You are now remotely controlled ⊗ Splendid isolation ⊗ Banning facial recognition misses the point ⊗ Rewilding food, rewilding farming — No.111

This week → You are now remotely controlled ⊗ Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours ⊗ We’re banning facial recognition. We’re missing the point. ⊗ Rewilding food, rewilding farming ⊗ The internet’s impact on culture

A year ago → Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them.

You Are Now Remotely Controlled

Opinion piece at The New York Times by Shoshana Zuboff. Definitely not the first time she threads these grounds or the first time I link to her or articles concerning the book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, but it’s good to revisit and some of the ideas most emphasized here, like the focus on “epistemic inequality,” weren’t as central in some other articles.

Excellent read giving us a serious and important overview of how Google, Facebook, and their ilk control knowledge, who has access, who knows what about whom; how they sell our data, profiles, emotions, and manufactured behavioral predictions. It’s sometimes a bit tiring to come back to these topics but it’s extremely important to gain a solid understanding of these mechanisms and Zuboff is one of the most thoughtful sources of this understanding.

[W]e enter its third decade marked by a stark new form of social inequality best understood as “epistemic inequality.” It recalls a pre-Gutenberg era of extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge, as the tech giants seize control of information and learning itself. […]

Our digital century shifts society’s coordinates from a division of labor to a “division of learning,” and it follows that the struggle over access to knowledge and the power conferred by such knowledge will shape the politics of our time. […]

In the competition for scope, surveillance capitalists want your home and what you say and do within its walls. They want your car, your medical conditions, and the shows you stream; your location as well as all the streets and buildings in your path and all the behavior of all the people in your city. They want your voice and what you eat and what you buy; your children’s play time and their schooling; your brain waves and your bloodstream. Nothing is exempt. […]

In the absence of new declarations of epistemic rights and legislation, surveillance capitalism threatens to remake society as it unmakes democracy. From below, it undermines human agency, usurping privacy, diminishing autonomy and depriving individuals of the right to combat. From above, epistemic inequality and injustice are fundamentally incompatible with the aspirations of a democratic people.”

Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours

Four paragraphs in I decided to include this piece. As a middle aged parent this is exactly right in describing the relation to time and related anxiety—although I’m sure we can all relate on various levels. Mark O’Connell takes us through his experiences of spending 24 hours alone in the forest doing… nothing. Which is the point of this “ritual whereby you stepped out of the flux of the world, in order to gain some perspective on the flux, and your place within it.”

At some point in my late 30s, I recognised the paradoxical source of this anxiety: that every single thing in life took much longer than I expected it to, except for life itself, which went much faster, and would be over before I knew where I was. […]

But it was also the sheer velocity of change, the state of growth and flux in which my children existed, and the constant small adjustments that were necessary to accommodate these changes. […]

There was an extraordinary transformative power, he insisted, in the practice of sitting and doing nothing, and thereby slowing your mind and body to a meditative rhythm in nature. […]

And as you become untethered from your accustomed orientation in time – from always knowing what time it is, how long you have to do the thing you’re doing, when you have to stop doing it to do the next thing – you begin to glimpse a new perspective on the anxiety that arises from that orientation. Because this anxiety, which amounts to a sort of cost-benefit analysis of every passing moment, is a quintessentially modern predicament.

We’re Banning Facial Recognition. We’re Missing the Point.

Bruce Schneier with a sobering overview of the various forms of tracking, recognition, and surveillance being piled on to us. The current focus on facial recognition is something of a red herring, making some lose sight of the much more varied ways in which we are preyed upon. Society needs rules about what is permissible, when, how data can or cannot be combined and prevent discrimination.

These efforts are well intentioned, but facial recognition bans are the wrong way to fight against modern surveillance. Focusing on one particular identification method misconstrues the nature of the surveillance society we’re in the process of building. Ubiquitous mass surveillance is increasingly the norm. […]

In all cases, modern mass surveillance has three broad components: identification, correlation and discrimination. […]

There is an entire industry of data brokers who make a living analyzing and augmenting data about who we are — using surveillance data collected by all sorts of companies and then sold without our knowledge or consent.

Rewilding food, rewilding farming

Excellent answer to George Monbiot’s piece, Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming. Here Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that this represents the same mechanistic mindset that got us in the mess we’re in and that we need to remember that the current industrialized food system is not the only way to produce food, that “eating is an ecological act, not an industrial, mechanical act,” and that we can reclaim “farming with nature, in nature’s ways.” That “real food is a by-product of the economy of care for the land.”

The notion that high-tech “farm free” lab food will save the planet is simply a continuation of the same mechanistic mindset which has brought us to where we are today – the idea that we are separate from and outside of nature. […]

Turning “water into food” is an echo from the times of the second world war, when it was claimed that fossil-fuel-based chemical fertilisers would produce “Bread from Air”. Instead we have dead zones in the ocean, greenhouse gases – including nitrous oxide which is 300 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 – and desertified soils and land. […]

At Navdanya we grow healthy food by conserving biodiversity through abundant pollinators and thriving soil organic matter which draws down carbon and nitrogen. By taking care of the earth we heal the broken carbon and nitrogen cycles that are driving climate change.

The internet’s impact on culture

Throwing this one in because I think it’s an interesting line of thought, though incomplete. Richard MacManus tries to understand a quote by Marc Andreessen (first below). We’d need to see more details straight from the latter and I’m not sure the former is thinking broadly enough by focusing on music, movie, and book stats but perhaps there’s something to keep digging for in that quote.

“It feels like the internet’s impact on culture is just beginning. A world in which culture is based on the internet, which is what I think is happening, is just the very start. Right, ’cause it had to get universal before it could set the culture.” […]

Online gaming, Virtual Reality experiences, Augmented Reality and similar interactive and immersive technologies are the ones to watch this decade. In large part because they will change not only how we consume content, as streaming has done over the past decade, but the shape of content itself.


Header image: How Thawing Permafrost Is Beginning to Transform the Arctic.

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