This is my monthly roundup of the links, books, and media I found interesting. Do you have suggestions? Let me know!
Ripe, by Sarah Rose Etter. Fuck yes. A heartstoppingly relentless, bold, knife attack of a book that cuts to the heart of the emptiness of living in Silicon Valley and everywhere. Every few pages I wanted to yell, “this, this, this.” I couldn’t put it down.
Dancing at the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder. The thing about this kind of grief is that nobody knows what it’s like until it happens. The sadness becomes a permanent a part of you, lurking just under the surface, and nobody understands. The feeling of being seen is extraordinarily rare. This book made me feel seen, and gave me space to feel the sadness. I’m not OK. But I’m not the only one.
Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself, by Chuck Wendig. A sort of call to arms for writers, but here the arms reach out in a warm embrace and tell you to be yourself. It’s not about being published; it’s not about following other peoples’ rules; it’s about telling the stories that make your heart sing in a way that’s true to you. The advice here is rooted in kindness and written with such warmth, wit, and charm that I came away feeling like I had a true ally. Thanks, Chuck.
Media Startups Draw Less Backing, But AI Is A Bright Spot. I don’t know that it’s fair to count AI startups as media startups. Given the (justified) labor disputes going on right now, I’d offer that they’re closer to anti-media, and I’m not sure that I’d think of them as a bright spot. There’s plenty of room for AI to assist creatives, but of course the real money is in replacing them or devaluing their work.
AP strikes deal with OpenAI. This caught my eye: an example of OpenAI licensing content from a publisher in order to make its models better. Other publishers should now know that they can make similar deals rather than letting their work be scraped up for free.
The AI Dividend. I respect Bruce Schneier a great deal, but I hate this proposal. For one thing, what about people outside the US whose data was used? On the internet, the public is global. Wherever the tools are used, the rights infringed by AI tools are everyone’s, from everywhere. Paying at the point of use rather than at the point of scraping cannot be the way.
OpenAI and Microsoft Sued for $3 Billion Over Alleged ChatGPT 'Privacy Violations'. It’s important that lawsuits like this center on the use, not the act of scraping itself - the latter does need to be protected. One to watch.
Google Says It'll Scrape Everything You Post Online for AI. I think this is a legal challenge waiting to happen. While people who publish publicly online have a reasonable expectation that anyone can read their content, they don’t have a similar expectation about content being modeled and analyzed. There’s no de facto license to do this.
Language Is a Poor Heuristic for Intelligence. ““Language skill indicates intelligence,” and its logical inverse, “lack of language skill indicates non-intelligence,” is a common heuristic with a long history. It is also a terrible one, inaccurate in a way that ruinously injures disabled people. Now, with recent advances in computing technology, we’re watching this heuristic fail in ways that will harm almost everyone.”
Phoenix’s record streak of temperatures above 110F ends after 31 days. 31 straight days of 110°F / 43°C heat. And then only a short reprieve before more of it. Ocean surface temperatures at over 90°F / 32°C. And still there are people who deny we’re in a crisis. Spoiler alert: it gets worse from here.
Banks vote to limit accounting of emissions in bond and stock sales. The single biggest way large entities seem to be reducing their carbon emissions is through accounting. Not by taking action to diminish the impact of the climate crisis before it’s too late; by changing some numbers on a spreadsheet. We’ve crafted an imaginary cage for ourselves where the physical world is secondary to our modeling of it.
This women-led philanthropy is redirecting climate funding. Directing funding from self-interested billionaire philanthropy to grassroots environmental justice organizations is wonderful to see. They’re so much more likely to actually have an impact that will matter. And they need so much more support.
Extreme heat prompts first-ever Amazon delivery driver strike. Climate change comes for package deliveries - not because of the flights, but because of the trucks. The back of Amazon trucks can reach 135 degrees, with no cooling system. These are the same drivers who have trouble stopping for water or bathroom breaks.
‘Double agents’: fossil-fuel lobbyists work for US groups trying to fight climate crisis. Greenwashing goes deep. Environmentally outspoken organizations should not hire fossil fuels lobbyists. There should be a list loudly calling out those that do. Otherwise it’s all just words.
Monday was hottest day for global average temperature on record, as climate crisis bites. And it will just keep coming. (The next day was hotter still.)
'Environment is burning', warns UN rights chief. Plenty of people argue that the climate crisis is overblown. I think they’re wrong. If anything, we need to be screaming about this more - and, I agree, calling out the deniers and green-washers. Billions of people will starve. Entire nations will become uninhabitable. It’s not some kind of conspiracy; it’s a call to action.
Eigg Electric. This seems like what a part of the future looks like: the island of Eigg has its own power, generated by renewable energy. Members of the community are trained and paid to maintain it. A power grid is not a bad thing for resiliency (see Texas), but I can imagine a world where community sources are federated, rather than run through a central power company.
“Write With Love” and Other Advice From Chuck Tingle. “How can I make this like me?” is something I’m striving to do better at in my creative work and my life as a whole. Words to live (and write) by.
Roald Dahl Museum Calls Author’s Racism ‘Undeniable and Indelible’. This is something we’re going to contend with as our son gets a little older. Roald Dahl is an influential children’s author (who lived where I grew up) who was also, unmistakably, a bigot with a deeply cruel streak. Some of these books are strikingly not okay.
Bigger influence on the inside. A lovely, personal reflection on (in my opinion) the best TV show ever made.
A Teenage Girl Is a Funhouse Mirror. I love this kind of short story: small, personal, revelatory. I wish I could write like this.
Influencers Starting To Realize How The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) Will Do Real Damage. This bill will censor LGBTQ+ voices and far more. It’s a way to heavily restrict the internet not just with respect to harmful content, but also “controversial” content. It also mandates identity verification if you’re interacting with that content. It’s a deeply regressive way of looking at publishing. There’s still time to read up about it and tell your representative that you don’t want it passed.
A Black Man Was Elected Mayor in Rural Alabama, but the White Town Leaders Won’t Let Him Serve. How many American cities operate like this, either explicitly or in spirit? The answer is not going to be a small number.
Texas resigns from ERIC, a national program that keeps voter rolls updated. For a group of people that talks a lot about voter fraud, the Republican Party do seem to enjoy setting up the conditions to commit it.
Houston Chronicle reports Texas DPS trooper witnessing 'inhumane' implementations against migrant families crossing Rio Grande. Every American needs to know that these kinds of sick harms are being done to people, including small children, in their names. And every American needs to understand that some of their fellow citizens actually support it. We continue to be in a very dark place.
The opposition to Starmer has to begin now. I’m homesick like crazy, but between the Conservatives and the unabashed Thatcherism of supposed opposition leader Keir Starmer, British politics look pretty bleak. The plan outlined here is one (long-shot) path forward.
Immigration policies don’t deter migrants from coming to the US -- Title 42 and the border rules replacing it only make the process longer and more difficult. The only reason to make immigration more difficult, particularly for people who are seeking asylum from terrible conditions, is because you hate immigrants and want to hurt them. As it turns out, these stupid rules don’t even do what they claim to.
U.S. destroys last of its declared chemical weapons, closing a deadly chapter dating to World War I. The key word, of course, is “declared”.
Child marriage is still prevalent in the U.S. Here’s why. People against child marriage restrictions say they will infringe on religious liberty. 86% of children who are married are girls. So, let’s be clear: if you want this, fuck your religious liberty.
For Emmett Till's family, national monument proclamation cements his inclusion in the American story. An important designation that should never have been necessary at all. Notable that a memorial sign for Emmett Till was repeatedly stolen and shot. The sickness is ongoing.
America Is Wrapped in Miles of Toxic Lead Cables. It’s not really mentioned in this article, but lead sheathing isn’t just used in old phone cabling. It’s in some modern cabling too, including underground and undersea cables used to provide internet. And the health risks are real.
UPS reaches deal with union Teamsters to avert strike. An example of why unions are great: a better wage secured for a large workforce, with better conditions. They weren’t asking for anything crazy: reasonable pay, guaranteed vacations, and air conditioning in the trucks. It’s just unfortunate that they didn’t have these things before.
UPS pilots won’t fly if Teamsters strike. Really interesting to see people from across industries and disciplines fight for better conditions at the same time. I’d say it’s promising; even hopeful. I would like to see them all succeed, and for more to follow.
Adam Pickets Everything. Adam Conover’s activism has been refreshing to see during the writer’s strike: not just picketing the studios but educating the public about what a union does and how a strike works at the same time. It’s also fun to hear about other entertainers I admire working hard to support the picket lines.
Life before cellphones: The barely believable after-work activities of young people in 2002. It’s probably not too controversial to say that ubiquitous internet has hurt everyone’s work-life balance. To see what should be normal life reflected in a “remember when ...” nostalgia piece is jarring. I remember this world!
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right. Exactly this. What this piece calls People Theory, I call motivation over metrics. It’s the same idea: there are no cheat codes for people. You’ve actually got to use empathy with each other and build a community made of three dimensional human beings.
Hollywood Studios Anticipate Writers Strike Lasting Until October. This feels like a good opportunity for a studio to become pro-union and scoop up every amazing writer in the business.
I'm never going to trust your news organization. Heather Bryant is spot on as usual here: trust is a facet of human relationships and not something you place in an organization, company, or product. Using a more appropriate framing will help you figure out how to build the relationships your newsroom needs.
Merchant: How Silicon Valley mind-set begat Hollywood's strike. It’s an interesting grift in a way: VC-subsidized startups changed an incumbent industry enough that its existing companies began to think that these new ideas were good business. But they never were, and it ate them from the inside.
Bryan Goldberg: Why audience for online news is declining. I don’t think the web is dying, but it’s certainly not novel anymore - and you can’t depend on its breadth alone to gain an audience. This is yet another call for “niche” publications - i.e., outlets that know who they’re publishing for and go deep instead of wide.
Vox Media stops using Chorus, proprietary CMS, for its own websites. Honestly, every media company should get out of the CMS business and just use WordPress or another open source alternative. This is not your core value or competitive advantage. Build tools that support your journalism (and then open source those, too).
Local TV stations form new coalition to urge streaming reform. There’s the potential here to upend niche sports coverage on live streaming services, which in part work through local broadcasting. And the legal ramifications of designating live TV streaming services as TV providers would be interesting.
Media Is at a Unique Inflection Point. The subtext here is simple: to survive, media companies must know their audiences well (not just in aggregate) and serve their unmet needs directly. This has been true for a long time, but economics have sharpened the point.
Twitter Is Dying. Is it Time for News Subscriptions to Follow? Paywalls are not it - for the news business or for society. I personally think there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from patronage models, which have worked very well for both non-profit and commercial newsrooms - if their journalism really does provide a strong public service.
Threads isn’t for news and politics, says Instagram’s boss. To put it another way: Meta doesn’t want to have to worry about throwing an election. Meta wants us to focus on “sports, music, fashion, beauty, entertainment.” Newsrooms, be advised.
You (Yes, You) Should Start a Mailing List. If you own your relationships with your community, you’ll never be locked into any platform. Start a blog, start a mailing list - get out of the algorithmic content game. This is even more important if you make a living from your work. Parker is right on the money here.
Policing misinformation. “In general though, I think we should tread lightly.” This piece captures my opinion on the subject well.
How I’ve defied labels and enlisted the help of others to create my value proposition. A lovely conversation with my friend Roxann Stafford, who has inspired and taught me so much.
Readme.Txt: A Memoir, by Chelsea Manning. A vivid, clear-eyed account of a series of lived experiences that nobody should have had to endure. As well as the story of her leaks and their aftermath, Chelsea discusses what it’s like to work in military intelligence in gut-wrenching detail. This memoir is one of those historical documents that reveal so much about their era. More than that, and most importantly, it tells the truth. An important book written by a brave, fiercely intelligent, and fundamentally principled human being.
The truth about the women this Florida board says benefited from slavery. The idea that these women - or any enslaved people - benefitted from the degrading atrocity of slavery is disgusting. That a government is peddling this lie perpetuates the deep harm that was committed. The blind cruelty is unfathomable.
The world’s last internet cafes. A fascinating look into something that, for a little while, was a vital part of the global internet. They remain community hubs, even becoming de facto daycare centers, but smartphones and ubiquitous connectivity have left them struggling.
Schools Usually Call Moms. Disappoint but unsurprising data around gender inequality in parenting. I find the fact that schools are more likely to call mothers infuriating, to the point that I’ve experimented with creating a virtual call center number for both parents to share.
Connecting Europe by train: 10 EU pilot services to boost cross-border rail. Europe knows what’s up. I wish we could do this in the US - but there are so many obstacles.
View of 'man as hunter, woman as gatherer' upended by new study. So much of gender essentialism is self-feeding: the idea that men are born to be aggressive hunters was conducted by men who made assumptions based on contemporary societal sexism. Of course women hunted. Of course grandmothers hunted. There’s so much value in re-examining the prejudiced assumptions of the past.
King of the Netherlands apologizes for country's role in slavery on 150th anniversary of abolition. “King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands apologized Saturday for his country’s role in slavery and asked for forgiveness during a historic speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies.” Now do Zwarte Piet.
The BBC on Mastodon: experimenting with distributed and decentralised social media. The fediverse is how every major new social network will be built for the next decade, and every media company will need to have a presence. Welcome to the BBC.
Mastodon is easy and fun except when it isn’t. An enormously useful piece of informal research. Some folks will disregard this for the same reason they disregard why some people use Macs instead of Linux, and whatever. But if Mastodon wants to be an accessible network, these are all problems to solve.
Data Futures Lab Infrastructure Fund. This seems great: funding projects to create a fairer, more just data ecosystem, with a focus on teams who themselves come from impacted communities. I’m excited to see what comes out of it.
Tesla’s secret team to suppress thousands of driving range complaints. The more I learn about Elon Musk, the more I think he’s exactly the kind of entrepreneur that laws and regulations are there to protect us from. This seems like something Tesla owners could take real action on.
Esther Crawford on Twitter and X. Esther clearly comes from a different perspective and worldview to me, but her take on Twitter and X is uniquely notable given how tied up in the story she’s been. I honestly don’t know what to think, but this is interesting background.
Watch Out, Fediverse Users: The FBI Can Seize a Mastodon Server. This unfortunately stands to reason: the Mastodon instance where you make your home has the potential to be seized as part of an investigation. This is a downside of federation vs peer-to-peer, and is a reason why I have my own single-user instance. (Generally, though, it’s worth saying that I’d expect data to be subpoenaed rather than having the server itself be physically seized.)
Vision for W3C. “Our vision is for a World Wide Web that is more inclusive, and more respectful of its users: a Web that supports truth over falsehood, people over profits, humanity over hate.” I like this sentiment a lot but it also has the potential to cause accidental harms. Who defines truth? W3C members? Someone else?
The Arc browser is now available for all iOS and Mac users to download. Oh, hey, open release! I’ve been using Arc as my primary browser all year, and I truly love it. It’s a huge step forward in browser UX and while I don’t use every feature, I can’t see myself going back to the 1990s-style paradigm.
TETRA Radio Code Encryption Has a Flaw: A Backdoor. One reason of many why open sourced protocols are more secure: backdoors can’t be kept hidden and abused by manufacturers and state actors. This was a serious breach and had the potential to destabilize nations. Secret and proprietary never means more secure.
As Twitter destroys its brand by renaming itself X, Mastodon user numbers are again soaring. Every time a billionaire makes a boneheaded social media decision, a Mastodon community gets its wings.
Addressing Child Exploitation on Federated Social Media. One of the problems with decentralized networks is that really bad stuff can traverse across them. The fediverse has a child sexual abuse material problem. Filtering it out does not solve the core problem. How can the fediverse be a good actor here?
Apple slams UK surveillance-bill proposals. Stories like this make me wonder if we’ll ever get to a point where governments stop trying to backdoor encryption. Freedom from surveillance is a necessary prerequisite for free speech; observation always creates a chilling effect. These efforts aren’t about fighting crime. This is about power.
Dear Alt-Twitter Designers: It’s about the network! You can have the best tech in the world, or the loftiest ideals, but social media is about people and communities more than anything else. If you don’t have that, and can’t nurture disparate, diverse spaces that grow organically over time, you don’t have a social media platform.
Meta provides Facebook messages in Nebraska abortion case prosecution. Or: why real privacy legislation would also protect women seeking reproductive healthcare. These laws aren’t just a principle; they save lives.
Bluesky is under fire for allowing usernames with racial slurs. A cautionary tale to say the least. The linked PR with slurs removed from a username denylist is rough to see. Real, vulnerable apologies and strong action to correct would go some way, but it might be too late.
The whitening of social media. “To watch the doors that have been opened to so many start to close because of racism in particular is a slap in the face, especially when so many white allies don’t seem to grasp the quieter sides of racism. Racism isn’t always overt and loud. Sometimes it is the cloak of polite exclusion. It’s the whitening of spaces that previously welcomed diversity. It’s rules that stifle people of color under the guise of “fairness.” Fairness to whom?”
Threads Adopting ActivityPub Makes Sense, but Won't Be Easy. I agree that ActivityPub is the right choice for Meta and any company wanting to follow a similar strategy, for the reasons laid out here. I’ve been thinking about tools that might make adoption easier for startups and hobbyists.
Meta-provided Facebook chats led a woman to plead guilty to abortion-related charges. One of my nightmares is that something I helped to build would be used in this kind of prosecution. There’s an expectation of privacy built into the design of direct messaging apps, and designers have a responsibility to protect their users. They failed here.
How to Identify “Truthy” Tech Trends. I love Amber Case’s framing of “truthy” tech: hype-driven technologies that promise too much too soon, are driven by FOMO, and are intriguing because of their depictions in popular culture. There are plenty of examples to choose from right now, and this is a great guide to spotting them.
Permission. An interesting thought experiment: do we need Google, or does Google need us? At what point does the center of gravity change enough for us to consider it worthwhile to block Googlebot and come out better for having done so? Until recently this would have been unthinkable.
Lessons From the Catastrophic Failure of the Metaverse. Worth considering the number of grifters who swore blind that the metaverse would be a thing. Of course it wasn’t a thing. It was a fever dream embraced by people who have clearly never watched anyone actually use technology: a corporate boondoggle at best.
Meta unspools Threads. A lot of people in the fediverse are rightly worried about what the arrival of Threads (which is Mastodon-compatible) will bring. I think it’s probably a positive addition for most people, and Casey Newton’s writeup here does a good job of explaining why.
Fairphone 4—the repairable, sustainable smartphone—is coming to the US. The Fairphone is more properly referred to as a fairer phone - there’s still work to do to really make it equitable - but it’s great to see it being launched in the US. More products that have this focus on repairability and owner control, please.
CJEU ruling on Meta referral could close the chapter on surveillance capitalism. The impact of legislation like GDPR goes far beyond their jurisdictions, because it’s hard to segment a data architecture for just some users. This ruling that Meta must provide its service to users who do not consent to tracking and processing of their personal data is potentially seismic.