BasicallyThis week, a good week for Obamacare, for beer made from sewage water, and for snakes on a plane. Oh but a bad week for SH-E-Os, for Westminster, for YouPorn, and for Uber (again). Plus Airbnb got a new name in China: Aibiying. Please send hope (and money).
Behind the myths of the genius founders, the breakthrough technologies, and the wide-open future, lies The Platform. John Herrman reminds us that this too is a myth:
Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”
Despite the best efforts of well paid nutrition science types, there’s only one snack that’ll fly in an NBA dressing room, and it sure ain’t fancy. Why is an entire league so obsessed with the PB&J?
For The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino calls out the gig economy’s bad habit of rewarding people who work themselves to death: “There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers.” Preach, sister.
What happens when you drop 23 strangers in the remote Scottish Highlands, leaving them to build a self-sufficient community without any modern technology other than the cameras used to document and broadcast the experiment? You forget about them. Reality TV is passé… give each contestant a pair of Snap Spectacles and you might have something fresh.
There’s the rumblings of a civil war afoot in neuroscience, as Ed Yong lays it out. The dissidents are claiming that an obsession with tools has led the discipline astray, with scientists too intent on playing with their neuron-manipulating toys when they should be trying to understand something much more complex: behaviour. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science. And it’s not.”
In 1968, Doug Engelbart gave a presentation that essentially mapped out the next several decades of tech interaction and design, either predicting or inspiring everything that was to come. Thanks to Buckslip hero Bret Victor and Engelbart’s daughter Christina, you can now immerse yourself in that “mother of all demos” in a skimmable digest form that makes the scale of Engelbart’s thinking much easier to behold.
When everyone is a leader, no one is a leader. Or maybe the problem isn’t that we have too many leaders, but we’ve forgotten that leadership means service rather than status. College admissions committees perpetuate this problematic attitude by listing leadership skills, leadership potential, and leadership activities among their top requirements. Like entry-level job postings that paradoxically require a minimum of two years experience, these institutions neglect their own responsibility as leaders in service to their students.
In the post-ownership world, even the farmers have to go underground to get things fixed. Meet the tractor hackers.
Remember when bike sharing was an exciting, city-redefining new idea? There’s a lot to write about why that never really happened in sustainable ways outside of a few isolated success stories, but in the meantime, check out this wild Chinese variant that gets rid of the docking stations. It’s fun to imagine how this might play out in, say, downtown Toronto.
For the Atlantic, James Somers tips over the sacred cow of “engagement.” With the Like button, writers are continuously shown what readers want (or want to be seen to want), converting them (the writers) from noble truth-tellers to mere panderers and seducers. The result? We’ve traded in authentic understanding for a quick dopaminergic fix. (That’s right, we said dopaminergic.)