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robertogreco : jayowens   5

No one’s coming. It’s up to us. – Dan Hon – Medium
"Getting from here to there

This is all very well and good. But what can we do? And more precisely, what “we”? There’s increasing acceptance of the reality that the world we live in is intersectional and we all play different and simultaneous roles in our lives. The society of “we” includes technologists who have a chance of affecting the products and services, it includes customers and users, it includes residents and citizens.

I’ve made this case above, but I feel it’s important enough to make again: at a high level, I believe that we need to:

1. Clearly decide what kind of society we want; and then

2. Design and deliver the technologies that forever get us closer to achieving that desired society.

This work is hard and, arguably, will never be completed. It necessarily involves compromise. Attitudes, beliefs and what’s considered just changes over time.

That said, the above are two high level goals, but what can people do right now? What can we do tactically?

What we can do now

I have two questions that I think can be helpful in guiding our present actions, in whatever capacity we might find ourselves.

For all of us: What would it look like, and how might our societies be different, if technology were better aligned to society’s interests?

At the most general level, we are all members of a society, embedded in existing governing structures. It certainly feels like in the recent past, those governing structures are coming under increasing strain, and part of the blame is being laid at the feet of technology.

One of the most important things we can do collectively is to produce clarity and prioritization where we can. Only by being clearer and more intentional about the kind of society we want and accepting what that means, can our societies and their institutions provide guidance and leadership to technology.

These are questions that cannot and should not be left to technologists alone. Advances in technology mean that encryption is a societal issue. Content moderation and censorship are a societal issue. Ultimately, it should be for governments (of the people, by the people) to set expectations and standards at the societal level, not organizations accountable only to a board of directors and shareholders.

But to do this, our governing institutions will need to evolve and improve. It is easier, and faster, for platforms now to react to changing social mores. For example, platforms are responding in reaction to society’s reaction to “AI-generated fake porn” faster than governing and enforcing institutions.

Prioritizations may necessarily involve compromise, too: the world is not so simple, and we are not so lucky, that it can be easily and always divided into A or B, or good or not-good.

Some of my perspective in this area is reflective of the schism American politics is currently experiencing. In a very real way, America, my adoptive country of residence, is having to grapple with revisiting the idea of what America is for. The same is happening in my country of birth with the decision to leave the European Union.

These are fundamental issues. Technologists, as members of society, have a point of view on them. But in the way that post-enlightenment governing institutions were set up to protect against asymmetric distribution of power, technology leaders must recognize that their platforms are now an undeniable, powerful influence on society.

As a society, we must do the work to have a point of view. What does responsible technology look like?

For technologists: How can we be humane and advance the goals of our society?

As technologists, we can be excited about re-inventing approaches from first principles. We must resist that impulse here, because there are things that we can do now, that we can learn now, from other professions, industries and areas to apply to our own. For example:

* We are better and stronger when we are together than when we are apart. If you’re a technologist, consider this question: what are the pros and cons of unionizing? As the product of a linked network, consider the question: what is gained and who gains from preventing humans from linking up in this way?

* Just as we create design patterns that are best practices, there are also those that represent undesired patterns from our society’s point of view known as dark patterns. We should familiarise ourselves with them and each work to understand why and when they’re used and why their usage is contrary to the ideals of our society.

* We can do a better job of advocating for and doing research to better understand the problems we seek to solve, the context in which those problems exist and the impact of those problems. Only through disciplines like research can we discover in the design phase — instead of in production, when our work can affect millions — negative externalities or unintended consequences that we genuinely and unintentionally may have missed.

* We must compassionately accept the reality that our work has real effects, good and bad. We can wish that bad outcomes don’t happen, but bad outcomes will always happen because life is unpredictable. The question is what we do when bad things happen, and whether and how we take responsibility for those results. For example, Twitter’s leadership must make clear what behaviour it considers acceptable, and do the work to be clear and consistent without dodging the issue.

* In America especially, technologists must face the issue of free speech head-on without avoiding its necessary implications. I suggest that one of the problems culturally American technology companies (i.e., companies that seek to emulate American culture) face can be explained in software terms. To use agile user story terminology, the problem may be due to focusing on a specific requirement (“free speech”) rather than the full user story (“As a user, I need freedom of speech, so that I can pursue life, liberty and happiness”). Free speech is a means to an end, not an end, and accepting that free speech is a means involves the hard work of considering and taking a clear, understandable position as to what ends.

* We have been warned. Academics — in particular, sociologists, philosophers, historians, psychologists and anthropologists — have been warning of issues such as large-scale societal effects for years. Those warnings have, bluntly, been ignored. In the worst cases, those same academics have been accused of not helping to solve the problem. Moving on from the past, is there not something that we technologists can learn? My intuition is that post the 2016 American election, middle-class technologists are now afraid. We’re all in this together. Academics are reaching out, have been reaching out. We have nothing to lose but our own shame.

* Repeat to ourselves: some problems don’t have fully technological solutions. Some problems can’t just be solved by changing infrastructure. Who else might help with a problem? What other approaches might be needed as well?

There’s no one coming. It’s up to us.

My final point is this: no one will tell us or give us permission to do these things. There is no higher organizing power working to put systemic changes in place. There is no top-down way of nudging the arc of technology toward one better aligned with humanity.

It starts with all of us.

Afterword

I’ve been working on the bigger themes behind this talk since …, and an invitation to 2017’s Foo Camp was a good opportunity to try to clarify and improve my thinking so that it could fit into a five minute lightning talk. It also helped that Foo Camp has the kind of (small, hand-picked — again, for good and ill) influential audience who would be a good litmus test for the quality of my argument, and would be instrumental in taking on and spreading the ideas.

In the end, though, I nearly didn’t do this talk at all.

Around 6:15pm on Saturday night, just over an hour before the lightning talks were due to start, after the unconference’s sessions had finished and just before dinner, I burst into tears talking to a friend.

While I won’t break the societal convention of confidentiality that helps an event like Foo Camp be productive, I’ll share this: the world felt too broken.

Specifically, the world felt broken like this: I had the benefit of growing up as a middle-class educated individual (albeit, not white) who believed he could trust that institutions were a) capable and b) would do the right thing. I now live in a country where a) the capability of those institutions has consistently eroded over time, and b) those institutions are now being systematically dismantled, to add insult to injury.

In other words, I was left with the feeling that there’s nothing left but ourselves.

Do you want the poisonous lead removed from your water supply? Your best bet is to try to do it yourself.

Do you want a better school for your children? Your best bet is to start it.

Do you want a policing policy that genuinely rehabilitates rather than punishes? Your best bet is to…

And it’s just. Too. Much.

Over the course of the next few days, I managed to turn my outlook around.

The answer, of course, is that it is too much for one person.

But it isn’t too much for all of us."
danhon  technology  2018  2017  johnperrybarlow  ethics  society  calltoaction  politics  policy  purpose  economics  inequality  internet  web  online  computers  computing  future  design  debchachra  ingridburrington  fredscharmen  maciejceglowski  timcarmody  rachelcoldicutt  stacy-marieishmael  sarahjeong  alexismadrigal  ericmeyer  timmaughan  mimionuoha  jayowens  jayspringett  stacktivism  georginavoss  damienwilliams  rickwebb  sarawachter-boettcher  jamebridle  adamgreenfield  foocamp  timoreilly  kaitlyntiffany  fredturner  tomcarden  blainecook  warrenellis  danhill  cydharrell  jenpahljka  robinray  noraryan  mattwebb  mattjones  danachisnell  heathercamp  farrahbostic  negativeexternalities  collectivism  zeyneptufekci  maciejcegłowski 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Disturbances #15: The Flavour of Los Angeles
"There are many smogs.

Classic smog, of 1950s London “pea-souper” fame, is sulphurous, as SO2 from burning coal mixes with cool, foggy air to produce H2SO4, sulphuric acid. But London was not the only city to experience such noxious vapours. Atlanta has biogenic smog, containing terpenes from sources such as pine trees and rotting organic matter. Intensive agricultural regions such as California’s Central Valley can have an unusually alkaline smog, from ammonia and amines in fertiliser and feedlot manure.

In May 2015, Nicola Twilley and the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy made meringues of each in an exploration of ‘aeroir’ (the gaseous version of terroir). Apparently “different cities’ smogs do, indeed, taste different”. The repulsion felt at the prospect of actually eating the meringues also served to make the point: you’re already taking this stuff into your body with every breath."



"Los Angeles has a smog problem for both human and topological reasons. Even today, the city is not just the home of Hollywood and dubious lifestyle ‘influencers’ but the biggest manufacturing centre in the US, the country’s largest port, and its second largest auto manufacturing location. Each steel factory, chemical plant and oil refinery produces hydrocarbon and/or nitrous oxide emissions, providing the chemical ingredients for smog to form.

But its geography also makes the city a natural pollution trap. Hemmed in by mountains, smoke & exhaust from is trapped in the city lowlands. Cool sea breezes are drawn on-shore but cannot circulate, as this denser air finds itself trapped by an inversion layer of warmer air above, which operates as a kind of atmospheric lid. The pollution cannot go anywhere, and so stagnates, cooking gently in the sunshine.

Los Angeles has a temperature inversion for 260 days a year. It trapped the smoke of Tongva Native American villages in 1542, and it still traps pollution now.

The air has improved over time. Pollution levels are down about 75% since their peak in the 1970s (), and diesel-based particulates dropped 70% in the last decade. On that day-by-day air quality index map, much of the city has ‘acceptable’ air quality much of the time - below an AQI index of 100, the limit damaging to health. Occasionally Central Los Angeles even rates ‘good’ - astonishing, really, for the centre of a city. Kids in the LA Basin are literally growing stronger lungs. How did this happen?

In the 1950s & 60s activist groups, such as Stamp Out Smog, a women’s group in Beverley Hills, brought kids to rallies wearing gas masks, and successfully pushed politicians to do something about the crisis, in some of the earliest environmental protesting in the US. 1963 saw Congress pass the first Clean Air Act, followed by national emissions standards for cars. California passed stronger standards for cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline, and legal battles forced car manufacturers to comply. Then catalytic converters, rolled out in cars from 1975, were “the key piece of technology that allowed everything to change,” says Mary Nichols, chairman of California’s Air Resources Board.

So we need to ask: why is the Inland Empire still purple, for ‘very unhealthy’?"



"Yet smog remains central to Los Angeles’ mythology and will do for a while yet, even if experience one day fades into nostalgia. Smog produces the crimson sunset I watched bleed out behind the Hollywood sign one evening back in January; at night it makes the city lights glow.

It is, literally, the atmosphere of the city - and serves to symbolise that in so many of the canonical books and films about Los Angeles. Bladerunner, of course. The grubby haze on the horizon in Chinatown. Smog stands both for everything hidden and obscured about the city, and the neo-noir detective’s desire to see through it.

“Since the mid sixties, the aurora of smog has become a governing symbol of Los Angeles, the emblem of avoidance and self-reflection,” writes Norman M. Klein in The History of Forgetting. “One drives into it with the same expectations as driving into a city skyline - for the city out of control. Along the San Bernadino mountains, towards Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, the smog can rise up to a mile high, like a mysterious erasure, like the top of an Ed Ruscha painting.”"



"We have come round, through shame and future-nostalgia, to desire.

Which raises the question, why do I care so much about the filthy aura of a city 5,000 miles away?

Because I was raised in its mythic tradition.

Los Angeles does not only exert a hold on the cinematic imagination - it’s done a number on geographers.

I studied at LSE then UCL in the mid-2000s and my reading lists were thick with urban scholarship both from and about the city. Mike Davis (who called it the ‘City of Quartz’); Ed Soja (that wonderful subtitle, ‘Journeys To Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places’); and Frederic Jameson on the ‘Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ as epitomised in the Westin Bonaventure hotel.

Los Angeles was the twentieth century, you see: the city of the motorcar, of film & TV, of aerospace and the WW2 military-industrial complex; a thick nexus of globalization, migration, white flight and urban renewal. And it was the definitive American city because it was the first truly American city, the first not to look back towards Europe for its streetplans and topography but to sprawl hungrily a hundred miles into the desert, cannibalising water supplies from lesser municipalities, a luxuriant low-rise efflorescence lurching from one crisis to the next. It was late capitalism, post-Fordism, postmodernism - and as such, the crucible where late C20th urban geographical theory was heated to sometimes fervid degree.

There we were in London, a metropolis with far greater claim to ‘world city’ status and several thousand more years of urban development and global reach to study. And yet we were taught to long for palm trees and the perversion of the freeway.

My department had a thing for Los Angeles. Iain Borden’s work on "skateboarding, space and the city" was Dogtown And Z-Boys in academic form, rooted in a deeply embodied knowledge of the joy of skimming across sun-kissed concrete; the joy of youth and risk and thrill of reappropriating the urban realm. Matthew Gandy on the concrete sump of the LA River. The essays I kept writing about the history and function of bodily metaphors for the city. The fixation absolutely everybody seemed to have with JG Ballard. Papers on Cronenberg's film of 'Crash'.

These are libidinal geographies. And it was a kind of fascination that’s equally close to disgust. If the city wasn’t polluted, if the highways weren’t sclerotic and the political machinations machine-y – and yet the whole thing somehow still seeming to hold together - there wouldn’t be much to write.

Anna Karenina problems: happy cities are all alike. They end up on Monocle’s ‘Best Places To Live' ranking and become interchangeable commodities.

Without the smog, LA would lack atmosphere. Flavour."
losangeles  jayowens  2017  air  flavor  nicolatwilley  iainborden  london  cities  desire  place  geography  pollution  inlandempire  california  smog 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Jay Owens en Instagram: “Book 11 completed of 2016 is a guidebook, and I wouldn't normally count these in the year's reading tally except this one's Atlas Obscura…”
""hautepop: Book 11 completed of 2016 is a guidebook, and I wouldn't normally count these in the year's reading tally except this one's Atlas Obscura good. 111 one-page stories about the city's buildings, history & development - from the stones from a C12th Spanish monastery that lie, "like quiet odes to Ozymandias", in the Golden Gate Park arboretum, to the first European settlement of the city at Mission Dolores, and the graves of the Miwok & Ohlone people they enslaved. The Grace Cathedral labyrinths, the parrots on Telegraph Hill, the Tenderloin National Forest.

This series - from a German publisher - covers a number of Western European cities, Istanbul and NY. Worth checking out.

Background: spoils of the Christopher Kane menswear/tees sample sale I stumbled upon on Friday.

I saw... #8 the Armory, #13 Bay Lights, #37 Fog Bridge at the Exploratorium, #40 Frank Lloyd Wright Building, #47 the green roof of the Academy of Sciences, Renzo Piano, #55 Interval at the Long Now, #63 the Malloch Building, #75 de Young Museum, Herzog & de Meuron (but not up the observation tower), #79 Telegraph Hill (but not parrots), #110 Wave Organ. Evidently need to go back...

zerosociety: "...from the stones from a C12th Spanish monastery that lie..." There's a second location where stones form that monastery can be found -- the semi-hidden "Monarch Bear Grove." The grove stands on the spot where the old Monarch bear enclosure once stood, not too far from the AIDS Memorial Grove. It's not as hidden as it was even a few years ago thanks to park construction, but it's been a sacred site for Bay Area Druids and Pagans, allegedly going back to the 40's.""
jayowens  books  sanfrancisco  toread  2017  history  ohlone  miwok  spanish  telegraphhill  deyoung  californiaacademyofsciences  rnezopiano  franklloydwright  exploratorium  architecture  culture 
may 2017 by robertogreco
The Ghost Grid of California City — Medium
"What happens when you go to places and there’s nothing there, no surge of the response — awe, enjoyment, whatever — that you expect to have (or feel you are expected to have) in a certain locale? This had been the concern gnawing at me just a week before Brad suggested this trip, back home in London, looking at my air miles and holiday allowance yet feeling deeply unenthused at the prospect of a week trawling around Istanbul or Budapest on my own. What’d I do? Look at noted landmarks, feel uncomfortable sitting in cafes with no purpose, and watch the 15 hours to bedtime stretch tirelessly ahead. I’d tried travelling like this before. One time in Venice I blacked out on a bridge over the Grand Canal rather than deal with the day ahead, and got rushed to hospital on a speedboat. I didn’t much want to repeat that, and had been grateful when this California invitation came.

Wayne said that, well, when you go to a place there’s always something that happens. It might not be what you expect or want, you might not really like it, but one way or another you will respond. So you might as well work with that.

The story of California City I’d been sold was one of nostalgia for California optimism and the Space Age, for a 1950s modernism that believed cities could be planned and rationalised and perfected. We know that they can’t, now, but there’s supposed to be a kind of poignancy at the generations before us who believed in the future. I didn’t feel that twang. But for all that (and the hangover) I’m glad I was there. This road trip was driven by many things, but Brad and Wayne’s generosity and enthusiasm in showing me their California mythos was a big part of it. The hope that that mythos might be there, might be tangible for a moment — that’s a dream worth having dreamt.

California City was supposed to be the “the map that precedes the territory […] that engenders the territory” — Nat Mendelsohn’s dream of a hyperreal Los Angeles. For Baudrillard, simulation reveals the “desert of the real”, its absence — but what’s left when the simulation isn’t there and never got built? Just desert dust."
jayowens  2015  californiacity  mojavedesert  california  waynechambliss  bradleygarrett 
august 2016 by robertogreco
hautepop | I've been thinking seriously lately about getting...
"Right.

First thing you need to know is that K-Hole aren’t a real trends agency but rather conceptual art. Or, um, well, they weren’t a real trends agency. Now they might be. It’s kind of complicated.

But basically whilst they’re awesome, they are also very special snowflake and not actually a firm you can join.

In this post I’ll outline how you can actually build a career in this space from a mostly-London perspective.

Many thanks to Scott Smith of Changeist who has provided 90% of the intel. (Though I’m not sure you can work for him either, he’s very boutique.)

1. Trend forecasting is often not called trend forecasting

‘Trends’ and ‘cool hunting’ were buzzwords in the 1990s, but the rise of the internet made knowing what denim brands were hot in Tokyo less of a leverageable advantage.

“Innovation” is the present buzzword - “innovation agencies” and “innovation consultancies” are one place you find this type of work. “Brand consultancies” and “brand strategy” firms are another - and the cool (expensive) end of qualitative market research (or “consumer research”) a third.

2. Accept that what you’re doing is capitalism

Companies don’t hire you because you are especially zeitgeisty. They hire you because you can guide them to make more money - either by making products that are more relevant to consumers’ lives, or communicating (marketing) those products more effectively.

“Here is a cool thing going on in culture” is not valuable business advice. “You should do X because of Y cool thing going on in culture, and you’ll achieve result Z” is.

Accept that what you’re doing is business consultancy and read up on competitive advantage, branding, positioning and so on. Ultimately it’s knowing this stuff that makes you better at trends consultancy - not just developing some terrifically expensive intuition about brands… *cough Cayce Pollard*

2a. You can still make K-Hole style conceptual art about capitalism and brands

You just won’t be doing it as your main job. Or getting paid for it - a girl can’t eat Fast Company articles or Tumblr likes, more’s the pity.

In fact, making pretty decent money in this industry and then going freelance as a consultant is probably one of the best ways to clear time & space for making art - and arguably much more viable than traditional art routes of MFAs, teaching jobs, writing and so on.

Go talk to Benedict Singleton (a design strategist) as one example."
trendspotting  capitalism  futurism  k-hole  jayowens  2015  brands  business  trendforecasting 
may 2015 by robertogreco

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