Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds. Here are some of the best for 2019.
Word of the Year
“For years, a small hand lettered sign hung on the West wall of McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. It read, ‘The important thing is to acquire perception, though it cost all you have’.” —Eric McLuhan, Poetics on the Warpath 2001 — via @McLinstitute
@GeorgeMonbiot — “If you asked me: ‘which industry presents the greatest environmental threat, oil or media?’, I would say ‘the media’. Every day it misdirects us. Every day it tells us that issues of mind-numbing irrelevance are more important than the collapse of our life support systems.”
@EikeGS — “Today everything runs on bestseller lists. You rarely find good books there. But the less people can cook, the more cookbooks are sold.”
“The secret of the demagogue is to appear as dumb as his audience so that these people can believe themselves as smart as he is.” —Karl Kraus, via @TrutherBotPop
“A body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by any body.” —Thomas Paine 1737-1809
In his book The Big Sort (subtitled “Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart”), Bill Bishop put it simply: “Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes. Heterogeneous communities restrain group excesses; homogeneous communities march toward the extremes.”
Schumpeter’s third wife, Romaine Elizabeth Boody, whom he married in 1937, advised him on how to promote his ideas over those of his arch-rival, John Maynard Keynes, who advocated for government intervention and regulation. A respected economist in her own right, Boody urged Schumpeter to make his claims bigger and to coin his own term—“creative destruction”—which he did in his 1942 masterpiece Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. In that volume, Schumpeter boldly declared that creative destruction defined capitalism itself: “This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism,” he wrote. “It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.” Here is the punch line: because the maverick entrepreneur is “the pivot on which everything turns,” he should be given free rein to act and not be hampered by regulation. Schumpeter’s ideal of the rogue entrepreneur conferred glamour on his own libertarian conservative views.
“So long as there isn’t the same freedom of movement for people as there is for data, for goods and for capital, we will not have an actual planetary labour market (nor either will we solve the persistent problems of poverty and inequity, but that’s a separate issue) … we will not in fact see equity of working conditions if people are trapped within labour-unfriendly borders.” —Stephen Downes
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.” —Stephen Hawking
“The faux mindfulness revolution provides a way of endlessly coping with the problems of capitalism by taking refuge in the fragility of the present moment; the new chronic leaves us mindfully maintaining the status quo. This is a cruel optimism that encourages settling for a resigned political passivity. Mindfulness then becomes a way of managing, naturalizing and enduring toxic systems, rather than turning personal change towards a critical questioning of the historical, cultural, and political conditions that are responsible for social suffering.”
@amicusadastra — “We are creatures of habit. Technologies are teachers of habit.”
@RitaJKing — “I advocate for calling AI applied imagination instead of artificial intelligence. We need to start thinking.”
@kyleejohnson — “I’m taking an online data analytics class from the Wharton School of Business. The last module is 4.5 hours of how we can track people. Exactly 0 minutes of that is spent on ethics. Just in case you’re wondering what elite business schools are teaching people.”
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance” —Carl Sagan: The Demon-haunted World (1995) — via @dakami
Complexity & Creativity
“In solving a problem, you often have to make connections between two things that aren’t usually connected. You know, E.M. Forster, the novelist, was asked, “What are your words of wisdom for future generations?” He said, “Only connect.” … Your brain often suppresses such idle connections because you’re busy with the business of the day. You’re doing whatever you’re supposed to do. But there come times when you’re no longer doing what you’re supposed to do and you’re just kind of rambling, making strange connections.” —Pete Seeger
Ultimately, it’s my belief that social networks are systems that can be intentionally designed, and intelligently managed, to ensure that their primary impact is a positive one for the people who use them, and for the world. This is an optimistic idea that was the original spark for the creation of platforms, and a promise that’s been painfully abandoned in the years since. But I think we have learned enough lessons for it to still be worth trying to make something that works for the world.
“Every context is unique – I can’t assume I know what is going on or have any answers. No matter how much experience I have in a given context (e.g. culture change or agility) or industry (e.g. financial services) I cannot assume I know what I am dealing with before I interact with the system. I cannot afford to have an hypothesis before I engage as that may blind me to what is really going on in that particular system. It always pays to show up with humble curiosity …”