Social media evolution. Space Cyborgs. Three Horizons Framework. — No.45

Welcome to this new version of Sentiers, sorry it’s coming to you late. I’m introducing a new template (work in progress), and I’ve moved from Tinyletter to Mailchimp to have more visual flexibility and to centralize things for when I launch my new product in September.

You’ll also notice a new index below which you can use to jump to featured stories you are most drawn to, or to favorite sections. Enjoy.

How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump

A very useful exercise by zeynep tufekci, weaving the arab spring, social media, security, the NSA, 45, Putin, and algorithm together. Basically, we (especially the US) left our security too unattended, let too many parts of our society rot and wither away, while letting Facebook and Google move us to a unhealthy attention focus, to then let our media and ourselves be hacked into extremes of disagreement. The first five sections, up to and including the lessons learned are most relevant here while the last point is a damming review of everything that Russia did not do, everything that that created the setting for the Putinning of our politics.

He hadn’t understood that in the 21st century it is the flow of attention, not information (which we already have too much of), that matters. […]

Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one. It is key to understanding how, in seven years, digital technologies have gone from being hailed as tools of freedom and change to being blamed for upheavals in Western democracies—for enabling increased polarization, rising authoritarianism, and meddling in national elections by Russia and others.

It was a shift from a public, collective politics to a more private, scattered one, with political actors collecting more and more personal data to figure out how to push just the right buttons, person by person and out of sight. […]

Dissidents can more easily circumvent censorship, but the public sphere they can now reach is often too noisy and confusing for them to have an impact. Those hoping to make positive social change have to convince people both that something in the world needs changing and there is a constructive, reasonable way to change it. […]

Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. This is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts. […]

Security isn’t just about who has more Cray supercomputers and cryptography experts but about understanding how attention, information overload, and social bonding work in the digital era.

Space Cyborgs

Recollections of Decolonizing Mars

This is the time of event and reflection I’m pretty sure is not happening around Elon Musk. The quote below gives you a good idea why you should read it but also; the origine of the word cyborg, it’s connection to antidepressants, The Expanse, and whether people with disabilities might actually be the best suited for space exploration.

But really, Williams had me at “Astropoetics, science fictions, Afrofuturisms.”

Why are we settling space? Disability on Mars, and Martian Bias (we’ll come back to this in a bit). Historical visions and understandings of Mars. The potential importance of the semantic differences between the terms “Colonization” and “settlement.” Who has the “right” to leave earth? Space law, ethics, Martian governance, and new economies for new worlds. Space cities: What kind of social spaces and architectures will we create and inhabit? Space and the possibility of human existential loneliness. New energy systems for new worlds. Astropoetics, science fictions, Afrofuturisms, and imagining possible futures.

When We Eat, or Don’t Eat, May Be Critical for Health

This one is worth a read for circadian cycles, time-restricted feeding, and biological rhythms (caveat; I haven’t researched this further) but I’m including for the way it links to the Mars-cyborg piece above, read the quote below with space exploration and other planets in mind.

“We’ve inhabited this planet for thousands of years, and while many things have changed, there has always been one constant: Every single day the sun rises and at night it falls,” Dr. Panda said. “We’re designed to have 24-hour rhythms in our physiology and metabolism. These rhythms exist because, just like our brains need to go to sleep each night to repair, reset and rejuvenate, every organ needs to have down time to repair and reset as well.”

The Shape of Space

Excellent long read by Fred Scharmen reviewing the orbital space habitats designed for NASA in 1975 and what they can teach us about living in new geometries. Includes the O’Neill Cylinder, Stanford Torus, and Bernal Sphere and brings the Buckminster and the BERG. (At the very least have a look at the vintage space habitat illustrations.)

“Space is hard,” scientists tell one another when things go wrong. Lacking air, filled with radiation, ranging in temperature from absolute zero to burning hot in the unfiltered glare of the Sun, “outer” space cannot be experienced by humans without mediation. We need constructed bubbles of warmth and comfort. We can imagine the spacesuit itself as a kind of personal spaceship, or a super-room. Similarly, the contours of the Summer Study designs represented a literal closure, sealing off a habitatable environment from the vacuum of space. Within the space of a Bernal Sphere or Boullée’s Cenotaph, what is outside no longer matters. It’s a void — an absolute, infinite void — but it may as well be a hard solid.

Not enough people are paying attention to this economic trend

Bill Gates’ review of Capitalism Without Capital by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake which is about the rise the intangible economy. Roughly; an economist’s view of the idea that software is eating the world.

Unlike the goods that powered our economy in the past, software is an intangible asset. And software isn’t the only example: data, insurance, e-books, even movies work in similar ways. […] The portion of the world’s economy that doesn’t fit the old model just keeps getting larger. That has major implications for everything from tax law to economic policy to which cities thrive and which cities fall behind, but in general, the rules that govern the economy haven’t kept up. This is one of the biggest trends in the global economy that isn’t getting enough attention.

Three Horizons Framework

This very good summary of the framework, nicely delivered in a seven minute video got me searching my archives, here are a couple of related links:

(Video via Graham Leicester)

✕ Tech

The future is ear: Why “hearables” are finally tech’s next big thing

The article throws analyst stats around that are, to my mind, grossly exaggerated and some shit use cases like “before Amazon can send ads for Robitussin when it hears you cough” or other advertising focused “benefits” but it does mention a stat which contradicts the common “voice is awesome” views:

According to one recent study, only six percent of Americans said they were comfortable talking to their voice assistant in public.

And includes some promising enhancements like this:

[C]ould use to customize the sound of live music, such as the ability to add a “fuzz” effect or put an upper limit on the volume.

Overall, worth a read but asking to few questions.

Why liberal arts and the humanities are as important as engineering

It’s important to have people studying the humanities, it’s important to hire them, it’s important that some lead companies but it’s even more important that companies listen to them. (Looking at you Zuck and Jack.)

YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, for instance, majored in history and literature; Slack founder Stewart Butterfield in English; Airbnb founder Brian Chesky in the fine arts. And, in China, Alibaba chief executive Jack Ma has a bachelor’s in English.

Automating the End of Movies on Physical Discs

Khoi Vinh with some thoughts on how Netflix is, in essence, automating the end of the DVD movie and what the impact will be on the availability of certain titles.

Google tracks your movements, like it or not

Buried privacy settings and not thinking of the user first, as usual.

An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.

✕ Milieu

Japan begins to embrace the 100-year life

Although true in some fields, it’s become a tired trope to say the Japan lives in the future. In terms of aging though, they are truly living our future right now, with an aging and shrinking population. This FT piece looks at a book that has had a powerful impact in Japan, moving some discussion from seeing a huge problem, to seeing more of an opportunity.

The book’s blueprint, of people working much later into their lives, remaining in better health, continuing to gain skills and investing for a long stay on earth, had a note of optimism he desperately needed. […]

Key ideas from the 100-Year Life committee included significant improvements in long-term care worker pay, a “drastic expansion of recurrent education” to expand mid-career employment and laying the groundwork for raising employment levels of the elderly.

Related: If you haven’t listen to it yet, I’ll mention again this Ezra Klein interview with Ai-jen Poo explaining why “the future of work isn’t robots. It’s caring humans.”

Heat: the next big inequality issue

As is usually the case with worsening anything, including climate change and tech dystopic slants, the most vulnerable people get hit first and hardest.

Last year, Hawaiian researchers projected that the share of the world’s population exposed to deadly heat for at least 20 days a year will increase from 30% now to 74% by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to grow. (It will rise to 48% with “drastic reductions”.) They concluded that “an increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable”.

Halfway to boiling: the city at 50C

And if you’re not horrified enough yet, have a look at what 50C looks like in cities.

At 50C – halfway to water’s boiling point and more than 10C above a healthy body temperature – heat becomes toxic. Human cells start to cook, blood thickens, muscles lock around the lungs and the brain is choked of oxygen. In dry conditions, sweat – the body’s in-built cooling system – can lessen the impact. But this protection weakens if there is already moisture in the air.

Socialism and a Koch (un)surprise

The Koch Brothers Commissioned a Survey of Americans and Found Most Like a $15 Minimum Wage, Free College, and Universal Health Care

I’m shocked. Shocked! That people would prefer policies that make their lives better. Also, Democrats More Positive About Socialism Than Capitalism.

✕ Miscellany

This week this section could be subtitled “things that look super interesting but I haven’t gotten to yet,” plus some events.


I haven’t done much “conferencing” in recent years, especially not internationally but since people are promoting their SXSW panel left and right, I thought I’d share a couple of events peaking my interest: