Note: This is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter in an attempt to both to make it easier to read this via RSS feed and to have this in my own independent archives. You can subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox.
I trust this finds you well. You’ll find announced a new collaboration with long time friend and must-esteemed collaborator Patrick Tanguay of Sentiers; a packed section of “little bits and pieces” and much more. Enjoy!
You’re receiving this because you signed up for this newsletter on tinyletter.com/pbihr or through my company’s website, thewavingcat.com. The Waving Cat is a boutique research and strategic advisory firm; I co-founded ThingsCon, a non-profit that explores responsible tech. To support my independent research & advocacy, why not join the SPECIAL PROJECTS membership? On Twitter, I’m @peterbihr. If you’d like to work with me or bounce ideas, let’s have a chat.
Brief updates from the engine room
To complement ThingsCon’s annual RIOT Report, Andrea Krajewski and I interviewed the contributors for the first season of a ThingsCon podcast called ThingsCon Stories. For all its “first release” tech and audio issues, we had a blast doing this and I expect we’ll soon have a second season. Find ThingsCon Stories in all major podcast directories (here’s a direct link to the RSS feed). The pilot/trailer is already live, the first real episode goes live Friday morning (tomorrow).
ThingsCon Festival (Dec 7-11) klaxon! If you haven’t signed up yet, let’s go!
Repeating this as it’s still relevant (see also the first post below): I started a new membership program called SPECIAL PROJECTS as a way to support my independent work & activism. First project on my agenda is a book project: Responsible Tech – A Pragmatist’s Guide.
Want to have a chat but didn’t feel it’s OK to arrange a formal call? Let’s have an informal call then! Click here to easily book a Zoom chat with me (currently every Tuesday) If you read this via newsletter, just hit reply. Otherwise, you can find my details on the contact page.
Recently on the blog
On Formats, Collaborations & Season Passes
So – Patrick Tanguay (of Sentiers) and I are planning a content collaboration and we both shared some thoughts and backgrounds on the format ideas (if not yet the content) online: Patrick’s, mine.
I’d urge you to read it, but the super short version is this: To complement our membership programs (again, his / mine) that support our indie research and writing — and/but also aware of subscription fatigue — we want to try out a somewhat new delivery — something that would best be described as season passes: More engaged and broader than a purchase, but more time-limited than a subscription.
We each will be trying to do about four projects/seasons a year, in various yet-to-be-determined flavors. And a couple of those we’ll try to do collaboratively.
If you’re a member of either of our programs, you’ll get those either free or discounted (TBD) but/and you’d be able to just sign up for a season and then have it end automatically. No more cancelling, no more auto-renews. Sounds good? Give it a shot and/or let us know what you think.
Repeating the relevant links here to simplify clicking through: my SPECIAL PROJECTS membership, my ruminations on the season pass collaboration.
Super Social Media 3000
I’ve yet to read the whole of Tim Hwang’s Subprime Attention Crisis (review on The Nation), but have very high hopes for it.
Here’s Tim presenting some of it in Harper’s Magazine in which he explores what social media might have evolved into if it weren’t structured so specifically to optimize for targeted advertising (highlights mine):
Consider for a moment a social-media platform that we’ll call Super Social Media 3000 (SSM 3000), a bizarro opposite of the advertising-legible versions we use every day. It consists of a single page on which everyone interacts and where everyone sees the same thing. Rather than having structured text boxes, users manually draw shapes and words with their cursors. There are no user profiles, and you do not need to be logged in to use it.
This is an advertising nightmare. Users’ contributions are all jumbled in an unrecognizable mess. The system logs no relevant demographic information. In contrast to the discrete, measurable likes on a Facebook post, a given section of SSM 3000 provides advertisers with only a difficult-to-interpret doodle.
SSM 3000 would assuredly be a social experience. Users would interact with one another, and they would likely make friends and even build communities. But it would be light-years away from what we currently understand as social media. It would lack the features that advertising has encouraged and helped to mold. By and large, we don’t have platforms like SSM 3000 because the broad range of expression that the internet might otherwise enable has been limited to ways of connecting that are consistent with the financial demands of advertising. The free-form scribblings of SSM 3000 are financially unsustainable compared with the shallow paradigm of likes, retweets, and short comments. In this sense, advertising is complicit in restricting the grammar of social interaction online.
Going from one to many
You have of course encountered this very much viral visualization of the sound of an old dial-up modem:
What hits me (besides a certainly somewhat unhealthy jolt of nostalgia) is how it looks like someone’s opened the flood wave, turned up the bandwidth. Which of course is exactly what happened when you dialed in at the time, both in the literal and metaphorical sense.
The sense of leaving the confines of my computer and joining it with a network of many others — going from one to many, from singular to plural, from individual to multitude — was like the world opened up wide. Reality and the future restructured themselves in real time from something seemingly predictable to something that was decidedly not so. Of course part of that must be attributable to my life stage, having been a young-ish teenager at the time. But I do believe there’s more.
The same holds true today of course, only I don’t expect that anyone grows old enough now on disconnected devices to consciously experience the switch from disconnected to connected. Or does it? If so, in where, in what context or way?
Small bits & pieces
The New Fellowship (or is it The New New Fellowship?) by Superrr and Bertelsmann looks ace / Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation has a new report out the role of procurement for diversity in “urban tech” (PDF) / Some excellent, very hands-on recommendations for teams working remotely by The Engine Room / I love a good book-based gift guide, like Robin Sloan’s and Eliot Peper’s / Interesting description of using QR codes in printed books / Blockchain chickens and computer vision pigs (via Jim Kosem), about the book Blockchain Chicken Farm, is a fascinating interview about tech in rural China / The author of Blockchain Chicken Farm, Xiaowei Wang, introduced me to the excellent term metronormativity, the pervasive idea that “rural people are backward, conservative, and intolerant” and that cities are the places to live modern, free lives / OpenStreetMap is Having a Moment / Coronavirus relief funds could pay to stop the worst of climate change while rebooting economies
If you’d like to work with me or have a chat to explore collaborations, let’s chat!
Who writes here? Peter Bihr explores how emerging technologies can have a positive social impact. At the core of his work is the mission to align emerging technologies and citizen empowerment. He works at the intersection of technology, governance, policy and social impact with foundations, public and private sector. He is the founder of The Waving Cat, a boutique research and strategic advisory firm. He co-founded ThingsCon, a non-profit that explores fair, responsible, and human-centric technologies. Peter was a Mozilla Fellow (2018-19) and an Edgeryders Fellow (2019). Baser in Berlin, he tweets at @peterbihr and blogs at thewavingcat.com. Interested in working together? Let’s have a chat.
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