Some of the most interesting reads of the week (where has January gone?):
Scaling The ‘Sharing Economy’ – by Frances Coppola, for Forbes
Just one of many salvoes in the debate on the impact that the “sharing economy” is having/will have on the world economy. The debate is intense and heating up, which is actually very enjoyable because it ropes in themes such as the value of community, the economic value of free time, and “would you go to Helsinki anyway, if there weren’t Airbnb rooms available?”.
“Proponents of the “sharing economy” claim that thousands of ordinary people renting out their assets for a consideration makes more efficient use of existing capital. This is true at the margin, though the sharing-economy fans have a tendency to ignore such minor issues as opportunity costs and dilapidation in order to support exorbitant claims about the beneficial economic effects of so-called “sharing”. There might be some economic improvement as a result of more intensive capital use by ordinary individuals, but it’s not going to change the world.”
Pending further research, so far I am in the Coppola/Kaminsky camp, which points out that the impact of the new sharing business models on the world economy are/will be marginal at best, since individuals can earn more money (which is good), but hotels, taxis, etc. earn less (which is not so good).
I say “pending further research” because where I live, the attraction of Uber vs. taxis is the lower prices. So I would save money by using the sharing economy, right? It’s cheaper for me to “share” my neighbour’s drill than it is for me to buy my own. Good for me, not so good for the drill makers or the people they employ. But if I can spend my savings on something else, I create more demand and perhaps even jobs in that sector. If I decide to stash my savings in the bank, the bank will lend my money to another business which will hopefully create value and jobs. But what if I put my savings under the mattress? Delayed consumption, you might say. And here is where we get into pure philosophical economics, which I could happily debate all day but is not the purpose of this summary.
So, you see why I love the sharing economy debate. It is not just about a more efficient use of assets. It’s not just about a re-distribution of wealth. It involves an up-close study of motivation and human rationality, of individual and collective values, of cultural differences, the relative value of time, and the importance of philosophy.
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Hippie paper aeroplanes… Very cool. Via Wired.
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The guilt trip as a user interface – by Katie Notopolous, for Buzzfeed
I really hate the “No thanks, I’m not interested in being smart/informed/beautiful” option on the “Subscribe to my essential newsletter!!!” window that pops up on some media sites. It’s not the guilt that they’re attempting to make me feel that drives me mad, it’s the condescension implied that by not adding to my inbox’s overflow, I’m choosing to be a lesser person.
“The fact is, yeah, we probably ought to feel a little guilty about what we’ve gotten up to on the Internet in the last few years. I mean, look at your Google history (seriously, you are sick). But that private self-loathing that’s been the fire for so many great moments should be, well, private. Let US hate ourselves. Let US create awkward social situations with acquaintances. Let US off the hook for not treating our inboxes like the pile of unread New Yorkers that already cause us internal shame. We feel plenty bad already.”
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Harnessing the power of video games for journalism – by Rose Everleth, for Nieman Labs
This is really interesting: video games as journalism. I didn’t see this one coming, which now that I think of it, was short-sighted. But, will the application end up being practical? Or is it another “gimmick” to stand out in a “peak content” world? I hope it’s the former – this seems like another welcome example of the stunning creativity that the media world is gearing up to offer.
“For journalists, games offer compelling storytelling possibilities. They can simulate complex systems, where different choices create different outcomes. They can create a sense of emotion and urgency in players. And they can connect people with experiences they may never have in actual life. “Our job as journalists is to inform the public,” says Wei. “By using emotion and empathy, games allow us to inform readers in a new way, one they both remember and understand.””
Journalism that makes us “feel” – that has always been more lastingly gripping than straightforward news or clickbait. A public that feels more is more motivated to change things.
““News isn’t just about conveying information,” says Benedetto. “It’s about getting people to understand a situation, and I can’t think of any better way to do that than by dropping them into a situation and having them figure it out.””
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Digital Revolution Needs Offline Help to Realize Its Potential – from The World Bank
The World Bank has come out with a sobering report on the dangers of allowing the current “digital inequality” in the world to continue.
“The spread of digital technologies over the last two decades has been rapid and generated a lot of excitement about the possibilities of the digital age. But the hoped-for benefits — greater productivity, more opportunity for the poor and middle class, more accountable governments and companies — have not spread as far and wide as anticipated, says the report.”
Nearly 60% of the world’s population is still offline. Nearly 2 billion people do not use a mobile phone. Half a billion people live in areas with no mobile coverage. The report argues that relying on digital to solve the world’s problems is not the solution. Analog, or “offline”, reforms need to set the stage first.
And it’s nowhere near as simple as it sounds:
““While technology can be extremely helpful in many ways, it’s not going to help us circumvent the failures of development over the last couple of decades. You still have to get the basics right: education, business climate, and accountability in government.””
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These photos are so beautiful… Via My Modern Met. Almost enough to make me miss Christmas already.
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Why do we expose ourselves? – by Astra Taylor, for The Intercept
Cripes. Tell me you don’t recognize yourself in this article.
“1984, Harcourt acknowledges, was an astoundingly farsighted text, but Orwell failed to anticipate the role pleasure would come to play in our culture of surveillance — specifically, the way it could be harnessed, as opposed to suppressed, by powerful interests. Oceania’s “Hate Week” is nowhere to be found; instead, we live in a world of likes, favorites, and friending. Foucault’s panopticon, in turn, needs a similar update; mass incarceration aside, the panopticon — for the rest of us — has become participatory, more of an amusement park or shopping mall than a penal institution. Rather than being coerced to reveal secrets, today we seem to enjoy self-exposure, giving away “our most intimate information and whereabouts so willingly and passionately — so voluntarily.””
There’s so much that we still don’t know about our own human needs and limits. And how much of the success of social media models is principal motivation, and how much is unexpected side effects? And what difference does it make to our behaviour to be watched, vs to know we are being watched? Does it matter who’s doing the watching, does that affect how we feel about it?
“Recommendation algorithms, advertising, and addictive interfaces all chip away at our autonomy in different manners. What’s more, we are forced to participate in online life in myriad ways. Students are advised to manage their social media profiles so they can get into a good college; adults are compelled to groom their LinkedIn profiles in order to secure employment; journalists and other creative professionals are told they must join Twitter to promote their work; and so on.”
If all this watching and collecting is enjoyable and for “our own benefit”, we might as well use it:
“…it is true that the state has merged with corporate interests. But it is also true that the state remains one of the public’s most powerful weapons. If compelled by a powerful social movement, the state could aggressively enforce anti-trust regulations, pass a baseline cross-sector privacy law, enforce labor rights for employees of digital disruptors such as Uber, rein in the financial apparatus that has abetted the latest tech bubble with its massively inflated start-up valuations, and invest in public options such as municipal broadband (paid for, perhaps, with the taxes tech companies are currently dodging by sheltering assets overseas).”
Really thought-provoking, one of the top reads of the week.
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Two things I really enjoyed this week:
Hot Fuzz, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – ridiculously gory and brilliantly hilarious. To be seen to be believed.
The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. I haven’t seen the movie yet, because I wanted to finish the book first so that I can pretentiously announce which I preferred.