robertogreco + technosolutionism   70

Uber’s Path of Destruction - American Affairs Journal
"ince it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.

Uber’s investors, however, never expected that their returns would come from superior efficiency in competitive markets. Uber pursued a “growth at all costs” strategy financed by a staggering $20 billion in investor funding. This funding subsidized fares and service levels that could not be matched by incumbents who had to cover costs out of actual passenger fares. Uber’s massive subsidies were explicitly anticompetitive—and are ultimately unsustainable—but they made the company enormously popular with passengers who enjoyed not having to pay the full cost of their service.

The resulting rapid growth was also intended to make Uber highly attractive to those segments of the investment world that believed explosive top-line growth was the only important determinant of how start-up companies should be valued. Investors focused narrow­ly on Uber’s revenue growth and only rarely considered whether the company could ever produce the profits that might someday repay the multibillion dollar subsidies.

Most public criticisms of Uber have focused on narrow behavioral and cultural issues, including deceptive advertising and pricing, algorithmic manipulation, driver exploitation, deep-seated misogyny among executives, and disregard of laws and business norms. Such criticisms are valid, but these problems are not fixable aberrations. They were the inevitable result of pursuing “growth at all costs” without having any ability to fund that growth out of positive cash flow. And while Uber has taken steps to reduce negative publicity, it has not done—and cannot do—anything that could suddenly pro­duce a sustainable, profitable business model.

Uber’s longer-term goal was to eliminate all meaningful competition and then profit from this quasi-monopoly power. While it has already begun using some of this artificial power to suppress driver wages, it has not achieved the Facebook- or Amazon-type “plat­form” power it hoped to exploit. Given that both sustainable profits and true industry dominance seemed unachievable, Uber’s investors de­cided to take the company public, based on the hope that enough gullible investors still believe that the compa­ny’s rapid growth and popularity are the result of powerfully effi­cient inno­vations and do not care about its inability to generate profits.

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14 billion in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest­ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).

Uber is the breakthrough case where the public perception of a large new company was entirely created using the types of manufactured narratives typically employed in partisan political campaigns. Narrative construction is perhaps Uber’s greatest competitive strength. The company used these techniques to completely divert attention away from the massive subsidies that were the actual drivers of its popularity and growth. It successfully framed the entire public discussion around an emotive, “us-versus-them” battle between heroic innovators and corrupt regulators who were falsely blamed for all of the industry’s historic service problems. Uber’s desired framing—that it was fighting a moral battle on behalf of technological progress and economic freedom—was uncritically ac­cepted by the mainstream business and tech industry press, who then never bothered to analyze the firm’s actual economics or its anticompetitive behavior.

In reality, Uber’s platform does not include any technological breakthroughs, and Uber has done nothing to “disrupt” the eco­nomics of providing urban car services. What Uber has disrupted is the idea that competitive consumer and capital markets will maximize overall economic welfare by rewarding companies with superior efficiency. Its multibillion dollar subsidies completely distorted marketplace price and service signals, leading to a massive misallocation of resources. Uber’s most important innovation has been to produce staggering levels of private wealth without creating any sustainable benefits for consumers, workers, the cities they serve, or anyone else."
huberthoran  uber  carsharing  taxis  transportation  2019  economics  technology  technosolutionism  huxterism  propaganda  regulation  disruption  innovation  scale  networkeffects  amazon  facebook  venturecapital  siliconvalley  latecapitalism  capitalism  exploitation  labor  growth  lyft  china  startups  cities  urban  urbanism  productivity  traviskalanick 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
Traditions of the future, by Astra Taylor (Le Monde diplomatique - English edition, May 2019)
"If the dead do not exactly have power or rights, per se, they do still have a seat at the table—Thomas Jefferson among them. In ways obvious and subtle, constructive and destructive, the present is constrained and shaped by the decisions of past generations. A vivid example is the American Constitution, in which a small group of men ratified special kinds of promises intended to be perpetual. Sometimes I imagine the Electoral College, which was devised to increase the influence of the southern states in the new union, as the cold grip of plantation owners strangling the current day. Even Jefferson’s beloved Bill of Rights, intended as protections from government overreach, has had corrosive effects. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms allows those who plundered native land and patrolled for runaway slaves, who saw themselves in the phrase “a well regulated Militia,” to haunt us. Yet plenty of our ancestors also bequeathed us remarkable gifts, the right to free speech, privacy, and public assembly among them.

Some theorists have framed the problematic sway of the deceased over the affairs of the living as an opposition between tradition and progress. The acerbic Christian critic G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.” Social progress, in Chesterton’s account, can thus be seen as a form of disenfranchisement, the deceased being stripped of their suffrage. Over half a century before Chesterton, Karl Marx expressed sublime horror at the persistent presence of political zombies: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

The most eloquent partisans in this trans-temporal power struggle said their piece at the end of the 18th century. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine had a furious debate that articulated the dichotomy between past and future, dead and living, tradition and progress. A consummate conservative shaken by the post-revolutionary violence in France, Burke defended the inherited privilege and stability of aristocratic government that radical democrats sought to overthrow: “But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it amongst their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society.” Any revolution, Burke warned, hazards leaving those who come after “a ruin instead of an habitation” in which men, disconnected from their forerunners, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

The left-leaning Paine would have none of it. Better to be a buzzing fly than a feudal serf. “Whenever we are planning for posterity we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary,” he quipped. His critique, forcefully expressed in Common Sense and The Rights of Man, was not just an attack on monarchy. Rather, it was addressed to revolutionaries who might exercise undue influence over time by establishing new systems of government. “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time,’” he protested.

In his pithy style, Paine popularized a commitment both to revolution and to novelty. “A nation, though continually existing, is continually in the state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever-running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another.” Given the onslaught of change, a constitution “must be a novelty, and that which is not a novelty must be defective.” Never one for moderation, Paine advocated a decisive break with tradition, rejecting lessons from the past, castigating those who scoured records of ancient Greece and Rome for models or insights. What could the dead teach the living that could possibly be worth knowing?

Every person, whether or not they have children, exists as both a successor and an ancestor. We are all born into a world we did not make, subject to customs and conditions established by prior generations, and then we leave a legacy for others to inherit. Nothing illustrates this duality more profoundly than the problem of climate change, which calls into question the very future of a habitable planet.

Today, I’d guess that most of us are more able to imagine an environmental apocalypse than a green utopia. Nuclear holocaust, cyber warfare, mass extinction, superbugs, fascism’s return, and artificial intelligence turned against its makers—these conclusions we can see, but our minds struggle to conjure an image of a desirable, credible alternative to such bleak finales, to envision habitation rather than ruin.

This incapacity to see the future takes a variety of forms: young people no longer believe their lives will be better than those of their parents and financial forecasts give credence to their gloomy view; political scientists warn that we are becoming squatters in the wreckage of the not-so-distant liberal-democratic past, coining terms such as dedemocratization and postdemocracy to describe the erosion of democratic institutions and norms alongside an ongoing concentration of economic power. Meanwhile, conservative leaders cheer on democratic regression under the cover of nostalgia—“Make America Great Again,” “Take Our Country Back”—and seek to rewind the clock to an imaginary and exclusive past that never really existed."



"Questions of labor and leisure—of free time—have been central to debates about self-government since peasant citizens flooded the Athenian Pnyx. Plato and Aristotle, unapologetic elitists, were aghast that smiths and shoemakers were permitted to rub shoulders with the Assembly’s wellborn. This offense to hierarchical sensibilities was possible only because commoners were compensated for their attendance. Payments sustained the participation of the poor—that’s what held them up—so they could miss a day’s work over hot flames or at the cobbler’s bench to exercise power on equal footing with would-be oligarchs.

For all their disdain, Plato’s and Aristotle’s conviction that leisure facilitates political participation isn’t wrong. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, radical workers agreed. They organized and fought their bosses for more free time, making substantial inroads until a range of factors, including the cult of consumption and a corporate counterattack, overpowered their efforts. A more sustainable, substantive democracy means resuscitating their campaign. Free time is not just a reprieve from the grindstone; it’s an expansion of freedom and a prerequisite of self-rule.

A reduction of work hours would have salutary ecological effects as well, as environmentalists have noted. A fundamental reevaluation of labor would mean assessing which work is superfluous and which essential; which processes can be automated and which should be done by hand; what activities contribute to our alienation and subjugation and which integrate and nourish us. “The kind of work that we’ll need more of in a climate-stable future is work that’s oriented toward sustaining and improving human life as well as the lives of other species who share our world,” environmental journalist and political theorist Alyssa Battistoni has written. “That means teaching, gardening, cooking, and nursing: work that makes people’s lives better without consuming vast amounts of resources, generating significant carbon emissions, or producing huge amounts of stuff.” The time to experiment with more ecologically conscious, personally fulfilling, and democracy-enhancing modes of valuing labor and leisure is upon us, at precisely the moment that time is running out.

With climate calamity on the near horizon, liberal democracies are in a bind. The dominant economic system constrains our relationship to the future, sacrificing humanity’s well-being and the planet’s resources on the altar of endless growth while enriching and empowering the global 1 percent. Meanwhile, in America, the Constitution exacerbates this dynamic, preserving and even intensifying a system of minority rule and lashing the country’s citizens to an aristocratic past.

The fossil fuel and finance industries, alongside the officials they’ve bought off, will fight to the death to maintain the status quo, but our economic arrangements and political agreements don’t have to function the way they do. Should democratic movements manage to mount a successful challenge to the existing order, indigenous precolonial treaty-making processes provide an example of the sort of wisdom a new, sustainable consensus might contain. The Gdoonaaganinaa, or “Dish with One Spoon” treaty, outlines a relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Nishnaabeg people. The dish symbolizes the shared land on which both groups depend and to which all are responsible; in keeping with the Haudenosaunee Great Law of peace, … [more]
astrataylor  ancesors  climatechange  history  2019  democracy  capitalism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  borders  power  time  future  change  hannaharendt  ecology  sustainability  globalwarming  interconnected  interconnectedness  indigeneity  indigenous  leannebetasamosakesimpson  leisure  plato  aristotle  philosophy  participation  participatory  organizing  labor  work  marxism  karlmarx  socialism  freetime  longnow  bighere  longhere  bignow  annpettifor  economics  growth  degrowth  latecapitalism  neoliberalism  debt  tradition  gkchesterson  thomaspaine  thomasjefferson  us  governance  government  edmundburke  commonsense  postdemocracy  dedemocratization  institutions  artleisure  leisurearts  self-rule  collectivism  alyssanattistoni  legacy  emissions  carbonemissions  ethics  inheritance  technology  technosolutionism  canon  srg  peterthiel  elonmusk  liberalism  feminism  unions  democraticsocialism  pericles  speed  novelty  consumerism  consumption  obsolescence  capital  inequality 
10 weeks ago by robertogreco
[Essay] | Faustian Economics, by Wendell Berry | Harper's Magazine
"The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay, so far, have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such “biofuels” as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that “science will find an answer.” The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

This belief was always indefensible — the real names of global warming are Waste and Greed — and by now it is manifestly foolish. But foolishness on this scale looks disturbingly like a sort of national insanity. We seem to have come to a collective delusion of grandeur, insisting that all of us are “free” to be as conspicuously greedy and wasteful as the most corrupt of kings and queens. (Perhaps by devoting more and more of our already abused cropland to fuel production we will at last cure ourselves of obesity and become fashionably skeletal, hungry but — thank God! — still driving.)"



"The normalization of the doctrine of limitlessness has produced a sort of moral minimalism: the desire to be efficient at any cost, to be unencumbered by complexity. The minimization of neighborliness, respect, reverence, responsibility, accountability, and self-subordination — this is the culture of which our present leaders and heroes are the spoiled children.

Our national faith so far has been: “There’s always more.” Our true religion is a sort of autistic industrialism. People of intelligence and ability seem now to be genuinely embarrassed by any solution to any problem that does not involve high technology, a great expenditure of energy, or a big machine. Thus an X marked on a paper ballot no longer fulfills our idea of voting. One problem with this state of affairs is that the work now most needing to be done — that of neighborliness and caretaking — cannot be done by remote control with the greatest power on the largest scale. A second problem is that the economic fantasy of limitlessness in a limited world calls fearfully into question the value of our monetary wealth, which does not reliably stand for the real wealth of land, resources, and workmanship but instead wastes and depletes it.

That human limitlessness is a fantasy means, obviously, that its life expectancy is limited. There is now a growing perception, and not just among a few experts, that we are entering a time of inescapable limits. We are not likely to be granted another world to plunder in compensation for our pillage of this one. Nor are we likely to believe much longer in our ability to outsmart, by means of science and technology, our economic stupidity. The hope that we can cure the ills of industrialism by the homeopathy of more technology seems at last to be losing status. We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.

This constraint, however, is not the condemnation it may seem. On the contrary, it returns us to our real condition and to our human heritage, from which our self-definition as limitless animals has for too long cut us off. Every cultural and religious tradition that I know about, while fully acknowledging our animal nature, defines us specifically as humans — that is, as animals (if the word still applies) capable of living not only within natural limits but also within cultural limits, self-imposed. As earthly creatures, we live, because we must, within natural limits, which we may describe by such names as “earth” or “ecosystem” or “watershed” or “place.” But as humans, we may elect to respond to this necessary placement by the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.

In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define “freedom,” for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom in Words, “free” is etymologically related to “friend.” These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of “dear” or “beloved.” We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our “identity” is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections."



"And so our cultural tradition is in large part the record of our continuing effort to understand ourselves as beings specifically human: to say that, as humans, we must do certain things and we must not do certain things. We must have limits or we will cease to exist as humans; perhaps we will cease to exist, period. At times, for example, some of us humans have thought that human beings, properly so called, did not make war against civilian populations, or hold prisoners without a fair trial, or use torture for any reason.

Some of us would-be humans have thought too that we should not be free at anybody else’s expense. And yet in the phrase “free market,” the word “free” has come to mean unlimited economic power for some, with the necessary consequence of economic powerlessness for others. Several years ago, after I had spoken at a meeting, two earnest and obviously troubled young veterinarians approached me with a question: How could they practice veterinary medicine without serious economic damage to the farmers who were their clients? Underlying their question was the fact that for a long time veterinary help for a sheep or a pig has been likely to cost more than the animal is worth. I had to answer that, in my opinion, so long as their practice relied heavily on selling patented drugs, they had no choice, since the market for medicinal drugs was entirely controlled by the drug companies, whereas most farmers had no control at all over the market for agricultural products. My questioners were asking in effect if a predatory economy can have a beneficent result. The answer too often is No. And that is because there is an absolute discontinuity between the economy of the seller of medicines and the economy of the buyer, as there is in the health industry as a whole. The drug industry is interested in the survival of patients, we have to suppose, because surviving patients will continue to consume drugs.

Now let us consider a contrary example. Recently, at another meeting, I talked for some time with an elderly, and some would say an old-fashioned, farmer from Nebraska. Unable to farm any longer himself, he had rented his land to a younger farmer on the basis of what he called “crop share” instead of a price paid or owed in advance. Thus, as the old farmer said of his renter, “If he has a good year, I have a good year. If he has a bad year, I have a bad one.” This is what I would call community economics. It is a sharing of fate. It assures an economic continuity and a common interest between the two partners to the trade. This is as far as possible from the economy in which the young veterinarians were caught, in which the powerful are limitlessly “free” to trade, to the disadvantage, and ultimately the ruin, of the powerless.

It is this economy of community destruction that, wittingly or unwittingly, most scientists and technicians have served for the past two hundred years. These scientists and technicians have justified themselves by the proposition that they are the vanguard of progress, enlarging human knowledge and power, and thus they have romanticized both themselves and the predatory enterprises that they have served."



"If the idea of appropriate limitation seems unacceptable to us, that may be because, like Marlowe’s Faustus and Milton’s Satan, we confuse limits with confinement. But that, as I think Marlowe and Milton and others were trying to tell us, is a great and potentially a fatal mistake. Satan’s fault, as Milton understood it and perhaps with some sympathy, was precisely that he could not tolerate his proper limitation; he could not subordinate himself to anything whatever. Faustus’s error was his unwillingness to remain “Faustus, and a man.” In our age of the world it is not rare to find writers, critics, and teachers of literature, as well as scientists and technicians, who regard Satan’s and Faustus’s defiance as salutary and heroic.

On the contrary, our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure — in addition to its difficulties — that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.

To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either. Or … [more]
wendellberry  2008  economics  science  technology  art  limits  limitlessness  arts  ecosystems  limitations  local  humanism  humanity  humility  community  communities  knowledge  power  expansion  growth  interdependence  greed  neighborliness  stewardship  thrift  temperance  christianity  generosity  care  kindness  friendship  loyalty  love  self-restraint  restraint  watershed  land  caring  caretaking  morality  accountability  responsibility  respect  reverence  corruption  capitalism  technosolutionism  fossilfuels  waste 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Andrew Yang is the most radical 2020 candidate
"Going all the way back to the Roman republic, the owners of wealth have repeatedly sought to maximize their share of the common weal at the expense of those who work for them, leading to periodic crises as the plebes rise up and demand a fairer share. We may be in another such moment. Sanders's theory of political change revolves around a political revolution — a citizenry mobilized by a champion of conviction who wins a sweeping majority to enact his transformative agenda. Warren's theory of political change is less clearly articulated, but her solutions aim to build lasting support by giving a vast array of workers and small businesspeople a stake in a more competitive and less oligopolistic economy. But both imagine a world still anchored by work, and getting workers a fair share.

If that world is passing away, then we ought to be facing the happy problem Marx described, where "society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind." But the rub has always been who that "society" actually is. If a productive interdependency is going to be replaced by an outright dependency, then even if that dependency is as benevolently administered as Yang hopes it might be, we face the prospects of a more profound social revolution than he has bargained for."
politics  californianIdeology  technopoly  andrewyang  technosolutionism  elections  policy  2019  2020  society  wealth  berniesanders  elizabethwarren  karlmarx  interdependency  dependency  universalbasicincome  revolution  radicalism  via:ayjay 
april 2019 by robertogreco
San Francisco; or, How to Destroy a City | Public Books
"As New York City and Greater Washington, DC, prepared for the arrival of Amazon’s new secondary headquarters, Torontonians opened a section of their waterfront to Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, which plans to prototype a new neighborhood “from the internet up.” Fervent resistance arose in all three locations, particularly as citizens and even some elected officials discovered that many of the terms of these public-private partnerships were hashed out in closed-door deals, secreted by nondisclosure agreements. Critics raised questions about the generous tax incentives and other subsidies granted to these multibillion-dollar corporations, their plans for data privacy and digital governance, what kind of jobs they’d create and housing they’d provide, and how their arrival could impact local infrastructures, economies, and cultures. While such questioning led Amazon to cancel their plans for Long Island City in mid-February, other initiatives press forward. What does it mean when Silicon Valley—a geographic region that’s become shorthand for an integrated ideology and management style usually equated with libertarian techno-utopianism—serves as landlord, utility provider, urban developer, (unelected) city official, and employer, all rolled into one?1

We can look to Alphabet’s and Amazon’s home cities for clues. Both the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle have been dramatically remade by their local tech powerhouses: Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle; and Google, Facebook, and Apple (along with countless other firms) around the Bay. As Jennifer Light, Louise Mozingo, Margaret O’Mara, and Fred Turner have demonstrated, technology companies have been reprogramming urban and suburban landscapes for decades.2 And “company towns” have long sprung up around mills, mines, and factories.3 But over the past few years, as development has boomed and income inequality has dramatically increased in the Bay Area, we’ve witnessed the arrival of several new books reflecting on the region’s transformation.

These titles, while focusing on the Bay, offer lessons to New York, DC, Toronto, and the countless other cities around the globe hoping to spur growth and economic development by hosting and ingesting tech—by fostering the growth of technology companies, boosting STEM education, and integrating new sensors and screens into their streetscapes and city halls. For years, other municipalities, fashioning themselves as “the Silicon Valley of [elsewhere],” have sought to reverse-engineer the Bay’s blueprint for success. As we’ll see, that blueprint, drafted to optimize the habits and habitats of a privileged few, commonly elides the material needs of marginalized populations and fragile ecosystems. It prioritizes efficiency and growth over the maintenance of community and the messiness of public life. Yet perhaps we can still redraw those plans, modeling cities that aren’t only made by powerbrokers, and that thrive when they prioritize the stewardship of civic resources over the relentless pursuit of innovation and growth."



"We must also recognize the ferment and diversity inherent in Bay Area urban historiography, even in the chronicles of its large-scale development projects. Isenberg reminds us that even within the institutions and companies responsible for redevelopment, which are often vilified for exacerbating urban ills, we find pockets of heterogeneity and progressivism. Isenberg seeks to supplement the dominant East Coast narratives, which tend to frame urban renewal as a battle between development and preservation.

In surveying a variety of Bay Area projects, from Ghirardelli Square to The Sea Ranch to the Transamerica Pyramid, Isenberg shifts our attention from star architects and planners to less prominent, but no less important, contributors in allied design fields: architectural illustration, model-making, publicity, journalism, property management, retail planning, the arts, and activism. “People who are elsewhere peripheral and invisible in the history of urban design are,” in her book, “networked through the center”; they play critical roles in shaping not only the urban landscape, but also the discourses and processes through which that landscape takes shape.

For instance, debates over public art in Ghirardelli Square—particularly Ruth Asawa’s mermaid sculpture, which featured breastfeeding lesbian mermaids—“provoked debates about gender, sexuality, and the role of urban open space in San Francisco.” Property manager Caree Rose, who worked alongside her husband, Stuart, coordinated with designers to master-plan the Square, acknowledging that retail, restaurants, and parking are also vital ingredients of successful public space. Publicist Marion Conrad and graphic designer Bobbie Stauffacher were key members of many San Francisco design teams, including that for The Sea Ranch community, in Sonoma County. Illustrators and model-makers, many of them women, created objects that mediated design concepts for clients and typically sat at the center of public debates.

These creative collaborators “had the capacity to swing urban design decisions, structure competition for land, and generally set in motion the fate of neighborhoods.” We see the rhetorical power of diverse visualization strategies reflected across these four books, too: Solnit’s offers dozens of photographs, by Susan Schwartzenberg—of renovations, construction sites, protests, dot-com workplaces, SRO hotels, artists’ studios—while Walker’s dense text is supplemented with charts, graphs, and clinical maps. McClelland’s book, with its relatively large typeface and extra-wide leading, makes space for his interviewees’ words to resonate, while Isenberg generously illustrates her pages with archival photos, plans, and design renderings, many reproduced in evocative technicolor.

By decentering the star designer and master planner, Isenberg reframes urban (re)development as a collaborative enterprise involving participants with diverse identities, skills, and values. And in elevating the work of “allied” practitioners, Isenberg also aims to shift the focus from design to land: public awareness of land ownership and commitment to responsible public land stewardship. She introduces us to several mid-century alternative publications—weekly newspapers, Black periodicals, activists’ manuals, and books that never made it to the best-seller list … or never even made it to press—that advocated for a focus on land ownership and politics. Yet the discursive power of Jacobs and Caro, which framed the debate in terms of urban development vs. preservation, pushed these other texts off the shelf—and, along with them, the “moral questions of land stewardship” they highlighted.

These alternative tales and supporting casts serve as reminders that the modern city need not succumb to Haussmannization or Moses-ification or, now, Googlization. Mid-century urban development wasn’t necessarily the monolithic, patriarchal, hegemonic force we imagined it to be—a realization that should steel us to expect more and better of our contemporary city-building projects. Today, New York, Washington, DC, and Toronto—and other cities around the world—are being reshaped not only by architects, planners, and municipal administrators, but also by technologists, programmers, data scientists, “user experience” experts and logistics engineers. These are urbanism’s new “allied” professions, and their work deals not only with land and buildings, but also, increasingly, with data and algorithms.

Some critics have argued that the real reason behind Amazon’s nationwide HQ2 search was to gather data from hundreds of cities—both quantitative and qualitative data that “could guide it in its expansion of the physical footprint, in the kinds of services it rolls out next, and in future negotiations and lobbying with states and municipalities.”5 This “trove of information” could ultimately be much more valuable than all those tax incentives and grants. If this is the future of urban development, our city officials and citizens must attend to the ownership and stewardship not only of their public land, but also of their public data. The mismanagement of either could—to paraphrase our four books’ titles—elongate the dark shadows cast by growing inequality, abet the siege of exploitation and displacement, “hollow out” our already homogenizing neighborhoods, and expedite the departure of an already “gone” city.

As Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti muses in his “Pictures of the Gone World 11,” which inspired Walker’s title: “The world is a beautiful place / to be born into / if you don’t mind some people dying / all the time / or maybe only starving / some of the time / which isn’t half so bad / if it isn’t you.” This is precisely the sort of solipsism and stratification that tech-libertarianism and capitalist development promotes—and that responsible planning, design, and public stewardship must prevent."
cities  shannonmattern  2019  sanfrancisco  siliconvalley  nyc  washingtondc  seattle  amazon  google  apple  facebook  technology  inequality  governance  libertarianism  urban  urbanism  microsoft  jenniferlight  louisemozingo  margareto'mara  fredturner  efficiency  growth  marginalization  publicgood  civics  innovation  rebeccasolnit  gentrification  privatization  homogenization  susanschwartzenberg  carymcclelland  economics  policy  politics  richardwalker  bayarea  lisonisenberg  janejacobs  robertmoses  diversity  society  inclusivity  inclusion  exclusion  counterculture  cybercultue  culture  progressive  progressivism  wealth  corporatism  labor  alexkaufman  imperialism  colonization  californianideology  california  neoliberalism  privacy  technosolutionism  urbanization  socialjustice  environment  history  historiography  redevelopment  urbanplanning  design  activism  landscape  ruthasawa  gender  sexuality  openspace  publicspace  searanch  toronto  larenceferlinghetti  susanschartzenberg  bobbiestauffacher  careerose  stuartrose  ghirardellisqure  marionconrad  illustration  a 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Bay Area Disrupted: Fred Turner on Vimeo
"Interview with Fred Turner in his office at Stanford University.

http://bayareadisrupted.com/

https://fredturner.stanford.edu

Graphics: Magda Tu
Editing: Michael Krömer
Concept: Andreas Bick"
fredturner  counterculture  california  opensource  bayarea  google  softare  web  internet  history  sanfrancisco  anarchism  siliconvalley  creativity  freedom  individualism  libertarianism  2014  social  sociability  governance  myth  government  infrastructure  research  online  burningman  culture  style  ideology  philosophy  apolitical  individuality  apple  facebook  startups  precarity  informal  bureaucracy  prejudice  1960s  1970s  bias  racism  classism  exclusion  inclusivity  inclusion  communes  hippies  charism  cultofpersonality  whiteness  youth  ageism  inequality  poverty  technology  sharingeconomy  gigeconomy  capitalism  economics  neoliberalism  henryford  ford  empowerment  virtue  us  labor  ork  disruption  responsibility  citizenship  purpose  extraction  egalitarianism  society  edtech  military  1940s  1950s  collaboration  sharedconsciousness  lsd  music  computers  computing  utopia  tools  techculture  location  stanford  sociology  manufacturing  values  socialchange  communalism  technosolutionism  business  entrepreneurship  open  liberalism  commons  peerproduction  product 
december 2018 by robertogreco
The Complicated Legacy of Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” | The New Yorker
"Brand now describes himself as “post-libertarian,” a shift he attributes to a brief stint working with Jerry Brown, during his first term as California’s governor, in the nineteen-seventies, and to books like Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk,” which describes the Trump Administration’s damage to vital federal agencies. “ ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ was very libertarian, but that’s because it was about people in their twenties, and everybody then was reading Robert Heinlein and asserting themselves and all that stuff,” Brand said. “We didn’t know what government did. The whole government apparatus is quite wonderful, and quite crucial. [It] makes me frantic, that it’s being taken away.” A few weeks after our conversation, Brand spoke at a conference, in Prague, hosted by the Ethereum Foundation, which supports an eponymous, open-source, blockchain-based computing platform and cryptocurrency. In his address, he apologized for over-valorizing hackers. “Frankly,” he said, “most of the real engineering was done by people with narrow ties who worked nine to five, often with federal money.”

Brand is nonetheless impressed by the new tech billionaires, and he described two startup founders as “unicorns” who “deserve every penny.” “One of the things I hear from the young innovators in the Bay Area these days is ‘How do you stay creative?’ ” Brand said. “The new crowd has this, in some ways, much more interesting problem of how you be creative, and feel good about the world, and collaborate, and all that stuff, when you have wads of money.” He is excited by their philanthropic efforts. “That never used to happen,” he said. “Philanthropy was something you did when you were retired, and you were working on your legacy, so the money went to the college or opera.”

Brand himself has been the beneficiary of tech’s new philanthropists. His main concern, the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit focussed on “long-term thinking,” counts Peter Thiel and Pierre Omidyar among its funders. The organization hosts a lecture series, operates a steampunk bar in San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and runs the Revive & Restore project, which aims to make species like the woolly mammoth and the passenger pigeon “de-extinct.” The Long Now Foundation is also in the process of erecting a gigantic monument to long-term thought, in Western Texas—a clock that will tick, once a year, for a hundred centuries. Jeff Bezos has donated forty-two million dollars to the construction project and owns the land on which the clock is being built. When I first heard about the ten-thousand-year clock, as it is known, it struck me as embodying the contemporary crisis of masculinity. I was not thinking about death.

Although Brand is in good health and is a dedicated CrossFit practitioner, working on long-term projects has offered him useful perspective. “You’re relaxed about your own death, because it’s a blip on the scale you’re talking about,” he said, then quoted Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms,” saying, “Much was decided before you were born.” Brand is concerned about climate change but bullish on the potential of nuclear energy, urbanization, and genetic modification. “I think whatever happens, most of life will keep going,” he said. “The degree to which it’s a nuisance—the degree to which it is an absolutely horrifying, unrelenting problem is what’s being negotiated.” A newfound interest in history has helped to inform this relaxed approach to the future. “It’s been a long hard slog for women. It’s been a long hard slog for people of color. There’s a long way to go,” he said. “And yet you can be surprised by successes. Gay marriage was unthinkable, and then it was the norm. In-vitro fertilization was unthinkable, and then a week later it was the norm. Part of the comfort of the Long Now perspective, and Steven Pinker has done a good job of spelling this out, is how far we’ve come. Aggregate success rate is astonishing.”

As I sat on the couch in my apartment, overheating in the late-afternoon sun, I felt a growing unease that this vision for the future, however soothing, was largely fantasy. For weeks, all I had been able to feel for the future was grief. I pictured woolly mammoths roaming the charred landscape of Northern California and future archeologists discovering the remains of the ten-thousand-year clock in a swamp of nuclear waste. While antagonism between millennials and boomers is a Freudian trope, Brand’s generation will leave behind a frightening, if unintentional, inheritance. My generation, and those after us, are staring down a ravaged environment, eviscerated institutions, and the increasing erosion of democracy. In this context, the long-term view is as seductive as the apolitical, inward turn of the communards from the nineteen-sixties. What a luxury it is to be released from politics––to picture it all panning out."
stewartband  wholeearthcatalog  technosolutionism  technology  libertarianism  2018  annawiener  babyboomers  boomers  millennials  generations  longnow  longnowfoundation  siliconvalley  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  politics  economics  government  time  apathy  apolitical  californianideology  stevenpinker  jennyholzer  change  handwashing  peterthiel  pierreomidyar  bayarea  donaldtrump  michaellewis  jerrybrown  california  us  technolibertarianism 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Letters of Note: Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088
"The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
7. And so on. Or else."

[via http://www.openculture.com/2016/07/in-1988-kurt-vonnegut-gives-seven-pieces-advice-to-people-living-in-2088.html
via https://kottke.org/18/07/seven-bits-of-advice-from-kurt-vonnegut-to-people-living-100-years-in-the-future ]
vonnegut  advice  future  environment  sustainability  selfishness  goodancestors  1988  2088  nature  planetearth  spaceshipearth  ecosystems  war  small  slow  waste  wastefulness  escapism  technosolutionism 
july 2018 by robertogreco
Social Media and Loneliness | L.M. Sacasas
"In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition in which she discussed the rise of the “social,” a realm she distinguished from the private and the public spheres. It was marked by anonymity. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, she argued that loneliness and isolation were the seedbeds of totalitarianism."



"In 1913, Willa Cather had one of her characters in O Pioneers! describe his life in the cities this way:
Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.


I could go on, but you get the point."



"I’ve never understood why we should be relieved when we read about a study which concludes that a majority of people do not experience some negative consequence of technology. What about the often sizable minority that does? Do they not matter?"



"Technological fixes rarely alleviate and often exasperate social disorders, especially those that involve the most deeply engrained desires of the human heart. We’re better off refusing to treat social media as a remedy for loneliness or even as a form of community. Chastened expectations may be the best way to use a tool without being used by the tool in turn."
lmsacasas  michaelsacasas  2018  socialmedia  loneliness  hannaharendt  technology  technosolutionism  willacather  social  cities  isolation  urban  urbanism  online  internet  web 
may 2018 by robertogreco
stop literalizing the design process | sara hendren
"This is your semi-regular reminder that collaborative, ethical design is not synonymous with customer service, taking orders from “users,” retail-style. It’s synthesizing and recombining ideas from insights gained by deeply considered habits of attention. The implications of this claim are twofold, and people are forever forgetting either one or the other, ad infinitum.

The first implication is that—yeah, you can’t ask people a bunch of questions in survey mode, and then turn the magical crank of the design process to automatically make something good, something the world is asking for. But the second implication is that a designer’s job is not to obediently make the precise widget described by so-called end users, to check a moral box and be sure that they did the right thing. Insights and synthesis are subtler than that. A designer has to both be grounded in multiple forms of deep attention, not in simple yes-no answers, and she has to get liftoff from the mundane first ideas at hand—to take considered risks, to switch scales, to propose ideas that are bigger than the sum of parts.

And perhaps it’s surprising, but it’s actually that second implication that’s harder for people to grasp. Yes—yes of course—the world is full of solutioneering. We have to keep talking about all the ways tech and design go wrong when there’s an assumption that any given clever intervention will make the world better. But it’s also far too easy to wield a blunt moral cudgel to ethics-check people in a simplistic way. It seems to me that in 2018, folks who know something about design tend to find a voice for their skepticism about this clueless over-confidence, but those same people have too little patience for the non-linear and enigmatic way that design gets its work done. “Did-you-ask-the-user-what-she-wants” now is code for: did you get a direct order for your decisions? It’s just never that simple, never that rote, never that guaranteed. A plea for discernment and subtlety, friends."
sarahendren  2018  design  collaboration  ethics  ethicaldesign  customerservice  synthesis  recombination  surveys  attention  solutioneering  solutionism  technosolutionism  morals  morality  skepticism  discernment  subtlety 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Social Inequality Will Not Be Solved By an App | WIRED
"Central to these “colorblind” ideologies is a focus on the inappropriateness of “seeing race.” In sociological terms, colorblindness precludes the use of racial information and does not allow any classifications or distinctions. Yet, despite the claims of colorblindness, research shows that those who report higher racial colorblind attitudes are more likely to be White and more likely to condone or not be bothered by derogatory racial images viewed in online social networking sites. Silicon Valley executives, as previously noted, revel in their embrace of colorblindness as if it is an asset and not a proven liability. In the midst of reenergizing the effort to connect every American and to stimulate new economic markets and innovations that the internet and global communications infrastructures will afford, the real lives of those who are on the margin are being reengineered with new terms and ideologies that make a discussion about such conditions problematic, if not impossible, and that place the onus of discriminatory actions on the individual rather than situating problems affecting racialized groups in social structures.

Formulations of postracialism presume that racial disparities no longer exist, a context within which the colorblind ideology finds momentum. George Lipsitz, a critical Whiteness scholar and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that the challenge to recognizing racial disparities and the social (and technical) structures that instantiate them is a reflection of the possessive investment in Whiteness—which is the inability to recognize how White hegemonic ideas about race and privilege mask the ability to see real social problems. I often challenge audiences who come to my talks to consider that at the very historical moment when structural barriers to employment were being addressed legislatively in the 1960s, the rise of our reliance on modern technologies emerged, positing that computers could make better decisions than humans. I do not think it a coincidence that when women and people of color are finally given opportunity to participate in limited spheres of decision making in society, computers are simultaneously celebrated as a more optimal choice for making social decisions. The rise of big-data optimism is here, and if ever there were a time when politicians, industry leaders, and academics were enamored with artificial intelligence as a superior approach to sense-making, it is now. This should be a wake-up call for people living in the margins, and people aligned with them, to engage in thinking through the interventions we need."
safiyaumojanoble  technosolutionism  technologu  2018  inequality  society  socialinequality  siliconvalley  neoliberalism  capitalism  blacklivesmatter  organizing  politics  policy  oppression  algorithms  race  racism  us  postracialism  colorblindness  discrimination  georgelipsitz 
march 2018 by robertogreco
HEWN, No. 252
"We are incredibly bound to our mythologies. Of course we are. Mythologies – despite the popular usage of the term wherein “myth” equals “lie” – are our sacred stories. As such, these stories become capital-T true, even when they are so clearly capital-BS bullshit.

The technology industry’s power, I’d argue, is deeply intertwined with its sacred stories. And one of the most influential storytellers of Internet lore died this week: John Perry Barlow, best known as the author of the techno-utopian manifesto “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Or, depending on your social circles, I suppose, best known as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Or, depending on where you’re from, best known as a rancher and Wyoming native. I’ll say, as another Wyoming native, that these three elements of JPB’s life are inseparable: how tech culture envisions itself as “counterculture,” how it imagines its role in “revolution,” how it privileges “the individual” (often code for the lone, white, male hero).

“I can’t help but ask what might have happened had the pioneers of the open web given us a different vision – one that paired the insistence that we must defend cyberspace with a concern for justice, human rights, and open creativity, and not primarily personal liberty. What kind of internet would we have today?” April Glaser asks. We must rethink what has been mythologized, what and who is being mythologized when it comes to this technological world being built for us. Maybe these aren’t our sacred stories after all.

There was another tech hero with a moment of PR glory this week, of course: tech billionaire Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy, “the first time a rocket this powerful has been sent into space by a private company rather than a government space agency,” as The New York Times put it. The coverage of the rocket launch was mostly the coverage of Musk’s gimmicky decision to include as payload “a cherry-red Tesla Roadster once driven by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, blasting tunes from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ with a spacesuit-clad ‘Star Man’ dummy strapped in the driver’s seat.” The coverage of Elon Musk’s companies is almost always coverage of Elon Musk. That’s how he wants it, of course. Journalists, as mythmakers, seem happy to oblige."
audreywatters  2018  edtech  technology  elonmusk  johnperrybarlow  myth  mythology  mythmaking  journalism  technosolutionism  pr  aprilglaser  donaldborenstein  spacex  publicgood  wealth  inequality  cyberspace  web  online  society  individualism  libery  justice  socialjustice  power  corporatism 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear
"Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism."



"Insight is precisely what Musk’s strawberry-picking AI lacks, as do all the other AIs that destroy humanity in similar doomsday scenarios. I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations. Corporations don’t operate autonomously, of course, and the humans in charge of them are presumably capable of insight, but capitalism doesn’t reward them for using it. On the contrary, capitalism actively erodes this capacity in people by demanding that they replace their own judgment of what “good” means with “whatever the market decides.”"



"
It’d be tempting to say that fearmongering about superintelligent AI is a deliberate ploy by tech behemoths like Google and Facebook to distract us from what they themselves are doing, which is selling their users’ data to advertisers. If you doubt that’s their goal, ask yourself, why doesn’t Facebook offer a paid version that’s ad free and collects no private information? Most of the apps on your smartphone are available in premium versions that remove the ads; if those developers can manage it, why can’t Facebook? Because Facebook doesn’t want to. Its goal as a company is not to connect you to your friends, it’s to show you ads while making you believe that it’s doing you a favor because the ads are targeted.

So it would make sense if Mark Zuckerberg were issuing the loudest warnings about AI, because pointing to a monster on the horizon would be an effective red herring. But he’s not; he’s actually pretty complacent about AI. The fears of superintelligent AI are probably genuine on the part of the doomsayers. That doesn’t mean they reflect a real threat; what they reflect is the inability of technologists to conceive of moderation as a virtue. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk assume that a superintelligent AI will stop at nothing to achieve its goals because that’s the attitude they adopted. (Of course, they saw nothing wrong with this strategy when they were the ones engaging in it; it’s only the possibility that someone else might be better at it than they were that gives them cause for concern.)

There’s a saying, popularized by Fredric Jameson, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley capitalists don’t want to think about capitalism ending. What’s unexpected is that the way they envision the world ending is through a form of unchecked capitalism, disguised as a superintelligent AI. They have unconsciously created a devil in their own image, a boogeyman whose excesses are precisely their own.

Which brings us back to the importance of insight. Sometimes insight arises spontaneously, but many times it doesn’t. People often get carried away in pursuit of some goal, and they may not realize it until it’s pointed out to them, either by their friends and family or by their therapists. Listening to wake-up calls of this sort is considered a sign of mental health.

We need for the machines to wake up, not in the sense of computers becoming self-aware, but in the sense of corporations recognizing the consequences of their behavior. Just as a superintelligent AI ought to realize that covering the planet in strawberry fields isn’t actually in its or anyone else’s best interests, companies in Silicon Valley need to realize that increasing market share isn’t a good reason to ignore all other considerations. Individuals often reevaluate their priorities after experiencing a personal wake-up call. What we need is for companies to do the same — not to abandon capitalism completely, just to rethink the way they practice it. We need them to behave better than the AIs they fear and demonstrate a capacity for insight."
ai  elonmusk  capitalism  siliconvalley  technology  artificialintelligence  tedchiang  2017  insight  intelligence  regulation  governance  government  johnperrybarlow  1996  autonomy  externalcontrols  corporations  corporatism  fredericjameson  excess  growth  monopolies  technosolutionism  ethics  economics  policy  civilization  libertarianism  aynrand  billgates  markzuckerberg 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Can economies thrive without growth? de RSA Radio
"When economies stop growing they go into crisis, but it seems impossible for them to grow forever without causing ecological catastrophe. Matthew Taylor talks to Tim Jackson about the big dilemma in sustainability and the updated and expanded second edition of ‘Prosperity without Growth’ (2017). Can we safely stabilize the size of the economy? What’s behind our insatiable demand for new things? What revolutions are required in the nature of enterprise, policy and values to create prosperity without growth? And have they gotten any closer in the years since the books first publication in 2009?"
economics  growth  policy  prosperity  2017  matthewtaylor  timjackson  capitalism  environment  emissions  globalwarming  climatechange  sustainability  happiness  wellbeing  scarcity  resources  technology  technosolutionism  efficiency  consumerism  consumption  fashion  socialgood  privatization  money  politics  service  monetarypolicy  government  governance  society  ethics  values  technocracy 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Education Technology as 'The New Normal'
"I am feeling incredibly concerned about the direction the world is taking – politically, environmentally, economically, intellectually, institutionally, technologically. Trump. Digital technologies, even education technologies, are implicated in all of this, and if we are not careful, we are going to make things worse."



"We have not severed ourselves from the past through the introduction of computers or computer networks. Our institutions have not been severed from the past because of these. Our cultures have not. (At least not entirely. Not yet.) We have not."



"Technologies, to borrow from the physicist Ursula Franklin, are practices. Technologies are systems. Technology “entails far more than its individual material components,” Franklin wrote. “Technology involves organizations, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.”

When I say that education technology is not new, I’m not arguing that technologies do not change over time; or that our institutions, ideas, experiences, societies do not change in part because of technologies. But when we talk about change – when we tell stories about technological change – we must consider how technologies, particularly modern technologies like computers, emerged from a certain history, from certain institutions; how technologies are as likely to re-inscribe traditional practices as to alter them. We must consider how technology operates, in Franklin’s words, as “an agent of power and control.”"



"But the growth of Silicon Valley didn’t really do much to improve the economic well-being of most of us. It didn’t really create jobs, although it did create wealth for a handful of investors and entrepreneurs. It did help further a narrative that our economic precarity was not only “the new normal” but potentially liberatory. The “freelance” economy, we were told, meant we didn’t have to have full-time employment any longer. Just “gigs.” The anti-regulatory practices and libertarian ideology espoused by the CEO of Uber became a model for talking about this “new economy” – that is until Uber (and others) are able to replace freelance workers with robots, of course. “We’re like Uber,” became something other companies, including those in education, would boast, despite Uber’s skullduggery."



"Technologies may well be poised to redefine how we think about learning, intelligence, inquiry, the learner, the teacher, teaching, knowledge, scholarship. But remember: technological “progress” does not necessarily mean “progressive politics.” Silicon Valley’s ways also include individualism, neoliberalism, libertarianism, imperialism, the exclusion of people of color and white women from its workforce. These biases are now part of algorithms and algorithmic decision-making.

Again my fear with our being comfortable or complacent with this “new normal”: Silicon Valley’s ways and Silicon Valley’s technologies are readily subverting the values of democracy and justice.

The values of democracy and justice should be School’s ways. But to be fair, neither democracy nor justice are values that most educational institutions (historically, presently) have truly or fully or consistently lauded or oriented themselves around.

If we want the future to be something other than an exploitative dystopia, I think our task must be to resist the narratives and the practices and the technologies that further inequality.

We cannot do this through through technological solutionism (although technologies are absolutely part of what we need to address and fundamentally rethink). We need to rethink our practices. We have to forgo “personalization.” We must do this through collective action, through community. We do this through action oriented around social and racial justice. We do this through democracy. (And through art.)"
2017  audreywatters  education  individualism  neoliberalism  corporatism  ursulafranklin  control  power  siliconvalley  democracy  socialjustice  justice  race  racism  technosolutionism  solutionism  technology  edtech  labor  teaching  knowledge  scholarship  intelligence  learning  howwelearn  libertarianism  imperialism  exclusion  gender  sexism  bias 
may 2017 by robertogreco
the three hot trends in Silicon Valley horseshit – Freddie deBoer – Medium
"For a long time I told the same basic joke about Silicon Valley, just updating as some new walled garden network replicated long-existing technology in a format better able to attract VC cash and, presumably, get them ad dollars.

2002, Friendster: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2003, Photobucket: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2003, Myspace: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2004, Flickr: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2004, Facebook: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2005, YouTube: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2006, Twitter: At last, a way to post text on the internet!
2010, Instagram: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2013, Vine: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2013, YikYak: At last, a way to post text on the internet!

You get the idea. An industry that never stops lauding itself for its creativity and innovation has built its own success mythology by endlessly repackaging the same banal functions that have existed for about as long as the Web.

It seems, though, that SnapChat will be the last big new player in “social” for awhile, at least until the kids get their dander up for something new. What’s the new hotness in an industry that exemplifies 21st American capitalism, in that it’s a cannibalistic hustle where only the most shameless hucksters survive? As someone who rides the New York subway every day and is forced to look at its ads, let me take you on a journey.

[1] Give Away the Razors, Make Your Money on DRM-Infected Blades

Juicero deserved all of the attention it got and more — it was so pure, so impossibly telling about the pre-apocalyptic American wasteland. It was also just one of a whole constellation of companies that now operate under an ingenious model: take some banal product that has been sold forever at low margins, attach the disposable part to a proprietary system that pretends to improve it but really just locks pepole into a particular vendor, add a touch screen manufactured by Chinese tweens, call it “Smart,” and sell it to schlubby dads too indebted to buy a midlife crisis car and too unattractive to have an affair. As the Juicero saga shows us, you don’t even really have to honor the whole “make the initial purchase cheap” stage. Just ensure that you market your boondoggle to the kind of person who stood in line to buy an $800 “smartwatch” that poorly duplicates a tenth of the functions already present in the phone in their pocket. (You know, those dead inside.) Then get them “locked into your ecosystem,” which means “get their credit card number and automatically charge them every month for your version of a product that can be purchased at the supermarket for a third of the price.” Profit, baby, profit.

Are you the kind of person who is so worn down by the numbing drudgery of late capitalism that you can’t summon the energy to drag a 2 ounce toothbrush across your gums for 90 seconds a day? Well, the electric toothbrush has been a thing for a long time. And that means that it’s not good enough. After years of deadening your limbic system through psychotropic medication, video games, and increasingly-extreme internet pornography, you need something new. Enter Quip, the company disrupting the toothbrush. Quip wants you to know that its product is inexpensive, despite the fact that it will charge you $40/year for for its “refill plan” and I just bought 5 perfectly functional regular toothbrushes for $1 in the most expensive city in the country. Of course, you’re also buying the convenience of automation — who wants to run down stairs to the bodega for a toothbrush when you can hand over your banking info to a toothbrush company? Bonus points to Quip for emphasizing simplicity while hawking a product that employs an engineering team to innovate the concept of a brush.

[2] I’ve got one word for you, Benjamin, just one word: rents.

It’s one thing to take a product that is already cheap and just fine and replace it with a vastly more expensive version that locks people into exploitative proprietary systems for years in exchange for giving them a 15 second hit of dopamine derived from Going Digital. I mean, Quip and Juicero and whatever Silicon Valley dildo company is selling dongs with DRM-equipped replaceable heads are actually fundamentally selling you a product. It’s a horribly, uselessly expensive product that could only be embraced by chumps, but it’s a tangible thing. The real next level is just inserting yourself into someone else’s transaction and collecting a % while offering nothing. (When this is a job, we call it “consulting.”) Why charge a lot for the blades when you can charge a lot for literally nothing?

RentBerry is useful here because the word “rent” is literally in the name. Here’s the value proposition that RentBerry offers. For landlords who are already raking in record profits, RentBerry provides a chance at making even more, as potential tenants must set upon each other in a dystopian nightmare auction system that compels them to ask, how much am I willing to pay to avoid sleeping in the park, really? For tenants, RentBerry offers… well, the opportunity to pay more in a pre-existing housing crisis, the chance to make the process of finding an apartment an even more horrific exercise in stress and disappointment, a reason to hate faceless strangers with even more intensity, and more reason to view city life as a ceaseless Nietzschean struggle from which they will never escape. What RentBerry gets in return is, eventually, a % of your already hideously overpriced rent, for the duration of the lease. I bet you can’t wait to know a portion of your rent check is going not just to the landlord you hate but also to a company that did nothing beyond giving him the ability to take more of your money! Of course, if you live in New York, your “landlord” might very well be a hedge fund that also funded RentBerry! Sweet, right?

RentBerry will tell you that tenants might get a deal thanks to the auction system. Of course, it’s landlords who chose to use RentBerry, not tenants, and if landlords thought they were losing money on the deal they’d never use it, meaning the service’s very reason for being necessarily entails grabbing more and more tenant money. Details!

Why is everything so expensive? Because Silicon Valley and Wall Street are taking huge percentages out of transactions they once didn’t. That’s why. The Juiceros make inexpensive and functional products far more expensive and often less functional; the RentBerrys cut out the middleman by just becoming middlemen. Dare to dream.

[3] We Love Doers So Much We Want to Give Them a Hellish Existence of Endless Precarity

This is the type of company that has become inescapable in NYC subway advertising. Not coincidentally the time I spend contemplating stepping in front of the train to enjoy the sweet oblivion of death is also up dramatically. There’s legit dozens of these companies out there.

The basic idea here is that 40 years of stagnant wages, the decline of unions, the death of middle class blue collar jobs, the demise of pensions, and a general slide of the American working world into a PTSD-inducing horror show of limitless vulnerability has been too easy on workers. I’m sorry, Doers, or whatever the fuck. The true beauty of these ads is that they are all predicated on mythologizing the very workers who their service is intended to immisserate. Sorry about your medical debt; here’s a photo of a model who we paid in “exposure” over ad copy written by an intern who we paid in college credit that cost $3,000 a credit hour. Enjoy.

The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives. These companies are for people who think temp agencies are too coddling and well remunerative. The only service they sell is making it easier to kill minimally stable, well-compensated jobs. That’s it. They have no other function. They valorize Doers while killing workers. They siphon money from the desperate throngs back to the employers who will use them up and throw them aside like a discarded Juicero bag and, of course, to themselves and their shareholders. That’s it. That’s all they are. That’s all they do. They are the final logic of late capitalism, the engine of human creativity applied to the essential work of making life worse for regular people.

Our society is a hellish wasteland and I am dying inside.
freddiedeboer  siliconvalley  business  internet  society  technology  capitalism  middlemen  technosolutionism  precarity  finance  2017  juicero  subscriptions  drm  rent  rentseeking  latecapitalism  inequality  realestate  housing  socialresponsibility  stability  instability  economics 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Richard Walker: The Golden State Adrift. New Left Review 66, November-December 2010.
"Since the apotheosis of the state’s favourite son Ronald Reagan, California has been at the forefront of the neoliberal turn in global capitalism. The story of its woes will sound familiar to observers across Europe, North America and Japan, suffering from the neoliberal era’s trademark features: financial frenzy, degraded public services, stagnant wages and deepening class and race inequality. But given its previous vanguard status, the Golden State should not be seen as just one more case of a general malaise. Its dire situation provides not only a sad commentary on the economic and political morass into which liberal democracies have sunk; it is a cautionary tale for what may lie ahead for the rest of the global North."



"California’s government is in profound disarray. The proximate cause is the worst fiscal crisis in the United States, echoing at a distance that of New York in the 1970s. Behind the budgetary mess is a political deadlock in which the majority no longer rules, the legislature no longer legislates, and offices are up for sale. At a deeper level, the breakdown stems from the long domination of politics by the moneyed elite and an ageing white minority unwilling to provide for the needs of a dramatically reconstituted populace.

The Golden State is now in permanent fiscal crisis. It has the largest budget in the country after the federal government—about $100 billion per year at its 2006 peak—and the largest budget deficit of any state: $35 billion in 2009–10 and $20 billion for 2010–11. The state’s shortfall accounts for one-fifth of the total $100 billion deficit of all fifty states. These fiscal woes are not new. They stem in large measure from the woefully inadequate and inequitable tax system, in which property is minimally taxed—at 1 per cent of cash value—and corporations bear a light burden: at most 10 per cent. Until the late 1970s, California had one of the most progressive tax systems in the country, but since then there has been a steady rollback of taxation. In the 1970s, it was one of the top four states in taxation and spending relative to income, whereas it is now in the middle of the pack.

The lynchpin of the anti-tax offensive is Proposition 13, passed by state-wide referendum in 1978, which capped local property taxes and required a two-thirds majority in the state legislature for all subsequent tax increases—a daunting barrier if there is organized opposition. Proposition 13 was the brainchild of Howard Jarvis, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Apartment Owners’ Association. Support for it came not so much from voters in revolt against Big Government as from discontent with rising housing costs and property-tax assessments. But it was to prove a bridgehead for American neoliberalism, which triumphed two years later with Reagan’s ascent to the presidency."



"The fiscal crisis overlays a profound failure of politics and government in California. The origins of the stalemate lie in the decline of the legislative branch, which has popularity ratings even lower than Schwarzenegger’s. Led by Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh in the 1960s, California’s legislature was admired across the country for its professionalism. But by the 1980s, under Speaker Willie Brown, it had become largely a patronage system for the Democratic Party, which has controlled the state legislature continuously since 1959. Republicans went after Brown and the majority party by means of a ballot proposition imposing term limits on elected officials in 1990. Term limits neutered the legislature, taking away its collective knowledge, professional experience and most forceful voices, along with much of the staff vital to well-considered legislation. Sold as a way of limiting the influence of ‘special interests’, term limits have reinforced the grip of industry lobbyists over legislators."



"Efforts to jettison Proposition 13, such as that by the public-sector unions in 2004, have been stillborn because the Democratic Party leadership refuses to touch the ‘third rail’ of California politics. Most left-liberal commentators attribute this impasse to an anti-tax electorate and organized opposition from the right, but this does not square with the evidence. Electorally, the Democrats have easily dominated the state for the last four decades: both houses of the legislature, one or both us Senate seats, the majority of the House delegation, and the mayoralties of Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco; and, from Clinton onwards, every Democrat presidential candidate has carried the state by at least 10 per cent.

Rather than electoral vulnerability, it is the Democrats’ fundamental identification with the agenda of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and financiers—and dependence on money from these sources—that explains their unwillingness to touch the existing system."



"The victor, septuagenarian Democrat Jerry Brown, was governor of the state from 1975–83 and mayor of Oakland from 1999–2007; his most recent post was that of state Attorney General. Once a knight-errant of the liberal-left, it was his blunders in dealing with a budget surplus that paved the way for Proposition 13, and his harping on the theme of an ‘era of limits’ made him a rhetorical precursor to neoliberalism. In Oakland, his main contribution was to revivify the downtown area through massive condo development in the midst of the housing boom; he was also instrumental in pushing through charter schools. Brown’s low-key campaign kept its promises vague, but adhered to a broadly neoliberal agenda: pledging to cut public spending, trim the pensions of public employees, and put pressure on the unions to ‘compromise’. He has a fine nose for the political winds, but lacks any strong connection to a popular base."



"Yet whites have continued to dominate electoral politics, still making up two-thirds of the state’s regular voters. The majority of colour is vastly under-represented, because so many are non-citizens (60 per cent), underage (45 per cent) or not registered to vote. Turnout rates among California’s eligible Latinos are an abysmal 30 per cent, and the number of Latino representatives in city councils, the legislature and Congress remains far below what would be proportionate; Antonio Villaraigosa is the first Latino Mayor of Los Angeles since the 19th century. The fading white plurality continues to exert a disproportionate influence on the state. Markedly older, richer and more propertied, the white electorate has correspondingly conservative views: for many, immigrants are the problem, the Spanish language a threat, and law and order a rallying cry. Even the centrist white voter tends to view taxes as a burden, schools of little interest, and the collective future as someone else’s problem."



"The current economic and fiscal crises are just the latest symptoms of the slow decline of California’s postwar commonwealth. Here, as much as anywhere in the us, the golden age of American capitalism was built on a solid foundation of public investment and competent administration. Here, too, the steady advance of neoliberalism has undermined the public sector, and threatens to poison the wellsprings of entrepreneurial capitalism as well. This is especially apparent in the realm of education, from primary to university levels. The state’s once-great public-school system has been brought to its knees. Primary and secondary education (K–12: from kindergarten to twelfth grade) has fallen from the top of national rankings to the bottom by a range of measures, from test scores to dropout rates; the latter is currently at 25 per cent. There are many reasons for the slide, but the heart of the matter is penury—both of pupils and of the schools themselves, as economic inequalities and budget cuts bear down on California’s children."



"The upper middle class shield themselves by simply taking their children out of the public-school system and sending them to private institutions instead; previously rare, such withdrawals have now become commonplace—along with another alternative for the well-off, which is to move to prosperous, whiter suburbs where the tax base is richer. If public funds are insufficient, parents raise money amongst themselves for school endowments. In July of this year, a combination of civil-society groups launched a lawsuit over the injustice of school funding, hoping to produce a ‘son of Serrano’ ruling."



"California has been living off the accrued capital of the past. The New Deal and postwar eras left the state with an immense legacy of infrastructural investments. Schools and universities were a big part of this, along with the world’s most advanced freeway network, water-storage and transfer system, and park and wilderness complex. For the last thirty years, there has been too little tax revenue and too little investment. To keep things running, Sacramento has gone deeper and deeper into debt through a series of huge bond issues for prisons, parks and waterworks. By this sleight of hand, Californians have been fooled into thinking they could have both low taxes and high quality public infrastructure. The trick was repeated over and over, in a clear parallel to the nationwide accumulation of excessive mortgage debt. As a result, California now has the worst bond rating of any state."
richardwalker  california  via:javierarbona  2010  politics  policy  proposition13  inequality  education  schools  publicschools  highereducation  highered  government  termlimits  democrats  neoliberalism  liberalism  progressivism  elitism  nancypelosi  jerrybrown  ronaldreagan  race  demographics  history  1973  poverty  children  class  economics  society  technosolutionism  siliconvalley  finance  housingbubble  2008  greatrecession  taxes 
april 2017 by robertogreco
Maybe we're not afraid: on Edtech's inability to imagine the future - Long View on Education
"As people who argue for ‘de-growth’ know, we will end up in serious trouble if we mindlessly argue for creation and production as we imagine the future of paid labor and the unpaid work of reproduction.8There are serious environmental and equity issues at stake. While we have seen a huge push for equity through the movements to include girls in the STEM subjects (which is crucial work that we need to continue), Debbie Chachra points out a shortcoming to the one-sided emphasis behind getting “everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making”.
“I want to see us recognize the work of the educators, those that analyze and characterize and critique, everyone who fixes things, all the other people who do valuable work with and for others—above all, the caregivers—whose work isn’t about something you can put in a box and sell.”

Chachra’s concern comes to life in The World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs‘ report, which has almost nothing to say about care work, and as Helen Hester argues in her talk at the LSE, the “relative absence of care still registers as quite conspicuous in a study seeking to address something as encompassing as the ‘Future of Jobs’.”9

We should reject the whole ‘human capital’ metaphor and with it the racist and sexist legacy that defines technology along with productive value in the narrowest terms. In her conceptual critique of Becker’s human capital theory, Antonia Kupfer asks, “how could ‘productivity’ be measured in the increasing service sector such as care of elderly, counselling or management? In fact, productivity is highly culturally conceptualised and impacted.” Elevating all ‘creating’ above everything else, as Shirky does, damages our ability to think through our future.10
Maybe We’re Not Afraid: Technology in the Classroom

In his study of computer use in schools, Larry Cuban (2001) “found no evidence of teacher resistance” contrary to the popular mythology.11 Counter to Edtech’s idea that teachers fear technology, I propose a somewhat radical thesis: Perhaps it’s Edtech, not teachers, that lags far behind in its narrow discussion of technology. Rather than leading the way forward, Edtech is stuck in the past and irrelevant, especially to those of us who care about the intersection of technology and power.

Many of the top Edtech bloggers and tweeters, as ranked by onalytica.com, focus on products and branding, rather than pedagogy and power. In their praise, onlyanalytica.com writes that, “We discovered a very engaged community, with much discussion between individuals and brands, joining together in conversations looking to improve their quality of service.” It’s true, there’s an excellent relationship between individuals and brands like Apple and Google, which could be the exact reason that teachers find Edtech to be irrelevant.

Aside from the few who have consciously adopted a critical approach, most notably Audrey Watters, Neil Selwyn and the Digital Pedagogy group, the official Edtech journals and popular blogs almost never discuss the intersection of technology and power. Recently, both The British Journal of Educational Technology and Learning, Media, and Technology have featured editorials that acknowledge the shortcomings of Edtech and call for a new approaches.

So, what issues should Edtech be talking about instead of scared teachers and content creators? I would start with this short list:

– digital redlining
– the extent to which our ‘open’ society is really black boxed
– online harassment, especially as this relates to race and gender
– privacy in a world of Big Data
– digital labor
– media and propaganda
– profits and corporate agendas
– the supply chains that lie underneath ‘knowledge work’
– the increasing precarity of workers
– climate justice
– the ways that technology embodies ideologies, again, especially as this relates to race, class, and gender
– critical pedagogy

If we are really going to move education forward, then our philosophy of educational technology needs to keep pace with what people outside of the elite circles that worship the human capital ideology have been talking about for the last few decades. If we continue to praise creating and making, while undervaluing caring and repairing, we certainly won’t prepare kids for either the jobs or civic life of tomorrow."
edtech  benjamindoxtdator  2017  technology  education  pedagogy  debchachra  clayshirky  audeywatters  larrycuban  neilsilwyn  digitalpedagogy  production  consumption  care  caring  caretakers  makers  labor  capitalism  work  propaganda  climatejustice  power  precarity  economics  ideology  technosolutionism 
april 2017 by robertogreco
Most of the time, innovators don’t move fast and break things | Aeon Essays
"The global view shifts the focus from Manchester, Lowell, Detroit and Silicon Valley. It involves accepting that innovation and technological change are more than just making things. Ironically, this allows us to begin to glimpse a more familiar world where activities such as maintenance, repair, use and re-use, recycling, obsolescence and disappearance dominate. A much more global picture, one that includes people whose lives and contributions the Great White Innovator narrative marginalised, comes into view. The Lizzie Otts of the world can take their proper place as participants and contributors."



"Efficiency, therefore, is not some timeless universal value but something grounded deeply in particular historical circumstances. At various times, efficiency was a way of quantifying machine performance – think: steam engines – and an accounting principle coupled to the new applied sciences of mechanics and thermodynamics. It was also about conservation and stability. By the early 20th century – the apogee of Taylorism – experts argued that increases in efficiency would realise the full potential of individuals and industries. Dynamism and conservatism worked together in the pursuit of ever-greater efficiency.

But a broad look at the history of technology plainly shows that other values often take precedence over efficiency, even in the modern era. It would, for example, offer several advantages in efficiency if, instead of every apartment or home having its own kitchen, multiple families shared a communal kitchen, and indeed in some parts of the world they do. But in the prevalent ideology of domesticity, every family or even single person must have their own kitchen, and so it is.

Nor, despite what Silicon Valley-based techno-libertarians might argue, does technological change automatically translate to increased efficiency. Sometimes, efficiency – like the lone eccentric innovator – is not wanted. In the 1960s, for instance, the US military encouraged metal-working firms, via its contracting process, to adopt expensive numerically controlled machine tools. The lavish funding the Department of Defense devoted to promoting the technology didn’t automatically yield clear economic advantages. However, the new machines – ones that smaller firms were hard-pressed to adopt – increased centralisation of the metalworking industry and, arguably, diminished economic competition. Meanwhile, on the shop floor, the new manufacturing innovations gave supervisors greater oversight over production. At one large manufacturing company, numerical control was referred to as a ‘management system’, not a new tool for cutting metal. Imperatives besides efficiency drove technological change.

The history of technological change is full of examples of roads not taken. There are many examples of seemingly illogical choices made by firms and individuals. This shouldn’t surprise us – technological change has always been a deep and multilayered process, one that unfolds in fits and starts and unevenly in time and space. It’s not like the ‘just so stories’ of pop history and Silicon Valley public relations departments."



"Perhaps most simply, what you will almost never hear from the tech industry pundits is that innovation is not always good. Crack cocaine and the AK-47 were innovative products. ISIS and Los Zetas are innovative organisations. Historians have long shown that innovation doesn’t even always create jobs. It sometimes destroys them. Automation and innovation, from the 1920s through the 1950s, displaced tens of thousands of workers. Recall the conflict between Spencer Tracy (a proponent of automation) and Katharine Hepburn (an anxious reference librarian) in the film Desk Set (1957).

And what of broader societal benefits that innovation brings? In Technological Medicine (2009), Stanley Joel Reiser makes a compelling case that, in the world of healthcare, innovation can bring gains and losses – and the winners are not always the patients. The innovation of the artificial respirator, for example, has saved countless lives. It has also brought in new ethical, legal and policy debates over, literally, the meaning of life and death. And there are real questions about the ethics of resource expenditure in medical innovation. Can spending large amounts pursuing innovative treatments or cures for exotic, rare diseases be ethical when the same monies could without question save millions of lives afflicted with simple health challenges?

It’s unrealistic to imagine that the international obsession with innovation will change any time soon. Even histories of nation-states are linked to narratives, rightly or wrongly, of political and technological innovation and progress. To be sure, technology and innovation have been central drivers of the US’s economic prosperity, national security and social advancement. The very centrality of innovation, which one could argue has taken on the position of a national mantra, makes a better understanding of how it actually works, and its limitations, vital. Then we can see that continuity and incrementalism are a much more realistic representation of technological change.

At the same time, when we step out of the shadow of innovation, we get new insights about the nature of technological change. By taking this broader perspective, we start to see the complexity of that change in new ways. It’s then we notice the persistent layering of older technologies. We appreciate the essential role of users and maintainers as well as traditional innovators such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and, yes, Bill and Lizzie Ott. We start to see the intangibles – the standards and ideologies that help to create and order technology systems, making them work at least most of the time. We start to see that technological change does not demand that we move fast and break things. Understanding the role that standards, ideologies, institutions – the non-thing aspects of technology – play, makes it possible to see how technological change actually happens, and who makes it happen. It makes it possible to understand the true topography of technology and the world today."

[via: https://tinyletter.com/audreywatters/letters/hewn-no-204 ]
history  technology  innovation  invention  maintenance  wpatrickmccray  2016  economics  continuity  incrementalism  change  changemaking  via:audreywatters  ethics  stanleyjoelreiser  siliconvalley  hacking  nurture  nurturing  care  caring  making  makers  standards  ideology  efficiency  domesticity  taylorism  technosolutionism 
march 2017 by robertogreco
Christopher Emdin SXSWedu 2017 Keynote - YouTube
"Merging theory and practice, connecting contemporary issues to historical ones, and providing a deep analysis on the current state of education, Dr. Emdin ushers in a new way of looking at improving schools and schooling. Drawing from themes in his New York Times Bestselling book, and the latest album from rap group A Tribe Called Quest, Emdin offers insight into the structures of contemporary schools, and highlights major issues like the absence of diversity among teachers, the ways educators of color are silenced in schools, the absence of student voice in designing teaching and learning, and a way forward in addressing these issues."
christopheremdin  education  2017  sxswedu2017  schools  diversity  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  studentvoice  listening  socialjustice  service  atribecalledquest  dinka  culture  adjustment  maladjustment  ptsd  psychology  voice  transcontextualism  johndewey  doctorseuss  traditions  children  race  racism  trauma  trayvonmartin  violence  schooling  schooltoprisonpipeline  technology  edtech  pedagogy  disenfranchisement  technosolutionism  commoncore  soul  liberation  conversation  paulofreire  credentialism  stem  coding  economics  expectations  engagement  neweconomy  equity  justice  humility  quantification  oppression  whitesupremacy  cosmopolitanism  hiphoped  youthculture  hiphop  youth  teens  appropriation  monetization  servicelearning  purpose  context  decontextualization  tfa  courage  inequality  inequity  normalization  community  curriculum  canon  complexity  chaos  nuance  teachforamerica  transcontextualization 
march 2017 by robertogreco
HEWN, No. 195
"Some have argued that we simply need better “media literacy,” but as danah boyd writes, we need “a cultural change about how we make sense of information, whom we trust, and how we understand our own role in grappling with information.” “Media literacy” as currently practiced and taught, she contends, might be part of the problem.

boyd argues elsewhere that we’re witnessing “the democratization of manipulation.” But that’s always been the goal of marketing and advertising. Edward Bernays and such.

What is striking to me is how much technology journalism – and that’s ed-tech journalism too, let’s be frank – is itself “fake news.” It’s marketing. It’s manipulation. No, it’s not inevitable that robots are going to take all our jobs, or that AI will raise our children, or that everything in our homes will be Internet-connected. This is industry PR, promoting a certain ideology and a certain future, posing as “news.”

No wonder there’s so much bullshit on Facebook. Facebook itself is part of that larger bullshit industry known as Silicon Valley."
audreywatters  medialiteracy  danahboyd  2017  fakenews  advertising  pr  siliconvalley  edtech  technology  technosolutionism  facebook  propaganda  manipulation  marketing  ideology  jelanicobb  misinformation  disinformation  information  crapdetection 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Ethan Zuckerman: Solving Other People's Problems With Technology - The Atlantic
"In other words, is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems—and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive, and misguided? Can we find a synthesis in which technologists look at their work critically and work closely with the people they’re trying to help in order to build sociotechnical systems that address hard problems?

Obviously, I think this is possible — if really, really hard — or I wouldn’t be teaching at an engineering school. But before considering how we overcome a naïve faith in technology, let’s examine Snow’s suggestion. It’s a textbook example of a solution that’s technically sophisticated, simple to understand, and dangerously wrong."



"The problem with the solutionist critique, though, is that it tends to remove technological innovation from the problem-solver’s toolkit. In fact, technological development is often a key component in solving complex social and political problems, and new technologies can sometimes open a previously intractable problem. The rise of inexpensive solar panels may be an opportunity to move nations away from a dependency on fossil fuels and begin lowering atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, much as developments in natural gas extraction and transport technologies have lessened the use of dirtier fuels like coal.

But it’s rare that technology provides a robust solution to a social problem by itself. Successful technological approaches to solving social problems usually require changes in laws and norms, as well as market incentives to make change at scale."



"Of the many wise things my Yale students said during our workshop was a student who wondered if he should be participating at all. “I don’t know anything about prisons, I don’t have family in prison. I don’t know if I understand these problems well enough to solve them, and I don’t know if these problems are mine to solve.”

Talking about the workshop with my friend and colleague Chelsea Barabas, she asked the wonderfully deep question, “Is it ever okay to solve another person’s problem?”

On its surface, the question looks easy to answer. We can’t ask infants to solve problems of infant mortality, and by extension, it seems unwise to let kindergarten students design educational policy or demand that the severely disabled design their own assistive technologies.

But the argument is more complicated when you consider it more closely. It’s difficult if not impossible to design a great assistive technology without working closely, iteratively, and cooperatively with the person who will wear or use it. My colleague Hugh Herr designs cutting-edge prostheses for U.S. veterans who’ve lost legs, and the centerpiece of his lab is a treadmill where amputees test his limbs, giving him and his students feedback about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change. Without the active collaboration with the people he’s trying to help, he’s unable to make technological advances.

Disability rights activists have demanded “nothing about us without us,” a slogan that demands that policies should not be developed without the participation of those intended to benefit from those policies.

Design philosophies like participatory design and codesign bring this concept to the world of technology, demanding that technologies designed for a group of people be designed and built, in part, by those people. Codesign challenges many of the assumptions of engineering, requiring people who are used to working in isolation to build broad teams and to understand that those most qualified to offer a technical solution may be least qualified to identify a need or articulate a design problem. This method is hard and frustrating, but it’s also one of the best ways to ensure that you’re solving the right problem, rather than imposing your preferred solution on a situation."



"It is unlikely that anyone is going to invite Shane Snow to redesign a major prison any time soon, so spending more than 3,000 words urging you to reject his solution may be a waste of your time and mine. But the mistakes Snow makes are those that engineers make all the time when they turn their energy and creativity to solving pressing and persistent social problems. Looking closely at how Snow’s solutions fall short offers some hope for building better, fairer, and saner solutions.

The challenge, unfortunately, is not in offering a critique of how solutions go wrong. Excellent versions of that critique exist, from Morozov’s war on solutionism, to Courtney Martin’s brilliant “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems.” If it’s easy to design inappropriate solutions about problems you don’t fully understand, it’s not much harder to criticize the inadequacy of those solutions.

What’s hard is synthesis — learning to use technology as part of well-designed sociotechnical solutions. These solutions sometimes require profound advances in technology. But they virtually always require people to build complex, multifunctional teams that work with and learn from the people the technology is supposed to benefit.

Three students at the MIT Media Lab taught a course last semester called “Unpacking Impact: Reflecting as We Make.” They point out that the Media Lab prides itself on teaching students how to make anything, and how to turn what you make into a business, but rarely teaches reflection about what we make and what it might mean for society as a whole. My experience with teaching this reflective process to engineers is that it’s both important and potentially paralyzing, that once we understand the incompleteness of technology as a path for solving problems and the ways technological solutions relate to social, market, and legal forces, it can be hard to build anything at all.

I’m going to teach a new course this fall, tentatively titled “Technology and Social Change.” It’s going to include an examination of the four levers of social change Larry Lessig suggests in Code, and which I’ve been exploring as possible paths to civic engagement. The course will include deep methodological dives into codesign, and will examine using anthropology as tool for understanding user needs. It will look at unintended consequences, cases where technology’s best intentions fail, and cases where careful exploration and preparation led to technosocial systems that make users and communities more powerful than they were before.

I’m “calling my shot” here for two reasons. One, by announcing it publicly, I’m less likely to back out of it, and given how hard these problems are, backing out is a real possibility. And two, if you’ve read this far in this post, you’ve likely thought about this issue and have suggestions for what we should read and what exercises we should try in the course of the class — I hope you might be kind enough to share those with me.

In the end, I’m grateful for Shane Snow’s surreal, Black Mirror vision of the future prison both because it’s a helpful jumping-off point for understanding how hard it is to make change well by using technology, and because the U.S. prison system is a broken and dysfunctional system in need of change. But we need to find ways to disrupt better, to challenge knowledgeably, to bring the people they hope to benefit into the process. If you can, please help me figure out how we teach these ideas to the smart, creative people I work with—people who want to change the world, and are afraid of breaking it in the process."
technology  technosolutionism  solutionism  designimperialism  humanitariandesign  problemsolving  2016  ethanzuckerman  design  blackmirror  shanesnow  prisons  socialchange  lawrencelessig  anthropology  medialab  courtneymartin  nutraloaf  soylent  codesign  evgenymorozov  olcp  wikipedia  bias  racism  empathy  suziecagle  mitmedialab  mit  systems  systemsthinking  oculusrift  secondlife  vr  virtualreality  solitaryconfinement  incarceration  change  changemaking  ethnography  chelseabarabas  participatory  participatorydesign 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech
"I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who's worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, "software is eating the world". And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we're building may resemble a computer system, but really it's just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

BAD MENTAL HABITS

First, programmers are trained to seek maximal and global solutions. Why solve a specific problem in one place when you can fix the general problem for everybody, and for all time? We don't think of this as hubris, but as a laudable economy of effort. And the startup funding culture of big risk, big reward encourages this grandiose mode of thinking. There is powerful social pressure to avoid incremental change, particularly any change that would require working with people outside tech and treating them as intellectual equals.

Second, treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don't have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you're in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You'll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we're hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don't accept that this should make us accountable. We're programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It's a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don't lie.

Of course, people obsessed with control have to eventually confront the fact of their own extinction. The response of the tech world to death has been enthusiastic. We are going to fix it. Google Ventures, for example, is seriously funding research into immortality. Their head VC will call you a "deathist" for pointing out that this is delusional.

Such fantasies of control come with a dark side. Witness the current anxieties about an artificial superintelligence, or Elon Musk's apparently sincere belief that we're living in a simulation. For a computer programmer, that's the ultimate loss of control. Instead of writing the software, you are the software.

We obsess over these fake problems while creating some real ones.

In our attempt to feed the world to software, techies have built the greatest surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. Unlike earlier efforts, this one is fully mechanized and in a large sense autonomous. Its power is latent, lying in the vast amounts of permanently stored personal data about entire populations.

We started out collecting this information by accident, as part of our project to automate everything, but soon realized that it had economic value. We could use it to make the process self-funding. And so mechanized surveillance has become the economic basis of the modern tech industry.

SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Surveillance capitalism has some of the features of a zero-sum game. The actual value of the data collected is not clear, but it is definitely an advantage to collect more than your rivals do. Because human beings develop an immune response to new forms of tracking and manipulation, the only way to stay successful is to keep finding novel ways to peer into people's private lives. And because much of the surveillance economy is funded by speculators, there is an incentive to try flashy things that will capture the speculators' imagination, and attract their money.

This creates a ratcheting effect where the behavior of ever more people is tracked ever more closely, and the collected information retained, in the hopes that further dollars can be squeezed out of it.

Just like industrialized manufacturing changed the relationship between labor and capital, surveillance capitalism is changing the relationship between private citizens and the entities doing the tracking. Our old ideas about individual privacy and consent no longer hold in a world where personal data is harvested on an industrial scale.

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.

Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.

Many of you had to obtain a US visa to attend this conference. The customs service announced yesterday it wants to start asking people for their social media profiles. Imagine trying to attend your next conference without a LinkedIn profile, and explaining to the American authorities why you are so suspiciously off the grid.

The reality is, opting out of surveillance capitalism means opting out of much of modern life.

We're used to talking about the private and public sector in the real economy, but in the surveillance economy this boundary doesn't exist. Much of the day-to-day work of surveillance is done by telecommunications firms, which have a close relationship with government. The techniques and software of surveillance are freely shared between practitioners on both sides. All of the major players in the surveillance economy cooperate with their own country's intelligence agencies, and are spied on (very effectively) by all the others.

As a technologist, this state of affairs gives me the feeling of living in a forest that is filling up with dry, dead wood. The very personal, very potent information we're gathering about people never goes away, only accumulates. I don't want to see the fire come, but at the same time, I can't figure out a way to persuade other people of the great danger.

So I try to spin scenarios.

THE INEVITABLE LIST OF SCARY SCENARIOS

One of the candidates running for President this year has promised to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as well as block Muslims from entering the country altogether. Try to imagine this policy enacted using the tools of modern technology. The FBI would subpoena Facebook for information on every user born abroad. Email and phone conversations would be monitored to check for the use of Arabic or Spanish, and sentiment analysis applied to see if the participants sounded "nervous". Social networks, phone metadata, and cell phone tracking would lead police to nests of hiding immigrants.

We could do a really good job deporting people if we put our minds to it.

Or consider the other candidate running for President, the one we consider the sane alternative, who has been a longtime promoter of a system of extrajudicial murder that uses blanket surveillance of cell phone traffic, email, and social media to create lists of people to be tracked and killed with autonomous aircraft. … [more]
culture  ethics  privacy  surveillance  technology  technosolutionism  maciegceglowski  2016  computing  coding  programming  problemsolving  systemsthinking  systems  software  control  power  elonmusk  marcandreessen  siliconvalley  sanfrancisco  oakland  responsibility  machinelearning  googlevntures  vc  capitalism  speculation  consent  labor  economics  poland  dystopia  government  politics  policy  immortality 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Why Audrey Watters Thinks Tech Is a Trojan Horse Set to ‘Dismantle’ the Academy - The Chronicle of Higher Education
[audio: https://soundcloud.com/relearning/episode-8-why-audrey-watters-thinks-tech-is-a-trojan-horse-set-to-dismantle-the-academy ]

"Q. What do you mean when you say there’s a "Silicon Valley narrative," and what do you most want people to understand about it?

A. This certainly comes from my background of having spent a lot of time thinking about culture. My master’s degree was in folklore, and so that’s very much about ethnography, culture, people, and stories that we tell. I’m also really interested in systems and institutions. I want people to really think about, What is technology doing? I think we really like the story that technology is inevitable, that technology is wrapped up in our notions of progress, and that somehow progress is inevitable itself and is positive. I think that there are lots of ways in which we can scrutinize the way in which technology is changing the world, changing our culture, changing our institutions, that aren’t necessarily about progress. Or to put a political bent on it, about progressive change."



"I think that one of the things that really interests me, and this is connected I would say to the Silicon Valley narrative, is the way in which we talk a lot about personalization through technology. And one of the values, I think, that Americans in particular tend to really privilege is individualism. There’s something really appealing, culturally, for us with this notion that we’re going to have software, and it isn’t just educational software, but we’re going to have software systems that are individualized and personalized to meet our needs. Amazon says it does this. Netflix says it does this. Facebook says it does this.

I think that we as Americans really like the idea that the world is about us as individuals. I think that it’s important to recognize that that’s a cultural value. Individualism is a cultural value. It’s not a natural way of being. But there’s something about the classroom that also involves a collective experience. We learn from one another. It isn’t simply just a matter of things being personalized or individualized to meet our needs. What happens when we decide that we’re going to all be on our individual computing devices working through lessons at our own individual pace? What happens to dialogue? What happens to discussion? What happens to debate? We sort of describe education as these polar opposites — that it’s either a math lecture or it’s this sort of individualized, personalized experience. I think those are sort of extremes on both ends.

But what happens when we do lose the ability to spend time as groups, talking and working through material together? I think university professors see technologies — with the exception of folks who adopt them on their own — as something that’s done to them, that’s imposed upon them, that’s not really their decision to make, that somebody else makes the decision about the technology. Somebody else decides whether the room is going to have a projector, or the computers in the teaching facility have Windows or Macs. I really feel as though technology is something that gets done to the classroom and isn’t really interesting to many, many professors. It seems like an obligatory thing."
audreywatters  technology  education  edtech  learning  community  teaching  howwelearn  howweteach  technosolutionism  2016  siliconvalley  siliconvalleynarrative  highered  highereducation  culture  individualism  personalization  individualization  systemsthinking  inevitability  progress 
may 2016 by robertogreco
crap futures — counter-constraint #1: non-progress dogma
"The world’s fairs also offer their insights into this dichotic system. For example, Futurama’s hidden agendas are strikingly revealed in E. L. Doctorow’s novel World’s Fair (1985). As a family leaves the exhibit, the father says: ‘“When the time comes General Motors isn’t going to build the highways, the federal government is. With money from us taxpayers.” He smiled. “So General Motors is telling us what they expect from us: we must build them the highways so they can sell us the cars.”’

Bel Geddes’s vision of super-highways largely came true, but so did various dystopian imaginaries that were generated out of the Futurama vision. In ‘Futurama, Autogeddon’, Helen Burgess describes the way in which ‘a messy, always-under-construction, polluted highway system, beaming cheerfully forward into the future, is reflected back to us in the second half of the century as a degraded landscape in J. G. Ballard’s Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. In these tales,’ Burgess writes,

Bel Geddes’ optimistic narrative of the Interstate has collapsed … because the Interstate system is unsustainable - both narratively and ecologically. The ghosts of the highway call back to us from these future narratives, reminding us that death is just around the next bend.

Progress dogma as an eternally recurring phenomenon

The progress boosterism in the West of the 19th century was followed by two highly regressive world wars. Yet the postwar period saw an almost immediate return to … optimism! Progress dogma was reborn! America, isolated from the worst ravages of the two World Wars, kept blowing the trumpet for progress, and the other western countries followed. The lessons of history continued, and continue, to fall on deaf ears.

Designing counter-constraints

We realise now that we’ve not set ourselves an easy task. These are massive, complex systems that are more easily identified and critiqued than challenged with alternatives. But inaction is no solution. So we’ll go on, inspired by historical examples of how critical approaches have impacted on specific research directions and undermined progress dogma. The public inquiry into genetically modified food development in Europe and the consequent demonising of an entire scientific area (‘Frankenstein foods’) led by certain newspapers is one example of technology being steered away from its intended trajectory. In that case, however, the approach was problematic because the debate was simplified as a contest between good and evil, dystopia vs. utopia, rather than being an open and constructive dialogue. As this article suggests, the reality is often more nuanced and complex than a simple binary opposition can express.

So how do we move toward a more constructive approach to counter-constraints?
Here, as a discussion starter, are some first steps:

1. Stop assuming that, through technology, the future will be better than the present.
2. Be wary of too-positive presentations of technological future solutions.
3. Don’t assume that any of society’s problems will be solved by technology alone.
4. Do assume that for every benefit a new technology brings there will be unforeseen implications.
5. Remember to ask: ‘Progress for whom?’
6. And: ‘What in this specific case does progress actually mean?’
7. Remember that progress is easily confused with automation. Or efficiency.
8. Watch Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self (and then watch it again).
9. Find ways of encouraging a critical perspective in others, without being a dystopian dick about it.
10. Actively start building the future you want, with or without technology.

One approach where we have first-hand experience and that begins to address point 10 is speculative design, which aims to facilitate a more critical and considered approach to future-formation. By countering the constraints that limit normative design to slavishly serving the market, speculative design is free to present futures that are neither explicitly utopian or dystopian. Using this approach we can explore possible scenarios when specific emerging technologies collide with everyday life. Or we can see what happens when we apply alternative configurations of contemporary technologies or systems to generate fresh perspectives on particular problems (a counter-constraint to constraint no. 2: legacies of the past, which we’ll return to in a future post). Speculation is time well spent.

We’ll give further thought to counter-constraints over a game of ping-pong on our rough-hewn autoprogettazione table, followed by coffee and toast. More, much more, to come. "
crapfutures  counter-constraints  futures  speculativedesign  design  2016  technosolutionism  technology  progress  progressdogma  automation  efficiency  normanbelgeddes  eames  productification  utopia  dystopia  resistance  richardbarbrook  processfatigue  eldoctorow  helenburgess  interstatehighways  cars  history  optimism  sustainability  boosterism  adamcurtis  thecenturyoftheself  statusanxiety  bladerunner  pollution  traffic  futurama  world'sfairs  1939  1964  ibm 
february 2016 by robertogreco
English 508 (Spring 2016)
[See also: https://jentery.github.io/508/notes.html ]

[From the description page:
https://jentery.github.io/508/description.html

"In both theory and practice, this seminar brushes against four popular assumptions about digital humanities: 1) as a service to researchers, the field merely develops digital resources for online discovery and builds computational tools for end-users; it does not interpret texts or meaningfully engage with “pre-digital” traditions in literary and cultural criticism; 2) digital humanities is not concerned with the literary or aesthetic character of texts; it is a techno-solutionist byproduct of instrumentalism and big data; 3) digital humanities practitioners replace cultural perspectives with uncritical computer vision; instead of privileging irony or ambivalence, they use computers to “prove” reductive claims about literature and culture, usually through graphs and totalizing visualizations; and 4) to participate in the field, you must be fluent in computer programming, or at least be willing to treat literature and culture quantitatively; if you are not a programmer, then you are not doing digital humanities.

During our seminar meetings, we will counter these four assumptions by examining, historicizing, and creating “design fictions,” which Bruce Sterling defines as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” Design fictions typically have a futurist bent to them. They speculate about bleeding edge technologies and emerging dynamics, or they project whiz-bang worlds seemingly ripped from films such as Minority Report. But we’ll refrain from much futurism. Instead, we will use technologies to look backwards and prototype versions of texts that facilitate interpretative practice. Inspired by Kari Kraus’s conjectural criticism, Fred Moten’s second iconicity, Bethany Nowviskie and Johanna Drucker’s speculative computing, Karen Barad’s notion of diffraction, Jeffrey Schnapp’s small data, Anne Balsamo’s hermeneutic reverse-engineering, and deformations by Lisa Samuels, Jerome McGann, and Mark Sample, we will conduct “what if” analyses of texts already at hand, in electronic format (e.g., page images in a library’s digital collections).

Doing so will involve something peculiar: interpreting our primary sources by altering them. We’ll substitute words, change formats, rearrange poems, remediate fictions, juxtapose images, bend texts, and reconstitute book arts. To be sure, such approaches have vexed legacies in the arts and humanities. Consider cut-ups, constrained writing, story-making machines, exquisite corpses, remixes, tactical media, Fluxkits, or détournement. Today, these avant-garde traditions are ubiquitous in a banal or depoliticized form, the default features of algorithmic culture and social networks. But we will refresh them, with a difference, by integrating our alterations into criticism and prompting questions about the composition of art and history today.

Instructor: Jentery Sayers
Office Hours: Monday, 12-2pm, in CLE D334
Email: jentery@uvic.ca
Office Phone (in CLE D334): 250-721-7274 (I'm more responsive by email)
Mailing Address: Department of English | UVic | P.O. Box 3070, STN CSC | Victoria, BC V8W 3W1

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. —Karl Marx"]

[via: "when humanities start doing design without designers because design's too self-absorbed to notice being appropriated"
https://twitter.com/camerontw/status/700175377197563904
includes screenshot of Week 7 note from https://jentery.github.io/508/notes.html ]
jenterysayers  text  prototyping  digitalhumanities  speculativedesign  design  english  syllabus  maryanncaws  johannadrucker  wjtmitchell  jeffreyschnapp  evekosofskysedgwick  technosolutionism  brucesterling  fredmoten  karenbarad  jeromemcgann  marksample  bethanynowviskie  fluxkits  detournement  poetry  exquisitecorpses  algorithms  art  composition  rosamenkman  anthonydunne  fionaraby  dunne&raby  syllabi 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Why We Fight Uber | Jacobin
"The fight against the sharing economy, and Uber in particular, can be disorienting. Opposition is often painted as technophobia. The good guys in this story are Uber and progress; on the other side are opponents afraid of flexibility and smartphones, kicking and screaming against a future already here.

In many ways, this is like the fight of the Luddites (machine smashers) two hundred years ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. While the Luddites were fighting the way technology was used to further exploit rather than liberate workers, they were and are misrepresented as simply being afraid of and opposing technology.

Just as power looms and other machines inaugurated a technological revolution that ultimately produced more work for the many and greater wealth for the few, so too are modern technologies enriching Silicon Valley’s billionaires at the expense of drivers, delivery folk, and all manner of service workers.

The sharing economy that consumers experience as a friendly convenience is, for workers, a low-wage, precarious trap. It would sound all too familiar to the skilled cloth-makers who wanted machines to give them more leisure and continued control over their work, but instead found themselves subsidizing the profits of the machine owners in England’s “satanic mills.”

Today, few technologies have as much potential for easy cooperative management as those of the currently mislabeled sharing economy. These tools are not to blame. In fact, Internet-based technologies are an opportunity for worker management. As Mike Konczal wrote in the Nation a year ago:
Given that the workers already own all the capital in the form of their cars, why aren’t they collecting all the profits? Worker cooperatives are difficult to start when there’s massive capital needed up front, or when it’s necessary to coordinate a lot of different types of workers . . . If any set of companies deserves to have its rentiers euthanized, it’s those of the “sharing economy,” in which management relies heavily on the individual ownership of capital, providing only coordination and branding.

Silicon Valley’s version of sharing means that while we carry the risks of illness, breakdown, and everything else that comes with own our tools — the cars that we drive for Uber or the computers we use for online Taskrabbit chores — they get to say how the gains from our services are distributed.

The Luddites surely would be impressed that technology owners can now get rich simply by connecting people with each other. If looms and frames were the symbol for Luddites of their degradation, today’s drivers, couriers, and taskrabbits can only point to ephemeral platforms and apps. While the Luddites attacked their bosses by destroying their looms and faced violent reprisals sanctioned by law, the privately run digital networks of today are virtually impossible to physically disrupt while having the full force of the law behind them.

Instead of producing greater socialization that spreads wealth and decision-making, the sharing economy funnels money and control toward the top. Yet today’s world still has space for some pretty old-school demands the Luddites would recognize. They wanted to work less and have a say over how they worked (with technology!). We too could be using the fruits of technology to get ever-shorter workweeks, cooperate more, and manage aspects of the economy together.

Faced wth the charge of technophobia, we must remember that the fight against Uber is a fight for a technology that could be used to distribute work more equally and foster genuine cooperation. That fight, I hope, won’t be misremembered in some dystopian twenty-third century capitalism. Though I’m sure the Luddites would have had the same hopes of us."
uber  socialism  wealth  2015  michaelrozworski  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  technology  sharingeconomy  taskrabbit  capitalism  technophobia  luddism  luddites 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The Problem With Ketchup Leather - The Atlantic
"The technology critic Evgeny Morozov calls this sort of thinking “solutionism”—the belief that all problems can be solved by a single and simple technological solution. The “problem” of being a living creature who has to eat and, therefore, who must take breaks from working can be “solved” by Soylent, which takes both the decision-making and the prep/fetch time out of eating. The “problem” of finding and using a regulated taxi service can be “solved” by Uber, which offers easier access to cars for hire.

Morozov is concerned about solutionism because it recasts social conditions that demand deeper philosophical and political consideration as simple hurdles for technology. The availability of certain types of solutions—the app-driven “sharing economy” and so forth—make them seem like the right solutions for problems just because they are available as solutions.

But solutionism has another, subtler downside: It trains us to see everything as a problem in the first place. Not just urban transit or productivity, but even hamburgers. Even ketchup!

The fact that tech rags like Tech Insider and Mashable are covering ketchup leather as technology or innovation exemplifies the issue. When presented as a solution, ketchup leather demands that a problem exist. And so we invent one—sogginess, for example.

In truth, what’s really going on at Plan Check, the Los Angeles restaurant credited with “solving” the burger problem through ketchup leather, is something far more modest—and more interesting—than solutionism allows.

Specifically, an ancient food-preparation technique, dehydration, is being applied in a novel and clever way. There’s no problem whatsoever, and certainly not one solved by dried slaps of tomato paste. If your burgers are soggy, it probably means they’re not being cooked to proper temperature. Some folks love their meat medium-rare, but a medium or well-done burger makes for better hand-edible cooked sandwiches (and also better protects you from the risk of food contamination).

When seen from a culinary rather than a technological vantage point, the ketchup-leather technique doesn’t solve a problem so much as it offers a different way of experiencing ketchup on burgers. The pleasure of a cheeseburger comes from the hot patty’s ability to melt and meld with the cheese, yielding a glorious merger of flavors. When squeezed or even spread, condiments must either be applied to the bun or atop the patty. Both approaches resist incorporating the flavors into the burger itself. By dehydrating tomato paste, Plan Check is able to create a thin layer of ketchup flavor that reconstitutes into the burger like cheese.

It also serves an ornamental and exhibitionist purpose, of course. Anyone who’s made meatloaf knows that getting tomato flavor into ground beef is a “solved problem,” as it were. But the delight of watching ketchup melt like cheese is one that burger lovers are justified in wanting to experience. To encounter familiar materials in new ways is one of the delights of dining."
ianbogost  food  ketchup  evgenymorozov  solutionism  design  innovation  problemsolving  technosolutionism  2015 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Imperial Designs | The Unforgiving Minute
[via: https://twitter.com/tealtan/status/667000828113260544 ]

"[image]

Here’s an example: the Chand Baori Stepwell in Rajasthan, built in the 8th and 9th centuries. (You can watch a video about Chand Baori, and another about stepwells, based on an article by journalist Victoria Lautman.) Stepwells were a critical part of water management, particularly in western India and other dry areas of Asia, the earliest known stepwell forms date from around 600AD. The Mughal empire encouraged stepwell construction, but the administrators British empire decided that stepwells should be replaced with pumped and piped water systems modelled on those developed in the UK – a ‘superior’ system. It was of course also a system that moved from a communal and social model of water management to a centralised model of water management – and the British loved centralised management, because it’s easier to control.

[image]

Here’s another model of water management – the Playpump, which received a lot of media attention and donor support after it was proposed in 2005. The basic idea was that kids playing on the big roundabout would pump water up from the well for the whole village. This doesn’t seem very imperial at first sight: it looks like these kids are having fun, and the village is getting water. Unfortunately it was a massive failure because it flat out didn’t work, although the Playpumps organisation is still around; if you want to know more about that failure, read this article in the Guardian and this lessons learned from the Case Foundation, and listen to this Frontline radio show on PBS. TL;DR: the Playpump didn’t work because it was designed by outsiders who didn’t understand the communities: a classic case of design imperialism. There are lots of examples just like this, where the failure is easy to see but the imperialism is more difficult to spot.

About 5 years ago there was a big hoo-hah about an article called “Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?” by Bruce Nussbaum. Nussbaum accused people and organisations working on design that would alleviate poverty as yet another imperial effort. This depends on defining “empire” as a power relationship – an unequal power relationship, where the centre holds the power (and resources) and the periphery will benefit from those resources only when the centre decides to give it to them. At the time, there was a lot of discussion around this idea, but that discussion has died now. That’s not because it’s no longer an issue: it’s because a new imperial model, more subtle than Nussbaum’s idea, has successfully taken root, and few people in the design world even realise it."



"Q&A:

During the talk I mentioned that I was planning to show video of robot dogs, but I didn’t because they freak me out. They don’t really freak me out – I think they’re astonishing feats of technology – but what they say about our attitudes towards warfare worries me. They’re being built by Boston Dynamics, who started out under military contracts from DARPA, have recently been acquired by Google X, and who post a ton of promo videos. Particularly funny is this supercut video of robots falling over.

One question raised the issue of whether our education system enables people to recognise the trap that they might be in, and give them the tools to make their own way. The short answer is no. The industrial model of education is not equipped for the 21st century, although I remain hopeful that the internet will also disrupt education as it has other sectors. At the same time I am sceptical of the impact of the most-hyped projects (such as the Khan Academy and the wide range of MOOCs) – it seems to me that we need something that learns from a wider range of educational approaches.

We also discussed whether there is an underlying philosophy to the invisible empire of the internet. I believe that there is, although it isn’t necessarily made explicit. One early artefact of this philosophy is A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace; one early analysis of aspects of it is The Californian Ideology. Evgeny Morozov is interesting on this topic, but with a pinch of salt, since in a relatively short time he has gone from incisive commentator to intellectual troll. It’s interesting that a few Silicon Valley big beasts are trained in philosophy, although to be honest this training doesn’t seem to be reflected in their actual philosophy."

[See also: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/nov/24/africa-charity-water-pumps-roundabouts
via: https://twitter.com/tealtan/status/667031543416623105 ]
designimperialism  design  via:tealtan  humanitariandesign  2015  africa  paulcurrion  control  colonialism  technology  technosolutionism  evgenymorozov  siliconvalley  philosophy  politics  mooc  moocs  doublebind  education  bostondynamics  googlex  darpa  robots  yuvalnoahharari  californianideology  wikihouse  globalconstructionset  3dprinting  disobedientobjects  anarchism  anarchy  legibility  internet  online  web  nezaralsayyad  smarthphones  mobile  phones  benedictevans  migration  refugees  fiveeyes  playpumps  water  chandbaori  trevorpaglen 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Orion Magazine | Thoughts in the Presence of Fear
"I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a “new world order” and a “new economy” that would “grow” on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be “unprecedented”.

III. The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world’s people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.

IV. The “developed” nations had given to the “free market” the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.

V. There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes.

VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to “grow” and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superseded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.

VII. We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.

VIII. Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to “rogue nations”, dissident or fanatical groups and individuals – whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives.

X. We had accepted too the corollary belief that an economy (either as a money economy or as a life-support system) that is global in extent, technologically complex, and centralized is invulnerable to terrorism, sabotage, or war, and that it is protectable by “national defense”

XI. We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited “free trade” among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

XII. Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met.

XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global “free trade”, whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.

XIV. This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.

XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.

XVI. It is a mistake also – as events since September 11 have shown – to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.

XVII. And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to “speak for us” in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater “security”. Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.

XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.

XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor – to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared – we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.

XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual “war to end war?”

XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.

XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.

XXIV. Starting with the economies of food and farming, we should promote at home, and encourage abroad, the ideal of local self-sufficiency. We should recognize that this is the surest, the safest, and the cheapest way for the world to live. We should not countenance the loss or destruction of any local capacity to produce necessary goods.

XXV. We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left, and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.

XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now … [more]
via:anne  education  capitalism  economics  wendellberry  peace  war  terrorism  consumerism  food  farming  sustainability  9/11  violence  humanism  environment  children  parenting  responsibility  military  self-sufficiency  technology  technosolutionism  progress  innovation  nature  decentralization  newworldorder  growth  degrowth  prosperity  labor  work  poverty  freemarket  business  corporatism  freetrade  vulnerability  freedom  civilrights  government  security  peaceableness  islam  soil  air  water  thrift  care  caring  saving  conservation  agriculture 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Uber for School? - DML Central
"Disruptive innovation. Bleeding edge. Scalable solutions. The Uber for X. Silicon Valley is routinely ridiculed for the language of technology entrepreneurship and startup culture it has dispersed. Yet, the Silicon Valley vocabulary is fast becoming part of the language of education, and major tech companies are using their massive financial power to create their own new schools.

In the last few years, IBM has launched P-TECH, a network of “smarter schools” modeled on its Smarter Cities program. A former Google executive has established AltSchool, a chain of schools designed more like makerspaces than conventional schools. And, the widow of Steve Jobs of Apple has dedicated a huge philanthropic donation to a school redesign competition, XQ: Super School Project. Rather than tinkering in the margins of state schooling, Silicon Valley is setting out on a kind of creative destruction of the institution of education itself.

These innovations are, to borrow a phrase, the “Uber for School.” They are radically disruptive “startup schools” — new kinds of educational institutions that originate in Silicon Valley startup culture. These new schools are being designed as scalable technical platforms, underpinned by software engineering expertise; they are funded by commercial and venture capital sources; staffed and managed by execs and engineers from some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups and web companies; and proposed to reinvent, reimagine and rebuild schools in the image of Silicon Valley itself."
uber  education  schools  benwilliamson  code/school  xq  superschoolproject  makerschools  altschool  homeschool  emersoncollective  robkitchin  martindodge  p-tech  greglinday  disruption  siliconvalley  scale  scalability  technosolutionism  ibm 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Why I Quit Ordering From Uber-for-Food Start-Ups - The Atlantic
[This is Josephine: https://josephine.com/ ]

"I work some days from a small office in San Francisco, and every day, I gotta eat. For a stretch of several weeks this year, I obtained my lunch from an iPhone app called Sprig.

It’s a beautiful piece of software. A trompe l’oeil table offers a compact slate of choices for lunch and dinner, all photographed beautifully from above. On the day I’m writing this, I can get a Caesar salad ($11), blackened chicken with broccoli ($11), a lamb-kofta wrap ($11), a tequila-lime shrimp salad ($13), or a kimchi veggie bowl ($10). Everything is organic, with sources all specified. The chicken comes from Petaluma.

* * *

I work some days from my apartment in Berkeley, and every day, I gotta eat. Two or three times a month, I obtain lunch or dinner from a network called Josephine.

The first time I encountered Josephine, its website was a bare page that instructed you to enter your phone number and “join our SMS list.” The design is only slightly more elaborate today; there’s still no iPhone app.

Josephine doesn’t prepare any meals itself. Instead, it screens home cooks and takes orders on their behalf. On the day I’m writing this, I can get carrot soup ($11) from Lisa in Oakland or pho ($13) from Hai in Emeryville. That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow, there’s chicken and dumplings ($11) from Suzie in Albany or veggie enchiladas ($8) from Afiba in Fruitvale. The menu extends out two weeks; Josephine is less “I’m hungry now” and more “I expect to be hungry on Thursday, so I’d better line something up.” The photography is rough-and-ready, Etsy-caliber, and the dishes are described by the cooks themselves.

* * *

Sprig sells on speed: From selection to delivery, it’s twenty minutes. The experience is identical to an order from Seamless or GrubHub. A harried courier extracts your meal from a fat insulated bag; you say “thank you,” close the door, and feel bad for a moment about the differences between your lives. Five stars.

Meals from Sprig arrive reliably deflated from their in-app depictions: soggier, less composed. The quality of the food ranges, in my experience, from “sure, I can eat this” to very good indeed. It’s approximately equivalent to what you’d get in a nice cafeteria; better than Kaiser Permanente’s, not as good as Facebook’s.

“Gotta eat” is a rumble in the belly, a business opportunity, and a public-health crisis all rolled into one, and to address it, Sprig is building the biggest, nicest cafeteria ever. The ambition is clear: Sprig in every city, with longer menus, better ingredients, faster delivery. I can see them: the drones dropping lamb kofta from the sky.

But there’s more to any cafeteria than the serving line, and Sprig’s app offers no photograph of that other part. This is the Amazon move: absolute obfuscation of labor and logistics behind a friendly buy button. The experience for a Sprig customer is super convenient, almost magical; the experience for a chef or courier…? We don’t know. We don’t get to know. We’re just here to press the button.

I feel bad, truly, for Amazon and Sprig and their many peers—SpoonRocket, Postmates, Munchery, and the rest. They build these complicated systems and then they have to hide them, because the way they treat humans is at best mildly depressing and at worst burn-it-down dystopian.

What would it be like if you didn’t have to hide the system?

* * *

Meals from Josephine are not available for delivery.

On the day of your order, a text message arrives bearing a street address. You ride over on your bicycle and spot a Josephine sign taped to the front door, which is ajar. You step inside; the feeling is both clandestine and transgressive. In the kitchen, the cook—your neighbor—is working. Maybe another customer—also your neighbor—is lingering. You announce yourself, say hello, receive your meal. Chat a bit, if you like. Carry it home in a bag dangling from your handlebars.

It definitely takes more than twenty minutes.

But I will tell you that my Josephine pickups have been utterly reliable generators of smiles and warm feelings. I look forward to them, not just because “gotta eat,” but because they unlock my neighborhood, fill in the blank spaces on my mental map. And of course, it’s always fun to see the insides of other people’s houses.

The seriousness of Josephine’s cooks ranges widely. Some are clearly demi-professionals, as polished and efficient as Airbnb hosts; others seem surprised to have people in their kitchen. Some offer fat slices of cornbread as impulse buys; others seem happy to have finished their soup in time.

What unites them is this: They are your neighbors; they have cooked a dish of their own design; they have invited you into their home.

I flaked on a Josephine meal once, and as the pick-up window was closing, my phone rang. It was the cook. “I can leave it out for you,” she offered. I demurred. “Oh, okay,” she said. Her voice betrayed her disappointment. I felt bad all night.

* * *

Sprig started in 2013. Its four founders have tech-industry roots, and the company has raised around $50 million so far. (It is safe to assume the words "Uber for food" were uttered along the way.) Currently, you can order in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Chicago—the last of which is clearly the test case for national expansion. The Sprig careers page advertises openings in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, and Austin.

Josephine started in 2014. Its two founders also have tech-industry roots, and the company has raised around $600,000 so far. Mark Bittman recently joined its board of directors. Josephine’s home cooks are mainly scattered around Oakland and Berkeley. In October, the company listed its first batch of meals for San Francisco; on the day I’m writing, there are three home cooks in the city.

If Sprig projects an Amazon-like relentlessness, Josephine feels tenuous; some days, it seems almost too good for this world, too “eat your vegetables,” literally and figuratively. It’s convenient, but not THAT convenient. When it needs more cooks, it can’t simply hire them. Its viability in neighborhoods beyond the Bay Area will depend on instruments subtler than a war chest and an expansion playbook.

* * *

We are alive at a time when huge systems—industrial, infrastructural—are being remade, and I think it’s our responsibility as we make choices both commercial and civic—it’s just a light responsibility, don’t stress—to extrapolate forward, and ask ourselves: Is this a system I want to live inside? Is this a system fit for humans?

It’s like this:

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.

In the hypothetical future we can label Full Sprig, no one cooks who is not employed by this kind of company.

Josephine cultivates agency and expertise. It decentralizes, aims to build a dense mesh, neighborhood-scale; its mechanisms are public. It depends on humans developing their specific, idiosyncratic tastes and skills.

In the hypothetical future we can label Full Josephine, many people don’t cook, but some people cook a lot more, and better, than ever before, and all of us, cooks and non-cooks, derive pleasure from that. We meet on the sidewalk carrying warm veggie enchiladas.

What kills me is the plausibility of the Josephine future. This isn’t some utopian vision; there’s a scale model working in the East Bay today. Neighborhoods everywhere are full of cooks, or would-be cooks; the talent and the desire is thick on the ground.

Josephine employs the most basic tools of telecommunications to make a market and match “gotta eat” with “wanna cook.” This could be the system! The rumble in the belly, the business opportunity, the public-health crisis: The answer to all of it might be waiting next door.

We make these choices, bit by bit. I stopped ordering from Sprig back in the spring, because (a) I don’t like that future and (b) they sent me a truly sub-par chicken sandwich.

Every couple of weeks, or whenever I think of it, I check Josephine for something nearby. The food is always good, at least friend-cooking-dinner good and often better, but honestly, the future is what sells it."
robinsloan  systems  systemsthinking  2015  amazon  sprig  uber  efficiency  josephine  markbittman  decentralization  civics  society  neighborhoods  community  humanity  future  food  cooking  eating  slow  slowness  relentlessness  neighbors  neighborliness  dystopia  technosolutionism 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Apple’s Modernism, Google’s Modernism: Some reflections on Alphabet, Inc. and a suggestion that modernist architect Adolf Loos would be totally into Soylent | Works Cited
"These temporal aesthetics, Google’s included, tell us something about the repurposing of modernist style for post-Fordist capital. Modernist style still succeeds in evoking newnesses even when wholly “unoriginal” because it so successfully dehistoricizes.20) That it still totally works, and that it remains congenial to capital in the face of capital’s transformations, hints that we have in modernist ideology a powerful actor.

Consequently, the study of early twentieth-century style can be understood as neither irrelevant nor innocent. The quasi-Darwinian, developmentalist ideologies of Silicon Valley have their correlates in styles that disguise their basic violence as design. Its results are, among other things, political transformations of the Bay Area that seek to do to San Francisco what Rob Rinehart did to his apartment—rely heavily on exploited labor that has been geographically displaced. It imagines people of the future living side by side with people who lag behind—but not literally side by side of course! because the laggards commute from Vallejo. Anyone who isn’t on board with the spatial segregation of the temporally disparate is an “enemy of innovation.” Again, this is actually less about time than about hierarchy. After all, the temporal difference between any two people in existence at the same time is completely made up: it’s an effect of style, which is in turn (if we follow Loos’s logic) a proxy for economic dominance. Time is, so to speak, money."
modernism  nataliacecire  2015  apple  google  siliconvalley  design  economics  atemporality  robrinehart  adolfloos  childhood  primitivism  developmentalism  aphabet  puerility  naomischor  siannengai  power  systemsthinking  displacement  innovation  ideology  californianideology  history  newness  exploitation  labor  segregation  hierarchy  technology  technosolutionism  domination 
august 2015 by robertogreco
Web Design - The First 100 Years
"Today I hope to persuade you that the same thing that happened to aviation is happening with the Internet. Here we are, fifty years into the computer revolution, at what feels like our moment of greatest progress. The outlines of the future are clear, and oh boy is it futuristic.

But we're running into physical and economic barriers that aren't worth crossing.

We're starting to see that putting everything online has real and troubling social costs.

And the devices we use are becoming 'good enough', to the point where we can focus on making them cheaper, more efficient, and accessible to everyone.

So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.

Unless we screw it up.

And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people."



"So while Moore's Law still technically holds—the number of transistors on a chip keeps increasing—its spirit is broken. Computers don't necessarily get faster with time. In fact, they're getting slower!

This is because we're moving from desktops to laptops, and from laptops to smartphones. Some people are threatening to move us to wristwatches.
In terms of capability, these devices are a step into the past. Compared to their desktop brethren, they have limited memory, weak processors, and barely adequate storage.

And nobody cares, because the advantages of having a portable, lightweight connected device are so great. And for the purposes of taking pictures, making calls, and surfing the internet, they've crossed the threshold of 'good enough'.

What people want from computers now is better displays, better battery life and above all, a better Internet connection.

Something similar happened with storage, where the growth rate was even faster than Moore's Law. I remember the state-of-the-art 1MB hard drive in our computer room in high school. It cost a thousand dollars.
Here's a photo of a multi-megabyte hard drive from the seventies. I like to think that the guy in the picture didn't have to put on the bunny suit, it was just what he liked to wear.

Modern hard drives are a hundred times smaller, with a hundred times the capacity, and they cost a pittance. Seagate recently released an 8TB consumer hard drive.

But again, we've chosen to go backwards by moving to solid state storage, like you find in smartphones and newer laptops. Flash storage sacrifices capacity for speed, efficiency and durability.

Or else we put our data in 'the cloud', which has vast capacity but is orders of magnitude slower.

These are the victories of good enough. This stuff is fast enough.

Intel could probably build a 20 GHz processor, just like Boeing can make a Mach 3 airliner. But they won't. There's a corrollary to Moore's law, that every time you double the number of transistors, your production costs go up. Every two years, Intel has to build a completely new factory and production line for this stuff. And the industry is turning away from super high performance, because most people don't need it.

The hardware is still improving, but it's improving along other dimensions, ones where we are already up against hard physical limits and can't use the trick of miniaturization that won us all that exponential growth.

Battery life, for example. The limits on energy density are much more severe than on processor speed. And it's really hard to make progress. So far our advances have come from making processors more efficient, not from any breakthrough in battery chemistry.

Another limit that doesn't grow exponentially is our ability to move information. There's no point in having an 8 TB hard drive if you're trying to fill it over an AT&T network. Data constraints hit us on multiple levels. There are limits on how fast cores can talk to memory, how fast the computer can talk to its peripherals, and above all how quickly computers can talk to the Internet. We can store incredible amounts of information, but we can't really move it around.

So the world of the near future is one of power constrained devices in a bandwidth-constrained environment. It's very different from the recent past, where hardware performance went up like clockwork, with more storage and faster CPUs every year.

And as designers, you should be jumping up and down with relief, because hard constraints are the midwife to good design. The past couple of decades have left us with what I call an exponential hangover.

Our industry is in complete denial that the exponential sleigh ride is over. Please, we'll do anything! Optical computing, quantum computers, whatever it takes. We'll switch from silicon to whatever you want. Just don't take our toys away.
But all this exponential growth has given us terrible habits. One of them is to discount the present.

When things are doubling, the only sane place to be is at the cutting edge. By definition, exponential growth means the thing that comes next will be equal in importance to everything that came before. So if you're not working on the next big thing, you're nothing.



A further symptom of our exponential hangover is bloat. As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.

We complained for years that browsers couldn't do layout and javascript consistently. As soon as that got fixed, we got busy writing libraries that reimplemented the browser within itself, only slower.

It's 2014, and consider one hot blogging site, Medium. On a late-model computer it takes me ten seconds for a Medium page (which is literally a formatted text file) to load and render. This experience was faster in the sixties.

The web is full of these abuses, extravagant animations and so on, forever a step ahead of the hardware, waiting for it to catch up.

This exponential hangover leads to a feeling of exponential despair.

What's the point of pouring real effort into something that is going to disappear or transform in just a few months? The restless sense of excitement we feel that something new may be around the corner also brings with it a hopelessness about whatever we are working on now, and a dread that we are missing out on the next big thing.

The other part of our exponential hangover is how we build our businesses. The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you're prepared to bring it to so-called "Internet scale". There's no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you're prepared to take on PepsiCo.

I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there's room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online. People can eke out a living that would not be possible in the physical world. Venture capital has its place, as a useful way to fund long-shot projects, but not everything fits in that mold.

The cult of growth has led us to a sterile, centralized web. And having burned through all the easy ideas within our industry, we're convinced that it's our manifest destiny to start disrupting everyone else.

I think it's time to ask ourselves a very designy question: "What is the web actually for?"
I will argue that there are three competing visions of the web right now. The one we settle on will determine whether the idiosyncratic, fun Internet of today can survive.



Vision 1: CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS.

This is the correct vision.



Vision 2: FIX THE WORLD WITH SOFTWARE

This is the prevailing vision in Silicon Valley.



Vision 3: BECOME AS GODS, IMMORTAL CREATURES OF PURE ENERGY LIVING IN A CRYSTALLINE PARADISE OF OUR OWN CONSTRUCTION

This is the insane vision. I'm a little embarrassed to talk about it, because it's so stupid. But circumstances compel me.



There's a William Gibson quote that Tim O'Reilly likes to repeat: "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

O'Reilly takes this to mean that if we surround ourselves with the right people, it can give us a sneak peek at coming attractions.

I like to interpret this quote differently, as a call to action. Rather than waiting passively for technology to change the world, let's see how much we can do with what we already have.

Let's reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they've imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.

The Web belongs to us all, and those of us in this room are going to spend the rest of our lives working there. So we need to make it our home.

We live in a world now where not millions but billions of people work in rice fields, textile factories, where children grow up in appalling poverty. Of those billions, how many are the greatest minds of our time? How many deserve better than they get? What if instead of dreaming about changing the world with tomorrow's technology, we used today's technology and let the world change us? Why do we need to obsess on artificial intelligence, when we're wasting so much natural intelligence?


When I talk about a hundred years of web design, I mean it as a challenge. There's no law that says that things are guaranteed to keep getting better.

The web we have right now is beautiful. It shatters the tyranny of distance. It opens the libraries of the world to you. It gives you a way to bear witness to people half a world away, in your own words. It is full of cats. We built it by accident, yet already we're taking it for granted. We should fight to keep it! "
technology  web  webdesign  internet  culture  design  history  aviation  airplanes  planes  2014  constraints  growth  singularity  scale  webdev  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  boeing  intel  microsoft  cloud  raykurzweil  elonmusk  williamgibson  inequality  mooreslaw  timoreilly  software  bloat  progress  present  future  manifestdestiny 
july 2015 by robertogreco
The Anthropoid Condition - The Los Angeles Review of Books
[via: "Great interview w/ John D. Peters at @LAReviewofBooks: http://lareviewofbooks.org/interview/the-anthropoid-condition-an-interview-with-john-durham-peters/ . A lot of people think they’re smart; Peters is really smart."
https://twitter.com/mattthomas/status/619916078093742080

"Peters’s new book, “The Marvelous Clouds,” is easiest the smartest thing I’ve read in a ages, btw. http://amzn.to/1LY8MqQ "
https://twitter.com/mattthomas/status/619916841733894144 ]

"BRÍAN HANRAHAN: What distinguishes your understanding of 'media' in The Marvelous Clouds from other, maybe better-known uses of the term?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: 'Media' is one of those terms whose meaning is as imprecise as a plate of spaghetti. And like 'spaghetti,' few can tell if it is a plural or singular noun. My academic preference is to say “media are” with a plural verb in order to underline the diversity of media forms and formats, but most people are happy to talk about media as a mass noun and use the term to refer to everything from journalists and publicity to furnace filters and hard drives. In the field of media studies, media typically are more clearly defined as a cluster of institutions, audiences, and programs (e.g., Disney, BBC, or Google), but there is a minority tradition I favor that sees media more broadly as staples, environments, and data processors of all kinds — as elements in the middle. Some of my critics say this view stretches the concept beyond its breaking point, but I believe ubiquitous computing has already stretched media more than our concepts have: thanks to digital transformations, media are so environmentally pervasive that we need an encompassing definition to match. Theory is usually playing catch-up.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: The book delves into innumerable subjects, skipping through dozens of disciplines: anthropology, zoology, theology, astronomy, the history of technology, cultural history of many kinds, philosophy and literature and more. But if there is one term that you seem to identify with, it is 'media theory.' On the face of it, that might seem a modest label for such a broad vision. So what is “media theory,” as you understand it, and what can be learned from it?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Glad that you think it is a matter of skipping rather than skidding! The book presupposes a view of knowledge and research that it doesn’t spell out at any length. What would the university look like if we took seriously the mortality of the human knower and the responsibility to speak to the species rather than only to one’s peers? I believe it would be a less turfy, more humble, and more interdisciplinary place, one less focused on the newest thing and more open to long stretches of time.[i] Labeling fields of study often amounts to little more than a branding exercise, so my unpretentious choice of “media theory” is, among other things, an indirect comment on academic tribalism. Media theory has almost no barriers to entry — you’d be amazed at how readily some people opine on media without any sense of the field’s traditions or concepts — and almost anyone can call themselves a media theorist; as beings who live in the middle, in medias res, I think that every human being is potentially such a creature. Media theory, at its best, is a means of seeking greater awareness of the basic conditions in which we live.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: Clouds, unlike fire, sky, and sea, don’t get chapters to themselves in the book, but they are in the title, and they are a recurring motif. What is so interesting about clouds for a media theorist and historian?

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Clouds are interesting because they bring together so many great questions. It’s hard to boil down something I’ve thought so much about, but here goes.[ii]

First, clouds raise very fundamental questions of where significance lies. Clouds are often thought to be blank and meaningless, the playthings of whimsy. Hardly. Few things are so packed with meaning. Once you start looking at clouds, you see them everywhere in art, literature, religion, and popular culture, and of course in the sky. The question of what clouds mean is a deep one; reading clouds is the paradigm case of how to interpret nature and how not to. Clouds tell us about the weather and the future, and reading the sky is a basic human task; in Iowa, where I live, like many places, clouds are among the most spectacular forms of natural beauty. Of course, there is a long tradition of scorn starting from at least Aristophanes aimed at anyone who finds meaning in clouds, but it is just as foolish to say clouds have no meaning (ask a sailor, pilot, or farmer if clouds mean nothing). The meaning that remains once you subtract human intention turns out to be rich, and I argue that media theory should take this abundant zone of meaning seriously.

Second, from the poison gas clouds of World War I to the mushroom cloud of World War II to the data cloud today, clouds are telling historical markers. While writing the book, I would tell people I was writing about clouds, and they’d sometimes respond, Oh, I work in IT too! (The cloud metaphor, with its hints of benign oversight and calm flow, richly serves the ideological interests of the IT industry.) That the default meaning of “cloud” has become “server-based data storage” is a symptom of nature being absorbed by technology and technology becoming second nature. It is remarkable how casually we accept this monstrous hybrid of atmospheric aerosols and computing infrastructure without a second thought. Clouds are thus a symptom of what it is fashionable to call the anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human agency alters nature radically.

Third, clouds are an elemental background that surrounds us — and unnoticed environments are prime territory for media theory. A central point of the book is that if we define media as carriers of significance then media should include natural elements; studying aerosol clouds and data clouds side by side gives me a way to make this point.

Fourth, clouds raise two fundamental problems in media theory: how to record phenomena that exist in time and how to represent ones that do not conform to a symbolic system.

Regarding recording, the book is a meditation on how media capture and fail to capture time, and clouds are a good example of entities whose nature is to vanish. Clouds illustrate media ontology. Like sounds and music, clouds exist by disappearing. They exist in time. Clouds are highly material — just this morning so much rain dumped on southeastern Iowa as to trigger flashflood warnings again — and their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions (probably one reason the cloud metaphor took hold so readily).

Regarding representing, clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. The history of cloud media, in painting and photography, is the struggle to capture sensuous objects that are also abstract. (The sky was painting abstract impressionist images long before humans did!) Clouds are the original white noise. Well before analog media such as film and sound recording broke the stranglehold of the symbolic in the late nineteenth century, painters struggled to depict cloud colors and forms, often with stunning results. The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.

Finally, clouds have long been associated with thinking, philosophizing and ultimate things, so they fit my atmospheric interests well. I know the title opens me up to wisecracks about academic loftiness. But in a world run by data-analytics Luftmenschen, it is good to get reacquainted with clouds and other kinds of sky media.

BRÍAN HANRAHAN: Why does the media culture of cetaceans, as you imagine it, play such a large role in your history of planetary technics? And what distinguishes your approach from previous thinking about the cetacean world? As you point out, dolphins and whales have long been subjects of utopian fantasy, as well as scientific communications research.

JOHN DURHAM PETERS: Cetaceans, the family of whales, porpoises, and dolphins, are often considered among the most intelligent animals on earth (especially dolphins), but they lack the infrastructures that anchor human existence such as feet, hands, fire, clothing, writing, right angles, celestial orientation, and all other forms of technology. Cetaceans thus present a kind of thought experiment about what it might be like to live in a technology-free habitat. Cetaceans could have techniques — say, of dancing, fishing, or communicating — but they could not have technologies, i.e., made materials that shape other materials, including their environments and minds. They live in habitats immune to fabrication, and thus offer a stark contrast to the human “technosphere,” our domesticated bubble of carbon and silicon, GMO crops and insulation. Intelligent marine mammals offer a radical alternative, at least in thought, to our essentially and externally technical history, and show us how much of what we take to be human depends on our technical supports."

[too much to quote]
johnduhampeters  matthomas  2015  interviews  media  feminism  clouds  cloud  infrastructure  hubris  cetaceans  anthropocene  technology  technosphere  technosolutionism  siliconvalley  writing  history  inderdisciplinary  silos  whitenoise  time  meaning  online  internet  tribalism  academia  mediatheory  slow  zoominginandout  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  transdisciplinary 
july 2015 by robertogreco
The Servitude Bubble — Bad Words — Medium
"I’m going to call it a Servitude Bubble. For the simple reason that it is largely based on creating armies of servants. You can call them whatever buzzwords you like — “tech-enabled always-on super-hustling freelance personal brand capitalists”. But the truth is simpler. The stuff of the Servitude Bubble makes a small number of people something like neofeudal masters, lords with a corncucopia of on-demand just-in-time luxury services at their fingertips. But only by making a very large number of people glorified neo-servants…butlers, maids, chauffeurs, waiters, etcetera.

The Servitude Bubble is creating “jobs”, sure — but only of the lowest kind: low-end, deskilled, dead-end, go-nowhere “service” jobs — that don’t only crush your soul, damage your psyche, and break your spirit — but waste your potential. Not “service” as in doctors and therapists— “service” as in pedicurists, trash-pickers, and dog-walkers. And so, on balance, it deskills and impoverishes human potential — it doesn’t expand and enrich it. The Servitude Bubble is made of stuff which, en masse, wastes, decimates, and demolishes the thing which counts most: human potential.

A bubble occurs when things are overvalued. What are ideas like the above really worth? They might — just might — be worth a little bit of change to a very small group of buyers. Google, Amazon, Apple, a hapless, clueless, doddering old media company here and there. But that’s like saying a subprime loan is “worth” it’s face value because a poor aging grandma can’t squint hard enough to read the fine print. Whether or not a handful of frat-bros is willing to fork over millions to one another for these startups like they were chess pieces in their struggles for corporate mid-life-crisis empire is besides the point."



"So the real servitude in the Servitude Bubble is the definition of “technology”. Once, technology meant stuff that went to the moon…cured fatal diseases…extended the human lifespan…enhanced human agency. Now, “tech” means stuff that…hails taxis…organizes butlers…automatically calls dogwalkers."
umairhaque  2015  sharingeconomy  servitude  labor  technosolutionism  economics  capitalism  inequality  ponzischemes 
july 2015 by robertogreco
What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? | Mother Jones
"The expression "school-to-prison pipeline" was coined to describe how America's public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today's teachers are trained to be sensitive to "social-emotional development" and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner's mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished. (Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.) During the 2011-12 school year, the US Department of Education counted 130,000 expulsions and roughly 7 million suspensions among 49 million K-12 students—one for every seven kids. The most recent estimates suggest there are also a quarter-million instances of corporal punishment in US schools every year.

But consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children's behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students' behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University's Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children's motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don't want to behave, when in many cases they simply can't?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it's actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber's sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene's disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children's psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. "We know if we keep doing what isn't working for those kids, we lose them," Greene told me. "Eventually there's this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They've habituated to punishment."

Under Greene's philosophy, you'd no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You'd talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

"This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency," says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene's approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn't yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?"



"In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene's workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about "that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach." It wasn't hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek's one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. "The senior staff that resisted us the most," Bouffard told me, "would come back to me and say, 'I wish we had done this sooner. I don't have the bruises, my muscles aren't strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.'""
children  parenting  schools  discipline  education  katherinereynoldslewis  schooltoprisonpipeline  socialemotional  bfskinner  rossgreene  behavior  work  labor  capitalism  technology  edtech  technosolutionism  permission  ownership  self  socialemotionallearning 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Why we need Arnold Toynbee's good life – Ian Beacock – Aeon
"He was an expert in world civilisations who made the cover of Time magazine in 1947, praised for writing ‘the most provocative work of historical theory… since Karl Marx’s Capital’. But in September 1921, long before he was the most famous historian in the world, a young Englishman named Arnold Toynbee boarded the Orient Express in Constantinople, bound for London. Fresh from a nine-month posting as a war correspondent for The Manchester Guardian, Toynbee scribbled down reflections about the shadow side of progress in his notebook, while the Balkans passed silently outside his window. Modern technology had changed the world for the better, he observed, but it could also wreak great havoc; there was always the risk that ‘the machine may run away with the pilot’. Human mastery of nature came at a price: in 1921, Europe’s battlefields were still cooling from the heat of industrial warfare and the blood of millions dead. They whispered the terms of this Faustian bargain to anyone who would listen. In the roaring 1920s, not many people were listening.

Europeans wanted better lives and they were certain that scientific progress would provide them. After the devastation of the Great War, rationalisation ruled from London to Moscow: empirical methods and new technologies were adopted to streamline everything from cityscapes to national populations, intellectual work to household chores. Many administrators and activists believed that there was no problem (material, institutional or social) that couldn’t be engineered away.

Sound familiar? Our times are confident, too. We’re optimistic that scientific thinking can explain the world, certain that the solutions to most of our problems are a quick technological fix away. We’ve begun to treat vexing social and political dilemmas as simple design flaws, mistakes to be rectified through a technocratic combination of data science and gadgetry. Progress is no longer a dirty word. The most influential prophets of this creed are in Silicon Valley in California, where, to the tune of billions of dollars, the tech industry tells a Whiggish tale about the digital ascent of humanity: from our benighted times, we’ll emerge into a brighter future, a happier and more open society in which everything has been measured and engineered into a state of perfect efficiency.

And we’re buying it. We’re eager to optimise our workouts, our sleep patterns, our pregnancies, our policing tactics, our taxi services, and our airline pilots. Even the academy is intrigued. From spatial history to the neurohumanities, digital methods are the rage. Lecture halls have been targeted for disruption by massive open online courses (MOOCs). Sometimes it seems as though there’s little that can’t be explained by scientific thinking or improved upon through digital innovation.

What are the humanities for at such moments, when we’re so sure of ourselves and our capacity to remake the world? Toynbee wrestled with this question for decades. He was as curious as anyone about the latest discoveries and innovations, but he rejected the notion that science could explain or improve everything. And his thoughtful criticism of technology reminds us that poets and historians, artists and scholars must be proud, vocal champions of the humanities as a moral project – especially at moments of breakneck scientific progress. Fluent in the language of crisis and decline, casting about for ways to defend ourselves, today’s humanists could use a little inspiration. We need our spines stiffened. Toynbee might be a man to do it."



"Scientific principles and the tools they generate aren’t necessarily liberating. They’re not inherently destructive, either. What matters is how they’re put to use, for which values and in whose interest they’re pressed into service. Silicon Valley’s most successful companies often present their services as value-free: Google just wants to make the world’s information transparent and accessible; Facebook humbly offers us greater connectivity with the people we care about; Lyft and Airbnb extol the virtues of sharing among friends, new and old. If there are values here, they seem to be fairly innocuous ones. How could you possibly oppose making new friends or learning new things?

Yet each of these high-tech services is motivated by a vision of the world as it ought to be, an influential set of assumptions about how we should live together, what we owe one another as neighbours and citizens, the relationship between community and individual, the boundary between public good and private interest. Technology comes, in other words, with political baggage. We need critics who can pull back the curtain, who can scrutinise digital technology without either antipathy or boosterism, who can imagine how it might be used differently. We need critics who can ask questions of value.

Our society isn’t very good at asking these kinds of questions. Since the 1970s, the free market has slowly become our master metaphor. Its benchmarks of efficiency and profit have become ours. Our capacity to respond to the world and engage with one another as citizens has eroded, and instead we’ve become consumers in all things, rational actors seeking competitive advantage. To borrow a phrase from the essay ‘The World We Have Lost’ (2008) by the late British historian Tony Judt: ‘We have forgotten how to think politically.’ (Say what you will about the men and women of Toynbee’s generation: from far left to extreme right, they certainly had political imagination.) And so while the issues we confront would have been familiar to Toynbee – surging confidence in scientific thinking and technological wizardry – our challenge is in many ways much greater. For we’ve forgotten how to speak the language of value, how to think beyond the market."



"It’s time for humanists to walk out on a limb. Like Toynbee, we should be as engaged in the world as we are courageous in our convictions. The humanities are most of all a moral enterprise, the pursuit of answers to big questions about how we live together and where we’re going. The stakes are high. We must remember how to speak the language of value, encouraging our readers and students to ask not simply ‘Is it more efficient?’ or ‘How much does it cost?’ but ‘Is it good or bad? For whom? According to which standard?’

The US novelist Ursula K Le Guin put it well in her speech at the National Book Awards in New York last year when she observed that we need ‘the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being’. This is what the humanities are for – not writing better quarterly reports or grabbing a gig in corporate communications – but for posing fundamental questions of value and helping us imagine alternatives to the way we live.

A curious but trenchant critic of science and technology as well as a determined moral thinker, Toynbee can help light the way through the woods for despairing humanists. Neglected and overlooked, he offers a persuasive answer to one of our most troubling questions. What are the humanities for in a technological age? For Toynbee, the answer was clear: to save us from ourselves."
via:anne  arnoldtoynbee  siliconvalley  humanities  technology  2015  science  technosolutionism  ianbeacock 
june 2015 by robertogreco
- In this sentence, we could replace “Japanese Wolf”...
"In this sentence [“Walker sees this impulse toward homogenization and control as a defining characteristic of the modern world that would eventually spell doom for the Japanese wolf.”], we could replace “Japanese Wolf” with “west” to describe a possible future where technocrats of Silicon Valley’s desire to solve all the worlds problems by turning knowledge & people into database self destructs in their own ignorance of thinking that just by flattening, normalizing, and standardizing problems–things would just work out. #triciainwolf / William Cronon’s Intro “a strange violent intimacy” In Brett Walker’s The Lost Wolves of Japan."

[Goes with: http://blog.triciawang.com/post/121449203206/i-was-so-disappointed-with-wolf-children-mamoru

"I was so disappointed with Wolf Children Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪). I was expecting a much more intellectual engagement with Japan’s wolf history and on top of it the storyline was flat with little character development. So now I’m turning to a book I’ve been wanting to read forever - Brett Walker’s Lost Wolves of Japan, which chronicles how and why Japan eradicated the wolf population with the help of American scientists. I see many similar parallels with Silicon Valley’s simplistic tech positivism to eradicate a social problem through an app or new IoT device. #triciainwolf #wolf #japan #japanesewolves"]

[Book description for The Lost Wolves of Japan:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0295988142/

"Many Japanese once revered the wolf as Oguchi no Magami, or Large-Mouthed Pure God, but as Japan began its modern transformation wolves lost their otherworldly status and became noxious animals that needed to be killed. By 1905 they had disappeared from the country. In this spirited and absorbing narrative, Brett Walker takes a deep look at the scientific, cultural, and environmental dimensions of wolf extinction in Japan and tracks changing attitudes toward nature through Japan's long history.

Grain farmers once worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching the elusive canine to protect their crops from the sharp hooves and voracious appetites of wild boars and deer. Talismans and charms adorned with images of wolves protected against fire, disease, and other calamities and brought fertility to agrarian communities and to couples hoping to have children. The Ainu people believed that they were born from the union of a wolflike creature and a goddess.

In the eighteenth century, wolves were seen as rabid man-killers in many parts of Japan. Highly ritualized wolf hunts were instigated to cleanse the landscape of what many considered as demons. By the nineteenth century, however, the destruction of wolves had become decidedly unceremonious, as seen on the island of Hokkaido. Through poisoning, hired hunters, and a bounty system, one of the archipelago's largest carnivores was systematically erased.

The story of wolf extinction exposes the underside of Japan's modernization. Certain wolf scientists still camp out in Japan to listen for any trace of the elusive canines. The quiet they experience reminds us of the profound silence that awaits all humanity when, as the Japanese priest Kenko taught almost seven centuries ago, we "look on fellow sentient creatures without feeling compassion.""]
triciawang  wolves  animals  multispecies  brettwalker  mamoruhosoda  technosolutionism  2015  normalization  homogenization  willimcronon  siliconvalley  iot  internetofthings 
june 2015 by robertogreco
'Care for Our Common Home': Taking Up the Moral Challenge of Pope Francis – Blog – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
"The normalisation of liberal individualism and the unsustainable form of prosperity on which the West has so long relied are, of course, the crowning achievements of what Luigino Bruni calls the "grand 'immunizing' project of modernity." But this project did not simply clear away the tyranny of inherited privilege, thereby returning individuals to themselves and their own acquisitive desires. Instead, this immunity from our obligations to others - what John Rawls more prosaically called the "mutual disinterest" constitutive of the social contract - involved the radical renunciation of the munus: that obliging gift which forms the basis of the social bond that is at the heart of communitas.

In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II captured the essence of this gift in a simple, wondrous sentence: "God entrusts us to one another." Once this munus is renounced, what follows is a hollowed out form of social life, a debased, erstaz community in which, "Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds. Each one wishes to assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends to make his own interests prevail."

(It is worth pointing out in passing that Pope Francis and John Paul II find an unlikely ally in Julian Savulescu, who shares their critique of the failure of liberalism to produce the kind of citizens that are willing make decisions for the good of others, especially when doing so would run counter to self-interest and immediate benefit: "This restraint of self-interest is the very opposite of the unrestrained satisfaction of it made possible by industrialization and its profusion of material goods, which brought liberal democracy into existence. Liberal democracy has so far been a politics of prosperity, and this induces doubt whether it could turn into a politics of parsimony, voluntary restraint, and decreasing welfare." As a result, Savulescu warns, "contemporary liberal democracies are in the danger of being too liberal to last.")

The great achievement of Pope Francis's encyclical is the way it explicitly deepens and extends the scope of that which has been entrusted to us: our shared environment; the wellbeing of those near and far; the wellbeing of future generations. The language of gift and of what is in common pervades the encyclical, and at once condemns the interpersonal and political indifference that has held sway over the "climate change debate" and exposes the inadequacy of purely technocratic solutions to the problem of environmental degradation.

Implicated in the pope's critique of both interpersonal indifference and a kind of technophilic solutionism is the way that social media cultivates a feeling of concern and even ethical responsibility, all the while shielding us from any real commitment to others."



"For Francis, there is simply no substitute for the recovery of a sense of deep moral obligation - of what he calls at the end of the encyclical "generous commitment" - through which we will then joyfully constrain our behaviour and redefine those benefits to which we feel we are entitled. This is particularly clear when Francis addresses the debilitating political problem of how to galvanise public support for an intergenerational problem like climate change. As Stephen Gardiner has examined at considerable length, the problem is not only that the benefits of carbon pollution are enjoyed by the present generation while the deleterious effects (or "costs") are deferred to some future generation; the iterative nature of the problem ensures that "each new generation will face the same incentive structure as soon as it gains the power to decide whether or not to act."

This, it would seem, is the brute reality behind the myth of progress, and a powerful illustration of C.S. Lewis's extraordinarily prescient claim in his 1943 book The Abolition of Man (which is a favourite of Benedict XVI, interestingly enough). Lewis was, of course, fiercely critical of that heroic liberal narrative of the " progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power.""
popefrancis  2015  laudatosi'  morality  christianity  luiginobruni  modernity  capitalism  interdependence  johnrawls  juliansavulescu  popejohnpaulii  scottstephens  normawirzba  clivehamilton  celiadeane-drummond  charlescamosy  michaelstafford  via:anne  religion  climatechange  ecology  economics  technosolutionism  anthropocene  antropocentrism  individualism  generations  internet  relationships  inequality  power  cslewis  progress  technology  stephengardner  interpersonal  indifference  empathy  responsibility  socialmedia  concern  commitment 
june 2015 by robertogreco
more on the "Californian ideology" - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"A brief follow-up to a recent post [http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/05/pynchon-and-californian-ideology.html ] ... Here's an interesting article by Samuel Loncar called "The Vibrant Religious Life of Silicon Valley, and Why It’s Killing the Economy." [http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/the-vibrant-religious-life-of-silicon-valley-and-why-its-killing-the-economy-by-samuel-loncar/ ] A key passage:
The “religion of technology” is not itself new. The late historian David Noble, in his book by that title, traced its origins in a particular strain of Christianity which saw technology as means of reversing the effects of the Fall. What is new, and perhaps alarming, is that the most influential sector of the economy is awash in this sea of faith, and that its ethos in Silicon Valley is particularly unfriendly to human life as the middle classes know it. The general optimism about divinization in Silicon Valley motivates a widespread (though by no means universal) disregard for, and even hostility toward, material culture: you know, things like bodies (which Silva calls “skin bags”) and jobs which involve them.

The very fact that Silicon Valley has incubated this new religious culture unbeknownst to most of the outside world suggests how insulated it is. On the one hand, five minutes spent listening to the CEO of Google or some other tech giant will show you how differently people in Silicon Valley think from the rest of the country — listen carefully and you realize most of them simply assume there will be massive unemployment in the coming decades — and how unselfconscious most are of their differences. On the other hand, listen to mainstream East Coast journalists and intellectuals, and you would think a kind of ho-hum secularism, completely disinterested in becoming gods, is still the uncontested norm among modern elites.

If religion makes a comeback, but this is the religion that comes back....

More on this later, but for now just one brief note about bodies as "skin bags": in the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is captured and branded and used to provide blood transfusions to an ill War Boy named Nux. Nux calls Max "my blood bag." Hey, it's only a body."
alanjacobs  californianideology  samuelloncar  2015  davidnoble  christianity  siliconvalley  technology  technosolutionism  faith  economics 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Audrey Watters Casts a Skeptical Eye on Tech Boosters - The Digital Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"Audrey Watters describes herself as a Cassandra of educational technology, but the comparison is only partially apt.

Like the Greek prophet, Ms. Watters tells people things they often don’t want to hear. Unlike Cassandra, though, her clear-eyed analyses do find an audience. Her Twitter feed has more than 28,000 followers. Her blog, weekly newsletter, and year-end roundups of top tech trends are must-reads for many in higher education and the tech world. She’s in demand as a conference speaker. (She recently published a collection, Monsters of Education Technology, which features 14 of the talks she gave in 2014.)

A self-employed writer, Ms. Watters, 43, speaks with an independent voice. She doesn’t run ads on her site or take money from sponsors. Beholden to no institutions or companies, she’s free to critique them. She supports herself through her writing and speaking and through donations that readers make to her blog, Hack Education.

Animating her work is a conviction that technology needs to be not just used but questioned, its power structures and exclusions challenged, its makers’ narratives not taken for granted. She explained why this matters in a recent talk, "Men (Still) Explain Technology to Me," also posted as an essay on her blog. It’s a tech-infused riff on the phenomenon of "mansplaining" identified by the writer Rebecca Solnit. But Ms. Watters looks beyond gender to explain why the trend is a serious social problem.

"The problem isn’t just that men explain technology to me," she says in the essay. "It isn’t just that a handful of men explain technology to the rest of us. It’s that this explanation tends to foreclose questions we might have about the shape of things."

That matters, she says, "because the tech sector has an increasingly powerful reach in how we live and work and communicate and learn."

Speaking your mind about the powerful, male-dominated tech world can come at a cost, especially if you’re a female commentator. Ms. Watters is no stranger to online harassment. "It’s an issue that’s magnified by the architecture of the technology we use," she says, with platforms like Twitter making it too easy for harassers to do what they do. "It’s been really difficult, and it’s made me rethink a lot of the things about how I work online." She blocks offenders, uses online-security strategies, and calls for anti-harassment policies at conferences and elsewhere. She pushes on.

Ms. Watters brings a rare and necessary skepticism to the omnipresent innovation-and-disruption boosterism that plagues ed tech, says Jim Groom. He’s director of the division of teaching-and-learning technologies at the University of Mary Washington. He calls Ms. Watters "the cultural critic that ed tech has needed for a decade."

"She’s doing a lot of the hard work that a lot of the people in ed tech haven’t," Mr. Groom says. "It’s hard to go up against MOOCs and Silicon Valley."

MOOCs loomed large in Ms. Watters’s 2012 overview of tech trends, which featured a "forgotten history" of the phenomenon’s origins and questioned what kind of future MOOCs would really deliver: "With MOOCs, power might shift to the learner; it’s just as likely that power shifts to the venture capitalists."

Now, in 2015, even as MOOC fever has cooled, she remains skeptical. "Part of the crisis of higher education is that we’ve followed this story that innovation has to come from the private sector," she says. "MOOCs are a great example of that — so much ink spilled over something that’s really not that exciting at all."

Her own eclectic schooling shaped her thinking about education, Ms. Watters says. The child of an American father and an English mother, she went to public school in Wyoming and spent two years in an English boarding school. "It radicalized me in all kinds of ways," she says. "It was very clear to some people there who belonged and who didn’t belong and who had status."

She went to the Johns Hopkins University, dropped out, followed the Grateful Dead, moved home with a child in tow, took traditional and distance-ed courses to earn a B.A. from the University of Wyoming, married an artist, and moved to Oregon in the mid-90s. A job at the University of Oregon led her to graduate school there; she earned a master’s degree in folklore and was working on a dissertation in comparative literature when her husband died of cancer. The lack of support she and her family received from the campus community, she says, along with her sense that higher education in general was mired in bureaucracy and politics, contributed to her decision to quit graduate school.

Ms. Watters, who considers herself a recovering academic, brings the intellectual rigor of a highly trained cultural critic to her work now. She’s completing a book project called "Teaching Machines," a history of learning technologies and a corrective to the ahistorical narrative that now prevails. (The title comes from B.F. Skinner’s attempts, in the 1950s, to create a system of machine-enabled, programmed-learning classrooms.)

"It’s partially a response to what I feel is a dominant ideology out of Silicon Valley — that the past is irrelevant, somehow decadent and useless and needs to be swept aside, and the future is all that matters," she says. "I’ve been struck by how many people in ed tech speak as though the day they decided to do a start-up was the day ed tech began."

Another book project, "Reclaim Your Domain," focuses on more of Ms. Watters’s urgent concerns: data privacy and users’ control (or lack thereof) over the content they create, whether they’re students enrolled in a class, faculty members teaching and publishing online, or tech-using members of the general public.

Tech boosters argue that data collection can deliver a better learning experience as well as deter terrorism and solve health-care problems.

But Ms. Watters points out that too often users don’t know what’s at risk or aren’t given a choice about whether to share their data. For instance, universities need to make sure they’re not signing away the intellectual property of students and faculty members who use a learning-management system, she says. And what happens to users’ data when a start-up folds or gets bought?

"There are lots of places where the battle has to be fought," Ms. Watters says. "The stakes feel pretty high to me right now.""
audreywatters  2015  awesomepeople  edtech  technology  education  policy  independence  independents  criticism  criticalthinking  cassandras  truth  honesty  journalism  power  mansplaining  society  jimgroom  skepticism  mooc  moocs  radicals  culturalcriticism  siliconvalley  technosolutionism 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Ed-Tech's Inequalities
"“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” you’ll often hear politicians and education reform types say.



"To the contrary, I maintain that civil rights remain the civil rights issue of our generation. When we see, for example, the Supreme Court overturn part of the Voting Rights Act, when we see rampant police violence against marginalized groups, when we see backlash against affirmative action and against Title IX protections, when we see pervasive discrimination – institutionalized – in people’s daily lives, when we see widespread inequalities – socioeconomic stratification based on race, ethnicity, gender, geography – we need to admit: there are things that, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, the “education gospel cannot fix.”

And yet the dominant narrative – the gospel, if you will – about education and, increasingly education technology, is that it absolutely is “the fix.”

Education technology will close the achievement gap; education technology will close the opportunity gap. Education technology will revolutionize; education technology will democratize. Or so we are told. That's the big message at this week's ASU-GSV Summit, where education technology investors and entrepreneurs and politicians have gathered (registration: $2995) to talk about "equity." (Equity and civil rights, that is; not equity as investing in exchange for stock options and a seat on the Board of Directors, I should be clear. Although I'm guessing most of the conversations there were actually about the latter.)



"The rhetoric of “open” and education technology – particularly with regards to MOOCs and OER – needs to be interrogated. “Open access” is not sufficient. Indeed, as research by Justin Reich suggests – he’s also one of the authors of the MOOC study I just cited, incidentally – open educational resources might actually expand educational inequalities. A digital Matthew effect, if you will, where new technologies actually extend the advantages of the already advantaged.

In his research on OER, Reich looked at schools’ uses of wikis – some 180,000 wikis – and measured the opportunities that these provide students “to develop 21st-century skills such as expert thinking, complex communication, and new media literacy.” Among the findings: “Wikis created in schools serving low-income students have fewer opportunities for 21st-century skill development and shorter lifetimes than wikis from schools serving affluent students.” Reich found that students in more affluent schools were more likely to use wikis to collaborate and to build portfolios and presentations to showcase their work, for example.

Reich’s assertion that education technology broadens rather than erases educational inequality is echoed elsewhere. An article published last year in the journal Economic Inquiry, for example, found that “the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest, but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores.” Importantly, the negative impact was the greatest among low income students, in part the authors suggested because “student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” That is, students from affluent homes have a different sort of digital literacy and different expectations – themselves and from their parents – about what a computer is for."



"Anyon’s work is critical as it highlights how students’ relationship to “the system of ownership of symbolic and physical capital, to authority and control, and to their own productive activity” are developed differently in working class, middle class, and elite schools. Her work helps us to see too how the traditional practices of school might be reinforced, re-inscribed by technology – not, as some like to argue, magically disrupted, with these hierarchies magically flattened. Menial tasks are still menial if done on a computer. To argue otherwise is ed-tech solutionism – dangerous and wrong.

That’s not to say that education technology changes nothing, or changes little more than moving the analog to the digital. There are profoundly important questions we must ask about the shifts that education technology might bring about, particularly if we have our eye towards justice. How does education technology alter the notion of “work” in school, for example – students’ labor as well as teachers’ labor? Who owns all the content and data that students create when using educational technology? How do technology companies use this data to build their algorithms; how do they use it to build profiles and models? How do they use it to monitor, assess, predict, surveil? Who is surveilled; and who is more apt to be disciplined for what’s uncovered?

If we’re only concerned about the digital divide, we are likely to overlook these questions. We cannot simply ask “Who has access to Internet-connected devices at home?” We need to ask how Internet-connected devices are used – at home and at school?"



"This surveillance is increasingly pervasive, at both the K–12 and at the college level. New education technologies create more data; new education technology regimes – education policy regimes – demand more data."



"The architecture of education technology is not neutral.

Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies are supposed to provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old."



"Education technology simply does not confront systemic inequalities. Or rather, it often substitutes access to a computing device or high speed Internet for institutional or structural change. Education technology routinely fails to address power or privilege. It fails to recognize, let alone examine, its history. It insists instead on stories about meritocracy and magic and claims about “blindness.”

I want to end here on what is a bit of a tangent, I suppose, about blindness – the things in technology we refuse to see.

This is a picture from Baotou in Inner Mongolia. Tim Maughan published a story last week on the BBC website about this artificial lake “filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge” – the toxic result of mining rare earth minerals, used in our modern computing devices, many of which are assembled – at least in part – in China.

That means this toxic lake is a byproduct of education technology. It grows as our fervor for new devices grows. Can we really say we’re architecting an equitable educational future if we ignore this foundation?

This is the great challenge for those of us in education: to address and not dismiss the toxicity. Adding technology does not scrub it away. To the contrary, we need to recognize where and how and why education technology actually makes things worse."
audreywatters  education  edtech  2015  technology  inequality  equity  mooc  moocs  anantagarwal  edx  dabanks  meritocracy  privilege  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  evgenymorozov  suveillance  natashasinger  pearson  aclu  eff  rocketshipschools  seymourpapert  carpediemschools  arneduncan  civilrights  justinreich  jeananyon  solutionism  charterschools 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Edutopia | Jacobin
[Too much to quote (still tried and exceeded Pinboard's visible space) so go read the whole thing.]

"Education is not a design problem with a technical solution. It’s a social and political project neoliberals want to innovate away."



"Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO and a regular at Davos and TED talks, has described design thinking as a way to inject “local, collaborative, participatory” planning into the development of products, organizational processes, and now schools.

Design Thinking for Educators is full of strikingly drawn graphic organizers and questions like, “How might we create a twenty-first century learning experience at school?” with single paragraph answers. “Responsibility” is used three times in the text, always in reference to teachers’ need to brainstorm fixes for problems together and develop “an evolved perspective.” (The word “funding” is not used at all — nor is the word “demand.”)

We’re told faculty at one school embarked on a “design journey” and came to an approach they call “Investigative Learning,” which addresses students “not as receivers of information, but as shapers of knowledge,” without further detail on how exactly this was accomplished.

Of course, the idea of engaging students as experienced co-teachers in their own education isn’t novel, nor is it an innovation that sprang forth from a single group of teachers using graphic organizers to brainstorm and chart solutions.

Marxist educator Paulo Freire developed his critique of the “banking model” of education — in which students’ minds are regarded as passive receptacles for teachers to toss facts into like coins — while teaching poor Brazilian adults how to read in the 1960s and ’70s. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed helped reignite the progressive education movement during that era, and his collaborative approach to learning remains influential in American schools of education today.

Peter McLaren, who taught elementary and middle school in a public housing complex for five years before becoming a professor of education, has since further developed Freire’s ideas into an extensive body of revolutionary critical pedagogy, which I was assigned in my first class as a master’s student in education. The Radical Math project, launched a decade ago by a Brooklyn high school teacher whose school was located within a thousand feet of a toxic waste facility, draws heavily on Freire’s perspective in its curriculum for integrating social and economic justice into mathematics.

Yet, here we are, a “nation at risk,” with lower test scores than our international peers and children still arriving at school every day without breakfast.

Like all modern managerial philosophies that stake their name on innovation, “design thinking” has been framed by creative-class acolytes as a new way to solve old, persistent challenges — but its ideas are not actually new.

According to Tim Brown, design thinkers start with human need and move on to learning by making, “instead of thinking about what to build, building in order to think.” Their prototypes, he says, “speed up the process of innovation, because it is only when we put our ideas out into the world that we really start to understand their strengths and weakness. And the faster we do that, the faster our ideas evolve.”

What design thinking ultimately offers is not evolution, but the look and feel of progress — great graphics, aesthetically interesting configurations of furniture and space — paired with the familiar, gratifying illusion of efficiency. If structural and institutional problems can be solved through nothing more than brainstorming, then it’s possible for macro-level inputs (textbooks, teacher salaries) to remain the same, while outputs (test scores, customer service) improve. From the perspective of capitalism, this is the only alchemy that matters.

Design Thinking for Educators urges teachers to be optimistic without saying why, and to simply believe the future will be better. The toolkit instructs teachers to have an “abundance mentality,” as if problem-solving is a habit of mind. “Why not start with ‘What if?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong?’” they ask.

There are many reasons to start with “What’s wrong?” That question is, after all, the basis of critical thought. Belief in a better future feels wonderful if you can swing it, but it is passive, irrelevant, and inert without analysis about how to get there. The only people who benefit from the “build now, think later” strategy are those who are empowered by the social relations of the present.

The same people benefit when analysis is abandoned in favor of technical solutions — when the long history of education for liberation, from Freire to the SNCC Freedom Schools to Black Panther schools to today’s Radical Math and Algebra projects (none of them perfect, all of them instructive) is ignored."



"IDEO puts forth the fact that Innova students perform higher than the [Peruvian] national average on math and communication tests as proof that they’ve delivered on their mantra for the project: “affordability, scalability, excellence.”

But if test scores are higher than those of public schools, it is not because of the soul-searching of teacher/designers. It’s because tuition is about a quarter of the national median income. After all, a consistent pattern in the educational research of the past half-century is that the socioeconomic status of a child’s parents is one of the strongest predictors of his or her academic success."



"Design thinking, embraced by key figures in business and especially in the tech industry, insists that educators adopt a perpetually optimistic attitude because that is what it takes to believe everything will turn out okay if we just work together to streamline our efforts. That is what it takes to believe that the best idea is the one that survives group discussion and is adopted. The rabid optimism of the techno-utopian vernacular, with its metaphors that no longer register as metaphors, obscures the market imperatives behind the industry’s vision for the future.

This is intentional. Conflating the future with unambiguous, universal progress puts us all on equal footing. Participating as a citizen in this framework consists of donating your dollar, tweeting your support, wearing your wristband, vowing not to be complacent.

Critiquing the solution only impedes the eventual discovery of the solution. And why make demands for power if you yourself are empowered? Empowerment, as Duncan uses it, is a euphemism. Anger is empowering, frustration is empowering, critique is empowering. Competence is not empowering.

The fact is, education is not a design problem with a technical solution. It is nothing like building a spaceship. It is a social and political project that the neoliberal imagination insists on innovating out of existence. The most significant challenges faced today in education are not natural obstacles to be overcome by increasing productivity — they are man-made struggles over how resources are allocated."



"The United States is one of just three OECD countries, along with Israel and Turkey, where schools that serve rich families have better resources and more funding than schools that serve poor families. The other thirty-four countries included in the index either provide equal funding for all students or spend a disproportionate amount of money on students from low-income families.

In a country where the top 20 percent of the population earns eight times as much as the bottom 20 percent, this inevitably leads to two distinct and parallel systems of education, one for the rich and one for the poor. It’s not that “money doesn’t matter” for reforming the education system, or that technology can be a substitute, but that children from working-class and poor families score lower on standardized test scores than their wealthy peers — and America has many more poor families than rich."



"One example of the importance of this kind of flexible and evolving practice — especially for children from low-income families — comes from Lisa Delpit, educator and author of Other People’s Children. In talks, Delpit uses a situation she witnessed in a preschool in which a teacher handed out a tray of candy and instructed children to each take a piece and pass on the tray. Some of the children took multiple pieces, and there was not enough to go around.

A teacher evaluating the children without interpreting the context, like a machine, would conclude that the children did not successfully complete the task and need more practice in sharing. In fact, after asking why the children took extra pieces, the human teacher found that they were simply engaging in a different kind of creative economy, saving up a couple of pieces to take home to siblings later.

I suspect the innovation Gates is investing in is not a technological one, but a managerial one. The only truly novel thing Sal Khan has done is produce a cheap and popular way to distribute basic lectures and exercises to a large number of people who like them."



"The firing and disciplining of teachers is also an ideological choice: teachers threaten the ruling class. Though they are atomized as workers into separate classrooms and competing districts, teachers are, as Beverly Silver puts it, strategically located in the social division of labor. If they don’t go to work, no one can — or at least, no one with children to look after. As caretakers, teachers are by definition important and trusted community figures, public care workers who can shut down private production.

In the United States, where the vast majority of families continue to rate their own child’s teacher highly, even while believing the political mantra that the nation’s education system is rapidly deteriorating — unique job protections like tenure serve to further strengthen teachers’ capacity to resist … [more]
meganerickson  2015  whigpunk  education  designthinking  timbrown  ideo  policy  canon  paulofreire  oppression  capitalism  inequality  management  petermclaren  salkhan  khanacademy  billgates  gatesfoundation  arneduncan  politics  economics  edwardthorndike  history  bfskinner  psychology  control  power  technosolutionism  progress  technology  edtech  funding  money  priorities  optimism  empowerment  distraction  markets  lisadelpit  otherpeople'schildren  hourofcode  waldorfschools  siliconvalley  schooling  us  democracy  criticalthinking  resistance  criticalpedagogy  pedagogy  howweteach  howwelearn  efficiency  rote  totelearning  habitsofmind  pedagogyoftheopressed  anationatrisk  rotelearning  salmankhan 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Morality and the Idea of Progress in Silicon Valley | Berkeley Journal of Sociology
"Silicon Valley’s amorality problem arises from the blind faith many place in progress. The narrative of progress provides moral cover to the tech industry and lulls people into thinking they no longer need to exercise moral judgment."



"The progress narrative has a strong hold on Silicon Valley for business and cultural reasons. The idea that technology will bring about a better world for everyone can be traced back to the Enlightenment aspiration to “master all things by calculation” in the words of Max Weber.[3] The successes of science and technology give rise to a faith among some that rationality itself tends to be a force for good.[4] This faith makes business easier because companies can claim to be contributing to progress while skirting the moral views of the various groups affected by their products and services. Most investors would rather not see their firms get mired in the fraught issue of defining what is morally better according to various groups; they prefer objective benefits, measured via return on investment (ROI) or other metrics. Yet, the fact that business goals and cultural sentiments go hand in hand so well ought to give us pause.

The idea of progress is popular because it ends up negating itself, and as a result, makes almost no demands upon us. In Silicon Valley, progress gets us thinking about objectively better, which suggests that we come up with some rational way to define better (e.g., ROI). But the only way to say that something is better in the sense we associate with progress is to first ask whether it is moral. Morality is inherently subjective and a-rational. Suggesting that a technology represents progress in any meaningful, moral sense would require understanding the values of the people affected by the technology. Few businesses and investors would be willing to claim they contributed to progress if held to account by this standard. If people are concerned with assessing whether specific technologies are helpful or harmful in a moral sense, they should abandon the progress narrative. Progress, as we think of it, invites us to cannibalize our initial moral aspirations with rationality, thus leaving us out of touch with moral intuitions. It leads us to rely on efficiency as a proxy for morality and makes moral discourse seem superfluous."



"We would like progress to be defined in moral terms. Yet, because not everyone shares the same morals, businesses and governments try to redefine progress in objective terms. Because we fear charges of subjectivity, we look to rational means and rational measures for pursuing objective goals. Besides, moral goals would, in many cases, make it impossible to serve everyone (to “scale,” in the local parlance). As a result, we take a technocrat’s approach to progress: we try to define it in objective terms and pursue it through rational means.[9] Yet, the only criteria we have for better (i.e., progress) are informed by subjective, moral intuitions. How we might define and measure better, even in an economic sense (e.g., cost-of-living adjusted income or reduced income disparity), is informed by moral intuitions. If we deny the importance of these moral intuitions, we cannot say much, if anything, about whether something is good or bad.[10] In our culture, progress is self-negating because we define and pursue progress solely in objective, rational terms, thus ignoring our inherently subjective moral intuitions and allowing them to atrophy. It is a classic story of the means overtaking the ends."



"There are alternatives to the progress narrative for making work in technology meaningful. Many people find meaning in their work through a narrative about making a contribution. Rather than thinking about contribution in a historic sense (i.e., progress), contribution can be thought in terms of specific groups of people.[13] People in many fields—teachers, cooks, doctors, among others—find meaning in their work through making a contribution to specific people. In tech, some might define the affected group more broadly, for example, programmers who rely on a software development tool, the users of a word processor, or the people who enjoy a particular game. The point is that knowing who will be affected by our work keeps us honest in terms of what we think is a contribution.

There is a second benefit to thinking of contribution in terms of specific people or groups rather than human progress generally. Knowing a group through individuals rather than via market segments prevents professionals from inadvertently imposing one set of values on groups with disparate values. In other words, thinking about contributions in terms of specific groups encourages understanding the people within those groups.[14] Many of the complaints about Silicon Valley’s service and social media tools focus on the fact that they reflect the concerns and interests of privileged young urbanites. Tools developed with the idea of contributing to specific groups would do less to encourage convergence of views about what constitutes the “good life.”[15]

None of this is to say that there are no do-gooders in tech. There are people who have a clear idea of how the technologies they are developing will serve specific groups – whether pursuing social justice in the United States or for providing better medical care in poorer nations. The morality of these causes does not stem from their association with progress – it flows from the desire to bring about real benefits that real people affected would say are good. Although it would be ideal if everyone could pursue such causes, that day is a long way off.

That does not leave everyone else off the hook. Everyone can, at a minimum, ask whether they are doing more harm than good. The trouble in Silicon Valley is that many talented, highly educated young people seem relatively unconcerned with the potential for harm. To be more aware of not harming people, much less helping them, we need to cultivate moral intuitions by discussing the consequences of our work for specific people.[16] The search for solidarity with specific people, not some objectively better moment in human history, keeps us exercising our moral intuitions."
siliconvalley  morality  business  progress  ericagiannella  technology  technosolutionism  mexweber  capitalism  economics  rationality 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Hack Education Weekly Newsletter, No. 101
"Every week, I take all the essays and articles that I’ve bookmarked and sift through them in order to craft this newsletter. I’m always struck by how many weird and ridiculous claims are made about education and technology, both in the “mainstream” and industry press. (I don’t know why this continues to surprise me, and the right response, quite arguably, is to neither link to nor write for [http://www.jessestommel.com/blog/files/dear-chronicle.html ] these publications…)

There’s the continuous clarion call for more data collection, more automation, more engineering, more scientific management, and of course more disruptive innovation. These are the narratives loudly trying to shape the future.
Of course, these narratives are intertwined with power and policies. As Alan Jacobs notes [http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/surveillance-and-care/ ], we confuse surveillance with care. We confuse surveillance with self-knowledge, Rob Horning adds [http://robhorningtni.tumblr.com/post/112618248845/your-permanent-record ]:
I don’t think self-knowledge can be reduced to matters of data possession and retention; it can’t be represented as a substance than someone can have more or less of. Self-knowledge is not a matter of having the most thorough archive of your deeds and the intentions behind them. It is not a quality of memories, or an amount of data. It is not a terrain to which you are entitled to own the most detailed map. Self-knowledge is not a matter of reading your own permanent record.

We confuse individuals’ acts of (self-)documentation with structural change and justice. We confuse the “sharing economy” for the latter as well. According to Evgeny Morozov:
The citizens, who are not yet fully aware of these dilemmas, might eventually realise that the actual choice we are facing today is not between the market and the state, but between politics and non-politics. It’s a choice between a system bereft of any institutional and political imagination – where some permutation of hackers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists is the default answer to every social problem – and a system, where explicitly political solutions that might question who – citizens, firms, the state – ought to own what, and on what terms, are still part of the conversation.

It doesn’t help that so many of these narratives comes from “a town without history,” as Mike Caulfield observes in “People Have the Star Trek Computer Backwards.”

[See also: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:450933ec9018 ]
audreywatters  alanjacobs  robhorning  evgenymorozov  2015  surveillance  care  education  edtech  mikecaulfield  data  datacollection  management  scientificmanagement  self-knowledge  caring  permanentrecords  permanentrecord  records  justice  socialhustice  hierarchy  patriarchy  siliconvalley  edreform  technosolutionism  politics  policy  control  power  citizenship  civics  legibility  documentation  assessment  accountability  sharingeconomy  jessestommel  innovation  disruption  disruptiveinnovation 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Ursula K. Le Guin, Keynote 5/8/14 on Vimeo
[Starting at 7:00]

“My little talk is called “Deep in Admiration.” This conference is going to be thinking about how to think outside the mindset that sees the techno fix as the answer to all problems. Just this week, I heard a poet say that the essence of modern high technology is to consider the world as disposable: use it and throw it away. Well, we know that we don't need more infantile new technologies that demand throwing away all the old ones every Tuesday. We need adult rational technologies, old and new: pottery making, bricklaying, sewing, carpentry, solar power, sustainable farming. But after our long orgy of being lords of creation and texting as we drive, it's hard to stop looking for the next technofix. We have got to change our minds. To use the world well, we need to relearn our being in it, renew our awareness of belonging to the world. How do we go about it? That awareness seems always to have involved knowing our kinship as animals with animals. Darwin gave that knowledge a scientific basis and now both poets and scientists are extending our awareness of our relationship to creatures without nervous systems and to non-living beings, our fellowship as things with other things. Relationship among all things seems to be complex and reciprocal. It's always at least two way, back-and-forth. It seems as if nothing is single in this universe and nothing goes one way. In this view, humans appear as particularly lively, intense, aware nodes of relation in an infinite network of connections, simple or complicated, direct or hidden, strong or delicate, temporary or very long lasting, a web of connections infinite, but locally fragile, with and among everything, all beings, including what we generally class as things, objects.

Decartes and the behaviorists willfully saw dogs as machines without feeling. Is seeing plants without feeling a similar arrogance? We don't know. But one way to stop seeing trees or rivers or hills only as natural resources is to class them as fellow beings, kinfolk. I guess what I'm trying to do is subjectify the universe because look where objectifying it has got us. To subjectify is not to co-opt and colonize and exploit. Rather, if it's done honestly, it involves a great reach outward of the mind and the imagination. What tools do we have to help us make such a reach? Mary Jacobus, in a book called Romantic Things, wrote, “The regulated speech of poetry may be as close as we can get to such things, to the stilled voice of the inanimate object or the insentient standing of trees.” Poetry is the human language that can try to say what a tree or a rock or a river is, that is to speak humanly for it in both senses of the word for. A poem can do so by relating the quality of an individual relationship to a thing, a rock, a river, a tree, the relationship to or simply by describing the thing as truthfully as possible. Science describes accurately from outside and poetry describes accurately from inside, you could say. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need the language of both science and poetry to save us from ignorant irresponsibility.”

[via: https://twitter.com/steelemaley/status/560283083430445057
"“To use the world well we need to relearn our being in it” -Le Guin http://vimeo.com/97364872 "]

[See also: “ARTS OF LIVING ON A DAMAGED PLANET”
http://anthropocene.au.dk/arts-of-living-on-a-damaged-planet/
https://vimeo.com/artsofliving

“Ursula K. Le Guin: Panel Discussion with Donna Haraway and James Clifford, 5/8/14”
https://vimeo.com/98270808

“Donna Haraway, "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble", 5/9/14”
https://vimeo.com/97663518

“Inhabiting Multispecies Bodies: Panel Discussion with Donna Haraway, Margaret McFall-Ngai, and Jenny Reardon, 5/9/14”
https://vimeo.com/97663316

“On Damaged Landscapes: Panel Discussion with Kate Brown, Deborah Bird Rose, Eric Porter and William Cronon, 5/9/14”
https://vimeo.com/97852132

“Jens-Christian Svenning, "Future Megafaunas: A Historical Perspective on the Scope for a Wilder Anthropocene," 5/9/14”
https://vimeo.com/98751434 ]
ursulaleguin  plants  animals  art  2014  technosolutionism  via:steelemaley  things  objects  interconnectedness  interdependence  networks  systemsthinking  technology  jens-christiansvenning  donnaharaway  anthropocene  margaretmcfall-ngai  jennyreardon  katebrown  deborabirdrose  ericporter  williamcronon  jamesclifford  multispecies  objectification  subjectification  fellowahip  kinship  poetry  science  religion  morality  compassion  henryvaughn  maryjacobus  nature  humans  humanism  responsibility  environment  universe  interconnected  interconnectivity 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The Good Life is a fiction — Medium
"We offload physical effort onto our technologies, but are hence increasingly obliged to engage in other forms of labour in order to sustain the infrastuctures on which those technologies depend; the increasing interdependencies of infrastructure act as multipliers of technological effectiveness, but as they do so they push us further out onto the brittle, skinny branches of the technological path-dependency tree."

For example: to run a tractor, you need diesel, which in turn requires the entire Byzantine global supply chain of the petrochemical industry (not to mention the global military-industrial complex with which it is locked in a seemingly inextricable symbiotic embrace); the electronic components in the tractor’s GPS required small but crucial quantities of the increasingly well-named rare earth metals, plus copper, aluminium, and a whole bunch of other interestingly toxic or inaccessible things; ideas, materials and various forms of energy are collected, processed, distributed and harnessed in countless complex and unseen ways before you can observe them manifest as a tractor ploughing a field. So if you’re really going back to the land, you can’t use any of that stuff, because in doing so you are extending your footprint far beyond your little croft. Perhaps you can find a local blacksmith with whom to barter for some basic tools — but where did he get those pigs of iron from, hmm? Whence came the hardwood of the handles, the coal that fuels the forge? How was it gathered, transported?

The problem here is infrastructure — or, more accurately, the illegibility thereof. I’ve unpacked this idea at greater length already, but for now it suffices to say that infrastructure is as old as argriculture, perhaps even as old as civilisation itself, and as such is one of the great unquestioned assumptions of our lives. You can perform an analysis much like the one I just performed on the tractor on pretty much anything and everything you touch and see in your everyday life — and I recommend you do so, even if just as an occasional exercise, because you will be equipping yourself with a pragmatic wisdom for the troubled years to come. It’s the antidote to Milton Friedman’s libertopian magical thinking about pencils: the market thinks about resources, capital and labour so you don’t have to!

The market makes infrastructure illegible, because everyone’s a sucker for a good magic trick, and who wants to think about where pencils come from?

In order for you to not need to know where pencils come from, many hundreds or thousands of people — hell, maybe even more — have to know a very great deal about where pencils come from. You pay the market price for a pencil because that is the cost of the pencil being Someone Else’s Problem.

But the infrastructural gotcha doesn’t just restrict you from using labour-saving devices; agriculture is even more deeply tied into global supply chains and economic flows than that. Centuries of selective breeding and, more recently, genetic engineering, have produced seed stock for growing plants that resist pests, that yield more or better fruits or seeds, that grow taller and stronger and more tightly, more times per year. But those breeds may be dependent on fertilisers, which are a product of the international chemical industry; they may require more water per hectare than is available in the immediate area, and which must be piped from elsewhere; they may need to be grown in specialist greenhouses with energy-hungry climate control systems, or to be shipped to an optimal market via one or more transport infratructures; they may require chilling or freezing before they make it to the consumer’s household, where they may require further chilling or freezing. In short, the agricultural yield of a plot of land is amplified hugely by the technological multipliers of global infrastructure; remove the influence of that infrastructure, and the yield drops spectacularly, to a point where there is nowhere near enough arable land on the surface of this planet to feed all the people currently living on it.

This is why we can’t go backwards, any more than we can keep running blindly forwards.

To detechnologise and deurbanise the human species and return to its mythological and romanticised agrarian roots, it would be necessary for the vast majority of the human species to die in a very short period of time. Ironically enough, this may well be exactly what comes to pass if we cannot solve the existential crises which solutionism and hairshirt primitivism alike both claim to and fail to address. Over-optimised and hyper-cybernetic systems running at capacity are prone to sudden phase changes and cascading chain-reaction failures; if solutionism simply kicks that can a bit further down the road, then primitivism chooses to pretend it never drank anything that came from a can. Both positions suffer from the same terminal lack of reflexivity that eats like a cancer at the heart of contemporary political discourse: a desperate denialist refusal to consider the wider context from which these problems have emerged."



"If I was to sum up what the Viridian Movement meant to me in practical terms, I’d say it taught me that the answer to bad technology is neither more technology or no technology, but better technology.

More technology is our current solutionist paradigm: if cars pollute, then we’ll make electric cars that displace the pollution somewhere we can’t see it; if cars kill people and clog cities, then we’ll add expert systems and automation to them, so that the roads can handle even more traffic than ever before. More technology has been our approach since the industrial revolution; it’s the approach that has bequeathed us rising global temperatures, psychotic emergent behaviours in stock markets, increasing alienation from our labour, from our world, from each other.

But no technology is pure reactionism, a refusal to acknowledge technology’s role in making your life something other than three score years and change of relentless, thankless labour. No technology is the cry of those who are, unwittingly, more dependent upon technology than anyone else; it is not a cry you will hear in squats, townships and refugee camps, but in leafy suburbs and expensively pristine tourist destinations. No technology is the cry of unchecked privilege, of bleeding-heart middle-class liberalism, of sublimated Puritan guilt manifesting as Protestant condescension, of ignorance mistaking itself for concern.

And better technology?

The first step toward better technology is to make a clear distinction between better technology and more technology.

The second is to realise that better technology doesn’t necessarily mean thinking about what a technology does or how it does it, but about why you wanted the technology in the first place, and what you definitely don’t want it to do; to start and finish every design or strategy by resituating it in its contexts, local and global alike.

The third step toward better technology is to realise that all technologies are effectively hyperspecialised extensions of our infrastructures; to not further obscure and occlude the supply chains and networks in which our lives are embedded, but to expose them, celebrate them, admire and fear and reimagine them; to recognise the role of infrastructure as the sole mediator between our species and the environment which both sustains and threatens us, and as the ultimate arbiter of our civilisational futurity.

The way out is through."
2013  paulgrahamraven  viridianmovement  technology  primitivism  solutionism  technosolutionism  reactionism  rural  urban  infrastructure  future  sustainability  climatechange  efficiency  systemsthinking  agriculture  behavior  complexity  simplicity 
november 2014 by robertogreco
The Myth of Magical Futures — Kate Losse
"Despite its (now frequently mocked) claims to meritocracy, Silicon Valley loves its hierarchies. However, because these hierarchies often look somewhat different than old-time corporate ones, they are often opaque to outsiders looking in. My book The Boy Kings is among other things a diagram of hierarchy as it was architected at Facebook in Facebook’s early years, where the closer one was to a Mark-Zuckerberg-when-he-started-Facebook combination of age, race, and gender qualities the higher one was in the hierarchy (a hierarchy that appears not to have changed much given the industry's recently released diversity data). In the past year tech's particular version of hierarchy has been more widely acknowledged and critiqued, and thus we are now in the situation where people as powerful as Peter Thiel are being asked to comment on tech’s diversity and misogyny problems, as in yesterday’s Reddit Ask Me Anything interview with Thiel.

Peter Thiel’s answer to misogyny in tech was that we need more women founders, and this answer struck me as interesting on a number of levels, and also somewhat opaque to someone looking into this world from outside. Why women founders? On the one hand, the possibility that a woman founder would construct the hierarchy at her company differently than Mark Zuckerberg is compelling. On the other, the idea of women founders as a solution to tech misogyny also makes existing male founders and investors unaccountable for misogyny as it exists today. Thiel is saying that he and his funded companies are not responsible for the misogynist environments they themselves have built, and furthermore, that they can’t fix them-- only a woman founder can.

This is a problem, because the misogynist hierarchies that exist in tech today are not mystical outcomes, but very real products of the values of the people involved at the formation of a company, which are investors and founders. Investors and board members in addition to founders influence everything from how much equity goes to individual employees, to perks and play budgets (which often are not evenly distributed across the company), to the construction of departments, their relative importance, and the resources accordingly allocated to them. And not coincidentally the privileged departments, on this model, tend to be those occupied by people who look most like the founder and investors (at Facebook this was product engineering, which dominated other forms of engineering, which dominated non-engineering departments, which tended to have the largest degree of race and gender diversity).

But when Thiel is arguing for more women founders he isn’t just deflecting responsibility from himself and his fellow investors. He is also doing something else that I want to unpack: he is re-inscribing a form of hierarchical thinking that is part of the reason tech is such a mess regarding diversity. That is, when Thiel points to “more women founders” as a solution, he is asking women to become founders in order to possess a status that would allow Thiel to acknowledge women in tech at all. That is, all of the women who are currently working in tech, up and down the employee stack, many at companies that Thiel may be invested in, do not seem in Thiel’s formulation to really exist to him. They do not have a seat at the table. They are not acknowledged as agents of change, or as subjects of discrimination (for example, in the AMA, Thiel cited the Bay Area “housing crisis” as a worse problem than sexism in tech, not knowing that the housing crisis disproportionately affects women and people of color because of the wage discrimination marginalized people face at work).

That is, according to Thiel’s “women founders” logic, he can only imagine women as agents/subjects if they are the founder of a company. And this, in the end, is exactly why and how tech is such a diversity disaster: because there are so many ways powerful people in the industry have of ignoring that marginalized people are working at their companies and are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination right now. This is why many powerful people in tech can only conceive moves to “change” the industry in terms of magical futures like “more women founders” or “getting young girls to code”. The women working in the industry right now are being written off in favor of these magical futures, and as long as this is the case, the now of tech (whether the now is today or twenty years from today) will be unchanged.

This is why you should be skeptical whenever you see powerful men arguing for magical future outcomes in regard to diversity. Instead, ask what they can do right now to affect discrimination in their companies. For example, what are they doing to rectify across the board pay and equity discrepancies between men and women, or white men and people of color? What do their harassment policies look like? Investors like Peter Thiel directly influence these decisions at startups they fund (even if “influence” means “failing to advise founders to avoid discriminatory practices”, which is a form of influence). So when men like Thiel speak of magical futures, we should always be asking them: what are you doing today?"
katelosse  siliconvalley  sexism  internet  culture  business  women  technosolutionism  peterthiel  gender  californianideology  meritocracy  facebook  markzuckerberg  vc  venturecapital  technology  libertarianism 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Ed-Tech's Monsters #ALTC
[video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kiotl4G6fMw ]

"No doubt, we have witnessed in the last few years an explosion in the ed-tech industry and a growing, a renewed interest in ed-tech. Those here at ALT-C know that ed-tech is not new by any means; but there is this sense from many of its newest proponents (particularly in the States) that ed-tech has no history; there is only now and the future.

Ed-tech now, particularly that which is intertwined with venture capital, is boosted by a powerful forms of storytelling: a disruptive innovation mythology, entrepreneurs' hagiography, design fiction, fantasy.

A fantasy that wants to extend its reach into the material world.

Society has been handed a map, if you will, by the technology industry in which we are shown how these brave ed-tech explorers have and will conquer and carve up virtual and physical space.

Fantasy.

We are warned of the dragons in dangerous places, the unexplored places, the over explored places, the stagnant, the lands of outmoded ideas — all the places where we should no longer venture. 

Hic Sunt Dracones. There be dragons.

Instead, I’d argue, we need to face our dragons. We need to face our monsters. We need to face the giants. They aren’t simply on the margins; they are, in many ways, central to the narrative."



"I’m in the middle of writing a book called Teaching Machines, a cultural history of the science and politics of ed-tech. An anthropology of ed-tech even, a book that looks at knowledge and power and practices, learning and politics and pedagogy. My book explores the push for efficiency and automation in education: “intelligent tutoring systems,” “artificially intelligent textbooks,” “robo-graders,” and “robo-readers.”

This involves, of course, a nod to “the father of computer science” Alan Turing, who worked at Bletchley Park of course, and his profoundly significant question “Can a machine think?”

I want to ask in turn, “Can a machine teach?”

Then too: What will happen to humans when (if) machines do “think"? What will happen to humans when (if) machines “teach”? What will happen to labor and what happens to learning?

And, what exactly do we mean by those verbs, “think” and “teach”? When we see signs of thinking or teaching in machines, what does that really signal? Is it that our machines are becoming more “intelligent,” more human? Or is it that humans are becoming more mechanical?

Rather than speculate about the future, I want to talk a bit about the past."



"To oppose technology or to fear automation, some like The Economist or venture capitalist Marc Andreessen argue, is to misunderstand how the economy works. (I’d suggest perhaps Luddites understand how the economy works quite well, thank you very much, particularly when it comes to questions of “who owns the machinery” we now must work on. And yes, the economy works well for Marc Andreessen, that’s for sure.)"



"But even without machines, Frankenstein is still read as a cautionary tale about science and about technology; and Shelley’s story has left an indelible impression on us. Its references are scattered throughout popular culture and popular discourse. We frequently use part of the title — “Franken” — to invoke a frightening image of scientific experimentation gone wrong. Frankenfood. Frankenfish. The monster, a monstrosity — a technological crime against nature.

It is telling, very telling, that we often confuse the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, with his creation. We often call the monster Frankenstein.

As the sociologist Bruno Latour has argued, we don’t merely mistake the identity of Frankenstein; we also mistake his crime. It "was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology,” writes Latour, "but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself.”

The creature — again, a giant — insists in the novel that he was not born a monster, but he became monstrous after Frankenstein fled the laboratory in horror when the creature opened his “dull yellow eye,” breathed hard, and convulsed to life.

"Remember that I am thy creature,” he says when he confronts Frankenstein, "I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good— misery made me a fiend.”

As Latour observes, "Written at the dawn of the great technological revolutions that would define the 19th and 20th centuries, Frankenstein foresees that the gigantic sins that were to be committed would hide a much greater sin. It is not the case that we have failed to care for Creation, but that we have failed to care for our technological creations. We confuse the monster for its creator and blame our sins against Nature upon our creations. But our sin is not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them. It is as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our children.”

Our “gigantic sin”: we failed to love and care for our technological creations. We must love and educate our children. We must love and care for our machines, lest they become monsters.

Indeed, Frankenstein is also a novel about education. The novel is structured as a series of narratives — Captain Watson’s story — a letter he sends to his sister as he explores the Arctic— which then tells Victor Frankenstein’s story through which we hear the creature tell his own story, along with that of the De Lacey family and the arrival of Safie, “the lovely Arabian." All of these are stories about education: some self-directed learning, some through formal schooling.

While typically Frankenstein is interpreted as a condemnation of science gone awry, the novel can also be read as a condemnation of education gone awry. The novel highlights the dangerous consequences of scientific knowledge, sure, but it also explores how knowledge — gained inadvertently, perhaps, gained surreptitiously, gained without guidance — might be disastrous. Victor Frankenstein, stumbling across the alchemists and then having their work dismissed outright by his father, stoking his curiosity. The creature, learning to speak by watching the De Lacey family, learning to read by watching Safie do the same, his finding and reading Volney's Ruins of Empires and Milton’s Paradise Lost."



"To be clear, my nod to the Luddites or to Frankenstein isn’t about rejecting technology; but it is about rejecting exploitation. It is about rejecting an uncritical and unexamined belief in progress. The problem isn’t that science gives us monsters, it's that we have pretended like it is truth and divorced from responsibility, from love, from politics, from care. The problem isn’t that science gives us monsters, it’s that it does not, despite its insistence, give us “the answer."

And that is problem with ed-tech’s monsters. That is the problem with teaching machines.

In order to automate education, must we see knowledge in a certain way, as certain: atomistic, programmable, deliverable, hierarchical, fixed, measurable, non-negotiable? In order to automate that knowledge, what happens to care?"



"I’ll leave you with one final quotation, from Hannah Arendt who wrote,
"Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

Our task, I believe, is to tell the stories and build the society that would place education technology in that same light: “renewing a common world.”

We in ed-tech must face the monsters we have created, I think. These are the monsters in the technologies of war and surveillance a la Bletchley Park. These are the monsters in the technologies of mass production and standardization. These are the monsters in the technologies of behavior modification a la BF Skinner.

These are the monsters ed-tech must face. And we must all consider what we need to do so that we do not create more of them."
audreywatters  edtech  technology  education  schools  data  monsters  dragons  frankenstein  luddites  luddism  neoluddism  alanturing  thomaspynchon  society  bfskinner  standardization  surveillance  massproduction  labor  hannaharendt  brunolatour  work  kevinkelly  technosolutionism  erikbrynjolfsson  lordbyron  maryshelley  ethics  hierarchy  children  responsibility  love  howwelearn  howweteach  teaching  learning  politics  policy  democracy  exploitation  hierarchies  progress  science  scientism  markets  aynrand  liberarianism  projectpigeon  teachingmachines  personalization  individualization  behavior  behaviorism  economics  capitalism  siliconvalley 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids, my pick for best book of 2009, a novel of clear-eyed hope for the future - Boing Boing
"In The Caryatids, global warming has melted practically every government in the world (except China) -- leaving behind a slurry of refugees, rising seas, and inconceivable misery. But there are two stable monoliths sticking out of the chaos, a pair of "civil society groups" that embody the two major schools of smart green thought today: the Dispensation are Al Gore green capitalists based out of California who understand that glamor and profits, properly aimed, achieve more than any amount of stern determination and chaste conservation; their rivals are the Aquis, mostly European anarcho-techno-geeks who have abandoned money in favor of technologically mediated communal life where giant, powerful, barely controlled machines are deployed to save the refugees and heal the Earth.

The titular Caryatids are the seven clone-sisters of a Balkan war criminal (who is hiding out in orbit in a junk satellite), raised as part of a terrible fin-de-siecle plan to create a cadre of superwoman generals who would lead a militarized guerrilla force after the environmental catastrophe reached scale. Now they are scattered to the winds and divided among the world's superpowers, and the only thing they hate more than their "mother" is each other.

And the story unfolds, taking us on a tour of a 2060 Earth where the worst imaginable things have happened and yet humanity has survived. Is thriving. Not a perfect utopia, but not a tormented post-apocalyptic chaos either. Sterling's future is one in which the human race's best and most important and most deadly machine -- civilization -- survives its own meltdown.

More importantly, the future of The Caryatids is one in which human beings confront the terrible reality that technology favors attackers -- favors those who would disrupt the status quo because it gives them force-multiplier power, and undermines defenders because the complexity of a technological society always creates potential fault-lines that attackers can exploit. And in that society, Sterling's civil society types -- who care about saving the planet, even though they disagree about the best way to do this -- do their damnedest to build stable technological societies. Because in Earth's future -- and in Sterling's -- there's no going back to the land for us. Not because the land is too poisoned, but because billions of charcoal-burning hunter-gatherers are far more hazardous to the planet than a neatly ordered world of cities in which technology is used to minimize our footprints by giving us smarter handprints.

Most importantly, the future of The Caryatids is one in which there is hope. Not naive, wishful thinking hope. Hard-nosed, utterly plausible hope, for a future in which the human race outthinks its worse impulses and survives despite all the odds."
climatechange  brucesterling  hope  future  2009  corydoctorow  technology  technosolutionism  environmentalism  sustainability  novels  globalwarming  disruption  society  civilization  collapse  2060 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Alex Payne — Dear Marc Andreessen
"If we’re gonna throw around Marxist terminology, though, can we at least keep Karl’s ideas intact? Workers prosper when they own the means of production. The factory owner gets rich. The line worker, not so much.

Owning a smartphone is not the equivalent of owning a factory. I paid for my iPhone in full, but Apple owns the software that runs on it, the patents on the hardware inside it, and the exclusive right to the marketplace of applications for it. If I want to participate in their marketplace, Apple can arbitrarily reject my application, extract whatever cut of my sales they see fit, and change the terms whenever they like. Same story with their scant competitors.

It seemed like a lot of people were going to get rich in the “app economy”. Outside of Apple and Google, it turns out, not so much. For every WhatsApp there are thousands of failures.

The real money in tech is in platforms, network effects, scale. Sell pickaxes and jeans to the miners, right? Only today it’s Amazon selling the pickaxes. The startup with its servers on EC2 is about as likely to find gold as a ’49er panhandler. Before the startup goes out of business, Amazon gets paid.

Investors, shrinking in number but growing in wealth and political influence, own the means of digital production. Everyone else is doing shift work and hoping they still have jobs tomorrow.

You spent a lot of paragraphs on back-of-the-napkin economics describing the coming Awesome Robot Future, addressing the hypotheticals. What you left out was the essential question: who owns the robots?"



"Sure, technology that enhances productivity can make products and services cheaper. Emerging technologies can also create demand for things that are inherently expensive – cutting-edge medical procedures and treatments, for example – driving up costs in entire economic sectors.

Unless we collectively choose to pay for a safety net, technology alone isn’t going to make it happen. Though technological progress has sped up over recent decades of capitalist expansion, most people on the planet are in need of a safety net today. The market hasn’t been there to catch them. Why is this different in Awesome Robot Future? Did I miss one of Asimov’s Laws that says androids are always programmed to be more socially-minded than neoliberals?

I appreciate that smart, ambitious people like you are thinking about a future of universal prosperity. You borrow terminology from finance in saying that you’re “way long human creativity”. While I’m creeped out by the commodification of our species’s ingenuity, I appreciate the sentiment. If our industry stops painting anyone who questions our business models as Luddites and finds creative ways to build products and services that sustainably address real needs, maybe we can hold on to the receding myth of triumphal disruption. Hopefully we can agree that there are many more meaningful quality of life improvements technology has yet to deliver on before we can start brainstorming the “luxury goods markets” of the future.

Meanwhile, we don’t need to wait until a hypercapitalist techno-utopia emerges to do right by our struggling neighbors. We could make the choice to pay for universal health care, higher education, and a basic income tomorrow. Instead, you’re kicking the can down the road and hoping the can will turn into a robot with a market solution."
automation  capitalism  economics  inequality  alexpayne  socialsafetynet  2014  marcandreessen  libertarianism  technosolutionism  californianideology  neoliberalism  miltonfriedman  technology  marxism 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Marc Andreessen and the Inevitability of Catastrophic Ideas - The Awl
"It's not false to say that some crumbs perforce will fall from the tables of the rich onto those of the poor. It in no way follows, however, that that is the way bread should be shared."



"Those affiliated with the humanities—who interest themselves in all the things that can’t be measured, but must be judged instead, like moral, aesthetic and philosophical questions—are experiencing a daily low-grade fever of dissatisfaction (or generalized rage, in the case of Sam Biddle) as we are daily sold on the inevitability of catastrophic ideas. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld told a reporter that the OMB had estimated that the Iraq War would cost something less than $50 billion—the total sum, to be shared by the US and its allies. There would be “smart bombs,” plans laid by expert warmongerers, all kinds of precision.
None of this persuaded the people who’d read their history and learned about the politics, who were warning against the likelihood of disaster and of civil war and the emboldening of extremists, and who marched in their millions (many, many millions) in the streets of the world’s capital cities in early 2003. So it rankles in a particular way to see that the true cost of the Iraq War topped $2 trillion not long ago.

What is the study of humanities for? It’s to prevent this. To apply the lessons of history, and consider the possible costs to the future. To consider not only what will profit us but what will be right for us to do, and why. Andreessen, a dyed-in-the-wool measurer and chart-monger if there ever was one, is a man who would never even dream of a just world, where all would sit at the same table. He is the living example of what is lost when we value things only through the money they represent."

[Via http://log.scifihifi.com/post/89088821716/those-affiliated-with-the-humanities-who-interest who adds:

"This is exactly why so much the tech industry’s rhetoric these days makes broadly educated people feel like they’re taking crazy pills. When Marc Andreesen claims, for example, that we’re about to enter a robot utopia where we all paint and compose symphonies in perfect economic harmony (and that any unpleasantness in the intervening period will be smoothed over by a form of trickle down economics that demands nothing of the rich while ensuring that society doesn’t collapse under the weight of crushing economic inequality), it’s hard not to wonder if he knows anything at all about, oh, say, the entire history of humanity. When he attempts to undermine a critic by mocking her liberal arts credentials and pointing out that she surely can’t be as smart as him because she probably knows nothing about real, scienc-ey things like “quantum entanglement,” he only demonstrates that, like so many blinkered, self-proclaimed rationalists in tech, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."]
technosolutionism  disruption  ideology  siliconvalley  californianideology  libertarianism  inequality  humanities  mariabustillos  2014  marcandreessen 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Episode One Hundred: Taking Stock; And The New
"It took a while, but one of the early themes that emerged was that of the Californian Ideology. That phrase has become a sort of short-hand for me to take a critical look at what's coming out of the west coast of the USA (and what that west coast is inspiring in the rest of the world). It's a conflicting experience for me, because I genuinely believe in the power of technology to enhance the human experience and to pull everyone, not just some people, up to a humane standard of living. But there's a particular heady mix that goes into the Ideology: one of libertarianism, of the power of the algorithm and an almost-blind belief in a purity of an algorithm, of the maths that goes into it, of the fact that it's executed in and on a machine substrate that renders the algorithm untouchable. But the algorithms we design reflect our intentions, our beliefs and our predispositions. We're learning so much about how our cognitive architecture functions - how our brains work, the hacks that evolution "installed" in us that are essentially zero-day back-door unpatched vulnerabilties - that I feel like someone does need to be critical about all the ways software is going to eat the world. Because software is undeniably eating the world, and it doesn't need to eat it in a particular way. It can disrupt and obsolete the world, and most certainly will, but one of the questions we should be asking is: to what end? 

This isn't to say that we should ask these questions to impede progress just as a matter of course: just that if we're doing these things anyway, we should also (because we *do* have the ability to) feel able to examine the long term consequences and ask: is this what we want?"
danhon  2014  californianideology  howwethink  brain  algorithms  libertarianism  progress  technology  technosolutionism  ideology  belief  intention 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Marc Andreessen’s Crude and Nuanced Tech Cynicism — Weird Future — Medium
"On Saturday night, serial-tweet-lover Marc Andreessen started a list.

1/Degrees of tech cynicism from crude to nuanced?
https://twitter.com/pmarca/status/447604341591908352

Andreessen ought to know tech cynicism — he’s been around for awhile. Indeed as co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser, his career more or less spans the life of the web as we know it.

2/That can’t possibly work.
https://twitter.com/pmarca/status/447604381764960256

Today, Andreessen is a venture capitalist. He’s half of the name of Andreessen Horowitz, a firm whose holdings represent a range of successful tech start-ups. They put money into Skype, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, and Instagram. They also put money into Groupon and Zynga, but you can win ‘em all (actually, since both companies IPO’d, their stocks falling to 1/3 of peak valuation doesn’t really matter to Andreessen Horowitz — the exit is the win).

In short, Andreessen has seen some shit.

Embedded tweets take up too much space, so I’m gonna go ahead and paste in the rest of his list by hand.

3/Normal people will use it, but it’s trivial. 4/It will never replace [legacy]. 5/It will replace [legacy], which is why the world is going to hell. 6/Yes, fine, but just wait until [big company] does it. 7/Yes, fine, but just wait until [hypothetical better version that doesn’t actually exist] does it. 8/I can’t believe how much money those kids made from that. 9/It’s a clear and obvious bubble. 10/Whatever, innovation is dead.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Marc Andreessen thinks “Whatever, innovation is dead” is the most nuanced form of tech cynicism available.

You know, it happens. Andreessen is a busy man, what with all the innovation and disruption he’s got to fund and then exit from. When your days are that packed, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. If you have to spend all your time immersed in the promise of tech, your cynic muscles can atrophy and even the crudest cynicism might seem nuanced.

But we can do better. Here are a some additions.

11/ Normal people will use it, and then they’ll stop because it is a fad.

12/ It is as vulnerable to the logic of disruption as [legacy].

13/ It will prioritize speed of implementation over security, offering users’ personal data to hackers, advertisers, and spies on a silver platter.

14/ It will succeed long enough for a successful exit, then crash and burn, enriching VCs but doing little to improve the world as a whole.

15/ Although it preaches revolution, it will end up reproducing and empowering the structures of injustice that dominate today.

16/ It will intensify the growing concentration of wealth and power that appears to be endemic to economies which take advantage of network effects.

17/ Because it is being implemented in a country where food and healthcare are treated as luxuries rather than basic human rights, its success will multiply the misery in the world as it lays waste to [legacy].

18/ It is being created and sold to a tiny cadre of wealthy inter-connected players who are so convinced of their own intelligence that it doesn’t occur to them to ask around and find out the needs of other people.

19/ It will be powered by ads.

20/ It will do nothing to slow the headlong rush of global civilization into any number of catastrophes which would in turn render it irrelevant.

21/ It preys on and amplifies human weakness.

22/ It will have unintended consequences.

23/ It will do nothing to mitigate the chaos it leaves in its wake."

[Also

24/ It will re-enable scams that regulation had previously tamped down in [legacy].
https://twitter.com/doingitwrong/status/447812538638794752

25/ Its successful ubiquity will force users to contort their selves so they can slot into an ill-considered early design decision.
https://twitter.com/doingitwrong/status/447813472580300800 ]
timmaly  technology  marcandreessen  cynicism  technosolutionism  criticism  2014  internet  web  civilization  inequality  power  advertising  money  vc  venturecapital  legacy  unintendedconsequences  fads  wealth  economics  innovation  disruption 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The GitHub Debacle and Why Holacracy is Bullshit | BraceLand
"EDIT: I should make very clear that GitHub does not seem to have been employing holacracy as their organizing model. Instead, Tom Preston-Werner describes it in this talk as “business minimalism.” I was sloppy in equating the two. I do stand by the larger point that these anti-hierarchical models, whatever you call them, don’t deal with power structures effectively. Business minimalism and holacracy both seem to be trying to address the same problem, bureaucracy, without really dealing with why bureaucracies get to be the way they are in the first place. I also edited the title of this post replacing a colon with the word “and” to help clarify.

————

A couple weeks ago I was in a conversation with some of my progressive organizer friends about holacracy, the latest fad in tech culture which calls for organizational structures without any hierarchy (ie: managers). Some of them were really intrigued by the elements of empowerment and decentralization at it’s core. I felt differently. Holacracy always smelled to me like a naive reaction to bureaucracy, without really understanding how and why bureaucracies end up like they do. It also has this implicit disdain for people in organizations who are responsible for the softer skills that keep things running smoothly. You know, things like communication, empathy, human resources management, etc. I see these skills getting devalued in the tech world all the time. If you can’t build shit you’re not worth anything.

Watching this debacle go down at GitHub, I’m not at all surprised to hear (from my fabulous colleague Mike Migurski, who explains perfectly why I think holacracy is bullshit) that the co-founder implicated in the story was a believer in the holacratic ideal.

Channeling Marshall Ganz, the absence of structure is a structure in and of itself. When you allow a power vacuum to emerge someone will fill it, and it’s usually the people who have traditionally held power (rich white men). That’s how you end up with stories like this coming out of GitHub.

In the wake of this, I’m starting to think all of the problems we’re seeing with Silicon Valley these days—the ineptitude at politics, the clumsiness with handling inequality in SF, the lack of gender and racial diversity in the industry—are actually rooted in a systemic failure to understand how power works. As we move to an era where tech is central to our culture and economy, smart founders and investors will come to realize that stacking their companies full of people who understand politics and can create healthy cultures is as important to success as having kick-ass engineers.

The problem with management isn’t managers, the problem with management is bad managers. And it’s not hard to imagine that people who don’t understand how power works aren’t going to be very good managers."

[Conversation about Julie Ann Horvath's Github experience here: http://www.metafilter.com/137546/Julie-Horvath-Describes-Sexism-And-Intimidation-Behind-Her-GitHub-Exit

An Metafilter discussion that predated this news: Do we need managers? http://www.metafilter.com/137257/We-look-at-our-employees-as-adults ]
catherinebracy  github  2014  michalmigurski  softskills  holocracy  horizontality  hierarchy  management  hierarchies  administration  power  social  groupdynamics  inequality  technology  technosolutionism  marshallganz  structure  structurelessness 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Technologists' Siren Song - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"In July 1969—less than two weeks after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin cavorted on the moon—The New York Review of Books published a controversial essay by John McDermott, "Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals." In it, McDermott, a social scientist at the State University of New York, offered a sharp rejoinder to those who viewed the Apollo 11 mission as a harbinger of ever-more-­ambitious technological triumphs. The essay was in response to a report put out by Harvard University’s Program on Technology and Society, a grand interdisciplinary effort bankrolled to the tune of several million dollars by IBM. The Harvard report was sanguine, arguing, in McDermott’s words, that "technological innovation exhibits a distinct tendency to work for the general welfare in the long run." McDermott was having none of this "extravagant optimism."

The prevailing belief of technologists—in McDermott’s time and ours—is that technology is the solution to all problems. It is a view especially attractive to those best positioned to reap the benefits of innovation and avoid its unattractive consequences."



"Rarely do today’s most prominent tech intellectuals question the overall value of innovation. Why would they? They are in the innovation business, part of a corporate culture that boasts of its ability to thrive, not just survive, in a climate of constant disruption. But is innovation always beneficial? Plainly not. For starters, it can destroy jobs. From the 1920s through the 1950s, automation displaced tens of thousands of workers. Recall the conflict between Spencer Tracy (a proponent of automation) and Katharine Hepburn (an anxious reference librarian) in the 1957 film Desk Set.

What about broader societal benefits—in health care, for instance? Stanley Joel Reiser, a clinical professor of health policy at George Washington University, undertook a study of recent medical innovations. He concluded that patients are not always the winners, but rather hospital administrators, physicians, or Big Pharma. An especially compelling example he gave is the invention of the artificial respirator: While saving countless lives, this medical innovation also created ethical, legal, and policy debates over, literally, questions of life and death. Moreover, there is the broader question of whether it is better to spend large amounts of money on research and development that will benefit future generations if this means less funding to meet today’s medical needs with existing methods."



"Back in age of Apollo, scholar-critics like McDermott branded technology an opiate, one that seduced intellectuals with the idea that social and political problems could be solved with a technological fix. A similar observation applies today. We are dulled, lulled, and anesthetized by arguments from tech intellectuals that too often are glib, Panglossian, or in service of a corporate agenda. What this discourse needs is more-rigorous academic expertise on the history and social implications of technological change. But first we have to stop nodding off in the tech intellectuals’ opium dens."
technology  technosolutionism  systemsthinking  wpatrickmccray  2014  johnmcdermott  siliconvalley  californianideology  optimism  innovation  capitalism  well-being  society  progress 
march 2014 by robertogreco
moving forward on #futureEd | digital digs
"Let me restart from a different point. Irregardless of technology, what is it that we want higher education (or whatever might replace it) to do?

• support one’s study of a professional area
• certify one’s preparedness to enter into a field
• develop communication skills (written, digital, oral) to be able to participate in professional (and civic/public?) discourse communities
• develop research skills, critical thinking, and creative problem solving
• learn to do all this work independently, collaboratively, online, FTF, in a global/diverse context
• an interdisciplinary understanding of the world so that we are not mono-dimensional.

Do we also want to say that higher education should not only be about contributing to one’s personal long-term earnings potential but also about enhancing one’s ability to contribute to the common/social good? Then we also have to consider whether we are taking the students as we find them or if, in our vision of the future, we are offloading a lot of current problems onto K-12 education. That is, is our vision one that begins by saying “If K-12 did x,y,z then higher ed would do a,b,c.” I agree that K-12 education could be better and that we should try to make it better. However, I am not going to plan a future for higher ed that hinges on K-12 doing things it’s never been able to do.

Now we could get rid of all the trappings of modern education. We could make learning more project/activity-based, more student-centered, and more collaborative, but we will still need experts to teach and mentor students and a larger support system. We could shift more of these activities into online environments, but we will still need some FTF because students benefit from it and because that is still how the professional world works. In fact we see less telecommuting now than we did a few years ago."



"The problem is that the digital “solution” isn’t any better. It’s also an info-dump (plus let the students talk to each other in forums and figure the stuff out). The standard info-dump pedagogy is based on the same fantasy that imagines plugging something into  your head and learning kung-fu in 30 seconds. There’s no doubt that the info-dump pedagogy can give you a bunch of disconnected pieces of information that you can hold in your mind until the end of the semester. And if you don’t do the info-dump approach then students probably won’t do as well on a test that is designed to see how much you retained from the info-dump.

So what if we established different goals for education. What if a successful education was measured by the work students were able to accomplish, the skills they developed, and the activities they were able to undertake than by the information that they were able to retain? Maybe our pedagogies would be different. And maybe MOOCs would make less sense as an alternative. That doesn’t mean that social media and other digital technologies wouldn’t play an important role in learning. In fact I imagine they will. It just means that watching some videos, reading some material, and then taking a test on it wouldn’t seem like learning to us regardless of whether those things happened online or in a lecture hall."
moocs  education  learning  purpose  alexreid  2014  addedvalue  technology  highereducation  highered  digital  technosolutionism  mooc 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Evgeny Morozov: Hackers, Makers, and the Next Industrial Revolution
"The kind of Internet metaphysics that informs Anderson’s account sees ingrained traits of technology where others might see a cascade of decisions made by businessmen and policymakers. This is why Anderson starts by confusing the history of the Web with the history of capitalism and ends by speculating about the future of the maker movement, which, on closer examination, is actually speculation on the future of capitalism. What Anderson envisages—more of the same but with greater diversity and competition—may come to pass. But to set the threshold for the third industrial revolution so low just because someone somewhere forgot to regulate A.T. & T. (or Google) seems rather unambitious [...]

[Homebrew Computer Club leader] Felsenstein took [Ivan] Illich’s advice to heart, not least because it resembled his own experience with ham radios, which were easy to understand and fiddle with. If the computer were to assist ordinary folks in their political struggles, the computer needed a ham-radio-like community of hobbyists. Such a club would help counter the power of I.B.M., then the dominant manufacturer of large and expensive computers, and make computers smaller, cheaper, and more useful in political struggles.

Then Steve Jobs showed up. Felsenstein’s political project, of building computers that would undermine institutions and allow citizens to share information and organize, was recast as an aesthetic project of self-reliance and personal empowerment. For Jobs, who saw computers as “a bicycle for our minds,” it was of only secondary importance whether one could peek inside or program them.

Jobs had his share of sins, but the naïveté of Illich and his followers shouldn’t be underestimated. Seeking salvation through tools alone is no more viable as a political strategy than addressing the ills of capitalism by cultivating a public appreciation of arts and crafts. Society is always in flux, and the designer can’t predict how various political, social, and economic systems will come to blunt, augment, or redirect the power of the tool that is being designed. Instead of deinstitutionalizing society, the radicals would have done better to advocate reinstitutionalizing it: pushing for political and legal reforms to secure the transparency and decentralization of power they associated with their favorite technology

[...] A reluctance to talk about institutions and political change doomed the Arts and Crafts movement, channelling the spirit of labor reform into consumerism and D.I.Y. tinkering. The same thing is happening to the movement’s successors. Our tech imagination is at its zenith [but our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratizing potential of radical technologies]. We carry personal computers in our pockets—nothing could be more decentralized than this!—but have surrendered control of our data, which is stored on centralized servers, far away from our pockets. The hackers won their fight against I.B.M.—only to lose it to Facebook and Google. And the spooks at the National Security Agency must be surprised to learn that gadgets were supposed to usher in the “de-institutionalization of society.”"
technology  computer  gadget  history  criticism  intellectualproperty  data  labor  remake  regulation  transparency  power  inequality  hierarchy  privacy  politics  diy  consumers  consumerism  apple  ivanillich  google  evgenymorozov  ip  makermovement  making  makers  capitalism  chrisanderson  2014  via:Taryn  toolsforconviviality  leefelsenstein  technosolutionism  stevejobs  stewartbrand  wholeearthcatalog  tools  murraybookchin  society  homebrewers  institutions  change  reforms  conviviality 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Alex Payne — Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology
"While most of the claims around Bitcoin are merely wince-inducing, there is one that deserves particular attention: that Bitcoin is “a way to offer low-cost financial services to people who, because of financial or political constraints, don’t have them today.”

Economic inequality is perhaps the defining issue of our age, as trumpeted by everyone from the TED crowd to the Pope. Our culture is fixated on inequality, and rightly so. From science fiction futures to Woody Allen character sketches, we’re simultaneously alarmed and paralyzingly transfixed by the disappearance of our middle class. A story about young people dying in competition with one another just to continue lives of quiet desperation isn’t radical left-wing journalism, it’s the pop fiction on every teenager’s nightstand and in every cinema right now.

With this backdrop of looming poverty, nobody can reasonably deny that the euphemistically “underbanked” are in desperate need of financial services that empower them to participate fully in the global economy without fear of exploitation. What’s unclear is the role that Bitcoin or a similar cryptocurrency could play in rectifying this dire situation.

The push toward Bitcoin comes largely from the libertarian portion of the technology community who believe that regulation stands in the way of both progress and profit. Unfortunately, this alarmingly magical thinking has little basis in economic reality. The gradual dismantling of much of the US and international financial regulatory safety net is now regarded as a major catalyst for the Great Recession. The “financial or political constraints” many of the underbanked find themselves in are the result of unchecked predatory capitalism, not a symptom of a terminal lack of software.

Silicon Valley has a seemingly endless capacity to mistake social and political problems for technological ones, and Bitcoin is just the latest example of this selective blindness."
2013  alexpayne  bitcoin  technosolutionism  siliconvalley  business  economics  libertarians  libertarianism  californianideology  decentralization  regulation  banking  finance 
december 2013 by robertogreco
STEM: Still No Shortage
"There’s another side to these STEM shortage arguments, and they are straightforwardly moralizing: the reason for our continued employment crisis is that too many students took “impractical” majors and are suffering as a result. As Virginia Postrel pointed out last year, this narrative simply is not supportable. We don’t, actually, graduate a ton of people in the supposedly impractical arts or humanities. While participation in the humanities is stable, the number of students who pursue humanities majors is low, around 12%-15%. (Incorrect claims that the humanities are in a crisis of plummeting enrollment somehow coexist with arguments that too many students are taking them as majors.) These majors are also disproportionately concentrated in elite colleges, whose graduates enjoy far better economic outcomes than the median graduate, whether through quality of education, selection bias, or some combination of factors. A quick glance at the actual data shows that the notion of an army of deluded dreamers taking supposedly impractical majors is simply not supportable. What sticks out, more than anything, is the relentless rise of the Business major, by far the largest and one which now produces a mind-blowing 350,000 BAs or so a year. (I’d be very interested to see the economic outcomes for graduates of this eminently “practical” major.)"



"The irony of all this is that the typical argument for the superiority of STEM disciplines would probably focus on these as fact-based disciplines, but the notion of a STEM shortage has almost no facts in its support. The notion of a STEM shortage is based on hype, cultural resentment against the arts and humanities, and an unshakeable American faith in technology as the deliverance from all of our problems. I genuinely believe that the biggest part of the belief in a STEM shortage results from our cultural obsession with technology and our perpetual belief that it will cure all of our ills. This discussion echoes another one of my hobby horses, the notion that technology will solve our education woes in K-12. Again and again and again in education research, rigorous independent studies find little or no statistically significant gains from using new technologies in the classroom."



"When I mentioned that point to my friend, he laughed and said, “These companies are all trying to get the same 50 students.” This, more than anything, may be the source of the persistent STEM shortage myth: the inarguable value of being a star in a STEM field. There’s little doubt that people at the top of the food chain in computer science or electrical engineering or biomedical engineering, etc., often enjoy fantastic material and economic gain. But this is a banal point: it’s good to be a star. It’s good to be a star engineer in the same way it’s good to be a star musician or a star psychologist or a star writer. What public policy and politics demand is that we pay attention not to stars but to the median person. And the median American is facing a world of stagnant wages, the arbitrary nature of the employment market, and the constant fear of our financial system’s boom and bust cycle. The problem is that by definition, very few people get to be stars. I don’t doubt that the median Purdue STEM graduate is doing well. But Purdue is a top-flight STEM school, and half of our graduates will be below the median, and many who start those majors fail out of them, and the country is filled with schools who graduate STEM students who can’t get jobs. Basing our perception of the employment market on the outcomes of those 50 star students is pure folly.

None of this is to question the legitimacy or value of the STEM disciplines. Indeed, they are absolutely central to our experience of the good life. But then again, so are the arts, and in neither case does their inherent value say anything about the employment conditions for those fields. The elementary problem here is in part the notion that college exists for the uncomplicated process of training workers in a particular field. Universities are an essential part of our society, but they were never meant to solve all of our macroeconomic problems. Indeed, this whole conversation elides the large majority of Americans without a college degree at all, who suffer far worse outcomes on average than those who have one and who are struggling simply to stay afloat. What’s required is not to blame individual students for the failures on the job market, but to take a long, hard look at the future of employment, our winner-take-all economy, and the basic American social contract."
education  humanities  stem  economics  employment  virginiapostrel  2013  freddiedeboer  rebeccaschuman  vivekwadhwa  labor  policy  us  politics  highereducation  highered  via:ayjay  technosolutionism  technology  shortage 
december 2013 by robertogreco
The Internet Ideology: Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley - Debatten - FAZ
"Reason number one: Silicon Valley firms are building what I call “invisible barbed wire” around our lives. We are promised more freedom, more openness, more mobility; we are told we can roam wherever and whenever we want. But the kind of emancipation that we actually get is fake emancipation; it’s the emancipation of a just-released criminal wearing an ankle bracelet.



Reason number two: Silicon Valley has destroyed our ability to imagine other models for running and organizing our communication infrastructure. Forget about models that aren’t based on advertising and that do not contribute to the centralization of data on private servers located in America. To suggest that we need to look into other – perhaps, even publicly-provided alternatives –is to risk being accused of wanting to “break the Internet.” We have succumbed to what the Brazilian social theorist Roberto Unger calls “the dictatorship of no alternatives”: we are asked to accept that Gmail is the best and only possible way to do email, and that Facebook is the best and only possible way to do social networking.



Reason number three: the simplistic epistemology of Silicon Valley has become a model that other institutions are beginning to emulate. The trouble with Silicon Valley is not just that it enables the NSA –it also encourages, even emboldens them. It inspires the NSA to keep searching for connections in a world of meaningless links, to record every click, to ensure that no interaction goes unnoticed, undocumented and unanalyzed. Like Silicon Valley, NSA assumes that everything is interconnected: if we can’t yet link two pieces of data, it’s because we haven’t looked deep enough – or we need a third piece of data, to be collected in the future, to make sense of it all.



Do people in Silicon Valley realize the mess that they are dragging us into? I doubt it. The “invisible barbed wire” remains invisible even to its builders. Whoever is building a tool to link MOOCs to biometric identification isn’t much concerned with what this means for our freedoms: “freedom” is not their department, they are just building cool tools for spreading knowledge!

This is where the “digital debate” leads us astray: it knows how to talk about tools but is barely capable of talking about social, political, and economic systems that these tools enable and disable, amplify and pacify. When these systems are once again brought to the fore of our analysis, the “digital” aspect of such tool-talk becomes extremely boring, for it explains nothing. Deleuze warned of such tool-centrism back in 1990:

“One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine – with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermodynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component.”

In the last two decades, our ability to make such connections between machines and “collective arrangements” has all but atrophied. This happened, I suspect, because we’ve presumed that these machines come from “cyberspace,” that they are of the “online” and “digital” world – in other words, that they were bestowed upon us by the gods of “the Internet.” And “the Internet,” as Silicon Valley keeps reminding us, is the future. So to oppose these machines was to oppose the future itself.

Well, this is all bunk: there’s no “cyberspace” and “the digital debate” is just a bunch of sophistries concocted by Silicon Valley that allow its executives to sleep well at night. (It pays well too!) Haven’t we had enough? Our first step should be to rob them of their banal but highly effective language. Our second step should be to rob them of their flawed history. Our third step should be to re-inject politics and economics into this debate. Let’s bury the “digital debate” for good – along with an oversupply of intellectual mediocrity it has produced in the meantime."
siliconvalley  technology  politics  economics  freedom  privacy  evgenymorozov  2013  society  technosolutionism  moocs  communication  information  tracking  californianideology  mooc 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Your Grim Meathook Future : Extenuating Circumstances
"Recorded for posterity.

• Larry Page wants to set aside part of the world for experimentation.
http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/15/4334356/larry-page-wants-to-set-aside-a-part-of-the-world-for-experimentation/in/4095431

• Balaji Srinivasan thinks Silicon Valley should create an opt-out” society where existing governments cannot meddle.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57608320-93/a-radical-dream-for-making-techno-utopias-a-reality/ [video here: http://balajis.com/2013/11/09/silicon-valleys-ultimate-exit/ ]

• Chamath Palihapitiya says value is only created in Silicon Valley and that Valley companies transcend power and are the eminent vehicles for change and influence, over government.
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/10/silicon-valleys-dysfunction-fetish.html

You may also be interested in:

• Sovereign corporate franchise enclaves
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash

• Free Trade Zones
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_trade_zone

• The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Olympic_Games_and_Paralympic_Games_Act_2006

• The Special Administrative Region
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_administrative_region "

[Each item is a link to an article]
siliconvalley  libertarianism  larrypage  balajisrinivasan  chamathpalihapitiya  government  individualism  danhon  2013  libertarians  californianideology  technosolutionism  seasteading  sealand 
october 2013 by robertogreco
What Internet.org's Stirring Video Cut From the Kennedy Speech It Quotes - Alexis C. Madrigal - The Atlantic
"And that's really the point here: Don't pretend to be saints. We are not stupid.

Because the narrow scope of Internet.org's actual mission sounds both reasonable and, perhaps, attainable, given the 60-year decrease in costs associated with all semiconductor-based technologies.

Not even a grump could take issue with an industry trying to make itself cheaper, so that more people could use its products.

But that's only one level of what Internet.org is trying to do. The public facing-side of Internet.org is not satisfied with looking and sounding like an industry collaboration to increase technical efficiency. It's also working at an ideological level to reinforce the idea that connectedness means peace, that Internet access means progress (or even Progress), that working for a tech company is about making the world a better place. 

At some point, it may (may) have made sense to associate Facebook with peace. But that time is over. 

The thing is: People love the Internet, and they'll hop on it if it's available, even given all privacy concerns. The tech business is safe. But its leaders also want our adulation. 

And we shouldn't have to worship web products, or the people who make them, or the values they hold, to use the Internet."
2013  alexismadrigal  internet.org  sainthood  markzuckerberg  facebook  internet  web  online  digitaldivide  quoteoutofcontext  context  jfk  technosolutionism  silverbullets  politics  policy  worldpeace  whitewashing  ideology  connectiveness  adulation 
august 2013 by robertogreco
Tom Friedman: A New Ayn Rand for A Dark Digital Future
"There are alternatives we can pursue collectively: An aggressive government program of job creation. A return to the days of social mobility. An end to the gross concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. And, above all, affordable education for all so that we can restore the American dream of self-advancement.

Instead Friedman glorifies globalization and the destruction of good jobs. He’s indifferent to the loss of social mobility and infatuated with mediocre or at best mildly clever web enterprises. Friedman is the praise singer of Palo Alto, the griot of Los Gatos, and he’s never met a Internet billionaire he didn’t like.

Thomas Friedman is the perfect mirror for the undeserved self-infatuation which has infected our corporate, media, and political class. He’s the chief fabulist of the detached elite, the unfettered Id of the global aristocracy, the Horatio Alger of self-deluded, self-serving, self-promoting techno-hucksterism."
disruption  economics  punditry  2013  thomasfriedman  corporatism  class  politics  policy  globalization  aristocracy  technosolutionism  neoliberalism  aynrand  us 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Was America’s Economic Prosperity Just a Historical Accident?
"What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?"



“There are many ways in which you can interpret this economic model, but the most lasting—the reason, perhaps, for the public notoriety it has brought its author—has little to do with economics at all. It is the suggestion that we have not understood how lucky we have been. The whole of American cultural memory, the period since World War II, has taken place within the greatest expansion of opportunity in the history of human civilization. Perhaps it isn’t that our success is a product of the way we structured our society. The shape of our society may be far more conditional, a consequence of our success. Embedded in Gordon’s data is an inquiry into entitlement: How much do we owe, culturally and politically, to this singular experience of economic growth, and what will happen if it goes away?”



“TED’s audience is so primed for optimism about the future that Gordon… knew before he began that he’d [Gordon] lost the room.”



“Brynjolfsson let a long beat elapse. “Growth is not dead,” he said casually, and then he grinned a little bit, and the audience laughed, and the tension that had lingered after Gordon’s pessimism dissipated. Brynjolfsson had the aspirational TED inflection down cold: “Technology is not destiny,” he said. “We shape our destiny.””



"In 2007, Mexicans stopped emigrating to the United States. The change was not very big at first, and so for a few years it seemed like it might be a blip. But it wasn’t. In 2000, 770,000 Mexicans had come across the Rio Grande, but by 2007 less than 300,000 did, and by 2010, even though violence in Mexico seemed ceaseless, there were fewer than 150,000 migrants. Some think that more Mexicans are now leaving the United States than are coming to it. “We’re never going to get back to the numbers we had in the late nineties,” says Wayne Cornelius, a political scientist at UC–San Diego who has spent the past 40 years studying this cross-border movement. A small part of this story is the increase in border protection, but the dominant engine has been the economic shifts on both sides of the border—it has become easier for poor Mexicans to improve their quality of life in Mexico and harder to do so in the United States. Because migrants from a particular Mexican village often settle in the same American place, they provide a fast conduit of economic information back home: There are no jobs in construction or housing. Don’t come. The Pew Hispanic Center has traced the migration patterns to economic performance in real time: a spike of migration during 1999 and 2000, at the height of the boom; a brief downturn in border crossing after the 2001 stock-market crash followed by a plateau; then the dramatic emptying out after the housing industry gave way in 2006. We think of the desire to be American as a form of idealism, and sometimes it is. But it also has something to do with economic growth. We are a nation of immigrants to the extent that we can make immigrants rich."
cyborgs  economics  humanity  jobs  progress  sustainability  history  technosolutionism  benjaminwallace-wells  2013  robertgordon  ted  tedtalsk  optimism  pessimism  erikbrynjolfsson  labor  prosperity  wealthdistribution  industrialrevolution  capitalism  growth  demographics  immigration  migration  us  mexico  society  socialchange  upwardmobility  classmobility  future 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Problems of Engineering and Problems of Life | The American Conservative
"I have suggested that the cultural health of Europe, including the cultural health of its component parts, is incompatible with extreme forms of both nationalism and internationalism. But the cause of that disease, which destroys the very soil in which culture has its roots, is not so much extreme ideas, and the fanaticism which they stimulate, as the relentless pressure of modern industrialism, setting the problems which the extreme ideas attempt to solve. Not least of the effects of industrialism is that we become mechanized in mind, and consequently attempt to provide solutions in terms of engineering, for problems which are essentially problems of life." — T.S. Eliot
life  responsibility  criticalthing  industrialism  alanjacobs  2013  1944  culture  problemsolving  technosolutionism 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Click Here to Save Education: Evgeny Morozov and Ed-Tech Solutionism
"This flight from thinking and the urge to replace human judgments with timeless truths produced by algorithms is the underlying driving force of solutionism. Bruno Latour distinguishes between “matters of facts,” the old unrealistic way of presenting all knowledge claims as stable, natural, and apolitical, and “matters of concern,” a more realistic mode that recognizes that knowledge claims are usually partial and reflect a particular set of problems, interests, and agendas. For Latour, one way to reform our political system is to acknowledge that knowledge is made of matters of concern and to identify all those affected by such matters; the proliferation of self-tracking—and the displacement of thinking by numbers—risks forever grounding us in the matters-of-fact paradigm. Once we abandon thinking for optimizing, it becomes much more difficult not only to enact but to actually imagine possible reforms of the system being “measured” and “tracked.”"

“Technostructuralists,” he argues, “view information technologies ‘neither as technologies of freedom nor of tyranny but primarily as technologies of power that lock into existing or emerging technostructures of power.’ Thus, any given technology is allowed to centralize and decentralize, homogenize and pluralize, empower and disempower simultaneously.”

"I’ve been told quite often that I’m too negative. Too critical. Too unsupportive of education technology entrepreneurship. Too loud. Too mean. And lately, I’ve wanted to retort, "Maybe. But I’m no Evgeny Morozov” — even though, truth be told, I think ed-tech desperately needs one. Ed-tech, once so deeply grounded in progressive educational theory and practice, has been largely emptied of both."
audreywatters  2013  evgenymorozov  technology  solutionism  technosolutionism  education  mattersoffacts  mattersofconcern  criticalthinking  quantifiedself  knowledge  brunolatour  optimization  efficience  scale  questions  questioning  edtech  technostructuralism  kevinkelly  janmcgonigal  jeffjarvis  clayshirky  timoreilly  timwu  books  problemsolving  problemdefining 
march 2013 by robertogreco

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