Welcome to issue #233 of meshedsociety.
Coming up, as usual, are a few things that I found interesting to read. Among them are some pieces about TikTok, the highly algorithm-driven social media service from Beijing-based company ByteDance, which is enjoying massive popularity (among mostly young users, but now even beyond) even in Europe and North America, thanks to its 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly.
I am thinking a lot about what it means that a China-based social media service, which famously makes heave use of AI to decide what content to show to whom, is becoming such a crucial medium for millions of people in democratic countries.
It's 2019 and we know by now that algorithms can impact people's thinking and radicalize them. We also know that every company based in China ultimately has to follow orders from the Chinese government.
As the ideological tensions between China and the West are rising, China could leverage TikTok's algorithm to actively manipulate public opinion in Western countries in ways which serve China's agenda. One way would be to discretely amplify extreme ideological positions (of which there is a fair share on TikTok, despite its stated ambition to be less political) with the goal of destabilizing Western liberal democracies through even more polarization.
If democratic countries worry about foreign powers using Facebook to interfere in elections, and if they worry about letting China-based telecommunications company Huawei run 5G infrastructure, then they also have to be concerned about TikTok's growing influence and direct access to users minds.
Now on to this week's reads.
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).
Last issue's top 3 most clicked articles:
- 'One app to rule them all is dead': How Uber and Lyft can get disrupted
(finance.yahoo.com, 9 minutes)
Ethan Wolff-Mann explores Berlin's very pluralistic digital transportation environment and the ecosystem that is emerging around it.
- The Gartner Hype Cycle is … hype. Don’t use it as an excuse.
Some evangelists of hyped and then struggling new technologies use Gartner's Hype Cycle to argue that their beloved new approach is just going through the "trough of disillusionment" before likely becoming a real success. But that's not a natural law. Some technologies simply wither.
- Dopamine Fasting - The Hot Silicon Valley Trend
(linkedin.com/pulse, 7 minutes)
If you are looking for a serious challenge, then this it it.
- The Derail of Desires
(hongchao.me, 5 minutes)
Desire as a tool has served humans well despite all the connected issues. But we might have reached a tipping point "where individual empowerment might enable us to either magnify the unintended consequences of individual desires to destroy humanity straight away, or help us to manipulate them so that their intended purpose, which is to sustain human being as a race, can no longer be fulfilled".
- Parenting’s New Frontier: What Happens When Your 11-Year-Old Says No to a Smartphone?
(vogue.com, 10 minutes)
Written by the mother of a son who at the age of 11 concluded that "if he were going to maintain his integrity in middle school, he would have to stay away from phones".
- On TikTok, There Is No Time
(wired.com, 7 minutes)
One of several ways in which TikTok differs from all other relevant social media services: It's largely devoid of time metrics.
- TikTok: copycat culture as the new cool
(thehmm.nl, 8 minutes)
Deep thoughts on pop-cultural capital, the differences in paradigms of creativity between China and the West, and how this connects to the rise of TikTok outside of China.
- The fastest texters in the world couldn’t care less about texting
(technologyreview.com, 2 minutes)
A big study shows, among other things, that teens are better at texting than older users, but they text a lot less, because the platforms they inhibt are primarily visually driven.
- The Ticking Time Bomb of Old Slack Posts
(nymag.com, 6 minutes)
When companies merge, that also could mean a merger of two previously seperate Slack teams. But like office culture, every company also has its own Slack culture. Not everything mixes equally well.
- What Would It Take to Shut Down the Entire Internet?
(gizmodo.com, 16 minutes)
Lots of experts chime in.
- The siphon and the forge
(techcrunch.com, 3 minutes)
Jon Evans argues that part of the reason for the ongoing backlash against tech is that while the industry and its leading protagonists like to portray themselves as forges, in many prominent cases, they actually are siphons.
- The Ties That Bind Facebook's Libra
(wired.com, 8 minutes)
Despite all the talk about that Facebook won't control its planned digital currency Libra, it turns out that many of the (shrinking number of) founding members of the Libra Association are directly or indirectly tied to Facebook.
- The Startup Heatmap Europe 2019
The team of Startup Heatmap Europe has published a comprehensive report "spanning 100 startup cities in Europe, dozens of data points on ecosystem dynamics, like meetups and accelerators as well as a survey of >1,500 founders".
- New Sonos service lets you rent its speakers
(theverge.com, 3 minutes)
Audio specialist Sonos is piloting a rental program for its hardware products in the Netherlands, starting at €15 per month. Might we one day really be consuming everything as a subscription? I wouldn't dare a prediction, but the implications are quite fascinating.
- 150 successful machine learning models: 6 lessons learned at Booking.com
(blog.acolyer.org, 6 minutes)
Some insightful learnings in here. For example: As even simple machine learning models increase latency, this can have a negative effect on conversion rates: "In an experiment introducing synthetic latency, Booking.com found that an increase of about 30% in latency cost about 0.5% in conversion rates".
- Pricing niche products: Why sell a mechanical keyboard kit for $1,668?
(aeon.co, 6 minutes)
An informative and inspirational read about pricing in niche markets, in this case the enthusiast market of folks who are into mechanical keyboards.
- Meatless meat is becoming mainstream — and it’s sparking a backlash
(vox.com, 10 minutes)
Now that plant-based burgers can be had at mainstream fast food joints, the previously trendy food innovation suddenly lost some of its coolness factor and attracts much more criticism than before.
- Why older people should be allowed to change their legal age
(aeon.co, 6 minutes)
I found this to be a mind-expanding perspective.
- Attacker ‘found victim through photo reflection’
(bbc.com, 3 minutes)
A Japanese man accused of stalking and sexually assaulting a young pop star said he had identified a train station reflected in the singer's eyes in a selfie she posted online.
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meshedsociety - made in Stockholm (or somewhere else).