Linknotes | 27January 2019
In this edition of link notes, …
I have the privilege of working in a creative field and for a creative company. In this world, we all feel the importance of business success (profit, shared) yet may mostly be motivated by a sense of mission. That is, we are not dominated by bosses. We come together over an opportunity, decide together on the nest way to achieve an objective, solve a problem and/or deliver value to our client. We celebrate and excuse varying levels of “margin” on the work that we do so long as we are advancing and improving the world we work in. If we feel a hustle, it is self-defined and not “motivated” by slogans.
We live in such an ugly age, generating self-engaged billionaires doing really dumb things with their money. In another time, the ultra-rich behaved in different ways.
What did people do with all their money? They bought horses and art and raised cattle; they gave money away, in part, to relieve tax burdens. In 1931 there were 250 foundations in this country; by the mid 1950s there were thousands. Certainly, some of them, as the sociologist C. Wright Mills argued in his indispensable book, “The Power Elite,” existed as a dubious means of self-dealing. Many operated with a greater deal of sincerity. In 1946, Whitney created his own foundation to which he contributed $1 million a year, far from an inconsiderable sum considering that he died, in 1982, with $200 million. The foundation had a singular focus, to help “those groups that experience racial, gender or economic discrimination.”
In contrast to the above is the problem of how to fit a bed into a 325 square foot apartment in New York.
The door to the bedroom was made by opening the wall and allowing it to fold like an accordion. Because of this the door juts into the room, radically interrupting what should be a rectangle. There’s only enough space for a full bed, and I have to squeeze between the bed and the door when I get up in the middle of the night. Most of the space in the room is wasted, and uncomfortable, the way life is sometimes.
Will [short] distances define disruption in the auto industry?
Carmakers make big cars with lots of power that are great for long distances. But wait! Everybody’s moving to the city. Who needs a long-distance machine?
Urbanization drives the trend towards shorter distances and demand will grow for these types of trips. As a result my assumption is that a disruption will occur and and it’ll come from the bottom. We’ll see how long it takes. This is the whole debate. My analysis is mostly centered on how long it takes. Not whether it will happen, but whether it’s going to be five years, 15 years and so on.
Davos under attack
Much like the conspicuous consumption noted above, the annual Davos gathering of elites to learn about and discuss deep societal issues has become even more obvious as self-serving.
Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.
Tech under attack
“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
And also here?
A sometimes pointed, sometimes resigned conversation with engineers, designers, research scientists, and job candidates who are pushing for a more ethical Silicon Valley.
41 questions to assess the moral content of artifacts
But is this really the only morally relevant question one could ask? For instance, pursuing the example of the hammer, might I not also ask how having the hammer in hand encourages me to perceive the world around me? Or, what feelings having a hammer in hand arouses? Below are a few other questions that we might ask in order to get at the wide-ranging “moral dimension” of our technologies. There are, of course, many others that we could ask, but this is a start.
New thinking about what the corporation is all about?
I’m not sure.
Corporations are social organisations: their competitive advantage is based on distinctive capabilities which are the product of their history, their internal architecture and organisational design, and the relationships with employers, customers, suppliers and commentators at large which arise from them. This is not just a more plausible account of what firms actually do: by recognising the social foundations of corporations, we are better placed to understand how and why corporations and their varied stakeholders succeed.
Maybe that’s enough for now.