We’re virtually there already

It’s great to hear Draxtor bringing a little pragmatism to the metaverse debate in this interview with PC Gamer.

Virtual worlds are already better than the metaverse will ever bePC Gamer
For seven years Drax has been documenting the smaller, more personal side of the Second Life community, one he tells me has continued to thrive even as Second Life largely receded from the public eye. His documentaries focus on the ways people use Second Life to overcome disability; explore how the Black Lives Matter movement manifested in the game; or simply record regular book clubs held inside Second Life. […]

As Drax notes, total physical immersion is almost besides the point: “The secret sauce of [Second Life] is community. Loads of people feel completely immersed although they have no headset. I am personally psyched about where headset tech goes but Silicon Valley needs to understand that for a lot of people, this does not mean an increased sense of being there. The level of perceived immersion has to do with what people contribute to their communities”.

And here’s someone else who thinks a more real metaverse is already here.

Lessons from social media’s predecessors

The Online Safety Bill is a proposed Act of the Parliament intended to improve internet safety.

UK online safety bill could set tone for global social media regulationThe Guardian
Even before the arrival of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, social media companies were feeling the heat from regulators and politicians. It is white-hot now. We were well past the tipping point of mild concern from governments and watchdogs anyway, but Haugen’s document leaks and Senate testimony have given greater legitimacy and impetus to those who say something has to be done.

Something has to be done, but what?

Telegrams (a one-to-one system with messages carried “under lock and key”) and radio stations (broadcasting, with a “public interest standard”) were cutting edge technologies once, requiring new approaches to regulation and legislation. Here, Nicholas Carr takes us on a trip back in time to draw interesting comparisons between how those approaches came about and what might be required to improve our experience of social media. It’s not going to fix itself.

How to fix social mediaThe New Atlantis
Disentangling personal speech and public speech is clarifying. It reveals the dual roles that social media companies play. They transmit personal messages on behalf of individuals, and they broadcast a variety of content to the general public. The two businesses have very different characteristics, as we’ve seen, and they demand different kinds of oversight. The two-pronged regulatory approach of the last century, far from being obsolete, remains vital. It can once again help bring order to a chaotic media environment. For a Congress struggling with the complexities of the social media crisis, it might even serve as the basis of a broad new law — a Digital Communications Act in the tradition of the original Communications Act — that both protects the privacy of personal correspondence and conversation and secures the public’s interest in broadcasting.

Metaverse schmetaverse

Another set of reactions to Meta’s easy-to-mock metaverse announcement, and reminders that its sci-fi inspirations were dystopian novels.

Mocking Meta: Facebook’s virtual reality name change prompts backlashThe Guardian
Satirical late night news programme the Daily Show tweaked Zuckerberg’s Meta presentation video by superimposing the tech billionaire onto footage of the January 6 Capitol riots and the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist march. Both events were organised on Facebook. “Imagine you’ve put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your home space and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful,” Zuckerberg says as footage of Capital rioters and a group of tiki torch-bearing white supremacists plays in the background.

Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing realityRough Type
Facebook, it’s now widely accepted, has been a calamity for the world. The obvious solution, most people would agree, is to get rid of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has a different idea: Get rid of the world.

Experts warn Facebook’s metaverse poses ‘terrifying dangers’New York Post
Professor Reid is concerned about the vast amount of data that could be collected from the metaverse and who controls it. He also fears that avatars could be hacked and you could end up interacting with cybercriminals rather than people you know and trust. Reid explained: “The metaverse’s ultimate aim is not just virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s mixed reality (MR). It’s blending the digital and the real world together. Ultimately this blend may be so good, and so pervasive, that the virtual and the real become indistinguishable. And the market for that is gigantic. Whoever controls it, will basically have control over your entire reality.”

From ‘metaverse’ to ‘metacapitalism’.

Metaverse: how Facebook rebrand reflects a dangerous trend in growing power of tech monopoliesThe Conversation
The backlash has ranged from moral outrage over Facebook itself, to ridiculing Zuckerberg’s new vision for technology. What is overlooked is how this represents the desire to create metacapitalism – which uses technology to shape, exploit and profit from human interaction. It is a completely marketised virtual reality world fuelled by the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, unjust global working conditions and the constant invasion of users’ data privacy for private financial gain. […]

These moves play into a broader strategy to socially rebrand metacapitalism positively. The introduction of the metaverse is part of a new trend of what business ethics academic Carl Rhodes has referred to it as “woke capitalism”, noting in a recent article that “progressive gestures from big business aren’t just useless – they’re dangerous”. Whether it is the Gates Foundation initially opposing the spread of global vaccines in order to protect patent rights, or Elon Musk promising to create an “multi-planet civilisation” – while avoiding paying much-needed taxes here on Earth – corporations are now increasingly using philanthropy and utopian visions to hide their present day misdeeds.

Do you think he’s worried, though? Doubt it.

Meta and the Facebook Papers: Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to fearSalon.com
[L]et’s face it: Investors aren’t foolish if they continue to act as if there’s no chance in hell that the behemoth social network will face serious consequences for anti-social behavior. On the contrary, anyone taking a look at Capitol Hill right now would be surprised if that American leadership could reliably regulate a dodgeball game, much less an international company that is eroding our collective faith in humanity. […]

Zuckerberg has proved, time and again, that he cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it conflicts with his profit motive. Yet politicians at a federal level look like they’re powerless against a company they supposedly have a legal right to regulate. So, as much fun as it is to imagine Facebook will be toppled by this deluge of scandals, right now, the smart bet is that they’ll come out on the other end of this doing just fine. The rest of the world, however, won’t be so lucky.

Still, this is all some way off.

Metaverse: five things to know – and what it could mean for youThe Conversation
Different corporations will probably have their own visions or even local versions of the metaverse but, like the internet, they will all be connected, so you can move from one to the other. … I suspect Facebook will need to be in this for the long haul and that their vision of the metaverse is still many years off becoming a (virtual) reality.

Metaverse! Metaverse? Metaverse!!Benedict Evans
So, all of this is rather like standing in front of a whiteboard in the early 1990s and writing words like interactive TV, hypertext, broadband, AOL, multimedia, and maybe video and games, and then drawing a box around them all and labelling the box ‘information superhighway’. That vision of all consumers everywhere being connected to something was entirely correct, but not like that, and many of those components were blind alleys. ‘Metaverse’ today is again a label for a bunch of words on a whiteboard, some of which are more real than others, and which might well all end up combined, but not necessarily like that.

This article from PC Gamer has been my favourite take-down of all this metaverse hype, I think.

The metaverse is bulls**tPC Gamer
The metaverse is bulls**t because tech moguls missed the part where cyberpunk is dystopian. More than NFTs or cryptocurrency or any of the other brain-melting nonsense tied up in the tech landscape of 2021, this is the part that truly makes me want to stick my entire fist in my mouth and bite down. The push to create the metaverse, at least from companies like Epic and Facebook, seems entirely built on a teenage boy’s reading of Snow Crash: zeroing in on the awesome vision of future technology while totally missing the book’s satirical skewering of capitalism.

Microsoft’s making a start, though.

Microsoft takes on Facebook by launching metaverse on TeamsFinancial Times
The US software giant said that in the first half of next year, users of its Teams collaboration software would be able to appear as avatars — or animated cartoons — in video meetings. Remote workers will also be able to use their avatars to visit virtual work spaces, which would eventually include replicas of their employers’ offices. … “With 250m people around the world using Teams, the introduction of avatars will be the first real metaverse element to seem real,” said Jared Spataro, the head of Teams.

The metaverse will mostly be for workQuartz
For all of the chatter from Facebook/Meta, Nvidia, and other companies about building the metaverse, though, he thinks the metaverse will be mostly empty. That is to say, there won’t necessarily be a lot of things to do in this immersive version of the internet. While social experiences and games could come to define the space, Bailenson, who founded Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is betting that education and work will remain the “killer apps” of virtual reality (VR) in the years to come.

How dull. I know where I’d rather be.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse: Lessons from Second LifeBBC News
Rei’s concern about a metaverse monopoly is one shared by many, including Anya Kanevsky, vice-president of product management at Linden Lab – the company running Second Life. Anya has watched with interest as several tech giants have started to talk about the new idea of a life online. Second Life has been going since 2003.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the dystopian nature that the conversation seems to be taking on right now,” she says. “The entry of a slightly oversized and outsized player into the space seems to signal to people that they are not the owners of it, that someone else is going to be setting the rules and kind of running the show and they will just be the consumers.”

As has been pointed out many times now, it was Neal Stephenson’s dystopian Snow Crash that first gave us this term, back in 1992.

Snow Crash and four other novels which are required reading for the Facebook generationVerdict
Arguably the most prescient element of the novel is the government’s failure to legislate to curb the technology which controls the world. At one point, the villain of the novel notes: “Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favourite sport… It’s like if they figured out a way to regulate horses at the same time the [Ford] Model T and the airplane were being introduced.”

What’s he working on these days?

Sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson finally takes on global warmingWIRED
[H] read journalist Oliver Morton’s 2015 book The Planet Remade, about solving the problem of climate change with scientific and technological trickery on a planetary scale. That idea made Stephenson think there might be a novel there. “Nothing else matters in comparison. It’s going to be the issue for 100 years,” Stephenson says. “I’m a guy who found a niche writing fiction about technical and scientific topics. It seemed odd to me that I should get to the end of my career and never take a whack at it.”

Another sci-fi author whose name crops up when discussing the metaverse is Ernest Cline. Here, he shares with us some thoughts on his debut novel, Ready Player One.

Ernest Cline’s Kindle notes & highlights for Ready Player OneGoodreads
“Besides, now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

When I wrote this back in 2011, several movie stars had already been elected to public office here in the United States, and it was becoming obvious that fame and familiarity had the power to sway a lot of voters. In trying to envision my future dystopian reality of 2045, I imagined that at some point, only movie stars, radical televangelists and reality TV personalities would be able to get elected. I didn’t expect that it would take less than a decade for a reality TV personality to be elected to the highest office in the land.

When all’s said and done, other social networks are always available, as John Atkinson reminds us.

A century of social networkingWrong Hands

All very meh-ta

After last month’s speculation about Facebook’s attention deflecting rebrand, Mark is ploughing ahead with his metaverse plans and has plumped for Meta.

The Facebook company is now MetaMeta
The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for our company.

(I like how he quickly dismisses that astronaut costume. Is that a dig at his billionaire buddies’ aspirations, I wonder?)

How has this gone down? As you’d expect.

Zuckerberg announces fantasy world where Facebook is not a horrible companyVice
[T]he juxtaposition between Zuckerberg’s pitch of living, working, playing, and generally existing in a utopian, fake, Facebook-developed virtual world loaded with fun and friendly people, concerts where you can always be in the front row, seamless mixed-reality basketball games where you feel like you are actually playing basketball, and kicksass, uhh, NFTs you can use to modify your metaverse avatar are a far cry from the disinformation, conspiracy theories, genocide-related, self-esteem destroying, spam, and general garbage content that exists on the platforms Facebook has already built. […]

About halfway through the delusional fever dream that was Facebook’s biggest product announcement of all time, Mark Zuckerberg said that “the last few years have been humbling for me and our company in a lot of ways,” as Facebook has nominally had to grapple with the harm it’s done to this world. It’s hard to find anything “humble” about a proposal to fundamentally remake human existence using technology that currently does not and may not ever exist and that few are currently clamoring for. But Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, and so he is pitching products that don’t exist for a reality that does not exist in a desperate attempt to change the narrative as it exists in reality, where we all actually live.

Metaverse, Mars, meditation retreats: billionaires want to escape the world they ruinedThe Guardian
Facebook has played a major role in fomenting ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, drumming up lynch mobs in India and Sri Lanka, amplifying white nationalism in the US and providing the anti-vaccine movement with a massive megaphone during a global pandemic. Rather than address this ruination, Zuckerberg wants us to all turn our attention to a land of make-believe where he’s friends with rappers and you can watch Instagram stories on a pirate ship.

Escaping into the MetaverseThe New York Times
Personally, I like the real world, one that’s not riven by the hate that’s being stoked, in part, by tech companies like Facebook. But, hey, look over here at this airy, techtopia concept. There’s “Project Cambria,” the code name for a new high-end headset thingie that is still in development. And, oh, wow, it’s a Mark avatar in a skeleton costume being controlled by Mark himself!

This is not a new tactic. When it was in regulatory trouble in the 1990s, Microsoft hosted Forum 2000, where the company screened future-forward conceptual videos. It didn’t fix the company’s image problem or change the conversation. As one Microsoft executive who was there just texted me about Facebook, “I swear all they have to do is look at all the stupid things we did and then NOT DO THOSE THINGS but apparently they’ve decided to do them faster.”

The internet’s had fun with all this, as you’d imagine.

‘Very… meta’: Twitter cracks up over Facebook rebrandInquirer
Meat jokes were all the rage, with US hamburger chain Wendy’s tweeting shortly after the news: “Changing name to Meat.” […] For lots of people, meta will forever describe something that refers back to or is about itself, like a film about people making a film about filmmaking. “Everyone posting about Facebook on Twitter is very… meta,” wrote @JohnRush32.

Why The Matrix 4 is now marketing the movie as a true storyScreen Rant
A new poster for The Matrix Resurrections claims that the film is “based on real events,” spoofing Facebook’s recent company name change. […] It can be difficult to tell the difference between the simulation and the real world in The Matrix, and while the new poster is only a joke, the parallel to actual tech companies and their frightening level of control over the public consciousness does drive home the message of the franchise. MetaCortex isn’t Facebook, but the similarities are hard to ignore, especially in an age where polarization and radicalization through social media are so prevalent.

But some people have issues with the logo itself.

Origin and the pros and cons of Facebook’s new infinity Meta logoDesignboom
Once the new design surfaced, the digital community stepped in with some thoughts. Some criticized the new infinity-like symbol as being quite outdated and overused in company logos over the years. Bill Gardner, founder of the online database LogoLounge, explains how the continuous loop symbol was a trend that took off back in 2008, with too many companies adopted it in their logo designs ever since. Conducting a search on LogoLounge, Gardner found over 1,200 variations of the infinity symbol in brand logos. More surprisingly, a very similar name and design to that of Facebook’s was created back in 2015 by Maria Grønlund for a sleep tracker startup.

But what of the actual metaverse? Does this announcement get us any closer to it? Here’s John Cormack, the 3D and VR expert behind Oculus VR, a key component in any of Facebook’s Meta’s plans.

John Carmack issues some words of warning for Meta and its metaverse plansArs Technica
The idea of the metaverse, Carmack says, can be “a honeypot trap for ‘architecture astronauts.'” Those are the programmers and designers who “want to only look at things from the very highest levels,” he said, while skipping the “nuts and bolts details” of how these things actually work. These so-called architecture astronauts, Carmack said, “want to talk in high abstract terms about how we’ll have generic objects that can contain other objects that can have references to these and entitlements to that, and we can pass control from one to the other.” That kind of high-level hand-waving makes Carmack “just want to tear [his] hair out… because that’s just so not the things that are actually important when you’re building something.”

“But here we are,” Carmack continued. “Mark Zuckerberg has decided that now is the time to build the metaverse, so enormous wheels are turning and resources are flowing and the effort is definitely going to be made.”

So much of what he goes on to say goes straight over my head, but it’s still a fascinating summary of the current state of play from someone who obviously knows what he’s talking about.

The metaverse is already here. It’s MinecraftClive Thompson
The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off. It’s Minecraft, of course.

Hmm, perhaps not. As has been explained before, that’s just an example of a very successful virtual world, not a metaverse. Speaking of which:

Second Life trends on Twitter after Meta announcementDaniel Voyager
Second Life has now been around for over 18 years and still going strong with a active userbase. There has been positive net growth during 2021 and the lab have improved the platform over the years. Second Life is going to be around for many more years to come.

What’s in a name? #12

It seems Facebook are planning to take a leaf out of Google/Alphabet’s book, and separate out the thing it’s known best for from the insidious, multinational, overarching mega-conglomerate behind it.

Facebook is planning to rebrand the company with a new nameThe Verge
Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more.

New logo? Call itself ‘FCBK’? Bring back poking? How Facebook could rebrandThe Guardian
“Horizon” has been touted as Facebook’s new umbrella name, but in my estimation this is both too bland and too far removed from the company’s origins. Instead, let’s just ditch all the vowels and call it FCBK. Yes, it would be using the sort of textspeak that has been extinct for a decade and a half and, yes, at first glance it does look like there’s a new company called “Fuckbook”. But this is Facebook, remember. What were you expecting – competence?

The future’s so bright?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ray-Ban StoriesLuxottica
Facebook, Inc. and Ray-Ban releases the next generation of smart glasses, Ray-Ban Stories. The highly anticipated collaboration brings forward a new way to seamlessly capture, share and listen through your most authentic moments. […]

We’re introducing an entirely new way for people to stay connected to the world around them and truly be present in life’s most important moments, and to look good while doing it,” said Andrew Bosworth, Vice President, Facebook Reality Labs.

I wish Ray-Ban’s Stories smart glasses were made by anyone but FacebookYahoo Finance
Whether or not you’re willing to make that investment largely depends on how you feel about Facebook and what you are hoping to get out of a pair of “smart glasses.” At best, they feel like a better, more polished version of Snapchat’s Spectacles. It’s still a novelty, but with decent audio, smart glasses are starting to feel a lot more useful. At worst, the glasses are yet another reminder of Facebook’s dominance.

Facebook announces launch of Ray-Ban Stories smart glassesThe Guardian
The company’s hardest sell might not be privacy, but the glasses themselves. Snapchat’s Spectacles are now in their third generation, with improvements each time, yet they’ve failed to catch the imagination of the target market. The company took a $40m write-down on the value of unsold inventory in 2017.

Facebook and Ray-Ban are rolling out smart glasses that actually look cool. Will anyone buy them?CNN
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting away with something while wearing Ray-Ban Stories in public. As far as I could tell, nobody noticed anything unusual about the glasses while chasing my kids around a busy playground, even when I was taking numerous short videos. (It was impossible for me to tell, but perhaps the bright sunlight made the glasses’ white LED less noticeable.) I walked into stores with them on, took pictures of myself in mirrors, and nobody even blinked. It would have been easy to use these glasses to invade other people’s privacy. Was this accidentally furtive photo- and video-taking turning me into a Facehole?

Facebook’s new camera glasses are dangerously easy to useWIRED
During a dinner with friends last weekend, Peter wore the Ray-Ban Stories the whole time—and it wasn’t until he pointed out the tiny sensors embedded at the temples that friends noticed. Once they did, though, Facebook’s biggest issue didn’t take long to surface: “So, you’ve been recording the whole time?” one friend asked, only half joking. Similarly, Lauren recorded (then deleted) a conversation with an editor while fumbling with the glasses. The editor never noticed.

Smart glasses made Google look dumb. Now Facebook is giving them a try.The New York Times
Many of these privacy concerns are beside the point for technologists who see wearables as inexorable for society. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, the ultimate goal is to eventually release a pair of smart glasses that fully augment reality, which puts a kind of virtual overlay onto the world in front of people.

That idea is yet another step on the road to the metaverse, Mr. Zuckerberg’s term for how parts of the virtual and actual world will eventually meld together and share different parts of each other.

Is it getting a little tiring, now, to keep responding to these type of stories with ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’? I did, however, like the comment about determining someone’s age by their taking-a-photo gestures, at the end of this piece from the BBC’s Chris Fox.

Sending a message to WhatsApp

WhatsApp fined $267 million for breaching EU privacy lawThe Verge
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) announced the decision in an 89-page summary (PDF), noting that WhatsApp did not properly inform EU citizens how it handles their personal data, including how it shares that information with its parent company.

WhatsApp hit with €225M privacy finePolitico
Ireland’s data regulator on Thursday fined WhatsApp €225 million for violating Europe’s privacy rules — a more than four-fold increase in the penalty compared to what the watchdog had initially proposed.

Ireland watchdog fines WhatsApp record sum for flouting EU data rulesThe Guardian
Four “very serious” infringements violated the core of GDPR, said Dixon. “They go to the heart of the general principle of transparency and the fundamental right of the individual to protection of his/her personal data which stems from the free will and autonomy of the individual to share his/her personal data in a voluntary situation such as this.” The violations affected an “extremely high” number of people, said the watchdog.

Adrian Weckler explains WhatsApp’s €225m fineIndependent.ie: YouTube
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner has imposed a €225m fine on Facebook-owned Whatsapp, Europe’s second largest penalty so far under GDPR privacy laws. However, it did so only after being ordered to raise the amount by an EU data oversight board.

WhatsApp fined €225m for not telling users how it shared data with FacebookFinancial Times
The WhatsApp ruling came after Luxembourg fined Amazon a record €746m in July for breaching GDPR and Ireland fined Twitter €450m in December for not informing regulators about a data leak within 72 hours. The Irish Data Protection Commission has more than two dozen ongoing investigations into big tech companies. Amazon has said it will appeal against its fine.

Facebook: Let us tell you WhatsApp – we don’t want to pay that €225m GDPR fineThe Register
It’s reported to be the heftiest fine ever issued by the DPC and the second-largest handed out under EU data protection laws. It’s also small change for WhatsApp’s parent Facebook, which made a $30bn profit in its latest financial year. The fine is about one per cent of the social network’s annual net income. […]

As well as the fine, the DPC has also ordered WhatsApp to take “a range of specified remedial actions” which some sources claim could make privacy policies even less user friendly.

The internet’s next leap forward?

Remember when virtual reality was supposed to be the next all-encompassing, technological paradigm? Or the Internet of Things? Well, hold on to your VR googles because the metaverse is coming! Mark says so.

Facebook wants us to live in the metaverseThe New Yorker
In a Facebook earnings call last week, Mark Zuckerberg outlined the future of his company. The vision he put forth wasn’t based on advertising, which provides the bulk of Facebook’s current profits, or on an increase in the over-all size of the social network, which already has nearly three billion monthly active users. Instead, Zuckerberg said that his goal is for Facebook to help build the “metaverse,” a Silicon Valley buzzword that has become an obsession for anyone trying to predict, and thus profit from, the next decade of technology.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook into a ‘metaverse company’ – what does that mean?The Conversation
In his quest to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, Zuckerberg is seeking to build a system where people move between virtual reality (VR), AR and even 2D devices, using realistic avatars of themselves where appropriate. Here they will work, socialise, share things and have other experiences, while still probably using the internet for some tasks such as searches which are similar to how we use it now. Owning not only the Facebook platform but also WhatsApp, Instagram and VR headset maker Oculus gives Zuckerberg a big head start in making this a reality.

Here’s how the man himself describes it, in an interview with The Verge.

Mark in the metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company’The Verge
The metaverse is a vision that spans many companies — the whole industry. You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet. And it’s certainly not something that any one company is going to build, but I think a big part of our next chapter is going to hopefully be contributing to building that, in partnership with a lot of other companies and creators and developers. But you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.

For context, it would be helpful to read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from 2011, recently made into a movie of the same name. Exciting, dynamic sci-fi thrillers, but not futures that I’d like as my present.

The metaverse has always been a dystopian ideaVICE
If it is coming, and if it is a big deal, then surprisingly few have paused to carefully consider the actual source of the metaverse, an undertaking which seems like a good idea, especially because that source is a deeply dystopian novel about a collapsed America that is overrun by violence and poverty. The metaverse was born in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash, where it serves as entertainment and an economic underbelly to a poor, desperate nation that is literally governed by corporate franchises. […]

Both books’ metaverses get at a common truism: there is something inherently dystopian in a future where humans abandon the real world in favor of an escapist and consumerist-oriented fully immersive digital one. To want to spend any serious amount of time in a metaverse, it must be made more appealing than reality, a feat which can be accomplished in one of two ways—either the world outside is already shitty enough to drive you into a glitch-prone, murder-filled alternative, or the fantasy of becoming someone else is compelling enough to consume you totally.

Is this all hype at the moment? Is there any real substance to these aspirations?

But as usual with such amorphous concepts and platform aspirations, there’s very little there. None of these luminaries, from Zuck to Nadella to Boz, seem capable of painting a coherent vision for what their particular metaverse will look or feel like, beyond gesturing at “presence” and a collection of apps, keywords, and old science fiction tropes. It is an odd vision built from a compendium of juvenile fantasies, perceived market opportunities, and overt dystopias.

Well, the author of that article might think so, but that’s not a view shared by venture capitalist Matthew Ball. He first wrote about the beginnings of the metaverse in 2018 …

Fortnite is the future, but probably not for the reasons you thinkMatthewBall.vc
The impending possibility (and broader inevitability) of the Metaverse is separate from whether Epic can, should or will pursue it. But it’s clear that Sweeney wants to build an open Metaverse before someone else builds a closed one. Many are trying.

… updated that in January 2020 …

The Metaverse: What it is, where to find it, who will build it, and FortniteMatthewBall.vc
This is why considering Fortnite as video game or interactive experience is to think too small and too immediately. Fortnite began as a game, but it quickly evolved into a social square. Its players aren’t logging in to “play”, per se, but to be with their virtual and real-world friends. Teenagers in the 1970s to 2010s would come home and spend three hours talking on the phone. Now they talk to their friends on Fortnite, but not about Fortnite. Instead, they talk about school, movies, sports, news, boys, girls and more. After all, Fortnite doesn’t have a story or IP – the plot is what happens on it and who is there.

… and then again in June 2021, with this extensive, nine-part essay, ‘The Metaverse Primer’.

A framework for the metaverseMatthewBall.vc
Since [the 2020 update], a lot has happened. COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions into Zoomschool and remote work. Roblox became one of the most popular entertainment experiences in history. Google Trends’ index on the phrase “The Metaverse” set a new “100” in March 2021. Against this baseline, use of the term never exceeded seven from January 2005 through to December 2020. With that in mind, I thought it was time to do an update – one that reflects how my thinking has changed over the past 18 months and addresses the questions I’ve received during this time, such as “Is the Metaverse here?”, “When will it arrive?”, and “What does it need to grow?”.

In this collection of essays, he dives into eight core categories; hardware, networking, computing power, virtual platforms, standards, payments, content and services, and user behaviour.

Each of these buckets is critical to the development of the Metaverse. In many cases, we have a good sense of how each one needs to develop, or at least where there’s a critical threshold (say, VR resolution and frame rates, or network latency). But recent history warns us not to be dogmatic about any specific path to, or idealized vision of, a fully functioning Metaverse. The internet was once envisioned as the ‘Information Superhighway’ and ‘World Wide Web’. Neither of these descriptions were particularly helpful in planning for 2010 or 2020, least of all in understanding how the world and almost every industry would be transformed by the internet.

Very extensive, and I can’t say I follow even half of it, but it all sounds very exciting. It’s nice to see Second Life getting a mention as a “proto-metaverse”, but I wish it was more involved.

Second Life 2021 review, documentary from inside the social metaverse – YouTube
Second Life is an open world 3D social virtual world, the precursor of the virtual reality or VR platforms we see today. But is it really on its way out of the Metaverse game as some believe? Or does it hold the keys to realizing the Metaverse as it is envisioned by many futurists and sci-fi authors? This short film seeks to answer those questions.

Hopefully this next social internet will result in a more positive future than the one envisaged in Keiichi Matsuda’s video, Hyper-reality, that I shared some time back.

Anyway, to round all this off, here are a couple of links from Dezeen on what real estate in this new digital universe might look like.

Artist Krista Kim sells “first NFT digital house in the world” for over $500,000Dezeen
Kim designed the home in 2020 to be a space that embodied her philosophy of meditative design and worked with an architect to render the house using Unreal Engine, software that is commonly used to create video games. She describes the house, which overlooks a moody mountain range and features an open-plan design and floor to ceiling glass walls, as a “light sculpture”.

Andrés Reisinger sells collection of “impossible” virtual furniture for $450,000 at auctionDezeen
Each of the virtual items can be placed in any shared 3D virtual space or “metaverse”, including open worlds such as Decentraland and Somnium Space and Minecraft. Alternatively, the 3D models can be used in virtual- and augmented-reality applications as well as development platforms such as Unity and Unreal Engine to create games, animations and CGI movies.

Timescales, though. The web’s already 30 years old, how long do we have to wait for all this? And how will we stop it going sour again?

More creepy corporate cuteness

I didn’t realise this blandly cute, aggressively friendly, dumbed down graphic design style we see absolutely everywhere on the web has a name.

Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate MemphisWired UK
It’s an aesthetic that’s often referred to as ‘Corporate Memphis’, and it’s become the definitive style for big tech and small startups, relentlessly imitated and increasingly parodied. It involves the use of simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative. Corporate Memphis is inoffensive and easy to pull off, and while its roots remain in tech marketing and user interface design, the trend has started to consume the visual world at large. It’s also drawing intense criticisms from those within the design world.

“It really boils my piss to be honest,” says Jack Hurley, a Leeds-based illustrator who says his main output is “daft seaside posters.” Hurley was familiar with the style from Facebook’s login page, but had started to see the illustrations, with their sensible, slightly strange characters, while walking around his neighbourhood as well. “I live in a student area and there are some real scumbag letting agents,” he says. “Suddenly they’ve got all this marketing with the bendy-arm-people.”

There’s just so much of it, as this collection curated by tech writer Claire L Evans shows.

Corporate MemphisAre.na
Tracking the illustration style of choice in our tech dystopia.

But perhaps a better name for this style is Alegria.

Facebook AlegriaBUCK
A new style guide, illustration and animation system for the entire Facebook ecosystem. There’s many imitators, but there’s only one Alegria.

This video from Solar Sands explains more.

It starts with a critique of a ludicrous food delivery advert before going into more detail about this style and where it’s come from. But stick around for examples from the 1920s of this flat geometric style done right.

Doomed

Have you ever compared Facebook’s algorithmic autonomy and global reach to a Cold War era mechanism for assured nuclear destruction? Perhaps you should.

Facebook is a Doomsday MachineThe Atlantic
[I]t took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California. […]

Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do. […]

[T]here aren’t enough moderators speaking enough languages, working enough hours, to stop the biblical flood of shit that Facebook unleashes on the world, because 10 times out of 10, the algorithm is faster and more powerful than a person. […]

In other words, if the Dunbar number for running a company or maintaining a cohesive social life is 150 people; the magic number for a functional social platform is maybe 20,000 people. Facebook now has 2.7 billion monthly users. […]

If the age of reason was, in part, a reaction to the existence of the printing press, and 1960s futurism was a reaction to the atomic bomb, we need a new philosophical and moral framework for living with the social web—a new Enlightenment for the information age, and one that will carry us back to shared reality and empiricism.

Those were the paragraphs that Patrick Tanguay highlighted in one of his recent newsletters. As much as I love reading about the horrors of Facebook — and social media more widely — I’m left wondering what the point of this piece was. Will attitudes really change after reading this, or is this just more confirmation bias? Take this paragraph, for instance.

These dangers are not theoretical, and they’re exacerbated by megascale, which makes the platform a tantalizing place to experiment on people. Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags.

That’s an appalling summary, unconscionable, how can this continue, something must be done etc etc. And yet here we are, nearly 3 billion users. Is it all being dismissed as tabloid exaggeration, resulting in nothing changing? A Doomsday that nobody notices?

And yet, he’s still here

Well, they voted. And counted. And waited.

Amid post-election anxiety, the internet copes with memesHyperallergic
An entire genre of internet memes emerged in the past few days to parody the unbearable slowness of Nevada’s vote count. Final results in the Silver State might not be announced until Saturday or Sunday, according to election officials. Without offending the dedicated poll workers and volunteers who are counting the votes in Nevada, the memes flooding the internet are fair in their assessment that the state is taking its sweet time to announce its election results.

And waited.

Nation never wants to see color red or blue ever againThe Onion
Exhausted after 48 hours of following cable news coverage and continually refreshing their web browsers, Americans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia told reporters Thursday they do not want to see the color red or the color blue in any context or for any reason ever again.

And eventually —

Joe Biden captures the White HouseThe Economist
The Republican president falsely claims to have won the election, says it is rigged and has filed multiple lawsuits to try to disrupt the vote-count. But however he may rage he is only the fourth president in a century to have failed to win re-election. He is also the first president since Benjamin Harrison, in 1892, to have lost the popular vote twice. That underlines not only Mr Trump’s unpopularity but also the advantages his party draws from America’s electoral system.

At the moment Biden has 77,083,979 votes to Trump’s 72,159,215. You would think, given the last four years, that it would have been a landslide.

Lest we forget the horrors: A catalog of Trump’s worst cruelties, collusions, corruptions, and crimes: The complete listing (so far): Atrocities 1- 967McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
Early in President Trump’s term, McSweeney’s editors began to catalog the head-spinning number of misdeeds coming from his administration. We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten.

But I wonder how many of those 967 (!) misdeeds have simply been dismissed as fake news by his base.

What is the internet doing to boomers’ brains?HuffPost UK
It has become a familiar story: The older relative, the intensifying Fox News habit, the alarming Facebook posts, the inevitable detachment from reality. Losing a parent to the conservative cyber-swamp is such a common experience among millennials that it has produced an entire sub-genre of documentaries, books and online support groups. What it has not produced, however, is a satisfying answer to a simple question: What is the internet doing to our parents’ brains?

You can’t just blame Facebook or ‘the internet’ for this, though.

The misinformation media machine amplifying Trump’s election liesThe Guardian
Trump himself is the largest source of election misinformation; the president has barely addressed the public since Tuesday except to share lies and misinformation about the election. But his message attacking the electoral process is being amplified by a host of rightwing media outlets and pundits who appear to be jockeying to replace Fox News as the outlet of choice for Trumpists – and metastasizing on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

What a strange country. But should we have been surprised?

I guess I just expected a little more from this countryMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency
How can a nation capable of turning the simple act of revealing the gender of your child into a wildfire that burns down an entire state be so insistent on screwing things up? How could a country, one that birthed the timeless love story of 30 brown-haired white guys named Chad competing in an elimination contest for the chance to marry a woman, lack the emotional depth required to make the right decision for the future of all of us? How could a people that had to be explicitly told not to eat Tide Pods be so short-sighted? Or are some things simply beyond explanation?

Trump’s not taking this loss well, to say the least.

Trump is attempting a coup in plain sightVox
The Trump administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly rests on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”

Trump won’t accept defeat. Ever.The Atlantic
The Trump family being what it is, expect the illegitimacy myth to be exploited for commercial purposes too. Paradoxically, Trump’s loss may well increase the loyalty of his most ardent fans, who will be angry that he has been unfairly deprived of his rightful role. They will now become loyal purchasers of flags, ties, MAGA hats, maybe even degrees at a revived Trump University. They could become the customer base for Trump TV, a media company that will set itself up as the rival to his brand-new enemies on Fox. Maybe they will buy tickets to rallies and other public events where he plays familiar old hits such as “Lock Her Up” and “Stop the Count.”

He’ll be kept busy, when eventually he does go.

6 lawsuits Donald Trump is going to have to deal with when he leaves officeCNN
Aside from those half-dozen suits is the question of whether Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice for his attempts to impede and inhibit the investigation into the 2016 election and Russia’s role in it by special counsel Robert Mueller. In a back-and-forth during congressional testimony in July 2019, Mueller, a former FBI director, suggested that he believed Trump could be charged once he left office.

But will that really be the end of him?

Trump, who never admits defeat, mulls how to keep up fightAP News
Would Trump ever concede? “I doubt it,” said Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by Trump in July. Stone asserted that Biden, as a result, will have “a cloud over his presidency with half the people in the country believing that he was illegitimately elected.” Allies suggested that if Trump wants to launch a media empire in coming years, he has an incentive to prolong the drama. So, too, if he intends to keep the door open to a possible 2024 comeback — he would be only a year older than Biden is now.

What a horrid thought.

Update 26/11/2020

What if Trump won’t leave the White House? A hostage negotiator, an animal-control officer, and a toddler whisperer have adviceThe Boston Globe
Give him a five-minute warning, use food as a lure, remind him he has something to live for.

Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Get the facts, before it’s too late

Rather than bringing us together, social media can often pull us apart. We all know this, and it seems the platforms themselves know this too.

Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisiveWSJ
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

But of course the platforms aren’t solely to blame. The users have to take some responsibility for what they write and share. Take this user, for example, just your typical conspiracy theorist.

See those little ‘Get the facts’ warning labels, suggesting he’s spreading fake news making unsubstantiated claims?

Twitter labels Trump’s false claims with warning for first timeThe Guardian
The company’s decision on Tuesday afternoon to affix labels to a series of Trump tweets about California’s election planning is the result of a new policy debuted on 11 May. They were applied – hours after the tweets initially went out – because Trump’s tweets violated Twitter’s “civic integrity policy”, a company spokeswoman confirmed, which bars users from “manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, such as by posting misleading information that could dissuade people from participating in an election.

He didn’t like that, as you can imagine, and is trying to retaliate.

Trump to sign executive order on social media on Thursday: White HouseReuters
The officials gave no further details. It was unclear how Trump could follow through on the threat of shutting down privately owned companies including Twitter Inc. The dispute erupted after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time tagged Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact check the posts.

But is this just the beginning?

Trump sows doubt on voting. It keeps some people up at night.The New York Times
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states. […]

The task force began with 65 possibilities before narrowing the list early this year to eight potential calamities, including natural disasters, a successful foreign hack of voting machines, a major candidate’s challenging the election and seeking to delegitimize the results, and a president who refuses to participate in a peaceful transfer of power. Among the scenarios they eliminated when making final cuts in January, ironically, was a killer pandemic that ravaged the country and kept people homebound before Election Day.

That election’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

And then what?

So here in the UK we’re to have another three weeks of lockdown. I’m not sure what state I’ll be in after that, I’m already starting to fray at the edges. What’s keeping me up all night isn’t so much how we’ll get through these next few weeks, but what comes after?

Our pandemic summerThe Atlantic
The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

Not a clue. We sit around and wait for a vaccine, but until then— what?

After social distancing, a strange purgatory awaitsThe Atlantic
We will get used to seeing temperature-screening stations at public venues. If America’s testing capacity improves and results come back quickly, don’t be surprised to see nose swabs at airports. Airlines may contemplate whether flights can be reserved for different groups of passengers—either high- or low-risk. Mass-transit systems will set new rules; don’t be surprised if they mandate masks too.

Can things just go back to how they were before?

Welcome to our new timelineKottke
I’m wondering — how many people are aware that this is going to be our reality for the next few years? There is no “normal” we’re going back to, only weird uncharted waters.

We’re all struggling with it. I know I am. Thankfully, help is still around.

Stephen Fry’s tips for managing virus-based anxietyBBC News
Stephen Fry has been giving advice on dealing with anxiety and stress whilst self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr “anxiety and stress are almost as virulent as this coronavirus”.

Some people, however, are less than helpful.

Facebook will add anti-misinformation posts to your News Feed if you liked fake coronavirus newsThe Verge
Today’s update follows a scathing report by nonprofit group Avaaz, which called the site an “epicenter of coronavirus misinformation” and cited numerous posts containing dangerous health advice and fake cures. The company pushed back on this accusation, saying it’s removed “hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation” in the past weeks.

Too soon?

The coronavirus outbreak continues apace, but has China turned the corner?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to workThe Economist
So along with reporting the number of new infections every day, officials are now reporting on the number of reopened businesses in their territories. The province of Zhejiang, a manufacturing powerhouse and home to Yiwu, leads the country so far, with 90% of its large industrial enterprises having restarted. But many of these are running at low capacities. Jason Wang is a manager with a clothing company that sells winter coats at Yiwu International Trade City. His factory started up again but only half of his employees have returned. “The government, enterprises, workers—everyone is making a gamble in restarting. But we have no choice, we have to make a living,” he says.

Meanwhile.

China pushes all-out production of face masks in virus fightNikkei Asian Review
Companies ranging from state-owned carmakers to oil producers are installing production lines as the government aims to raise output by at least 70%. But it will not be easy to meet demand from 1.4 billion people desperate for a measure of protection against infection.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has tested positive for coronavirusBuzzFeed News
Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, tested positive a day after a news conference where he appeared visibly sick. He wasn’t wearing a mask.

Coronavirus has now spread to every continent except AntarcticaCNN
Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus.

Rush Limbaugh: Coronavirus is being ‘weaponized’ by Chinese communists to ‘bring down’ TrumpMediaite
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” claimed Limbaugh. “I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Pianist Yuja Wang issues emotional reply after critics shame her for wearing glasses on stageClassic FM
“Humiliated” after being detained at the airport, Yuja Wang says she delivered the recital in sunglasses to hide her tears.

How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flawThe Atlantic
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Mass coronavirus testing to be launched in Britain to uncover how far disease has spreadThe Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about.

Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirusBusiness Insider
In a statement, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”

I’ll just share this here, too.

An authentic 16th century plague doctor mask preserved and on display at the German Museum of Medical HistoryDesign You Trust
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like a bird’s beak with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge.

too-soon-2

Technologically grim tales

What a way to end 2019.

The most dangerous people on the internet this decadeWired
In some cases these figures represent dangers not so much to public safety, but to the status quo. We’ve also highlighted actual despots, terrorists, and saboteurs who pose a serious threat to lives around the world. As the decade comes to a close, here’s our list of the people we believe best characterize the dangers that emerged from the online world in the last 10 years—many of whom show no signs of becoming any less dangerous in the decade to come.

It’s not just the people that are alarming, it’s the technology too, and what can be done with it, like this investigation into the smartphone tracking industry. (I didn’t even realise there was such an industry.)

technologically-grim-tales

Twelve million phones, one dataset, zero privacyThe New York Times
Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017.

But perhaps there’s some room for optimism? Here’s the New York Times again, gazing into their crystal ball.

technologically-grim-tales-2

No more phones and other tech predictions for the next decadeThe New York Times
There has been a lot of gnashing and wailing about screen addiction, “sharenting” and the myriad other negative effects of all the devices we have come to rely on. (I am guilty as charged.) These gadgets have been designed to hook you, not unlike sugar or cigarettes or gambling or opiates. The well known techie Tristan Harris calls it “human downgrading” — and he’s right. But there is yet another opportunity here to push for design ethics, a movement that I think will gain traction as we all assess what our dives into digital have done to humanity. While our tech devices have, on the whole, been good for most people, there is a true business opportunity in making them work more efficiently and without a reliance on addiction. Whether we move toward more intuitively created tech that surrounds us or that incorporates into our bodies (yes, that’s coming), I am going to predict that carrying around a device in our hand and staring at it will be a thing of the past by 2030. And like the electrical grid we rely on daily, most tech will become invisible.

I love the sentiment, but remain very doubtful.

Happy New Decade

Happy New Year, and all that. At last, we’re in a decade with a normal name.

decades

Decadesxkcd

2020 is such a futuristic-sounding year.

It’s 2020 and you’re in the futureWait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.

Lists: Best of the 2010s decade
This page, compiled by @fimoculous, aggregates all of the lists related to 2010s decade.

As well as what you’d expect to find (34 lists in the Books category, and 120 lists in the Film category), there are a few more interesting ones.

Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.

From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flopsWired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.

Hiding behind cuteness

Earlier, I shared an article about the cute infantilization of corporate logos. It seems there’s a corresponding drift towards patronising, cartoony blandness in illustration too.

Don’t worry, these gangly-armed cartoons are here to protect you from big techEye on Design
How do the cheerful, Mastisse-like illustrations that fill up the corners of any given Facebook page temper the expectations of people using these platforms? Their palpable joy is friendly, approachable, inviting, even—all of which translates to trustworthiness. Facebook has of course, proven to be one of the most untrustworthy public-facing companies in the world, repeatedly spying on users and leaking private data with impunity. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other outrageous mishandlings like Facebook’s role in inciting genocidal violence in Burma, the company’s public persona is now more than ever in need of a face-lift. As a quasi-monopoly, Facebook seems to never pay for its sins in terms of usership decline—we’re all still there, staring at pages that have become cuter and bubblier as the company they represent grows more and more powerful.

hiding-behind-cuteness-1

Quitting your pocket slot machine

Political misinformation, privacy screw-ups , harmful and manipulative content — let’s just switch it off.

The case for deleting your social media accounts & doing valuable “deep work” instead, according to Prof. Cal NewportOpen Culture
As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

It’s from three years ago now, but doesn’t get any less relevant.

Quit social media | Dr. Cal NewportYouTube
‘Deep work’ will make you better at what you do. You will achieve more in less time. And feel the sense of true fulfillment that comes from the mastery of a skill.

A life in print

Last year, Facebook gave us the option to download all our data. Katie Day Good, an avid Facebook user since the early days, took them up on the offer and, perhaps because of her former interest in scrapbooking, decided to print it all out…

Why I printed my Facebook
Other files were less amusing. “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information” was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called “Facial Recognition Code” was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep. Some documents held secrets, too. “Search History” revealed an embarrassingly detailed record of my personal obsessions and preoccupations over the years. Crushes, phobias, people I have argued with and envied―this was the information I never wanted to post on Facebook, but instead had asked Facebook to help me find. This information, along with the facial recognition codes of my children (which were not included in the .zip file, but which I assume Facebook owns), is the data I most wish I could scrub from the servers of the world.

All told, my Facebook archive was 10,057 pages long.