Some links I found interesting throughout last month:
To Thrive, Our Democracy Needs Digital Public Infrastructure - POLITICO. Exciting ideas about having internet spaces that put community goals over profit / advertising.
Similarly, What Is Digital Public Infrastructure? — Center for Journalism & Liberty, “an essay, in the form of a FAQ, about the possibility of digital social spaces built with taxpayer dollars.“
Societies operate on infrastructures: physical, digital, and social. At the intersection of digital and social infrastructures is a set of spaces that host critical conversations about civic, political, and social issues. At present, these spaces primarily are built and governed by large media companies who maintain them to collect user data and serve advertisements. What would happen if we built digital public infrastructures, digital social spaces built with taxpayer dollars with explicit civic goals?
Subject after subject reported that they were on Tinder to find someone to love and to love them back and defined love in the most traditional of terms: something that took work, a container in which sex was sacred and where intimacy built over time. They acknowledged that their encounters on Tinder didn’t offer that, yet they went to Tinder to find it. The contradiction was confusing: They wanted sex to be meaningful but felt that Tinder removed the sacredness. They wanted bonds to be lasting but acknowledged they were easily broken.
Conversational affordances often require saying something at least a little bit intimate about yourself, so even the faintest fear of rejection on either side can prevent conversations from taking off. That’s why when psychologists want to jump-start friendship in the lab, they have participants answer a series of questions that require steadily escalating amounts of self-disclosure (you may have seen this as “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love”).
[…] There is no known cure for egocentrism; the condition appears to be congenital. The best we can do is offer our interlocutors all sorts of doorknobs––ornate French door handles, commercial-grade push bars, ADA-compliant auto-open buttons––and listen closely for any that they might give us in return. The best improvisers, like the best conversation partners, have very sharp hearing; they can echolocate a door slightly left ajar, waiting for a gentle push from the outside.
- Letters to a Young Technologist, a collection of essays about technology and our relationship with it:
[…] Anyone can build highly specific corners of cyberspace and quickly invent digital tools, changing their own and others’ technological realities.
A technologist makes reason out of the messiness of the world, leverages their understanding to envision a different reality, and builds a pathway to make their vision happen.
[…] We are an unprecedentedly self-augmenting species, with a fundamental drive to organize, imagine, construct and exercise our will in the world. And we can measure our technological success on the basis of how much they increase our humanity. What we need is a vision for that humanity, and to enact this vision. What do we, humans, want to become?
Tech Giants Pour Billions Into AI, but Hype Doesn’t Always Match Reality - WSJ. There’s been a lot of talk lately about OpenAI, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and the broader impacts of AI.
Similarly, The Age of Algorithmic Anxiety | The New Yorker:
Besieged by automated recommendations, we are left to guess exactly how they are influencing us, feeling in some moments misperceived or misled and in other moments clocked with eerie precision.
Managers at the new company have taken a hatchet to HBO’s offerings in particular, culling a wide variety of popular content to cut costs. That includes roughly 200 episodes of popular shows like Sesame Street and dozens of films and shows overall. Why? In part because the new consolidated company doesn’t want to pay residuals in a bid to make deal financials make sense.
[…] Again, this is just another example of the U.S.’ harmful obsession with megamergers, consolidation, purposeless (outside of stock fluffing) deal making, and growth for growth’s sake. All of these deals make perfect sense to the executives, lawyers, and accounting magicians exploiting them for tax breaks and various financial benefits, but that doesn’t make this whole saga any less preposterously pointless.
- Likewise, this screenwriter’s Twitter thoughts about metrics vs humanity in the Hollywood studio system:
I think one of issues causing all the problems we are lamenting is the infiltration of MBA style management at studios. […] Much of the American auto industry's early century woes have been attributed to not having enough "car guys" in charge--people that cared about the products. Over time this eroded the market. I think the same thing is happening in movies right now. It's not that Jack Warner and his contemporaries didn't want to make money, they did. But they wanted to make great movies that made money. […] The payout wasn't just the movie's profit, but name recognition and interest when those young stars move on to bigger stakes pieces, and the opportunity for the actors to develop.
- Aesthetics of Public Apology: Why So Many Brands Are Getting it Wrong – ARTnews.com A roundup of apology trends by companies on social media:
…in Instagram apologies, even when someone ostensibly confronts their ugliness, it’s hard to read the gesture as anything but an effort to publicly reclaim their image. But at least the Notes App Apology permitted us a semblance of sincerity, and suggested there might be a human being who typed the message—even if that human was an intern or assistant. There’s nothing sincere about a trickle-down excuse crafted to look pretty for Instagram grids, and the processed nature of Photoshopped Apologies implies the absence of the one thing all genuine apologies must possess: accountability straight from the person who committed the transgression.
- Similarly, Greenwashing Certified™ - garden3d.net, a look into corporate sustainability’s shortcomings—namely, the trend of superficialization that tends to come with anything capitalism-oriented:
The problem is that the main incentive for pursuing corporate sustainability work is its ability to create more marketable products. Outside of sustainability efforts that are pursued based on compliance or regulation, much of this work is built around the idea of pandering to consumers' understanding of sustainability, something that’s notoriously variable.
…there are those who believe highly-targeted advertisements are a fair trade-off because they offer businesses a more accurate means of finding their customers, and the behavioural data collected from all of us is valuable only in the aggregate. That is, as I understand it, the view of analysts like Seufert, Benedict Evans, and Ben Thompson. Frequent readers will not be surprised to know I disagree with this premise. Regardless of how many user agreements we sign and privacy policies we read, we cannot know the full extent of the data economy. Personal information about us is being collected, shared, combined, and repackaged It may only be profitable in aggregate, but it is useful with finer granularity, so it is unsurprising that it is indefinitely warehoused in detail.
The first trend is the shift towards ever more immersive mediums. Facebook, for example, started with text but exploded with the addition of photos. Instagram started with photos and expanded into video. Gaming was the first to make this progression, and is well into the 3D era. The next step is full immersion — virtual reality — and while the format has yet to penetrate the mainstream this progression in mediums is perhaps the most obvious reason to be bullish about the possibility.
The second trend is the increase in artificial intelligence. I’m using the term colloquially to refer to the overall trend of computers getting smarter and more useful, even if those smarts are a function of simple algorithms, machine learning, or, perhaps someday, something approaching general intelligence.
[…] The third trend is the change in interaction models from user-directed to computer-controlled. The first version of Facebook relied on users clicking on links to visit different profiles; the News Feed changed the interaction model to scrolling. Stories reduced that to tapping, and Reels/TikTok is about swiping. YouTube has gone further than anyone here: Autoplay simply plays the next video without any interaction required at all.
Thoughts on design and video games
- Optimizing For Feelings, an essay from The Browser Company that makes me feel a bit validated for having pursued a liberal arts education.
You see — if software is to have soul, it must feel more like the world around it. Which is the biggest clue of all that feeling is what’s missing from today’s software. Because the value of the tools, objects, and artworks that we as humans have surrounded ourselves with for thousands of years goes so far beyond their functionality. In many ways, their primary value might often come from how they make us feel by triggering a memory, helping us carry on a tradition, stimulating our senses, or just creating a moment of peace.
Our digital products are trapped behind a hard pane of glass. We use the term “touch”, but we never really touch them. To truly Feel a digital experience and have an app reach through that glass, requires the Designer to employ many redundant techniques. Video games figured this out decades ago. What the screen takes away, you have to add back in: animation, sound, and haptics.
- …and How Video Games Inspire Great UX – Scott Jenson. There’s so much that product design can learn from video games. I wanna write a dedicated post about this eventually.
“Fun is just another word for learning”. In order to have fun, you must learn. I find this inspiring as app design wants your users to learn but we’ve rarely appreciated this could be fun. Games understand that in order to learn you must start thinking in layers. Begin with a basic skill and slowly add more, getting better one layer at a time.
- When to Design for Emergence - by Kasey Klimes, about a design approach that gives users the agency to create their own solutions.
In design for emergence, the designer assumes that the end-user holds relevant knowledge and gives them extensive control over the design. Rather than designing the end result, we design the user’s experience of designing their own end result. In this way we can think of design for emergence as a form of ‘meta-design.’ […] In other words, to address the long-tail problem, the tool must be flexible enough that it can be adapted to unexpected and idiosyncratic problem spaces—especially those unanticipated by the tool’s designer.
Material-based software can also have gentler learning curves, because the user only needs to learn a small set of rules about how different metaphors in the software interact with each other rather than learning deep hierarchies of menus and terminologies. In the best case, users can continue to discover new capabilities and workflows long after the initial release of the software.
- The Sunday Read: ‘The Composer at the Frontier of Movie Music’, a profile of film and TV composer Nicholas Brittell:
Britell’s C.V. reads like the setup for a comedy flick: a Harvard-educated, world-class pianist who studied psychology and once played in a moderately successful hip-hop band, who wound up managing portfolios on Wall Street.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to those who feel slighted by Biden’s student forgiveness plan because they had worked to pay off their student loans.
‘Silicon Values’ — Pixel Envy, a thorough look at the way government policies, algorithms, and regulations in US and China impact the rest of the world despite being tailored for their home countries.
Birthing Predictions of Premature Death, a sad and maddening look into the child “welfare” industry. Not everything should be an industry!!!
The dominant narrative about child welfare is that it is a benevolent system that cares for the most vulnerable. The way data is correlated and named reflects this assumption. But this process of meaning making is highly subjective and contingent. Similar to the term “artificial intelligence,” the altruistic veneer of “child welfare system” is highly effective marketing rather than a description of a concrete set of functions with a mission gone awry.
- Similarly, College financial aid: It’s a sham that depends on what colleges think families will pay:
The whole public-facing system of college admissions—in which admissions decisions are based on rigorous academic standards and financial aid is supposedly provided to those who are most academically and financially deserving—is an elaborate stage play meant to flatter privileged families and the reputations of colleges themselves. The real system, hidden behind the scenery, is much closer to the mechanics of pure capitalism, driven by an industry of for-profit consultants and relentlessly focused on the institutional bottom line.