Also this week → Storytelling - Harmon vs. McKee ⊗ How heterarchy can help us put hierarchy in its place ⊗ Inside ‘the most real of fictional places’ ⊗ The next Gary Hustwit movie is about Brian Eno
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Luddites come up regularly here (see the tag) and I thought I’d explain a bit why, instead of just synthesizing the excellent article linked above. For me, the use of Luddism is one way of trying to grapple with the presence, influence, impacts, and futures of ‘technology.’ A way of taking a step back and assessing its potential directions.
For example, deeply considering car v electric car v autonomous car v walking + public transport can, to me, be seen as an act of Luddism. Many will just wonder if electric cars are ready, if brand X’s car is really autonomous, etc. One needs to go further back and even wonder why our cities are designed for cars. My first reflex has often been to be fine with an electric autonomous car, if it’s there in an appropriate way within the urban fabric and for the common good before individual efficiency. However, even that is clearly not far enough, since the reflection also needs to consider the whole chain of production, including where, how, by whom and under which conditions the materials are extracted, or who gets choked by exhaust, tire micro-particles, and disk-break powder.
When reading about Luddites, this is the lesson I take away; to consider deeply whom a new technology is affecting, who controls it, and who benefits from it. It’s similar to my understanding of the Amish or Quakers. Start from needs and values, then decide if it’s appropriate for your village/society.
In the article, Z.M.L. goes into some detail about this whole use of the word, perception of its proponents then and now, neo-luddites, how you can use a laptop all day long and call yourself a Luddite, and quite a bit more. The piece is split into six parts, three (which addresses the use of “we” and who “we” mean when “we” say “we”) and five were especially noteworthy for me, if you need to just skim through.
Issues around mining, labor, and waste represent some of the most challenging issues to think through regarding current high technology. They are difficult to think through because of their international dimensions, because of how much about them is hard to see, and because (to be honest about it) many of these matters are fairly grim and unsettling. And yet they are integral truths of the “present tense” of technology. […]
There is a difference between predicting the future so that you can profit off of it, and predicting the future in an attempt to get the train to switch tracks before it speeds off a cliff. […]
There is so much energy around reforming certain technologies, around redeeming certain technologies, about making certain technologies “ethical,” but there’s something wonderfully provocative about the retort out of the past that some of these things aren’t reformable or redeemable or capable of being made ethical. […]
[I]n many of the ways we “act” here, what we encounter is no longer the exuberance of using some futuristic doodad, but the banality of using platforms we dislike owned by people we loathe, because this is the situation in which we are stuck.
The term ‘regenerative’ has been having a moment for a little while now, I’ve written about it a few times elsewhere. I generally think that’s a good thing, we are beyond simply “don’t destroy as much,” we need to help nature regenerate. However, Leyla Acaroglu makes the argument that we should stick with the language of sustainability for a while, and for some good reasons. First, the movement has only recently been making productive inroads and achieving some success with governments and big business, let’s not change the words around and mix things up again. Second, let’s first learn to walk properly with sustainability before trying to regenerate. Why change to a new framing when we can barely even achieve the old one? Third, and perhaps more importantly, by switching to ‘regenerative’ we are also appropriating and colonizing (again) the age-old practices of indigenous peoples, let us be more humble and learn from them first.
Two more things. Acaroglu attaches together material extraction from the global south and the act of shipping them back the finished and discarded products to be disposed of. You might say “well d’uh,” but those two issues are often treated separately, even though both are part of the same chain and each time the negative impacts are inflicted to the same people.
Second, some corrupt the word sustainability by taking it to mean “to sustain our current ways.” She counters this greenwashing by associating the concept with sustainment instead. “[B]ringing the concept of sustainment into our lives. It’s the opposing force to what we have, which is destruction, deterioration and exploitation, and the design decisions of today can help rectify the mistakes of the past.”
Sustainability as a movement is the process of shifting social values and reorienting away from exploitation as the dominant approach towards a regenerative society, one where we give back more than we take. In order to get to this better state, we have to redesign all of our current processes, systems, services, products, lifestyles and mindsets. […]
If environmentalism was about protection, sustainability is about survival, and regeneration is about thriving. This is a process of societal transformation. […]
Of course regeneration should be our collective goal, as we must work with nature not against it. But we need the regeneration of cultural equity, reconciliation and reparations as much as we need to reverse our collective exploitation of nature purely for personal and economic gains. […]
The current system is riddled with lies, externalities and injustices, and these all fit together. These are the unsustainable systems that need to be completely disrupted. But to do so, we must reject the idea that sustainability is about sustaining what we already have and instead, embrace bringing the concept of sustainment into our lives.
I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but there’s a kind of joy of science and understanding in Maddie Stone’s articles, especially in her Science of Fiction, that’s always so fun to read, and reminds me of Rose Eveleth’s Flash Forward podcast about possible & not so possible futures (the two should do a collab 🤩 😎). In this one, Stone looks into the use of mushrooms as a food and protein source in space colonies by way of The Expanse (always a good start), a real high-tech mushroom-growing company (Smallhold), a blue oyster grow kit named Master Chief, while of course dropping some science along the way.
[T]he company's mini-farms — climate-controlled grow boxes that it sells to restaurants and other businesses — can produce 30 to 40 pounds of mushrooms in a week in a space of about 48 cubic feet. […]
Like humans, fungi are heterotrophic, meaning they get their energy from breaking down existing carbon-based compounds rather than using sunlight to make new ones via photosynthesis. However, Carter notes that while fungi aren't photosynthetic, they are phototropic, meaning they use light as a cue to direct their growth and produce the types of mushrooms we’re familiar with. […]
Carter suggests future spacefaring humans might want to grow mushrooms alongside a starchy food like potatoes (rich in Vitamin C), and a nutrient-dense green like kale, seaweed, or even edible algae. Helpfully, plants and algae also produce oxygen — which mushrooms and humans alike need to survive — while scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Storytelling - Harmon vs. McKee → If you’re into storytelling it’s worth a read for Harmon’s story circle, and for Rao’s take on next-level explainers who get to strategic intuition. “[T]he Clausewitzes, Boyds, Christensens, and Harmons of the world get to ‘good enough’ on tactical competence, and then brutally strip away everything that gets in the way of strategic intuition. The result is stories that sometimes have rough edges in terms of technique and craft, but nail the strategic core so well you don’t even notice.”
How heterarchy can help us put hierarchy in its place → “It’s a suggestion to acknowledge that complex organisation, ecosystems or ecologies might not always have a top and a bottom, that there’s not always a ‘king of the jungle,’ but instead a more complex, fluid set of relationships between elements or organisms where superiority or inferiority might be circumstantially or dynamically defined.”
Inside ‘the most real of fictional places’ → At coordinates 0,0, an imaginary island is not that imaginary, thanks to data. “There is this concept in geography that’s called liminal places; it means ‘between places.’ If you go to an airport, it’s not a destination. It doesn’t really mean anything to you that you are at the airport, but still, it’s a physical place. Null Island is similar to that because it connects the imaginary to the real. Because in a sense it’s real: It’s in databases. And it can be mapped.”
Futures, Foresights, Forecasts & Fabulations→ Collecting Real Utopias: Introductions (Via the excellent University of Winds by Mita Williams.) ⊗ Maps in Science Fiction (Via Julian at Design Fiction or elsewhere.) ⊗ The Future Will Have to Wait (by Michael Chabon) ⊗ What is foresight? (Careful Industries’ Discovery Report)
No.218 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤩 😎 The next Hustwit. Yes!! Eno — Gary Hustwit. “The definitive career-spanning, multi-platform documentary about visionary musician and artist Brian Eno.”
- 😍 ⚡️ 🚗 🇪🇪 Oh my! Gorgeous little electric cars from Estonia, Nobe Cars. “The Nobe 100 GT is a modern three-wheel vehicle that provides an incredibly light, and sustainable car, while having all the flair from the golden age of automotive history.”
- 🔗 💙 Hyperlinked Text. “This is a directory of websites that primarily stick with simple, marked up, hyperlinked text. I appreciate these sites because they load quickly, scroll smoothly, spare my battery, are more compact, and lack the usual nonsense that infects many websites.” (Via Naive Weekly.) Surprisingly, the list is missing my current favourite in the style; The Brutalist Report.
- 🤯 🇨🇳 🌏 This kind of circle has been done before, interesting to centre it on various cities. The Yuxi Circle. “[A] map of what I'm calling 'The Yuxi Circle' and then I'll explain everything else below that - with lots of maps. As in the original circle, I decided to use a radius of 4,000 km, or just under 2,500 miles. Why Yuxi? Well, out of all the cities I looked at (more than 1,500 worldwide), Yuxi had the highest population within 4000km - just over 55% of the world's population as of 2020.”
- 🧊 🔭 I still can’t fathom that there isn’t an emoji for each planet. Europa’s icy shell may harbor habitable pockets. “It’s possible, then, that the double ridges of Europa may be caused by a similar mechanism — perhaps water from a liquid ocean is being forced up through cracks into the ice shell, then refreezing, Culberg suggested.”
- 🇸🇪 🦋 🐝 🦗 Ikea unveils a new Swedish meatball—for insects only. “To raise awareness about the lack of wild habitats for insects, Ikea Denmark has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to reinvent an Ikea staple. Enter the Swedish Seedball: a meatball, but for insects.”
- 🤖 Did Someone Say Co-Bots? How Human-Robot Teamwork Will Upend Manufacturing. “Known as co-bots (collaborative robots), this new form of robot can slow down or stop completely to prevent humans from getting injured, but they also enable companies to develop new human-robot workflows that automate previously manual methods.” (Via target is new.)
- 🔴 🤔 Good luck to Melon Usk’s team. Which parts of Mars are the safest from cosmic radiation?. “Based on their findings, the best sites for future habitats on Mars would be located in low-lying areas and at depths of 1 m and 1.6 m (3.28 to 5.25 ft) beneath the surface. Therefore, the Northern Lowlands, which make up most of the northern hemisphere (aka. Vastitas Borealis), and Valles Marineris would be very suitable locations.”
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