Sunday Seven: freedom, communication, predictions and media

Seven articles I came across this week that I think are important and relevant enough to share. Oh, and some cool art. Because why not?

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Are we liberated by tech, or does it enslave us? – via The Guardian

“Technology makes us more productive, but it’s also accused of unreasonably extending the domain of work. So does tech liberate us, or enslave us? And what does it really “intend” to do?”

We don’t know the answer to these questions. But that’s not important. What is important is the asking.

“Our devices present us with simulacra of beautiful, fit, fulfilled people pursuing their dreams and falling in love, and none of them are browsing the web at 11pm on a Saturday night – unlike us. We click and swipe our woebegone way through a vibrant world where nobody who is anybody spends their free time in front of a glowing screen, painfully aware that our only access to that world is through that very glowing screen.”

Is that the relationship with technology that we want? If the answer is “yes”, that’s absolutely fine. But at least we’re choosing, not having the choosing done for us.

“But even if tech companies aren’t really trying to enslave us, or to make us feel inadequate, that doesn’t mean that the current situation is a case of good intentions gone awry. There’s no more reason to think that tech is intrinsically good, but occasionally getting it wrong, than there is to think that it’s a remarkably successful villain.”

A tech-filled life is the default option. If we change that and make it a conscious choice, we’ll get so much more out of it.

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The modern world – via Bored Panda

Some of these are very funny…

by Jean Jullien

by Jean Jullien

by Jean Jullien

by Jean Jullien

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Messaging is just getting started – via Medium

Many argue that instant messaging is the most important function to come out of the new networking technologies. Its impact on economies, on communities and on individuals seems obvious, but is still being explored. It’s not comfortable, the keyboards are tiny, and does anyone actually like autocorrect? But it connects and it builds and it solves problems more efficiently than almost any other invention since the first computer was switched on.

“Information wants to be immediate, global, and expressive. Like a stream of water finds a crack in the rock and expands it, information will always find a way to develop a more efficient channel.”

As a form of communication, messaging has the advantage of being 1) asynchronous, 2) easy to consume, 3) informal, 4) always with you and 5) expressive.

“Communication is a fundamentally human act, and anything that allows us to connect with each other is going to connect with us. Messaging can emulate the intimacy of a private conversation or the fun of group banter.”

This article looks at the importance of the function, and shows how its development is just getting started. Which on the one hand is puzzling: it feels like it’s been around forever, how come it’s just getting started? On the other hand it’s encouraging: so it might get even easier to use?

“Just a couple of years ago we were sending clipped, plain text SMS messages back and forth. But today it’s common for a chat to consist of text, emojis, stickers, photos, videos, and audio recordings. Our digital conversations have almost imperceptibly morphed into a rich, evocative form of communication.”

The potential for embedding commerce could open up the concept to a new level of functionality, making messaging an ever more important feature in our lives. Ordering taxis, getting movie tickets, sending flowers…

And with the tiny details that make up our existence increasingly tapped onto a messaging platform, it will be so much easier for data collecting to produce a pretty accurate picture of who we are and who we will be.

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The ebook is dead, long live the ebook – via The Memo

I read. Not nearly as much as I would like, but I need books around me like I need air around me. And I am a staunch defender of books on paper. I love the feel, the heft, the dimensions, even the smell.

Ebooks are great for research. I love the highlighting capabilities, and the search function. The accessibility, the low cost (for older books), the portability are definitely in their favour. But the swiping can get annoying, the convenience detracts from the experience, and other old-school gripes entrench us publishing luddites in our “paper is best” dogma.

So you can understand why I celebrated the news earlier this year that ebook sales were stagnant or even falling, while print book, paper book sales were increasing.

Not so fast. This article sends up a warning flare to all who thought the digitalization front had met its match. Ebook sales had simply reached a plateau, that is all. They are now ready to regroup and to continue advancing. Technological progress does not sleep, and innovations and new formats a breathing new life into a format that we had become accustomed to.

And yet. According to Michael Tamblyn, CEO of ebook company Kobo, we will end up with a truly hybrid industry. The experience of e-reading is improving with better interface and intriguing novelties. So is the experience of print reading, with innovative formats, better design and new genres.

“’Digital continues to perform incredibly well with some types of non-fiction and genre fiction like romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers and crime, but publishers have also upped their game with types of books that are best experienced in print – incredibly beautiful cookbooks and art books, books that are beautiful physical objects and make great gifts. I think what we are seeing is publishers and retailers of all types refining their approach to what readers want, and that’s always a good thing.’”

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Some media predictions for the next 5 years – via Medium

An enjoyable dash through the changing media landscape.

“One theme across this entire post is power shifts — and it’s the thing I most expect to see in media. Distribution has long been held and gated by corporate interests, and we’re going to a place where content creators hold far more leverage.”

A summary of the major predictions:

1) Virtual reality journalism is a while off from becoming a thing.

2) Podcasts are becoming a very important medium.

3) Citizen journalism is getting its act together – stuff to be worked out still, but we’re getting there.

4) Television is history. This will change advertising. And series is the new cinema.

5) Continued shift from print ads to online. Big and small newspapers should be ok, mid-sized ones will struggle.

6) Buzzfeed is the king of low-brow journalism, and will continue to grow.

7) In spite of a shift away from email, newsletters will continue to work. Expect some Slack-first newsletters to show up soon.

8) Platforms such as Facebook and Apple will help publishers earn money.

9) We’ll see more stories created especially for platform media.

10) Medium will have a bigger impact than many people realize.

11) The quality of discussion in the comments will improve.

12) Media revenue will come from a diverse assortment of streams.

13) Streaming music will continue to shift, with live-stream concerts and the entrance of Google into the field.

14) Always-on media has led to a power shift in politics (the only way to explain the success of Donald Trump).

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Frames in nature – via Colossal

Artist Daryll Fox fuses tree branches with ornate wooden picture frames to create something that looks as if nature tried to encapsulate itself. Quite extraordinary.

by Daryll Fox

by Daryll Fox

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The fault lines reshaping audio – via TechCrunch

Having looked at the text media landscape, let’s turn our attention to audio. What big changes in the listening industry are coming?

1) Access: smartphones have replaced MP3 players and iPods. Multi-purpose wireless systems are replacing home and car stereos. Social media is a more powerful recommendation tool than search, in all media. This should give audio an extra push.

2) Blurred lines between audio and text: audiobooks, speech recognition…

3) Ads: with smartphones and cars the main listening devices, will we see the development of targeted audio ads?

4) Aggregators: expect movement in the spoken word platforms, with Apple’s leadership in podcast downloads threatened by online streaming via Soundcloud, Pandora, Google, etc. Will paywalls become a thing?

Personally, I find this resurgence of interest in the spoken word as a form of entertainment and art very exciting. I love podcasts, and I’m going to start experimenting with audiobooks. So much creativity and professionalism, as well as innovation and talent, make it a very exhilarating field to follow.

“Looking across the span of 200,000 years of human existence, audio is arguably the media format for which humans are most naturally wired. While reading and writing are relatively recent innovations that have emerged during the last 5 percent of that time span, we have always been able to speak and listen.”

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The next frontier for wearables – via TechCrunch

The field of wearables has come a long way since I wrote about it months ago. This article looks at some of the trends that will change our relatively limited view on the sector, and makes you realize that, hey, this will probably be something that improves my life after all.

1) Batteries will become more flexible, lighter, more longer-lasting.

2) “Tattoos”, or ultra-thin patches that adhere to your skin, will come down in price and save more lives.

3) Nanotech: Google has been working on magnetic nanoparticles that can seek out cancer cells.

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Does exercise help keep our brains young? – via The New York Times

I include this because it was my birthday yesterday and “staying young” is something that I think about a lot more than I used to.

The opening is a bit depressing:

“For most of us, our bodies begin to lose flexibility and efficiency as we enter our 40s. Running and other movements slow down and become more awkward, and something similar seems to occur within our heads. As middle age encroaches, our thinking becomes less efficient. We don’t toggle between mental tasks as nimbly as we once did or process new information with the same aplomb and clarity.”

But then you can skip the science in the middle of the article and head straight to the encouraging conclusion:

“The upshot of the findings… is that daily mild exercise such as walking and mild jogging may affect the way the brain works, so that an older person’s brain ‘acts like a younger brain.’”

So, off for a brisk jog now…

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Speaking of which, I took this photo from my bedroom window yesterday morning. Once a year a bunch of crazy people run a mini-marathon around Madrid dressed up as Santa Claus. Many with fake beards and all. I even saw several dogs trotting alongside their owners, also dressed up in little doggy Father Christmas outfits. Crazy.


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2 things I’m particularly enjoying this week

1) The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

the big sleep

Beautifully written, with a gripping plot. Very dry, very “noir”, amazing language. For example:

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.


“If I sound a little sinister as a parent, Mr. Marlowe, it’s because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy.” He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, then opened them again suddenly. “I need not add that a man who indulges in parenthood for the first time at the age of fifty-four deserves all he gets.”

2) Calm

Calm 2Calm 1

For improving concentration, this is my secret weapon. I discovered recently that I’m not the only one who thinks that she is terrible at meditating – it turns out that most people do. Huge relief. So, knowing that, I let Calm help me focus on my breathing and quiet my mind, and remind me to let thoughts go. I really like the voice behind the guided sessions, the background sounds, and the beautiful, peaceful videos that accompany. Enhanced focus, here I come!

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Have a great week, and good luck with the holiday shopping!

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