the grain of the wood is incorporated into their design. Suzutani explains that the products symbolise the way the industry has changed over time. […]

Fab Lab Aso Minami-Oguni attracts all kinds of people, from housewives who want to engage in craftwork, to newcomers to the village working on ambitious projects. But according to Suzutani, they expend their biggest efforts on primary school and junior high school students, aged 6 – 15. “Rural towns like this do not have many places for children to safely go and play on their own. Because of that, many of them go home after school just to play games on their phone for hours. You could even say that smartphones are their only connection to the outside world.”

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Miscellany

  • Tintin, under-appreciated dresser. “Reading this, I also realized that, although I doubt he would have read the magazine, Tintin would have been right at home in many a Monocle fashion spread.” (Yes, I’m quoting myself at Kottke dot org.)
  • The Long Time. “[Legacy Stance:] This work goes beyond just empathising with past and future generations and is about how we build our desire and agency to leave a positive legacy. It can involve looking back to what our ancestors gave us and forward to the world we want to leave as good ancestors ourselves.”
  • How Medieval Manuscript Makers Experimented with Graphic Design “Medieval craftspeople left us few records of their own thought processes, so we often need to use our own terms when we try to reconstruct them. The term ‘design’ brings to light aspects of the thoughtfulness and ingenuity behind medieval manuscripts and artifacts which we might otherwise miss.” (Via Hewn.)
  • 📚 🎥 The Booksellers. Trailer for the upcoming documentary. “The people that I see reading actual books in the subway are mostly in their twenties, it’s one of the few encouraging things you will ever see int he subway.”
  • 👀 🇳🇱 Welfare surveillance system violates human rights, Dutch court rules. “A Dutch court has ordered the immediate halt of an automated surveillance system for detecting welfare fraud because it violates human rights … The case was seen as an important legal challenge to the controversial but growing use by governments around the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and risk modelling in administering welfare benefits and other core services.”
  • 💩 What a complete arsehole. Amazon Wanted Some Tax Breaks. “Maybe when you’re at the rocket-billionaire level you go around thinking ‘why does the other rocket billionaire get more tax incentives than I do?’”
  • 💩 🚗 Speaking of arseholes. Tesla remotely disables Autopilot on used Model S after it was sold. “The company now claims that the owner of the car, who purchased it from a third-party dealer — a dealer who bought it at an auction held by Tesla itself — “did not pay” for the features and therefore is not eligible to use them.”
  • 💻 Twitter shares soar after reporting strong user numbers and miss on earnings. The interesting bit: I don’t fear any slowness as we work to distribute our workforce now, and I do think we have to build a company that’s not entirely dependent on San Francisco, as we look forward we’re reaching a talent pool that expects a lot more remote work, … we should be building our company around that.”


Header image: Robur-le-Conquérant, Jules Verne. Illustration by Léon Benett.