This Week: Not Relevant for Fantasy Purposes. Human Civilization (Probably not) Coming to an End Within 30 Years. The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less. Data Training Program at the NYT.

A year ago: Tackling the Ethical Challenges of Slippery Technology.


Not Relevant for Fantasy Purposes

More of a thought experiment than a solid analogy, this one is still quite an interesting read. The author makes a parallel between the ever more precise stats in sports (with the resulting obfuscation of collaboration, the more precise valuation of individual metrics, and a form of surveillance) and the way freelancers often have various fetishes for habits and productivity metrics, come up with ways to measure their performance independently of actual colleagues or even, sometimes, any measurable “wins.” (Largely based on his reading of Melissa Gregg’s book Counterproductive.)

Productivity fetishism suits a society of free agents who must continually renegotiate the terms of their value, their viability, their irreplaceable contributions; it not only provides a rationale for employers to sort contract workers, but it provides those workers a way to frame their achievement in the absence of a stable association to a particular job or a particular set of co-workers. […]

[Personal productivity is] a treadmill masquerading as a set of goals. […]

This strikes me like a production-side equivalent of the consumer-side subjectivity posited by algorithmic recommendation, where one’s desire for things is anticipated to the point of pre-emption, and the actual interior experience of desire becomes superfluous. You don’t have to actually want what is already being directed at you based on an analysis of your behavior. You can have it without the sin of wanting it. […]

Algorithmic governance saves my whole mind for contemplating nothingness. The elimination of interiority pursued by surveillance-drive algorithmic systems is coupled with an aspirational ideal of purposelessness (i.e., productivity as an end in itself) configured as higher consciousness, mindless mindfulness.

This was misleading & needs some caveats

Excellent thread by Jay Owens on that VICE article going on about the ’‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End Within 30 Years.” Have a read for the spot on comments but also for something I’ve been hoping to see more of and have been meaning to do myself; an article linked through Hypothesis with public annotations.

It’s like ppl have understood the basic idea of earth systems being complex & interrelated, & grokked ‘feedback loops’ – but superficially

Working on the basis that every feedback loop is positive (accelerating) & systems will inevitably be wholly coupled. No! These are guesses.

Further reading: Will climate change kill everyone — or just lots and lots of people?

The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less

On degrowth, how it’s not the best way to cut carbon emissions but a good way to start rethinking what we value in society, and how the current system doesn’t deliver a better quality of life.

[D]esigning a social upheaval that disentangles the idea of progress and economic growth once and for all. This new accounting of economic success would instead focus on access to public services, a shorter work week, and an increase in leisure time. Their approach, they say, will not only combat climate change, but free us from a workaholic culture in which so many struggle to make ends meet. […]

In the midst of this, degrowth offers a world in which the noise of commoditization quiets down, where self-worth isn’t rooted in monetary value, and where you don’t have to work to utter exhaustion to access basic necessities. […]

That doesn’t mean degrowth is necessarily the most effective strategy to curtail our carbon emissions by a strict deadline, but the movement itself raises important issues about how we measure our success as a society and country. […]

We’ve associated growth with being able to solve social problems like eradicating poverty, improving livelihoods, and ensuring jobs for all, Hickel said, but it’s not working. […]

Pairs well with I’m not Extreme, Consumerism Is, which includes a good example of what some consider extreme behaviour; a woman who just lives a simpler life. Have a look at the rental article below for contrast.

I find it extreme that our consumer culture has reeled so far off the rails that someone who leads a simple lifestyle appears extreme when compared to the norm. Not that long ago, we all lived without plastic, ate unrefined foods, dwelled in small homes and made do. Today, these are acts of defiance. […]

Overhauling that system isn’t extreme.
Accepting the end of civilization is.

They See It. They Like It. They Want It. They Rent It.

This doesn’t feel like progress at all. Any readers with thoughts? Debunking or confirming articles? To me it reads like just one more corruption of a good idea. Renting things you rarely use instead of owning them makes sense—tools, cars, etc. Changing clothing and furniture constantly through monthly subscription plans, is not that. I’d be curious to see how often the rented clothes are worn and how many renters a table goes through. My hunch is not very many. This is just another configuration of consumerism.

“People, in terms of looking for a more fulfilled life and ways to connect in the real world, they want to have these experiences without the consumption hangover.” 🤢

How We Helped Our Reporters Learn to Love Spreadsheets

This is awesome. The NYT runs a Data Training Program internally, the link above is a quick explainer on what they are doing and it in turn links to all their materials, “in the hopes that students, professors or journalists at other publications might find them useful.”

Over a period of three weeks, the class meets for two hours every morning. This includes time for reporters to work on data-driven stories and apply the skills they’ve learned in the course to their own beats. We also train the reporters’ editors. In separate lunch sessions, they come together to discuss tips for editing data stories, common pitfalls to avoid and advice for working with reporters.

Miscellany

  • 🇪🇺 This looks excellent! Our Commons: Political Ideas for a New Europe “is a collection of essays, case studies and interviews about the commons, published right before the European Elections of May 2019. The book showcases the wealth of transformative ideas that the international commons movement has to offer.”
  • 🍅🇫🇷 Les nocives aurores boréales de l’agriculture [FR]. Intense light pollution caused by industrial scale greenhouses in France. Incredible pictures.
  • 🌊 CURRENT FUTURES: A Sci-Fi Ocean Anthology. “In honor of World Oceans Day, XPRIZE partnered with 18 sci-fi authors and 18 artists, with contributions from all seven continents, to create an anthology of original short stories in a future when technology has helped unlock the secrets of the ocean. ”
  • 🌬 How to Make Wind Power Sustainable Again. “If we build them out of wood, large wind turbines could become a textbook example of the circular economy.” It’s at LOW←TECH MAGAZINE which has been doing the rounds but I hadn’t linked to yet, very cool project.
  • 🕵🏼‍♀️ Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets. “Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.”
  • 💰 The problem with billionaires fighting climate change is the billionaires. “Before the financial crisis, the top 1% held a collective $15bn in cash. Today they’ve got almost $304bn. And while the yachts and frequent flying habits of the wealthy are a pox on the planet, so is the fact that they now have more money than ever to throw into world-wrecking investments, buying off politicians and lobbying for their pet causes – namely, to let them keep doing more of the same.”
  • 🖋 Even 18th-Century Creatives Tended to Cluster. “A new study finds that British and Irish writers clustered in 18th- and 19th-century London and were more productive as a result.” Writer sceniuses.