The glimmer of a climate new world order / Always in, wireless headphones are AR devices / Soft cities / The planet needs a new internet — No.92

This week: The glimmer of a climate new world order / Always in, wireless headphones are augmented reality devices / Do you live in a ‘soft city’? / The planet needs a new internet / The internet has made dupes—and cynics—of us all

A year ago: Skim reading is the new normal, a profound effect on society.


The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order

David Wallace-Wells, being almost optimistic, goes over some of the recent Bolsonaro-induced climate anxiety and political moves, as well as some thoughts on the book Climate Leviathan, by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright. He inventories a number of possible coming political forms and combinations as they relate to climate collapse. And quadrants! “Climate Mao (anti-capitalist and nationalist); Climate Behemoth (capitalist and nationalist), Climate Leviathan (capitalist and globalist) and Climate X (anti-capitalist and globalist, basically ecosocialism, which they’re rooting for).”

In other words, a threat to apply the same tools of leverage and sanction and shame to crimes of climate as have been applied, in the past, to violations of human rights and territorial sovereignty. […]

If the 21st century is conducted in the shadow of warming as the second half of the 20th was in the shadow of the Holocaust, that sort of succession — from human rights to climate change as the universal touchstone of geopolitics and speakable expression of great-power rivalry — seems not just possible but inevitable. […]

But on the left, some modulated versions are probably likelier, too: a more empathic and redistributive politics that stops short of true collectivization, for instance, and some growing awareness among left-wing leaders around the world that growth is merely one measure of progress, and perhaps a misleading or counterproductive one. […]

In fact, every single member nation of the G-7 is hiding some significant climate hypocrisy behind their pressure on Bolsonaro, however laudable that pressure is. […]

To pretend that Bolsonaro is the world’s only climate villain, or the Amazon the only region in the world currently in climate crisis, is an act of grand self-delusion.

Always in, wireless headphones are augmented reality devices

Drew Austin on AirPods, how they are becoming more and more an item worn constantly, not just when listening to music. How, as more people adopt this kind of behaviour, constant audio might open the door to new kinds of always-on apps. What’s the German word for “I think he’s going too far but I fear he might very well be right”?

In a way, AirPods might be providing the interim step Google Glass was missing; present (and providing acceptability) now for music and calls, later to augment, to provide an overlap of realities, allowing wearers to share a physical space and a digital one at the same moment.

You don’t have to look down at a screen to convey that your mind might be elsewhere — that you are dividing your attention between your physical surroundings and other kinds of interactions, hearing other voices. AirPods efficiently communicate your refusal to pretend to be “fully present.” AirPods, then, express a more complete embrace of our simultaneous existence in physical and digital space, taking for granted that we’re frequently splitting our mental energy between the two. […]

Once wireless earbuds attain critical mass, it would become a common expectation to always be listening, just as one is now more or less expected to never go anywhere without their phone. […]

As audio-based platforms take off, network effects would kick in, strengthening the incentives to leave earbuds in for longer and longer. It wouldn’t seem rude to wear them in conversation; it would be as acceptable as glancing at one’s phone or even sending a quick text message seems today. […]

But these devices can just as easily allow wearers to pursue a different, less integrated path: not augmented the surrounding physical reality or taking the people inhabiting it into account, but constructing an altogether parallel reality. […]

Do you live in a ‘soft city’? Here’s why you probably want to

According to this article on the new book of the same name, it seems I live in a “soft city.” Well, a soft part of a city becoming softer elsewhere. Cities made for people, where services are close by, people walk and bike around, there are shared space, and you feel safe. The piece also briefly covers the concept for layered buildings, which is quite interesting and, in some ways, parallels something I’ve mentioned in various places before; There needs to be a variety of uses. Some of the streets having problems with high(ish) vacancy rates in Montréal only have shops and restaurants at street level. With competition from ecommerce and a multiplication of neighbourhoods with their own local shops, I don’t see how commercial-only streets can go on, except for rare downtown exceptions, and even then… (Sadly, I don’t know about the book but the article doesn’t mention income levels and various aspects of diversity.)

Rather than thinking about cities as a collection of buildings and impressive developments, designers like Sim thinks about them as a series of relationships: between people and place, people and planet, and people and other people. “The starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible,” he says. […]

As it turns out, “softness” can comprise quite a bit. But the easiest way to think about it is to consider the idea of the boundaries that you feel as you move about the city, and how they can start to come down. […]

Sim cites the Spektrum building in Gothenburg, Sweden, which has a bowling alley in the basement, a restaurant and shops on the ground floor, a school on a few of the middle floors, and and coworking and office spaces scattered throughout. To someone used to these amenities being housed in distinct structures, this may seem disorganized or random, but Sim illustrates how highly functional it is, and how it fosters relationship-building across generations and contexts. […]

If resources are assembled in a way that a person leaving their home can access everything they need by walking, biking, or taking transit, it frees up space for streets to also be layered to support these different modes.

The Planet Needs a New Internet

Very good overview of the effects of the internet on climate collapse and vice versa. Rising waters and weather events are massive dangers for the net’s infrastructure, while our ever-increasing use of the network generates various externalities (CO2, excess heat), in turn increasing the heating of the planet. Unsurprisingly, here too Amazon and Facebook show some of the arsehole behaviours we expect from them.

On the one hand, rising sea levels threaten to swamp the cables and stations that transmit the web to our homes; rising temperatures could make it more costly to run the data centers handling ever-increasing web traffic; wildfires could burn it all down. On the other, all of those data centers, computers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices take a prodigious amount of energy to build and to run, thus contributing to global warming and hastening our collective demise. […]

A report the Shift Project published in July found that digital technologies now accounts for 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire aviation sector. And that footprint could double to 8 percent by 2025. […]

But the uncomfortable reality that it’s going to be hard to keep up in a world where we’re spending ever-increasing amounts of time watching videos and playing games online, browsing the web and scrolling our social media feeds (four activities that, together, make up nearly 90 percent of traffic downloaded from the web, according to a 2018 report by networking company Sandvine).

The Internet Has Made Dupes—and Cynics—of Us All

Zeynep Tufekci reviews some of the ways fakes and fraud have become pervasive on the internet and argues that no, this is not just “LoL, nothing matters” but rather that it pushes us towards a “low-trust society—one where an assumption of pervasive fraud is simply built into the way many things function.”

But deception and corruption, as we’ve all seen by now, scale pretty fantastically too. […]

In low-trust societies, you never know. You expect to be cheated, often without recourse. You expect things not to be what they seem and for promises to be broken, and you don’t expect a reasonable and transparent process for recourse. It’s harder for markets to function and economies to develop in low-trust societies. It’s harder to find or extend credit, and it’s risky to pay in advance.


Update: I previously mentioned Hong Kong related Chinese propaganda on Twitter , they’ve updated their policy and closed some accounts. See Information operations directed at Hong Kong and Updating our advertising policies on state media.


Miscellany

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Some of the articles for this week were found via Clément, Drew, and Darran. Thanks!

Header image: Illustration by Leonard Dupond.