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Apple and Star Wars together explain why much of the world around you looks the way it does - Quartz

Yet “as little design as possible” is precisely not that. It is, rather, the exhaustive application of design until every detail, every offending element, is brought under strict, harmonious arrangement. We notice nothing because everything is under control. And this is where we get to the essence of the resonance between the artifacts of Apple and that of the Empire of Star Wars: the exertion of control, and power, over the complex, messy reality of systems and objects.

The thesis is perhaps a little too neat and just-so, but this is a wonderful piece of writing.

 

Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns | Technology | The Guardian

The economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms. Not surprisingly, the better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits – circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.”

“Regulatory puzzles are posed by firms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google ... These firms confound conventional competition law because they do not act as traditional monopolies. The risk is that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them,” it continued.

It's not just the economics of the internet, but the economics of networks in general which favour natural monopolies; indeed, a network without an organisational monopoly is a broken network (cf. privatised UK railway system). All infrastructures are networks, and infrastructure considered collectively is a network of networks, a metasystem. The only way to harness the full utility of any network is to allow it an organisational monopoly. The only way to constrain an organisational monopoly is collective ownership. Farcebork et al are monopoly interface protocols, not themselves networks; they merely organise and instrumentalise the physical connectivity of the infrastructures upon which they depend. Protocols are best regulated by the careful maintenance of system standards in the infrastructural layer-- another process which requires an effective organisational monopoly.

Renationalise. Now.

 

Magical thinking: the history of science, sorcery and the spiritual

... we might want to say that magic typically emerges and flourishes where there is a certain frustration about the refusal of many kinds of public organised religion to solve practical questions. Where public religious practice tends to the contemplative, focusing receptively or adoringly on a depth of reality quite out of human control, magic is entrepreneurial, a private enterprise of trial and error promising high returns for a high degree of risk (spiritual and pragmatic). It is almost universally regarded as politically dangerous for this reason.

Magic appeals to the authority of demonstrable results rather than established hierarchies, even if these results remain promised rather than realised. It is not just a debating point to suggest that certain aspects of modern economic theory work remarkably like ancient and Renaissance magic, appealing to uncertainly charted forces in nature and confidently predicting results that are not always prompt in appearing. If we are baffled by the intellectual respectability of magic in earlier days, it may be illuminating to think about our own willingness to be fascinated (in the Old English sense of bewitched) by ambitious and risk-laden systems based on deeply hidden processes.

 

SELFIE by @rachsyme

"Capitalism, as Rowbotham noted, loves to self-reflect. It needs to perpetuate itself, and one of the ways it does so is via imagery — i.e. advertising — that keeps people desirous, that makes people feel incomplete without whatever shiny new thing has just hit the market. Those at the top benefit, naturally, from creating these images. It is bad then for the lust-economy to have people reveling in pictures they take themselves; it is very difficult to control consumers who do not need to look at the media to know what to value, what to buy, who to honor and protect. Selfies are not inherently political acts, but these resonant, addictive, unregulated images are another manifestation of this growing distrust of the mainstream and the swelling desire by many individuals to reclaim their own narratives now that they have the virtual microphone."

A fine and strident essay. Made me realise that my own disapproval of selfies is bound up with exactly the resentment of the self-love of others that Syme describes: why aren't these people as ashamed of their faces as I am of mine? And a reminder that my maleness is, as a result, imperfect: if men are those who are permitted by society to love themselves, then I have never been a man. And hell knows what that makes me, then -- but nonetheless, this is my face.

 

 

The cloud is their avatar

1 min read

"Its physical aspect could not be less cloudlike, Server farms proliferate in unmarked brick buildings and steel complexes, with smoked windows or no windows, miles of hollow floors, diesel generators, cooling towers, seven-foot intake fans, and aluminum [sic] chimney stacks. This hidden infratructure grows in a sybiotic relationship with the electrical infrastructure it increasingly resembles. There information switches, control centres and substations. They are clustered and distributed. These are the wheel-works; the cloud is their avatar."

-- Gleick, James. The Information: History, a Theory, a Flood. London: Fourth Estate, 2011. p396. (Emphases mine. An excellent book all through.)