So this is issue No.50. I’d hoped to produce something special for it, either some twist on the content or some artefact to “commemorate” but in the end, it’s “just” a newsletter and, more importantly, I’ve spent some time on finally finalizing Sentiers at Work, the prototype of which I’ll be sending to a few people over the next couple days. Randomly, this is also the first time I had no clear featured stories. Instead of doing a mad dash to read some more articles and find a feature, I simply moved up an article on slow reading. Better to think upon books and slow reading than try to cram something else in here, don’t you think?


I don’t usually attach issues around a theme but this week it could be “measurements.” What should be measured and how to interpret the results. From China’s social credit, to GDP, to ocean fishing, to growth. And again, loads of bookish stuff in the Miscellany section.


Why you should read this article slowly

I like this idea, and as I make a concerted effort to read more books (again), it’s good to also apply some slower more purposeful reading to articles too.(Hello sexist clickbaty headline image though! 😡)

A piece of writing is not simply a “take” on something, but a rhetorical exercise in pace, rhythm, tone, texture and voice. Ultimately it is irreducible to precis or paraphrase. It can only be fully understood by immersing oneself in the words and their slow unravelling of a line of thought. The slow reader is like a swimmer who stops counting the number of pool laps they have done and just enjoys how their body feels and moves in water. […]

Slow reading feels to me like a more generous, collegiate form of reading – rather as listening is a more generous act than speaking, and more difficult. Slow reading gives someone else (the writer) the gift of your time, without any guaranteed return, and with the risk that you will be bored or discomforted by the writing’s strangeness or difficulty. Slow reading is a gradual encounter with the obdurate otherness of another person’s mind. Like any such encounter, it should take as long as it takes and be its own end.

Tech

25 Years of WIRED Predictions: Why the Future Never Arrives

Fun rewind of the history of predicting at Wired. Memory lane fodder if you’ve been (or are??) a fan of the mag, and some doozies in there. Dig that Kelly v Sale bet, and Sirius in 1994!!

In 2003, when phones with cameras were just a novelty in the US (but popular in Asia), Xeni Jardin was predicting a “phonecam revolution” that would one day capture images of police brutality on the fly. Just as interesting were the things WIRED saw coming that never did. […]

In their place, WIRED repeatedly proclaimed, the revolution would bring an era of transformative abundance and prosperity, its foothold in the future secured by the irresistible dynamics of bandwidth, processing power, and the free market. […]

Near the end of the Q&A, Sale predicted that industrial civilization would, in the next couple of decades, suffer economic collapse, class warfare, and widespread environmental disaster. In response, Kelly pulled out his checkbook. “I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe,” Kelly said. “I’ll bet on my optimism.” […]

Back in February 1994, the writer R.U. Sirius mused about the coarse dynamics that had already begun to present themselves in an online world where anyone can be a publisher. “As more and more people get a voice, a voice needs a special stridency to be heard above the din,” he wrote. “On the street, people tolerate diversity because they have to—you’ll get from here to there if you don’t get in anybody’s face. But the new media environment is always urging you to mock up an instant opinion about The Other … You can be part of the biggest mob in history. Atavistic fun, guys. Pile on!” […]

Yesterday’s imagined futures just keep accruing, providing sedimentary layers that today’s future can be built atop.

🇨🇳 Leave no dark corner

Some more details and “use cases” on the Chinese surveillance system and their social credit trials. It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to coverage about China but the general direction and end goal seem pretty clear. Also, for a lot of these stories, don’t read them as indictments of China (not that all’s fine, far from it) but as signs of where things might be going everywhere else soon after.

When social credit is fully implemented, what she puts into the trolley could impact her social score. Buying too much alcohol might suggest dependence; she’ll lose a couple of points. But buying a pack of nappies might suggest responsibility; she’ll gain a few points. […]

Who your friends and family are will affect your score. If your best friend or your dad says something negative about the government, you’ll lose points too. […]

Already, about 10 million people have been punished in the trial areas of social credit.

Related: Fan Bingbing: Missing Chinese film star given 0% ‘social responsibility’ rating, sparking arrest fears. 😱

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google. […]

Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing.

Lasts Longer

I’m not much of an Apple watcher these days but this is an interesting take by Horace Dediu on the company’s message and vision around sourcing materials and making their products last longer. (Lisa Jackson is my new favorite Apple person.)

To emphasize the second point she said Apple now strives to design and build durable products that last as long as possible. That means long-lasting hardware coupled with long-lasting software. She pointed out that iOS 12 runs even on iPhone 5S, now five years old. Because iPhones last longer, you can keep using them or pass them on to someone who will continue to use them after you upgrade.

The important call to make is that Apple is making a bet that sustainability is a growth business.

Milieu

What would a truly walkable city look like?

Reading this I realized a parallel between recycling and electric cars. They are both important, but cause us to flip our thinking upside down. Where we talk of recycling, it’s actually reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order, yet we seem to only talk about recycling. For transport it’s walk, bike, public transport, then electric cars. In that order. Electric cars don’t solve much unless the other three are given their proper place.

The modern obsession with autonomous and electric vehicles, dockless scooters and bicycles means it is easy to forget the humble pedestrian. However, as almost every journey starts or finishes on foot, we are ignoring a fundamental part of what makes a city great. […]

A useable network of high-quality paths is key for a pedestrian-friendly city. Manchester has recently announced a 1,000-mile £160m walking and cycling grid, including 1,400 safer road crossings, improved footways and 25 “filtered neighbourhoods” which prioritise people on bike and on foot over cars, and featuring places to sit, play and socialise. When completed, Beelines will be the UK’s biggest connected walking and cycling network.

Why Growth Can’t Be Green

Comparing the idea of green growth with three studies, all of them showing that, even using optimistic numbers for transition, it’s impossible to switch to a sustainable economy (i.e. within planetary limits) and keep growing it at the same time.

Finally, last year the U.N. Environment Program—once one of the main cheerleaders of green growth theory—weighed in on the debate. It tested a scenario with carbon priced at a whopping $573 per metric ton, slapped on a resource extraction tax, and assumed rapid technological innovation spurred by strong government support. The result? We hit 132 billion metric tons by 2050. [Ed.:We need to get to 50 billion tons.]

Ending growth doesn’t mean shutting down economic activity—it simply means that next year we can’t produce and consume more than we are doing this year. It might also mean shrinking certain sectors that are particularly damaging to our ecology and that are unnecessary for human flourishing, such as advertising, commuting, and single-use products.

Related: Sustainable intensification is no longer an oxymoron.

We’re Measuring the Economy All Wrong

Nothing specifically new but includes a bit of background on where unemployment rate and GDP numbers come from and how they don’t represent “normal people’s” lives.

The trouble is that a handful of statistics dominate the public conversation about the economy despite the fact that they provide a misleading portrait of people’s lives. Even worse, the statistics have become more misleading over time. […]

It should instead change and expand the ones that are already followed closely. Doing so could force the media and policymakers to talk about economic well-being at the same time that they are talking about economic indicators.

How Much Of The Ocean Is Fished?

This is a perfect example of what I’m saying in the intro; what do we measure and how do we interpret the numbers?

This seems like a simple matter of scale. If you look at the world at different resolutions, you’ll see different pictures. So the question becomes: Which is the right resolution to use? […]

These same contentions also apply when comparing land and sea. In their original study, the GFW claimed that fishing affects 200 million square kilometers of ocean, which is four times greater than the 50 million square kilometers of land that’s affected by agriculture. But Amoroso’s team notes that the latter figure comes from studies that use a much tighter grid. If you analyze land and sea at the same resolution, it’s agriculture that outmatches fishing by a factor of four.

The world has decided bottom up is the way it’s going to stop climate change

Here “the world has decided” means “it’s what we’re ending up doing because we can’t agree on much at a global, continent, or even country level.” Nonetheless, good signs with cities and states working together.

Miscellany

The Ever-Expanding World of David Mitchell

I’m going to have to catchup on my Mitchell reading, this is fascinating.

Mitchell wants his novels to be like clouds, ever changing and shifting and intimating different moods, to function like a twist (once again) on Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence: the words will always be there, the novels will always tell the exact same stories, but after reading all of them and going back over from the beginning, they will all have completely changed.

Science fiction’s new golden age in China

The Chinese government is financing scifi awards and festivals amidst its efforts to augment scientific literacy. Echos of Harari in last week’s issue.

It’s not the first golden age of sci-fi in China, though. Wang Yao says that was between 1978 and 1983 during reforms initiated by late Deng Xiaoping. “It was thought that science fiction could cultivate a scientific spirit, and the authorities assigned authors to write books in the genre,” says Wang.

Thanks to Rebecca West, Eliot Peper, and Azeem Azhar for unique or multiple links this week.