Welcome to issue #222 of meshedsociety weekly.
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I saw this slide in Mary Meeker's 2019 Internet Trends report:
It's a catchy way to illustrate the power of pictures (or visual media in general). However, there are millions of people who read text-heavy fiction books, despite so much alternative (visual) options. There clearly is something special about consuming text, despite its ostensible limitations. Will this change in the future? Will we all stop reading text at some point? I don't dare to make a prediction.
I dare something else though: to state that Facebook's "simple global currency" Libra which was presented a few days ago is a truly and absolutely bad and worrying idea (for everyone except Facebook and Libra's commercial partners).
I love fintech and all concepts for more efficient, convenient and cost-effective transactions. But not if Facebook is the initiator. I consider Facebook to be the most powerful cooperation on this planet, because of (algorithmic) social control of 2.5+ billion people and massive lock-in. Thus, this company has reached a point at which every single new endeavor beyond its current business is undesirable for and a (longterm) threat to competition, society, democracy, privacy and personal integrity.
I wrote a blog post in which I draw a parallel between the current moment and when Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp. At that point, regulators failed to put brakes on Facebook’s expansion by blocking the acquisition, thereby allowing Facebook to become significantly more entrenched in billions of people's lives. I deeply hope that this time, even if this is not an acquisition but something else, they'll stop Facebook. Libra with Facebook as initiator (or influential participant in any way) must not happen. Probably it shouldn't happen at all. You can read my post here. And there is a bit more about Libra in this week's recommendations. Let's get startet with them!
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).
- What is Happening to Streaming’s Superstars?
(rollingstone.com, 6 minutes)
Fascinating trend: The world’s biggest music artists are losing market share of total streams — and therefore total money distributed by the likes of Spotify. Meanwhile, a “middle tier” of new artists, operating away from the million-dollar advances of streaming’s biggest acts, are increasing their share of the format’s economics.
- Is Lo-Fi House the First Genre of the Algorithm Age?
(vice.com, 5 minutes)
An interesting hypothesis: The combination of streaming and algorithmic recommendations are eventually leading to new genres, which at least in part are the result of what the algorithm has “favored”, based on patterns it recognized are popular among humans.
- Why Google+ Failed
(onezero.medium.com, 13 minutes)
From April this year but I missed it at that time. A software engineer who spent 3 years on Google’s highly ambitious but failed social networking endaviour Google+, analyzes what went wrong, according to him. Among the culprits that prevented the service to really catch on with the masses: the choice of asymmetric following, excessive reliance on ranking, and large numbers of inactive accounts. Also: group think. From the piece: “When the execs are extremely smart people making 10 times the salary you do, there’s a tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt. Surely they must know what they are doing.“
- The Slack Public Listing’s Winners: Other Startup CEOs
(forbes.com, 7 minutes)
On the trend that high-valued tech companies are likely to have an overlapping, but ever-changing, group of their unicorn CEO peers as personal investors. Small checks that can generate big profits for tech CEOs like in the case of this week’s Slack stock market debut.
- The Return of Niche Communities
(nicholasjrobinson.com, 5 minutes)
“The experiment of throwing billions of people into the same virtual space without a common goal or shared passion has failed. Tribal instincts kick in and fights ensue. Luckily, passions unite diverse groups. By organizing around a shared goal or passion, the bright side of humanity emerges.”
- With cryptocurrency launch, Facebook sets its path toward becoming an independent nation
(theconversation.com, 6 minutes)
I find this thought particularly striking: “I cannot help but reflect on the name that Facebook chose for this, the Libra, which is a reference to the Roman measurement for a pound, once used to mint coins. In many ways the company that Mark Zuckerberg is building is beginning to look more like a Roman Empire, now with its own central bank and currency, than a corporation.“
- Facebook’s Libra will not help the unbanked
(ftalphaville.ft.com, 6 minutes, open in incognito mode)
The argument of “we’ll help the unbanked” made by the Libra initiators is really nothing but a red herring. There is no reason to believe that Facebook and most of the other Libra supporters have a genuine interest in “helping the unbanked”. As this piece points out, if someone wants to help people without access to the equivalent of a bank account, an entirely different approach would be required.
- The Libra Masterplan
(medium.com, 9 minutes)
With Libra, Facebook tries to loan pages from the Bitcoin Playbook and the WeChat Playbook both at once, as well as to offload the regulatory burden of operating crypto exchanges to other businesses.
- Food-Delivery Couriers Exploit Desperate Migrants in France
(nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
Some food-delivery couriers, already among the economy’s least advantaged, outsource their work to people even poorer than them – migrants and asylum seekers, often without work permit or even permission to stay.
- The Next Big Privacy Hurdle? Teaching AI to Forget
(wired.com, 7 minutes)
Adults understand that missteps of children or teenagers may deserve a bit of leniency, as they are part of a learning process. But algorithms don’t have that kind of understanding. They might weight one stupid thing someone did as a 13-year old like any other data point, with obvious problematic consequences.
- The “inhumanely fast” next phase of globalization
(qz.com, 9 minutes)
The professor and author Richard Baldwin warns that we are unprepared for the ways in which new technology is changing the nature of globalization, mainly because of two trends: “white-collar” robots (software that can do stuff that only humans could do before) and “telemigrants”, who are working from remote countries. For both trends taken together, he has coined the term “globots”. “Globotics is coming inhumanely fast, and it will seem unbelievably unfair”.
- The Problem With “Content”
(om.co, 5 minutes)
Om Malik on the transactional nature of what people mean when they describe their work as creating “content”.
- The Modern Trap of Feeling Obligated to Turn Hobbies Into Hustles
(manrepeller.com, 6 minutes)
Apropos transactions: Molly Conway on today’s widespread expectation that if we are good at something that we do for joy, we should turn it into a business and make money. Related to “I Can’t Do Anything for Fun Anymore” from #215.
- The Variable Money Value of Time
(medium.com, 6 minutes)
How much value has time (as in “hourly rate” if you would charge for it) for oneself? It depends a lot on the circumstances. Not every hour has the same value.
- When Everything That Counts Can’t Be Counted
(thereformedbroker.com, 11 minutes)
A thought-provoking piece on how what financial investors value has changed dramatically, encapsulated by this remark: “If Ford Motor were a savvier marketer of their stock (…) they’d be calling buyers of their cars a user base and the cars themselves would be rechristened “physical mobility apps”.
- How you lock your smartphone can reveal your age
(techxplore.com, 3 minutes)
A study shows: Older smartphone users tend to rely more on their phones’ auto lock feature compared to younger users. Also, older users used their phone less frequently than younger users. For every 10-year interval in age, there was a corresponding 25 per cent decrease in the number of user sessions. In other words, a 25-year-old might use their phone 20 times a day, but a 35-year-old might use it only 15 times.
- Deepfake 3.0 (beta): This AI can turn ONE photo of you into a talking head
(theregister.co.uk, 5 minutes)
There currently is a tight flow of news about progress in the field of deepfakes (videos or audio, often of people, manipulated by artificial intelligence). I really hope society can handle this transition away from the learned expectation that when we see or hear a recording of an assumed real-life event or comment, it must be real.
Podcast episode of the week:
Last issue's top 3 most clicked articles:
- Pessimists Archive: the elevator
My favorite episode of this podcast so far: About the century-long struggles of humans to adjust to, develop etiquette for and get comfortable in elevators.
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