mfioretti: solutionism*

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  1. There is an emerging global orthodoxy concerning the relation between society, technology and politics. We have called this orthodoxy “the Californian Ideology” in honour of the state where it originated. By naturalising and giving a technological proof to a libertarian political philosophy, and therefore foreclosing on alternative futures, the Californian Ideologues are able to assert that social and political debates about the future have now become meaningless.

    The paper was published by Mute magazine. Barbrook later summarized it as a "critique of dotcom neoliberalism." Like most important theories, the Californian Ideology is invoked more than it is read. Punctilious political documentarian Adam Curtis made a movie about it, titled "Love and Power."

    In their work, Barbrook and Cameron dissected the Valley's belief structure. The two predicted much of what has since come to pass: that the Californian Ideology would spread through media and markets and become the unofficial reigning doctrine of God's favorite industrial-technical power, the United States.



    Here's how important Barbrook and Cameron's paper was: twenty years after the paper was first published, Wired — which, again, was one of the targets of the critique — published a commemoration of the essay, written by none of other than science fiction legend Bruce Sterling. Sterling called the essay "the iconic text of the first wave of Net criticism." He continued:

    The internet might have fundamentally changed in the last two decades, but their demolition of the neoliberal orthodoxies of Silicon Valley remains shocking and provocative. They question the cult of the dot-com entrepreneur, challenging the theory of technological determinism and refuting the myths of American history. Denounced as the work of ‘looney lefties’ by Silicon Valley’s boosters when it first appeared, The Californian Ideology has since been vindicated by the corporate take-over of the Net and the exposure of the NSA’s mass surveillance programmes. . . . With the Californian Ideology growing stronger, the Net was celebrated as the mechanical perfection of neoliberal economics.

    Barbrook and Cameron's essential point is this: tech culture is right-wing economics covered over with a layer of hippie rhetoric. The term "neoliberalism" wasn't popularly known back then, but that's essentially what the Californian Ideology was: social progressivism joined with economic conservatism. By 1995, the Democratic Party was a neoliberal party. If you're wondering where corporate wokeness comes from, that's where. With a yearning to frustrate English teachers, the Boomers wanted to do well and to do good at the same time. The end result of Boomer-era neoliberalism is epitomized in the Fearless Girl statue: a feminist image on Wall Street . . . funded by a trading firm that underpays women. Wokeness in doctrine, brutality in practice.

    However, the Californian Ideology was far more radical, far stranger than Clintonian triangulation. It was a religious creed. Its central tenet was uncomplicated: the machines would fix everything.

    Groups exist, and decisions have to be made by those groups. Any group where decision-making processes are banned -- where there are no politics -- can't work. What ended up happening on the hippie farms was this: decision making was relegated to a few people. The communes fell apart, but the idea lived on. In time, the hippies joined up with the libertarians. They had two things in common: they believed in self-correcting systems, and they didn't like the government. And so Silicon Valley was born.

    It was paradoxical poetry that this marriage of optimism and convenience happened in California, as Barbrook and Cameron wrote:

    One of the weirdest things about the rightwards drift of the Californian Ideology is that the West Coast itself is a creation of the mixed economy. Government dollars were used to build the irrigation systems, highways, schools, universities and other infrastructural projects which makes the good life possible in California. On top of these public subsidies, the West Coast hi-tech industrial complex has been feasting off the fattest pork barrel in history for decades. . . . Although they were later commercialised, community media, “new age” spiritualism, surfing, health food, recreational drugs, pop music and many other forms of cultural heterodoxy all emerged from the decidedly non-commercial scenes based around university campuses, artists' communities and rural communes.

    The liberals made their compromise. The '60s had failed to bring about the millennium, but that was okay: computers would realize all of those ideals. For instance, it wasn't necessary to remove the concrete reality of patriarchy and white supremacy: once everybody was online, those differences wouldn't matter at all. So what if your town was gangrenous after the factory left? There would be a new job waiting for you online.
    https://www.salon.com/2018/04/01/the-religious-creed-of-silicon-valley
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  2. Which brings us back to Facebook, which to this day seems at best to dimly understand how the news business works, as is evident in its longstanding insistence that it's not a media company. Wired was even inspired to publish a sarcastic self-help quiz for Facebook execs on "How to tell if you're a media company." It included such questions as "Are you the country's largest source of news?"

    The answer is a resounding yes. An astonishing 45 percent of Americans get their news from this single source. Add Google, and above 70 percent of Americans get their news from a pair of outlets. The two firms also ate up about 89 percent of the digital-advertising growth last year, underscoring their monopolistic power in this industry.

    Facebook's cluelessness on this front makes the ease with which it took over the press that much more bizarre to contemplate. Of course, the entire history of Facebook is pretty weird, even by Silicon Valley standards, beginning with the fact that the firm thinks of itself as a movement and not a giant money-sucking machine.


    That Facebook saw meteoric rises without ever experiencing a big dip in users might have something to do with the fact that the site was consciously designed to be addictive, as early founder Parker recently noted at a conference in Philadelphia.

    Facebook is full of features such as "likes" that dot your surfing experience with neuro-rushes of micro-approval – a "little dopamine hit," as Parker put it. The hits might come with getting a like when you post a picture of yourself thumbs-upping the world's third-largest cheese wheel, or flashing the "Live Long and Prosper" sign on International Star Trek day, or whatever the hell it is you do in your cyber-time. "It's a social-validation feedback loop," Parker explained. "Exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
    https://www.rollingstone.com/politics...e-be-saved-social-media-giant-w518655
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  3. If anything, at this phase in history, ideas matter more — way more — than execution. Should we believe in the silly myth that “ideas don’t matter! Only execution does!”, then not only do we leave ourselves at the mercy of man-child macho-men like insert tech CEO »  — worse, we flunk the great test of this age in history.

    Everything’s broken, friends. What we really needs are ideas for rebuilding the great broken systems that lie in ruins around us. Healthcare systems, educational systems, financial systems, social systems, environmental systems, energy systems.

    Ideas of a special kind are what is needed to reinvent them. Big I Ideas. Idea have never mattered more — in fact, today, they matter so much, that the challenge is having the biggest, trust, and most transformative ones that we can. Huge ones. World-shaking ones. Life-changing ones. Let me explain what I mean.
    https://eand.co/the-difference-betwee...g-ideas-and-little-ideas-fffc462901ad
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2018-03-30)
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  4. Stratumseind in Eindhoven is one of the busiest nightlife streets in the Netherlands. On a Saturday night, bars are packed, music blares through the street, laughter and drunken shouting bounces off the walls. As the night progresses, the ground becomes littered with empty shot bottles, energy drink cans, cigarette butts and broken glass.

    It’s no surprise that the place is also known for its frequent fights. To change that image, Stratumseind has become one of the “smartest” streets in the Netherlands. Lamp-posts have been fitted with wifi-trackers, cameras and 64 microphones that can detect aggressive behaviour and alert police officers to altercations. There has been a failed experiment to change light intensity to alter the mood. The next plan, starting this spring, is to diffuse the smell of oranges to calm people down. The aim? To make Stratumseind a safer place.

    We get that comment a lot – ‘Big brother is watching you’. I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’
    Peter van de Crommert

    All the while, data is being collected and stored. “Visitors do not realise they are entering a living laboratory,” says Maša Galic, a researcher on privacy in the public space for the Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society. Since the data on Stratumseind is used to profile, nudge or actively target people, this “smart city” experiment is subject to privacy law. According to the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, people should be notified in advance of data collection and the purpose should be specified – but in Stratumseind, as in many other “smart cities”, this is not the case.

    Peter van de Crommert is involved at Stratumseind as project manager with the Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety and Security. He says visitors do not have to worry about their privacy: the data is about crowds, not individuals. “We often get that comment – ‘Big brother is watching you’ – but I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’. We want safe nightlife, but not a soldier on every street corner.”
    Revellers in Eindhoven’s Stratumseind celebrate King’s Day.
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    Revellers in Eindhoven’s Stratumseind celebrate King’s Day. Photograph: Filippo Manaresi/Moment Editorial/Getty Images

    When we think of smart cities, we usually think of big projects: Songdo in South Korea, the IBM control centre in Rio de Janeiro or the hundreds of new smart cities in India. More recent developments include Toronto, where Google will build an entirely new smart neighbourhood, and Arizona, where Bill Gates plans to build his own smart city. But the reality of the smart city is that it has stretched into the everyday fabric of urban life – particularly so in the Netherlands.
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    In the eastern city of Enschede, city traffic sensors pick up your phone’s wifi signal even if you are not connected to the wifi network. The trackers register your MAC address, the unique network card number in a smartphone. The city council wants to know how often people visit Enschede, and what their routes and preferred spots are. Dave Borghuis, an Enschede resident, was not impressed and filed an official complaint. “I don’t think it’s okay for the municipality to track its citizens in this way,” he said. “If you walk around the city, you have to be able to imagine yourself unwatched.”

    Enschede is enthusiastic about the advantages of the smart city. The municipality says it is saving €36m in infrastructure investments by launching a smart traffic app that rewards people for good behaviour like cycling, walking and using public transport. (Ironically, one of the rewards is a free day of private parking.) Only those who mine the small print will discover that the app creates “personal mobility profiles”, and that the collected personal data belongs to the company Mobidot.
    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/20...-privacy-eindhoven-utrecht?CMP=twt_gu
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  5. Rome and London are two huge, sluggish beasts of cities that have outlived millennia of eager reformers. They share a world where half the people already live in cities and another couple billion are on their way into town. The population is aging quickly, the current infrastructure must crumble and be replaced by its very nature, and climate disaster is taking the place of the past’s great urban fires, wars, and epidemics. Those are the truly important, dull but worthy urban issues.

    However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital.


    Whenever that’s done right, it will increase the soft power of the more alert and ambitious towns and make the mayors look more electable. When it’s done wrong, it’ll much resemble the ragged downsides of the previous waves of urban innovation, such as railways, electrification, freeways, and oil pipelines. There will also be a host of boozy side effects and toxic blowback that even the wisest urban planner could never possibly expect.

    “information about you wants to be free to us.”

    This year, a host of American cities vilely prostrated themselves to Amazon in the hopes of winning its promised, new second headquarters. They’d do anything for the scraps of Amazon’s shipping business (although, nobody knows what kind of jobs Amazon is really promising). This also made it clear, though, that the flat-world internet game was up, and it’s still about location, location, and location.

    Smart cities will use the techniques of “smartness” to leverage their regional competitive advantages. Instead of being speed-of-light flat-world platforms, all global and multicultural, they’ll be digitally gated communities, with “code as law” that is as crooked, complex, and deceitful as a Facebook privacy chart.


    You still see this upbeat notion remaining in the current smart-city rhetoric, mostly because it suits the institutional interests of the left.

    The “bad part of town” will be full of algorithms that shuffle you straight from high-school detention into the prison system. The rich part of town will get mirror-glassed limos that breeze through the smart red lights to seamlessly deliver the aristocracy from curb into penthouse.

    These aren’t the “best practices” beloved by software engineers; they’re just the standard urban practices, with software layered over. It’s urban design as the barbarian’s varnish on urbanism.

    If you look at where the money goes (always a good idea), it’s not clear that the “smart city” is really about digitizing cities. Smart cities are a generational civil war within an urban world that’s already digitized.

    It’s a land grab for the command and control systems that were mostly already there.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/stupid-cities/553052
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  6. Technology is making it easier for people to enjoy being alone, with shared gyms springing up in some residential communities in Beijing last year. People can run in the five square metre spaces, which are equipped with a treadmill, TV screen and an air purifier, while watching a video or listening to music, with the outside world shut out by a glass door.

    The loneliness economy in China is expected to become bigger than Japan’s, even though loneliness is the norm there as the country has been suffering from a serious ageing problem for a long time amid an alienated interpersonal relationship culture.”

    In China, hundreds of millions of migrants had moved to work in cities amid rapid urbanisation. Intense competition meant they faced severe stresses in their pursuit of success, he said, and they also struggled under a sometimes unfair distribution system that featured rampant corruption and official-businessmen collusion.

    “Japanese people have faith in their employers, who they usually serve for their whole lifetime; Western people can work closely with various communities, clubs and charity groups,” Hu said. “While China suppresses the development of non-governmental organisations, Chinese people are destined to be lonelier than people elsewhere.”
    http://www.scmp.com/news/china/econom...s-latest-economic-niche-opening-china
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  7. As problematic as Facebook has become, it represents only one component of a much broader shift into a new human connectivity that is both omnipresent (consider the smartphone) and hypermediated—passing through and massaged by layer upon layer of machinery carefully hidden from view. The upshot is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine what in our interactions is simply human and what is machine-generated. It is becoming difficult to know what is real.

    Before the agents of this new unreality finish this first phase of their work and then disappear completely from view to complete it, we have a brief opportunity to identify and catalogue the processes shaping our drift to a new world in which reality is both relative and carefully constructed by others, for their ends. Any catalogue must include at least these four items:

    the monetisation of propaganda as ‘fake news’;
    the use of machine learning to develop user profiles accurately measuring and modelling our emotional states;
    the rise of neuromarketing, targeting highly tailored messages that nudge us to act in ways serving the ends of others;
    a new technology, ‘augmented reality’, which will push us to sever all links with the evidence of our senses.



    The fake news stories floated past as jetsam on Facebook’s ‘newsfeed’, that continuous stream of shared content drawn from a user’s Facebook’s contacts, a stream generated by everything everyone else posts or shares. A decade ago that newsfeed had a raw, unfiltered quality, the notion that everyone was doing everything, but as Facebook has matured it has engaged increasingly opaque ‘algorithms’ to curate (or censor) the newsfeed, producing something that feels much more comfortable and familiar.

    This seems like a useful feature to have, but the taming of the newsfeed comes with a consequence: Facebook’s billions of users compose their world view from what flows through their feeds. Consider the number of people on public transport—or any public place—staring into their smartphones, reviewing their feeds, marvelling at the doings of their friends, reading articles posted by family members, sharing video clips or the latest celebrity outrages. It’s an activity now so routine we ignore its omnipresence.

    Curating that newsfeed shapes what Facebook’s users learn about the world. Some of that content is controlled by the user’s ‘likes’, but a larger part is derived from Facebook’s deep analysis of a user’s behaviour. Facebook uses ‘cookies’ (invisible bits of data hidden within a user’s web browser) to track the behaviour of its users even when they’re not on the Facebook site—and even when they’re not users of Facebook. Facebook knows where its users spend time on the web, and how much time they spend there. All of that allows Facebook to tailor a newsfeed to echo the interests of each user. There’s no magic to it, beyond endless surveillance.

    What is clear is that Facebook has the power to sway the moods of billions of users. Feed people a steady diet of playful puppy videos and they’re likely to be in a happier mood than people fed images of war. Over the last two years, that capacity to manage mood has been monetised through the sharing of fake news and political feeds atuned to reader preference: you can also make people happy by confirming their biases.

    We all like to believe we’re in the right, and when we get some sign from the universe at large that we are correct, we feel better about ourselves. That’s how the curated newsfeed became wedded to the world of profitable propaganda.

    Adding a little art to brighten an other-wise dull wall seems like an unalloyed good, but only if one completely ignores bad actors. What if that blank canvas gets painted with hate speech? What if, perchance, the homes of ‘undesirables’ are singled out with graffiti that only bad actors can see? What happens when every gathering place for any oppressed community gets invisibly ‘tagged’? In short, what happens when bad actors use Facebook’s augmented reality to amplify their own capacity to act badly?

    But that’s Zuckerberg: he seems to believe his creations will only be used to bring out the best in people. He seems to believe his gigantic sharing network would never be used to incite mob violence. Just as he seems to claim that Facebook’s capacity to collect and profile the moods of its users should never be monetised—but, given that presentation unearthed by the Australian, Facebook tells a different story to advertisers.

    Regulating Facebook enshrines its position as the data-gathering and profile-building organisation, while keeping it plugged into and responsive to the needs of national powers. Before anyone takes steps that would cement Facebook in our social lives for the foreseeable future, it may be better to consider how this situation arose, and whether—given what we now know—there might be an opportunity to do things differently.
    https://meanjin.com.au/essays/the-last-days-of-reality
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  8. When we look at digital technology and platforms, it’s always instructive to remember that they exist to extract data. The longer you are on the platform, the more you produce and the more can be extracted from you. Polarization keys engagement, and engagement/attention are the what keep us on platforms. In the words of Tristan Harris, the former Google Design Ethicist, and one of the earliest SV folks to have the scales fall from his eyes, “What people don’t know about or see about Facebook is that polarization is built into the business model,” Harris told NBC News. “Polarization is profitable.”

    David Golumbia’s description of the scholarly concept of Cyberlibertarianism is useful here (emphasis mine) :

    In perhaps the most pointed form of cyberlibertarianism, computer expertise is seen as directly applicable to social questions. In The Cultural Logic of Computation, I argue that computational practices are intrinsically hierarchical and shaped by identification with power. To the extent that algorithmic forms of reason and social organization can be said to have an inherent politics, these have long been understood as compatible with political formations on the Right rather than the Left.

    So the cui bono of digital polarization are the wealthy, the powerful, the people with so much to gain promoting systems that maintain the status quo, despite the language of freedom, democratization, and community that are featured so prominently when people like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey talk about technology. Digital technology in general, and platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter specifically, exist to promote polarization and maintain the existing concentration of power.

    To the extent that Silicon Valley is the seat of the technological power, it’s useful to note that the very ground of what we now call Silicon Valley is built on the foundation of segregating black and white workers. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law talks about auto workers in 1950’s California:

    So in 1953 the company (Ford) announced it would close its Richmond plant and reestablish operations in a larger facility fifty miles south in Milpitas, a suburb of San Jose, rural at the time. (Milpitas is a part of what we now call Silicon Valley.)

    Because Milpitas had no apartments, and houses in the area were off limits to black workers—though their incomes and economic circumstances were like those of whites on the assembly line—African Americans at Ford had to choose between giving up their good industrial jobs , moving to apartments in a segregated neighborhood of San Jose, or enduring lengthy commutes between North Richmond and Milpitas.
    https://hypervisible.com/polarization/power-technology
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  9. When it comes to human beings — what motivates them, how they interact socially, to what end they organize politically — figures like Page and Zuckerberg know very little. Almost nothing, in fact. And that ignorance has enormous consequences for us all.
    http://theweek.com/articles/731764/genius-stupidity-silicon-valley
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  10. The point is not that making a world to accommodate oneself is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does, over folks who don’t naturally share its worldview, then there is a risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible—do the math, and there’s the future.

    We’ve gotten used to service personnel and staff who have no interest or participation in the businesses where they work. They have no incentive to make the products or the services better. This is a long legacy of the assembly line, standardising, franchising and other practices that increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s a small step then from a worker that doesn’t care to a robot. To consumers, it doesn’t seem like a big loss.

    Those who oversee the AI and robots will, not coincidentally, make a lot of money as this trend towards less human interaction continues and accelerates—as many of the products produced above are hugely and addictively convenient. Google, Facebook and other companies are powerful and yes, innovative, but the innovation curiously seems to have had an invisible trajectory. Our imaginations are constrained by who and what we are. We are biased in our drives, which in some ways is good, but maybe some diversity in what influences the world might be reasonable and may be beneficial to all.

    To repeat what I wrote above—humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. I’d argue that though those might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that our responses, often prodded by an emotion, will more likely than not offer the best way to deal with a situation.

    Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damasio concluded that though we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

    With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.

    We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by a possibility to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions, or not yet anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

    Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.
    http://davidbyrne.com/journal/eliminating-the-human
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