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An interesting set of predictions for 2021. If the world shifts its focus from solving the COVID crisis to solving the climate crisis, we might just have a chance as a species.

What can we do to help that happen?

Parole by election

John Naughton on why the US election is consuming his brain, despite the fact he lives in the UK:

Maybe it’s because there’s a possibility that on November 3 something might change in the US, whereas we in the UK are stuck with the worst government in living memory for another four years. So we’re like long-term prisoners serving time and looking enviously over the wall at our fellow-prisoners in the US who might just be paroled on November 4.

Clare Foges:

Politics can either be a parlour game of ideological point-scoring or it can be the business of meaningful change. To be the latter our politicians must avoid the temptations of descending deeper into the culture wars.

Where is the coronavirus information campaign?

This is a good point in an otherwise rather run-of-the-mill “tutting at the tutters” piece:

It is strange that we are not being bombarded with adverts along the lines of the ‘Get Ready For Brexit’ campaign about what we should be doing and are instead reliant on – often inaccurate – memes being shared over social media.

This is certainly the case in my neck of the woods, and those confusing messages are leading to tension. The lack of clear, central advice means that people are starting to form pro- and anti-online mobs around the issue of driving somewhere to exercise or walk your dogs, for example.

Spectator: The ugliness of coronavirus shaming

Supermarket delivery is being overwhelmed

Lewis Dormer:

25% of UK shoppers polled by RetailX have reduced or completely stopped shopping ‘in person at physical stores’ while 5% report a temporary increase

Online grocery deliveries are now fully booked for over two weeks in many parts of the UK. If we’re expecting whole families with symptoms to self-isolate for a fortnight, they’re going to need find ways of upping availability of delivery slots.

This is an absolutely fantastic essay on how fragile the cultural works created on the web have become, through the lens of the late Clive James’s website: Internet Amnesia.

How much more vulnerable is all that creativity locked away in the big social platforms?

This post by Euan Semple, which is an expression of moral relativism (or adjacet to it, at least), feels both elementally true to me - but also a dangerous way to think about one of the things he mentions: Facebook.

It feels, at some level, that it lets the people in charge off the hook.

Thoughts?

Whatever happened to Yahoo’s digital time capsule?

Marie Boran asks if everyone has forgotten about Yahoo’s digital time capsule?:

This was to be opened on the company’s 25th anniversary on March 2nd, 2020, but the webpage looks abandoned; according to the webpage countdown there is still a decade left until the capsule opens.

So much of 90s/00s digital culture is gone. Future historian will lament that we were so careless with the archive of the formative days of our digital culture.

Biorecycling plastics with enzymes

Carbios’ new factory will use enzymes to biorecycle plastic:

In a matter of hours, the enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, called monomers, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic that’s identical to virgin material. Later this year, the company will begin construction on its first demonstration recycling plant.

This sort of innovation could change the whole debate about plastics. Exciting stuff, if it works.

The reason to study Latin

Report: Students Who Take Latin Have Better Chance Of Summoning Demon Later In Life::

“According to our data, children who studied Latin in grade school were far more likely to contact, summon, and then raise a damned soul from the underworld,” said classics department chair Emily Greenwood, adding that students who learned Latin tended to be more adept at chanting ancient incantations, opening up portals, and comprehending Demonic screams.

My old Latin master was also head of the school Christian Union. Makes you think… 🤔😂

The slow erosion of the democratic norm

Rachel Sylvester makes an important point in The Times:

Democracy is about persuasion rather than obliteration and there are rules underpinning political conflict that don’t apply in military combat. The prime minister seems to have forgotten that, far from being the nation’s commander-in-chief, he is only “first among equals” in the cabinet and depends for his power on the House of Commons. The scorched-earth approach being pursued by No 10 will make it almost impossible to unite the Tory party, let alone the country, when the skirmishes are over.

There is an autocratic streak in a lot of current politics that should concern anyone who values democracy.

The underlying price of digital-only friendship

To Understand Facebook, Study Capgras Syndrome:

This withering of primate familiarity in the face of technology prompts us to mistake an acquaintance for a friend, just because the two of you have a Snapchat streak for the last umpteen days, or because you both like all the same Facebook pages. It allows us to become intimate with people whose familiarity then proves false. After all, we can now fall in love with people online whose hair we have never smelled.

Remembering the weird internet that was

A couple of great quotes from a piece by Owen Williams on Medium (shudder):

But when we lose the weird internet, we don’t just lose a space where people could tinker and make things for themselves. We seem to have lost the curiosity that inspired that weirdness in the first place.

And this:

The internet made it possible to build something out of thin air without millions of dollars in funding. It’s important we don’t forget that, because it’s the best way to learn and evolve.

The New Wilderness

No two companies have done more to drag private life into the algorithmic eye than Google and Facebook. Together, they operate the world’s most sophisticated dragnet surveillance operation, a duopoly that rakes in nearly two thirds of the money spent on online ads. You’ll find their tracking scripts on nearly every web page you visit. They can no more function without surveillance than Exxon Mobil could function without pumping oil from the ground.

This is a fundamental, unavoidable truth of both their business models.

How we Dooced blogging — and its community

This Vox profile of Heather Armstrong — Dooce — is a deeply melancholy read:

In the time that Armstrong had been absent from her site, bloggers had been almost wholly replaced with social media stars who relied on Instagram to gain a following. The word “influencer” had taken over, and quickly. Bloggers had risen to fame thanks to deeply personal posts; Instagram personalities operated in a much more visual medium, relying on photos of cute kids and beautiful homes for likes.

It’s both affecting in its coverage of her mental health issues, but also in how clear it makes it that we lost something profound in the shift from blogger to influencer.

Lots to think on.

What’s that sound? Oh, it’s the influencer bubble popping:

”Most global internet users lack confidence in what they see and read online, with only 8% believing that the bulk of information shared on social media is true, dropping to 4% when it comes from influencers.”

Ooops.

The Freelancer Mindset: it's a trap!

The Psychological Trap of Freelancing

People who attach dollar signs to their time — or “value time like money” — tend to be overwhelmingly less happy than those who don’t, because their nonworking hours suddenly seem less important. “Free” time gets tainted with guilt because there’s a cost associated with it.

I suffer from this, and have to talk myself down from it on a periodic basis. Comforting (in a way) to know I’m not alone.