Dark Matter: 12 October 2017

More than 325 of you clicked the link in last week’s Dark Matter to Unidos por Puerto Rico. I’m hoping that many of you were able to assist their work with a donation. Thank you. I am floored.

If you’ve not yet donated to their mission — and are able to do so — I hope you’ll consider it. For a readership invested in learning about services, networks, empathy, and infrastructure, it’s worth remembering that many Puerto Ricans woke up this morning with minimal access to any of these.

On to the soft underbelly of the Interwebs:

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This week in interrobangs and sarcmarks:

It feels like the right cultural moment for Daniel Little’s post on traits of resilient communities (6min). Little outlines three kinds of ‘“shock absorbers” working to damp down the slide towards antagonism‘, namely:
  1. the existence of cross-group organizations and partnerships among organizations originating in the separate groups
  2. person-to-person relationships across groups (through neighborhoods, places of work, or family relations)
  3. policing and law enforcement as an important buffer against the escalation of ethnic or religious tensions
What’s true of communities and cultures writ large is also true of user communities that spring up around the products and services we create. Central, then, is not just the capacity to connect with one another, but to form horizontal communities that bind user groups together, buffered by real community moderation and management.
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By increasing awareness of unused punctuation marks, we hope to begin a discussion about the present and future states of our writing, and eventually integrate the marks into our language, ending misunderstandings and misinterpretations once and for all.

(HT to Colin Raney for the link)

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From a Wharton School interview with Andrew Essex (7min) — late of the Tribeca Film Festival, later of Droga:

We used to have this bizarre model in which you’d watch a show and there would be these arbitrary interruptions for messages from brands that you didn’t ask to see. That model just doesn’t make sense anymore. People look down at their phones. They don’t want to see things they didn’t ask to see. Brands have to be the thing, not the thing that interrupts the thing.

Not a terribly new sentiment, but well-articulated for sure. Read the whole piece. Closely-related, this chart on the opportunity space for attention courtesy of The IPA.

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Superflux has all the films. I’m partial to “Our Friends Electric”:

The film explores our developing relationship with voice activated AI assistants, and the future potential of these relationships through three fictional devices.

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Worth having set in cross-stitch, framed, and sent to every founder you can think of — Fred Hersch on Thelonious Monk (3min) for The Paris Review:

Some pianists feel obligated to play Monk Monkishly: they use his pianistic devices and play loudly. I go at it by looking at the sheet music or learning his tunes by ear, I try to take his own playing out of the equation and just look at the musical DNA in the composition itself. Then I put it through my personal pianistic filter. You can’t compete head-on with Monk, you have to be sneakier about it.

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This week in the trying to unleash the hypno-drones:

Taylor Pearson for Ribbonfarm, taking Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt and running with a vision for the decentralized knowledge worker of the near future (14min):

The Blockchain Man’s career will look like a combination of a lifestyle business owner and free agent. The metaphor of a “career ladder” with its linear, upward sloping path worked well with the corporate pyramid. In a world dominated blockchains, careers will transform into something more like Sheryl Sandberg’s career jungle gym where each crossbar of the gym may represent a blockchain. This will result in a career for The Blockchain Man alternating between project sprints and periods of unemployment or mini-retirements, much like Hollywood operates today.

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All the kids are playing Frank Lantz’s new game, Paperclips in which “you play an AI that makes paperclips”.

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Rodney Brooks’ piece for the Tech Review on seven kinds of common errors in predicting artificial intelligence futures (12min) is an absolutely essential bit of reading (HT to Tim Malbon for the link). This, over and over and over:

When people hear that machine learning is making great strides in some new domain, they tend to use as a mental model the way in which a person would learn that new domain.

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The incomparable James Bridle in a brilliant essay on self-driving cars and the culture that springs from them (9min):

The self-driving car is in fact a fantastic example of this tendency. It is, properly regarded, the opposite of autonomous… It must continually re-examine and revise its view of the world, adapting to and learning from its environment and the experiences of other vehicles. Its perceived intelligence is always and utterly a networked intelligence.

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A reminder of the Internet we grew up with: Roger Water is a lush, VR-lite, digital world, created for the band Niagara, that responds to both keyed and audio prompts (via your device’s microphone). Spend a few minutes exploring it.

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Thrill seeking meets strict adherence to code: playing the knife game with a robotic arm.

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Somewhere between a Disney ride and Metallica powered psy-ops against Noriega: Ear Hack Shooter appears to be a device for projecting sounds (2min) — a swarm of bees, an alarm, presumably the weaponized music of Steely Dan — within earshot of an unsuspecting other.

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Arielle Kuperberg has written a blistering piece for Scatterplot on declining Western marriage rates and the flawed argument that a hypersexed culture is a disincentive to marriage (7min). Her argument is an economic one:

The solution is not to tell women to shut their legs, or to make birth control more expensive. The solution is to build an economy in which young adults can get established in stable, well-paying jobs. The solution is to build opportunity. If the opportunity is there, marriage rates will follow.

Read the whole piece. It’s quite good.

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This week in Betterment is not Fidelity, friends:

Ross Breadmore has written a very smart, eminently-shareable piece on getting started with Causal Loop Diagrams (4min), which should absolutely be part of your arsenal. Circulate liberally, friends.

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Bot Ad School is a bot built into Facebook Messenger that’s likely to be nearly as comprehensive as your typical advanced comms degree. Nice work by DanielKostiaKate, and Sam.

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“Leaders need to know how to amplify differences, work with passionate people and deal with creative abrasion, and the conflict that will come from that,” she says. “It requires a completely different leadership mindset to take advantage of these types of (artificial intelligence) platforms. It’s not about being visionary (6min). Hierarchical cultures actually make it harder to take advantage of the benefits.”

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Chris Bolman has been drinking heavily from the cup of Sharp/Ehrenberg, and has a brilliant post on narrative myths around startup disruption and scale (7min):

big brands don’t get disrupted by startups, they get disrupted by the few startups that become big brands themselves (faster than an incumbent can buy them).

Read the whole piece. HT to Gareth Kay for the link.

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I loved Shefali Roy’s brief notes from her keynote talk (3min) at the Ada’s List Conference last week. Spend a few minutes with both her post and the Ada’s List team, who are doing wonderful work in building a stronger community for women in tech.

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Jobs for Misfit Toys:

Allow me to be the last person to tell you that you should definitely, absolutely quit your job and move to London to work for Ben Malbon at Google.
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Adam Simon’s team at the IPG Media Lab in New York is hiring a Lab Strategist. It’s a pretty great role, with a top team, and a rather distinguished list of alumni. Seems tailor made for avid readers of the Dark Matter.
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Until next week, friends.

Dark Matter: 4 October 2017

Nicolas Nova shared a highlight this week from a printed copy of Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (Tsing, Swanson, Gan, Bubandt). This quote feels very much of our collective present:

How can we repurpose the tools of modernity against the terrors of progress to make visible the other worlds it has ignored and damaged? Living in a time of planetary catastrophe thus begins with with a practice at once humble and difficult: noticing the worlds around us.

I was reminded at once of the above photo of my great grandfather, taken in about 1946 outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. Samuel Fitzpatrick was an automotive man — a supply chain and infrastructure guy — with a home in suburban Detroit and a remit to build a South American foothold for American truck manufacturers. His world was very much one defined by the tools of modernity, and — as evident here — the humble practice of engagement with the world around him.

Not entirely unrelated: my friend Maru, born and raised not far from the spot where this photo was taken, writes this week:

It is said that the coquí, a small toad native to Puerto Rico, can only sing on Puerto Rican soil. The same can be said of the diaspora. We’re heartbroken.

If you’ve not yet acted on this, our most recent planetary catastrophe, Maru tells me that Unidos por Puerto Rico is the organization to donate to. I’ve done so, and would encourage readers to do the same, if you’re able.

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Begin here:

You should absolutely, positively read Sakari Tamminen’s piece for EPIC on the urgency for contemporary anthropologists to challenge the lazy understanding of relationships between power and technology (9min)— tropes deeply embedded in great science fiction and storytelling that all too easily creep into more formal research. To wit:

And as the social scientists of humankind, we anthropologists need critique to explore and unearth the problems that technology might create. Yes, there might exist unfair value propositions that put us in an uneven, asymmetric power position with powerful companies that want to tie us into their much tighter, technologically enabled networks. Yes, there might be technologies that take away our freedom by enabling large-scale surveillance at individual level. And yes, there might be algorithms that do not work every time, everywhere, and for everybody. More than ever there is a role for critique, but we should not conflate political critique with flawed claims about humanity and technology. It is irresponsible to advance lazy arguments that can be disregarded as untrue and un-actionable.

Next time when you feel that so-called critical thinking urge come alive, ask yourself three questions: How do my critical thinking faculties shape my approach to field research and how I seek human truths in the experience of technology? How do I shape what I have learned about humans and technology into insights that can inspire a culturally valuable point of view? How can I participate in shaping more culturally sensitive and, ultimately, valuable experiences for people using technology?

Answer those questions without hitting an existential technology panic button and you are well on your way.

The same challenge likely applies to the stories brands tell — and the stories many of us tell about/for/with them. Read the whole piece.

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This week in fading memories of compression artifacts:

Spend a few minutes with Yagmur Karakaya and Jacqui Frost’s brief history of nostalgia research (3min), published in The Society Pages. Psychologist Jennifer Twenge, quoted in the piece and breaking a million hearts primed by Tom Brokaw to espouse the contrary:

The aim of generational study is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both.

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From Scientific American’s fantastic Workplace Anthropology series, this question: Why does the departure of a key team member serve as the catalyst for turnover? (8min) This, in particular, rings true:

If we view embeddedness as the links that an employee has to others and to the organization, embeddedness can tell us how well the employee fits within her peer group or team (e.g., do they have the skills to get their tasks done well, do they get along with their peers, is their relationship complementary?) A highly embedded employee will believe that she is a good fit within the organization and has the tools and skills to get her tasks done, whereas a low embedded employee will not. For a highly embedded employee, the prospect of leaving the relationships she has established can act as a deterrent.

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All the stripey-shirted Flash 5 fanboys will remember James Paterson, whose work was as much a hallmark of early 2000’s online animation as 2Advanced intros. His new creation, Norman (3min), is a javascript framework that enables the development of browser-based 3D animations using VR controllers. Click through to see it in action, because it’s ridiculously good.

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Matt Webb asks all the good questions (3min) — this time about the patina of photo compression as artifact of legitimacy in a hyper-constructed digital and social world:

Wonder which version of the iPhone will have a computational photography mode to create pre-distressed selfies, for that already-shared look.

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Tip of the hat to Jefferson Burruss for pointing me to ArterBarter. Think: One Red Paperclip meets Steve Keene.

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Molly Fischer’s profile of poet Rupi Kaur for The Cut makes for brilliant reading. A choice cut:

She is, deeply and truly, a poet of Instagram: In the manner of that medium, her work is human experience, tidily aestheticized and monetized, rendered inspirational and relatable in perfect balance. Her poems are, for the most part, short enough to fit easily in Instagram’s square frame, and her sentiments general enough to be universally recognizable.

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This week in training bots to make machines to train bots to:

Detect.Location is a GitHub project from KrauseFx that will absolutely change the way you consider the seemingly innocuous app requests to access your phone’s photo library. From the project README:

Does your iOS app have access to the user’s image library? Do you want to know your user’s movements over the last several years, including what cities they’ve visited, which iPhones they’ve owned and how they travel? Do you want all of that data in less a second? Then this project is for you!

Tip of the hat to Avi Cieplinski.

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So what you’re saying is that I can upload a bot version of my Facebook self to the Matrix?

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Peter Bihr has a really interesting post on the intersection of AI, IoT and (mostly) education policy (6min) that’s worth reading, particularly if you work in/at/with institutional teams.

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Everything commoditizes and miniaturizes: first, we get Teachable Machine, an introduction to using training data that’s simple enough to use with young kids. Then, something even more interesting:

deeplearn.js is an open source hardware-accelerated JavaScript library for machine intelligence. deeplearn.js brings performant machine learning building blocks to the web, allowing you to train neural networks in a browser or run pre-trained models in inference mode.

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Mkomazi (7min) is a fascinating project: embedding sensors in the horns of rhinos to monitor herds and ensure the security of a protected space in Tanzania, keeping poachers at bay. The project runs entirely on solar power, and uses a low-energy LoRa network. Spend a few minutes with it.

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Do read Neil Perkin on Annie Oakley, Kaiser Wilhelm, and frozen accidents (with an able assist from Shane Parrish). The story is excellent, but the payoff is golden — and worth repeating loudly and with some frequency:

Making rigid predictions in complex adaptive environments is largely a fools game. Like mutations in evolution, random accidents are just as important in shaping the future as incremental improvements.

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This week in the dangers of obscurantism:

Shane O’Leary on planners’ habit of equating complexity with sophistication (4min) is searing, and correct.

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The story of the Media Lab team road trip to Shenzhen area factories to hack manufacturing processes (13min) reads like fantasy fanfic for materials science types:

We were particularly interested in how K-Tech’s knitting process uses various yarn types. This variety gave us a wide design space to try out new functional textiles in production-level quality and quantities. We started by learning how to program our own knitting patterns, and then we hacked the process by writing our own computer software to control the knitting machines independently and to test materials that are usually considered too difficult to be machine-handled.

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Sarah Watson’s piece on the academic habits that become watch-outs for new agency hires (3min) on the APG UKwebsite is whip-smart. If you ever have a chance to see Sarah speak in-person, grab at the opportunity. She’s a delight.

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I took a lot from Frédéric Caplette’s piece for We Seek on the hidden value of code reviews (5min). This reads as terribly obvious, but has rather significant implications, I think:

The magic of the code review is that no matter your level, if everyone participates with the intention of learning, then everyone will get something out of it.

Read the whole piece, friends. I’m curious how the idea of code reviews translates to other fields of (especially less-technical) work. Hat tip to Patrick Tanguay for the link.

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Mark Pollard is writing the Internet faster than you can read it. This week, I’m fond of #7 on his ways strategists and planners keep creatives happy (5min):

Planners on the rise in places in which I’ve worked aren’t seen as obstacles and are hustlers, finding interesting stuff, rushing back to share it. Careerists take themselves too seriously. It’s a turn-off and people will want to take you down. HADOKEN.

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I wrestled a bit with Adrian Ho’s post on the Zeus Jones blog on reimagining consumer journeys as modular entities (6min) — it’s not an especially new approach outside the advertising and comms community. Adrian makes some provocative and smart points, though — this, especially:

building interactions on the theory of emotional marker moments ensures we know which pieces have a dramatic impact on users. The theory shows us that emotional interactions matter more than their relative actual importance, and can, in fact, shape our entire memory and perception of a whole experience. When we know what those moments are, we can over-deliver in a few key interactions, and make a strong lasting impression on the experience overall.

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Jobs and Events for Misfit Toys:

If you’re in the Boston area, Processing Community Day on 21 October at the MIT Media Lab is going to be mega: Ben FryCasey Reas! Eva Diaz! Sydette HarryTickets are still available.

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Instrument is wonderful, and hiring (mostly) developers. You should probably go work for them.

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Just an open Creative Director role for digital product areas at the BBC. Go ahead and make mum proud.

Until next week.