This week → Positive sum worlds: remaking public goods ⊗ Everyone should decide how their digital data are used — not just tech companies ⊗ Lithium landscapes ⊗ The REALIST stack ⊗ Turn it all off ⊗ First you make the maps
A year ago → The most clicked article in issue No.134 was Ask a Sane Person: Jia Tolentino on Practicing the Discipline of Hope.
New research coming out of Other Internet, written by Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti, and Sam Hart. They consider public good historically, a couple of meanings of “public” (as in “a public,” for example), the potential of blockchains, and where the two might intersect. Or rather, if public good can be fostered, created, supported, and directed on top of a blockchain, if that could be inclusive and diverse enough, what kind of things might make sense, how they might be decided upon, and more.
Central to this of course is the current “lowest common denominator: profit.” Can a group circle around those incentives and work on something greater?
One thing that came to mind: a critique of blockchains is often something like “but why crypto, it could’ve simply been a database?” In the context of creating “positive externalities” (as the authors call it) on such a scale, perhaps here, more than in simply tracking transactions, there is the need for a decentralized, trust-less, relatively speedy and low-maintenance platform like a blockchain? (Of course, it’s neither of the last two, but compared to other options for local—but also planet-wide—consultation, action, transparency, and traceability, it kind of is. (And of course there’s always that pesky energy issue.))
[B]y considering the effects (positive and negative) that we might have on groups at the margins—whether nocoiners, non-technical family members, or simply future participants in this public domain—we increase the potential for greater public upside and decrease the risk of negative externalities. […]
[T]here's even a popular meme that "crypto allows communities to encode values into money." But in practice, little space has been made for different values to be discussed or enacted. Which is why, in the absence of ways to enact our shared values, we default to the lowest common denominator: profit. […]
[D]iscussion and consensus-building is a necessary precursor to voting. Likewise, discussion of values is as important, if not more so, than the act of voting itself. A value system is fostered through storytelling and negotiation in forums of public discourse. […]
Public goods enacted by Web 3 communities should strive to produce exactly the opposite effect. Greater scale should mean greater good as valued by an increasingly wider set of people: the creation of positive externalities. […]
Crypto has managed to build infrastructures that exist outside the nation state, but we still live our lives embedded in places, communities, and nations.
Really good piece on data exhaust, surveillance, profit goals, public good, and data trusts. The authors, Jathan Sadowski, Salomé Viljoen and Meredith Whittaker, integrate two less commonly seen components to their argument.
These massive amounts of data do have societal value for research and understanding, but all of it is in the hands of huge corporations and collected purely for the purpose of their own profit. The same data could be so much more useful when framed otherwise and owned publicly.
They don’t simply talk about data trusts, democratic decision making, and data commons, they also list actual proposals on how this could be accomplished, including the disciplines to involve and why. The precedent of intellectual property in generic drug production and limited monopolies seems especially useful.
In our view, the current model, in which the digital traces of our lives are monopolized by corporations, threatens the ability of society to produce the rigorous, independent research needed to tackle pressing issues. It also restricts what information can be accessed and the questions that can be asked. This limits progress in understanding complex phenomena, from how vaccine coverage alters behaviour to how algorithms influence the spread of misinformation. […]
Instead of focusing only on the rights of individuals, a public trust can and should also represent the interests and values of groups affected by downstream uses of data products. […]
We propose a policy in which companies have a limited monopoly over the data they create and own. After a set period of time — say 3 years — these data either become a public resource or are eliminated.
The environmental impacts of lithium extraction are getting quite well known. This paper by Samir Bhowmik fleshes out some more context in terms of the places themselves, “deep time and multi-scalar topologies” and frames the whole supply chain and products within the visual culture of lithium, which is clouded in utopian dreams and abstractions of energy sufficiency. “These representations are largely immaterial and dimensionless, making the true scope and scale of lithium-based energy systems impossible to grasp.”
“Your smartphone runs on the tears and breast milk of a volcano. This landscape is connected to everywhere on the planet via the phones in our pockets; linked to each of us by invisible threads of commerce, science, politics and power.” […]
[W]ith every such interaction, “a vast matrix of capacities is invoked: interlaced chains of resource extraction, human labor and algorithmic processing across networks of mining, logistics, distribution, processing, prediction, and optimization.” Crawford and Joler argue the scale of this system is almost beyond human imagining. […]
We must examine the topology of energy generation and distribution, since it is “necessary to identify the ways in which the notion of extraction [as well as manufacturing, logistics and waste] provide[s] a means to map and join struggles that unfold in seemingly distant and unrelated landscapes.”
Venkatesh Rao has been fiddling with a lighthouse concept for a while and “finally turned it into an acronym,” which he’s detailing here. From the bottom of the stack: Renewably powered, Electrically Driven, Additive-first manufacturing, Lithium-based batteries, Internet of things, Software-defined middleware, and Tensor-based computing. Despite what follows, quite a useful essay and I’ll likely be using REALIST from time to time.
Perhaps I’m too focused on externalities and societal impact and it’s not their place in the definition of a concept like this, but I’m finding it increasingly hard to fully accept such representations when there is very little inclusion of things like “does this need to exist?”, ethics, public good, impacts, and negative externalities. Perhaps those questions don’t belong in such a concept… but then again perhaps they are too often left for later and that’s part of the problems we face today?
As an engineer, if you aren’t thinking about how your thing can be carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative over its operational lifecycle from the first paper-napkin concept sketch, you aren’t doing your job right. […]
[T]ry and design physical things strategically around 3d printing capabilities, which has interesting benefits in terms of decentralization, repairability, modularity, user-empowerment, waste reduction, and so on. […]
This is where the software and energy revolutions meet. When software eats something in this layer, you get dematerialization benefits on the energy/carbon front, and programmability and flexibility on the software end. […]
The REALIST stack is how software is eating the hardware-based world of things, and preparing it for existence on a terra being terraformed by energy and material transitions.
We’ve threaded these paths before, with detox type articles or luddite references, I’m still sharing this by Christopher Butler because of the way he lines-up (and contrasts) Huxley and Orwell, while quoting Neil Postman quite a bit. That’s all I’ll say and I include only a couple of quotes but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Also, I need to radically increase my “time between.”
“Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore — and this is the critical point — how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.” […]
If we are constantly seeking — channel surfing, subscribing, clicking, tapping, adding to lists, sharing, and swiping — when are we truly experiencing? When are we processing what we have experienced?
If you love maps, really excellent long-scroll page with loads of maps and their history.
Henry collected geographic information from anyone he could, assembling a task force of Arab scholars, Jewish merchants, and Dutch, Scandinavian, German, and Italian sailors to produce increasingly accurate maps based on geography rather than myths and legends. […]
Although he did not draw charts—he left that task to academics—Ahmad ibn Mājid published multiple books that aided navigation. Arab navigators relied on his detailed descriptions of routes as well as on his advice about how to use the altitude of the North Star to determine latitude.
- 🗺 🛰 🔥 🎥 Your bonkers 🤯 site / map of the week. Wildfires are detected by satellites several times per day, globally. When conditions are right, we can see fires in astonishing detail, all the way down to individual fire fronts and their intensities. This is what Siberia looks like, today.
- 🇨🇦 🇺🇸 🥵 Climate 🧵 by David Wallace-Wells. But it is a sign that those in the global North taking a sort of sociopathic comfort in their relative climate luck are deluded to see themselves as safe from the impacts of warming in any absolute way, only relative ones. In British Columbia it was as hot as in Death Valley.
- 🚀 🤑 🧵 If any of you are under the impression that our billionaires might succeed in “escaping” to space, while the world burns, let me put those fears to rest with what I know from being the spouse of a NASA flight controller.
- 😍 🏠 System for Connected Living. “Open House is a design research project that seeks to challenge prevailing urban housing models and investigate the capacity of residential environments to alleviate chronic loneliness and social isolation. The project approaches urban housing design through the lens of environmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, exploring parameters of geometry, ecology, and modularity as means to forge connection and build trust among residents.”
- 🇺🇸 🦫 FTW!! A dry California creek bed looked like a wildfire risk. Then the beavers went to work. “The creek bed, altered by decades of agricultural use, had looked like a wildfire risk. It came back to life far faster than anticipated after the beavers began building dams that retained water longer.”
- 🇨🇳 🌳 China Puts Most Powerful Agency in Charge of Climate Policies. “China’s top economic planning body has been put in charge of devising a plan for the world’s biggest polluter to cut greenhouse gas emissions, indicating that climate policies are gaining a more central role in the nation’s long-term development strategy.”
- 🇦🇿 🌋 🧵 Mud volcanoes!! So, first, Azerbaijan is the home of mud volcanoes, and has hundreds of them. My Google Earth mud volcano map of Azerbaijan gives you and idea of just how ludicrously many mud volcanoes there are both onshore and offshore.
- 🇺🇸 🤔 America’s First Legal DAO Approved in Wyoming. “Wyoming—the first US state to grant a charter to a crypto bank—has approved legal status for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), the American CryptoFed DAO, according to an announcement on Sunday. The organization, which has a mission to introduce a new monetary system, now becomes the first legally recognized DAO in the U.S.”
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