Newsletter No.5 — Oct 01, 2017

Sentiers No.5

Heads up: For a couple of reasons related to early writing methods, the first forty-five issues archived here are “pre last review” and haven’t been fully re-reviewed yet. Please forgive typos and miscellaneous mistakes if you see them! They are also less structured than more recent issues and thus haven’t been split into multiple notes. (Yet?)

This week feels mildly Berlinish thanks to Sight & Sound, an event held in Montréal’s Eastern Bloc and Never Apart venues. It feels like this because, as I said on Twitter, the lineup is exactly what I see in Europe, always wondering and bemoaning why we don’t have this kind of program here. Well, we do this week.
Be sure to read to the end where there’s a longer section on colonialism, including a panel at said event.

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Black wire art piece photo by William Bout (@williambout) on Unsplash

Our Friends Electric
A fantastic short film made by Superflux and Mozilla. You should watch it because it’s fun and thoughtful and then read the article for some of the thinking behind it. Also have a look at Uninvited Guests, an older work mentioned in the article.

Meet virtual assistants that grow with you, AI that speaks on your behalf, and a philosophically-minded companion that accidentally orders 2,000 pounds of organic horse manure.

William Gibson interviewed: Archangel, the Jackpot, and the instantly commodifiable dreamtime of industrial societies
Cory Doctorow interviewing Gibson citing Sterling. How could I not link to this?? On the Jackpot, his next book, bohemian and his pseudo optimism.

For me, Japan’s gotten steadily more interesting as that Next Big World Player thing has receded. I don’t want to hang with whoever has the most money and spaceships. I want to hang with whoever has the best shadows, the most exquisitely weird and poetic history of being whacked with alien technology, becoming the first industrialized Asian nation, trying to take over their side of the world, getting nuked for their trouble, and inventing the Walkman. I think it’s probably something like you and Disneyland: I’m just so there.

On Demand Work, and the Two-Tier Economy
So Ikea has bought TaskRabbit. Why? To gain control on a bunch of people who can assemble Ikea furniture cheaply. As Stowe Boyd explains here, it’s one more sign of the two-tier economy and that’s a problem. Note that this has previously been explained as a “software layer” with programmers being the only ones with jobs or as an “interface” to low paid workers but the two-tier term is a better explanation, it really frames an economy with a privileged few with jobs, corralling a mass of lower paid workers with gigs and no benefits.

We now have a two-tier economy, where 65 TaskRabbit employees at the upper tier channel the work of 60,000 freelancers operating at the bottom tier, and Ikea avoids hiring perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 full-time employees.
Btw, I don’t see why so many people hate assembling Ikea, I love it! Hire me for some shelving and we’ll discuss the gig economy at the same time ;).

The tech that does or doesn’t matter: thoughts after #cph150

‘The revolution will not be on forked on Github’. The hard work of the 21st century might just need to be done face to face, in politics, with regulators, by volunteering, by showing up, by organising by acting and facing complicated problems head on.
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was invited to a small event where she “spent 3 days talking to strangers and a handful of friends about the future of the internet.” She didn’t leave impressed and explains how the internet was us all along and we actually need to be better humans more than we need a technological solution.

Sustainable Tech Is Not Easy
Fairphone takes $7.7M to push for change across the electronics value chain
The company making the Fairphone had lofty goals of sustainability but they ran into some hard limits of the electronics value chain and had to stop supporting their first smartphone, disappointing fans and clients. They are taking some financing to go deeper down the chain, spreading their goals of sustainability.

In one of those random (or is it?) ways topics and words suddenly pop up in multiple places, I saw talk of colonialism in a few brilliant places this week. You should pay attention because it’s important to understand and remember history but also because there are other forms of colonialism still happening.
First, in Metafoundry 68 by the always insightful Deb Chachra who spent a few months in London this year and reflected on the traces of and blindness to British colonialism.

[W]ith only a few exceptions, the former colonies that are wealthy (like Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand) are the ones where the original inhabitants and societies were largely wiped out and supplanted by Europeans. The rest of the former Empire, the places where descendents of the original residents still comprise the bulk of the population, are desperately poor. Even if you don’t look at any other metric, this is still prima facie evidence for colonialism as an unprecedented transfer of wealth.

Then in this powerful thread by Aura Bogado in the aftermath of another earthquake in Mexico, on some of the uninformed “journalism” around it.

Tenochtitlán was the capital of the vast Aztec empire; it was essentially an artificial-ish island in Lake Texcoco's shallow end. … The Aztec empire, like any empire, was not without its faults. But it was built to either benefit or cause little damage to the environment. … When the Spanish colonized the Aztec, the genocide wasn't only against people, but also culture -- which is synonymous with the environment.

And finally at the Sight & Sound event in Montréal which included a Digital Colonialism panel with some solid presentations by Morehshin Allahyari and Rasheedah Phillips (@twitter).

This panel will explore the political dimension of the techno-scientific realm in relation to the giants of the digital revolution, specifically with regards to notions of digital colonialism and emancipatory appropriation.

Japanese Animals Are Still Washing Up in America After The 2011 Tsunami

Somehow, this coastal species had endured a two-year, 4,000-mile voyage across the open ocean, in the tiniest of living spaces. “We said this couldn’t happen,” Chapman told OregonLive. “And nature is like: Oh yes it can.”

You can now (well, some of you) tweet tweets of 280 characters, here are my two favorite takes:
“All true Canadians know there is only one proper use of the new 280 character limit on Twitter. | Tous les vrais Canadiens savent qu’il n’y…
“Got my 280, so, hey @Twitter: get rid of the Nazis, get rid of the bots, police all the harassment, listen to the victims OF harassment, pro…

The two best videos about that whole NFL taking a knee thing: