Hacking It

Will the Maker movement transform the political economy of physical things, much as the Internet has transformed the political economy of intangibles? Perhaps, but expect the same level of blowbacks and contradictions. Tools are just tools; they can be used for good, or for bad. “Our tech imagination is at its zenith. But our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratising potential of radical technologies” (4,000 words)

Snowden Saga Heralds Radical Shift In Capitalism

The Snowden leaks have focused public debate almost entirely on state spying, obscuring a wider truth: We have begun a “transformation in how capitalism works”, with personal data as an “alternative payment regime”, allowing us to sell ourselves without knowing it. The notion that “we just need more laws, more tools, more transparency” to restore the status quo ante is a “simplistic narrative” which serves Google and the NSA equally (860 words)

We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley

We’re so thrilled by new technology that we ignore the corporate and political agenda of its producers. “We understand that the interests of pharmaceutical, food and oil companies naturally diverge from our own, but we rarely approach Silicon Valley with the requisite suspicion. We continue to treat data as if it were a special, magical commodity that could single-handedly defend itself against any evil genius who dares to exploit it” (4,000 words)

The Real Privacy Problem

The privacy and surveillance debate belongs in the domain of politics, not technology. “The balance between privacy and transparency is especially in need of adjustment in times of rapid technological change. That balance itself is a political issue par excellence, to be settled through public debate and always left open for negotiation. It can’t be settled once and for all by some combination of theories, markets, and technologies” (4,800 words)

The Price Of Hypocrisy

Lessons from the Snowden affair. “While Silicon Valley runs, updates and monetizes the digital infrastructure, the NSA can tap it on demand. Everyone specialises and everyone wins. Decentralisation is liberating only if there’s no powerful actor that can rip off the benefits after the network has been put in place. If such an actor exists – like NSA in this case – those in power get more of what they want quicker, and pay less” (4,855 words)

Connecting The Dots, Missing The Story

“There is an immense — but mostly invisible — cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomized by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions, and jump straight to dealing with their consequences” (1,261 words)

Future Shlock

Review of The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. An ill-researched exercise in crude futurology asserting that Google can safely be left in control of technologies, the real-world implications of which it scarcely understands. “One day Google will fall. [But] thanks in part to this superficial and megalomaniacal book, the company’s mammoth intellectual ambitions will be preserved for posterity to study in a cautionary way” (5,180 words)

Machines Of Laughter And Forgetting

Makers of tech products aim for frictionless design: It just works. But convenience comes at a cost. Consumers are deprived of awareness and understanding. “Pick any electrical appliance in your kitchen. The odds are that you have no idea how much electricity it consumes, let alone how it compares to other appliances and households. This ignorance is neither natural nor inevitable; it stems from a conscious decision by the designer. Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery” (823 words)

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