In an opinion piece at The Financial Times, Izabella Kaminska compares the creation of Meta/Facebook’s metaverse to the creation of Las Vegas during The Great Depression of the 1930:

In the long run, if there is any moral to the Las Vegas story it’s that if you want to bootstrap a fantasy realm for the purpose of enriching a small elite at the expense of users, it helps to have a repressed, desperate and captured demographic within your proximity. With the metaverse it’s unlikely to be any different. You’re still going to be the product. You may be more accepting of it, but only because base reality is getting more and more like historic Boulder City by the day.

In a brilliant article at MIT Technology Review, Tate Ryan-Mosley gives an overview of the history and challenges of face and beauty filters that are popular on social media apps and platforms:

The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight.

He also mentions an interesting bit of history of face filter technology that originated in Japan:

These real-time video filters are a recent advance, but beauty filters more broadly are an extension of the decades-old selfie phenomenon. The movement is rooted in Japanese “kawaii” culture, which obsesses over (typically girly) cuteness, and it developed when purikura—photo booths that allowed customers to decorate self-portraits—became staples in Japanese video arcades in the mid-1990s. In May of 1999, Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera released the first mobile phone with a front-facing camera, and selfies started to break out to the mainstream.

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic I have spent most I my time at home, working and away from friends and family. I therefore have had to significantly make use of video chat for work meetings and meeting loved ones. In an article on Vox, Adam Clark Estes writes about the history of this technology and how these changes are shaping our lives and the technology itself:

(…) hosting a party with a video chat component certainly sounds less weird today than it would have six months ago. If it was already evident that videoconferencing had become a mainstay of many offices, that it could be a prominent part of our social lives is a new idea to me. That explains my initial surprise when the folks from Microsoft Teams started telling me how their workplace software had taken on new roles, like social networking, in many users’ lives. In other words, the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with these tools and with digital spaces generally.

The article further delves in the changes made to the technology to make more pleasant to use. Read the full article here.

The current measures taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic have included the temporary closer of most offices around the world. An unprecedented event, with so many people working from home. It is interesting to think about the long term consequences for office. Catherine Nixey at The Economist 1843 magazine has published an article about the “Death of the office”.

An article from No Tech Magazine by Arthur Grimonpont introduces “dachas” and community agriculture that is common in Russia as a way reslient and biodiverse food system. The systems apparently arised with food shortages during the Russian civil war:

Garden communities (…) appeared in 1917, following the increasing and worsening food shortages after the Russian state established a monopoly on food production. The gardens, informal by origin, were originally disapproved by Soviet powers. However, they quickly became managed by the state due to their undeniable efficiency in counteracting the shortages. The communities were controlled by state businesses that divided the property into equal plots and distributed them to employees.

The author also gives some good examples why such a system may be a good alternative to industrial agriculture:

The moderate size of the plots and the ban on the commercialisation of the produce separate them from the agro-industry (seeds, fertiliser, tools) and from professional selling avenues: swapping and using your own produce are the only legal practices. The datchniki don’t have to put up with fluctuations in the price of agricultural produce. Their harvest, little or not at all modified, doesn’t depend on any factories or mainstream infrastructure. The mixture of fruit trees, vegetable patch plants and ornamental crops creates a varied island of greenery. The gardens host great biodiversity, which decreases vulnerability to disease, pests and adverse weather conditions.

See the full article, “A “Dacha” for Everyone? Community Gardens and Food Security in Russia” here.

The video series “Dissolving Realities” by digital artist Ruben Fro are disturbing, yet fascinating. Via @Kottke.

The “Institute of Human Obscolescence” is creating thought provoking speculative fiction artwork about changes in labour from advances in artificial intelligence and possible “human obscolescence”.

One project is called “biological labour” and envisages how bodies may produce elecricity for mining cryptocurrency:

A single human body at rest radiates 100 watts of excess heat. We created a body-suit that uses thermoelectric generators to harvest the temperature differential between the human body and ambient and converts it into usable electricity. The electricity generated is then fed to a computer that produces cryptocurrency.

Two important news updates via Tv5Monde’s 7 jours sur la planète emission of 30 March 2019:

  • “La Suède, l’autre pays du cyborg”: in Sweden it seems to become more common to have an RFID chip implanted under the skin. So much so that even in the train it seems to slowly be considered normal to use your hand with the implanted chip to scan your ticket.
  • “Nestlé accusé d’épuiser la nappe phréatique”: in France some activist groups are campainging against Nestlé for the water the company is extracting from the ground for their bottled water. I can imagine this happening in a lot more places in the world as water becomes more scarce.

The New Yorker writes on the doomsday preparation strategies of the super rich in America, preparing for survival and escape from the society they helped create.

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

This fear could turn into positive actions, but as they write, a number of these people are simple looking for an escape strategy for when a (environmental or other type of) catastrophe would occur, or if there would be a public backlash against them.

Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But elite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair.

New York Times article on Yuval Harari by @NellieBowles “The futurist philosopher Yuval Noah Harari thinks Silicon Valley is an engine of dystopian ruin. So why do the digital elite adore him so?”.