I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.
There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!
That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.
And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.
Then there’s the question of automated changing of profile pictures to express sympathy, a form of emotional disaster relief. We first saw this phenomenon when Facebook created an easy way for people to apply a rainbow overlay to their profile pictures to support and celebrate a civil rights win: marriage equality. Even if you approve of rainbowing profiles, you have to acknowledge that by encouraging rainbows, Facebook was making another political choice, like the way Safety Check was a political decision.
Sprig-type operations drain agency and expertise out of the world. They centralize, aiming to build huge hubs with small spokes; their innermost mechanisms are hidden. They depend on humans behaving as interchangeable units of labor.
Startups that redefine social and economic relations pop up in an instant. Lawsuits and regulations lag behind.
The Bookmark represents what we wish for. It’s the earliest indicator of intention, and the most vulnerable; by definition, the act of saving something for later means that whatever we hope for hasn’t happened yet. Bookmarks are placeholders for the future. By thumbing through them, we can start to see what might happen next.
I loved this dive through the history of pockets and gadgets and little daily conveniences we keep with us.
When you take a class with the Harvard University art historian Jennifer Roberts, your first task is always to choose a work of art, then go and look at it, wherever it’s displayed, for three full hours.
Instead of getting a glimpse into the new economy, I was getting full exposure to the burdens of the old economy — specifically, how hard it is for regular working people to make it from their home or apartment to a job every day.
When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, I don’t throw myself into a giant room full of clothes. I pull socks from my sock drawer and shirts from my shirt drawer. I’ve been doing this since I was five years old. It’s not a challenge.
To pluck some things from the list, while ignoring others, strikes many Buddhists as absurd. McMahan said, “It would be as if somebody went to the Catholic Church and said, ‘I don’t buy all this stuff about Jesus and God, but I really dig this Communion ritual. Would you just teach me how to do that bit? Oh, and I want to start a company marketing wafers.’
“You’re about to get an exclusive here,” Bonner said. “I hate to make excuses, I was raised to never make excuses, but I went through a two-and-a-half month stretch where I had really bad tennis elbow, and during that stretch it made it so painful for me to shoot I’d almost be cringing before I even caught the ball like, ‘Oh, this is going to kill.’ ” […] “Everybody is going to find this hilarious, but here’s my theory on how I got it,” he said. “When the new iPhone came out it was way bigger than the last one, and I think because I got that new phone it was a strain to use it, you have to stretch further to hit the buttons, and I honestly think that’s how I ended up developing it.”
See also: Matt Bonner’s sandwich metric.
Loved this essay from Clive Thompson. The part about exporting his marginalia into a little mini-book is very intriguing. And how compelling reading changes our habits:
The phone’s extreme portability allowed me to fit Tolstoy’s book into my life, and thus to get swept up in it. And it was being swept up that, ironically, made the phone’s distractions melt away. Once you’re genuinely hankering to get back to a book, to delve into the folds of its plot and the clockwork machinations of its characters, you stop needing so much mindfulness to screen out digital diversions. The book becomes the diversion itself, the thing your brain is needling you to engage with. Stop checking your email and Twitter! You’ve got a book to read!
An interesting take I haven’t seen elsewhere. Plenty of stuff I’d never thought about before, like:
One way Uber has fewer costs than the taxi companies is that its drivers use their personal insurance policies as their primary coverage.
The companion piece has some interesting tips and tricks. Gotta know where the free parking and bathrooms are.
One of the lesser-appreciated joys of online shopping is that, in the process of streamlining and compressing the expressions of capitalism we call “retail,” it gives us a god’s eye view of market patterns. In one search on Amazon or Newegg you can see a category’s past, present, and near future: high-margin luxury options on one side, low-margin or out-of-date good-enough options from unlikely or unknown brands on the other. Then, in the big mushy middle, brands fighting over a diminishing opportunity. This is faintly empowering. To watch the compressed cycles of modern consumer electronics pass through your viewfinder gives a calming order to an industry that depends on the perception that it is perpetually exceptional. This perspective also helps to enforce realism about your relationship with consumer electronics. Whether you choose the luxury option, the commodity option, or something in between, you are buying future garbage.
If the experience is demoralizing and alienating, our community has squandered your potential. The tricky part is that the computer has no idea that you’re just a beginner.
Even if you don’t give a shit about tech, or profiles of wealthy people, stick around for the lovely little bits of colorful writing. Ian Parker is great:
Ive’s career sometimes suggests the movements of a man who, engrossed in a furrowed, deferential conversation, somehow backs onto a throne.
In one good little segment about product management, there’s this:
The reason good product managers are insanely expensive to hire is because they are able to work across many layers of technology at once. I met one person who put transparent plastic sheets on her whiteboard so that she could flip between the layers. That’s right, nerds: three-dimensional whiteboarding.