Three Ways To Understand Power in The Digital Age

VIDEO: Danah Boyd on Our Broken Information Ecosystem (CNN) 

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I’m most likely going to write a full piece on this topic. In my view it’s the most fundamental and pressing question of our time. Whatever the problem; Climate collapse, rising authoritarianism or wealth inequality how can we solve anything until we address the fact that we are consuming and exchanging information online in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with coming to compromise, cooperation or a common good?

Until information is liberated from the attention economy then our problems and divides will surely only continue to deepen? Emotion is far more attentive than reason. And as long as information continues to be valued by the attention it can extract rather than the substantive value of what is being said then politics will continue its dark descent into a shouting match of anger and fear.

Anyway – enough ranting. This interview with Danah Boyd does a much better job than I in explaining the information ecosystem’s breakdown and the possible paths to a better future:

Danah Boyd on the Spread of Conspiracies and Hate Online

COLUMN: Lessons From History on Corporate Power:

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Give this excerpt from William Dalrymple’s new book ten minutes of your time. You won’t regret it. A fascinating look at the violence of the East India Company and how we often neglect the role of private companies in colonialism. We still think the British government invaded India when in reality it was an unbridled corporate entity that:

” The East India Company began seizing chunks of India in the mid-18th century, a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by a violent, ruthless and mentally unstable corporate predator — Robert Clive. India’s transition to colonialism, in other words, took place under a for-profit corporation, which existed entirely for the purpose of enriching its investors..” 

https://www.ft.com/content/0f1ec9da-c9a6-11e9-af46-b09e8bfe60c0

PODCAST: Surveillance Capital: Are We Just Raw Material? 

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Shoshanna Zuboff is a writer we should all be listening to right now. Why does it matter that our data is being captured? How is our behaviour being monitored and modified by tech companies? And how do we reclaim privacy rights as citizens in the digital age? The author of the mammoth book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” sits down with Roz Urwin here to answer these questions and more:

https://play.acast.com/s/intelligencesquared/942b5c25-afe0-4c65-9e34-3f5462338065

 

Also because this is my website and there’s no rules, here’s a tiny desk concert I’ve been listening to this week that’s fucking amazing:

 

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A Very Nuclear Future: Friend or Foe?

 by Sujitha Parshi

 

“So much potential in that boy. I’ll tell you now, in fifty years if he isn’t at the top of his class, there really is no hope for humanity.”

Atom had felt proud. With gleaming eyes and a gap-toothed smile, he’d looked at his teacher, grateful for the compliment. It was a kind of proud he’d least expected from someone as flustered as Mr. E, what with him looking too tired to care all the time (having to deal with rowdy toddlers and even more aggravating parents will do that to you). It was the kind of proud he hadn’t felt in…well, ever. He had made an effort that day, well-groomed with hair slicked back, polished black shoes and even so far as getting his mom to match his tie with his loafers. Looking back on all the energy he’d spent into looking his ‘best’, he felt he got back his effort’s worth. After all, Atom was nothing if not thorough.

Which is why, seventy-one years later, he found himself bruised and confused and smack in the middle of a paranoid quarter of humans who wanted nothing more than to bury all mentions of him deep, deep underground (sure, he had his moments of puberty-driven insanity, but who didn’t). It was disconcerting. Atom split up his soul for them.

“Then why? They have to know; I am their best hope.”

The answer, dear Atom, is quite complicated. Let me start off with a few motivational statements (as motivating as I can manage).

In this age, when safe, clean oxygen needs to be imported from the smallest corners of a rapidly depleting safe-space, protesting clean, efficient nuclear energy is an exercise in self-destruction. Where, like most, this paranoia arises from popular, or rather, populous opinion, we have arrived at a point beyond which return is uncertain. It’s time we shed the cover of blind belief and think of the best way forward.

Now, here’s your reply.

At the moment, the world is powered by little more than environmentally-cancerous coal and dwindling reserves of oil, natural gas and combined efforts of renewable sources (You come a lagging last!) While the case against nuclear energy gets worse as days pass, the reality lies in the small but forgotten art of deep thought.

What makes nuclear energy efficient and reliable? Why, nature, of course. During meiosis, the cells in our frame split to form more cells, and then split again, and keep splitting to fuel the reactor that is our body. Similarly, nuclear energy is generated by the fission of enriched uranium-235 atoms.

2.8 million kilograms of coal is used to do the work of 1 kilogram of enriched uranium-235. If that doesn’t talk about waste of resources, then I don’t know what does. Considering the rate at which we are heating the very core of our planet, it won’t be long now for us to reach another catastrophe even Noah can’t survive. It also happens to generate the least amount of waste.

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

The problem, dear Atom, is that you’ve had a troubled life (Yes, people care enough).

The problem here is containment. When talking about nuclear energy, the first ping in your brain probably was Chernobyl, or quite recently, Fukushima. It’s a valid concern. Why would you trust something so evidently damning? The answer lies within yourself. For the same reason you’d trust the puppy that bit you while she was teething; it was young and we didn’t know how to contain it safely. It’s a mistake we have learnt extensively from. All energy sources rose up the ranks through trial and error.

Fukushima was a one-time thing. While a high magnitude seismic event affects any energy (source) reactor, nuclear reactors in particular are somewhat safer, after the Fukushima leak, in comparison. For one, other energy plants experience instant reactions while nuclear is more gradual. After the leak, there have been so many regulations and precautions taken, sleeping easy next to a nuclear power plant is more possible than any other energy source. For one, most, if not all, nuclear power plants have an automatic shut-down process that has succeeded the manual shut-down. Secondly, several layers of cooling systems encompass a nuclear reactor to ensure the rapid cooling of the atomic pile. Last, and at the very least, it is all a controlled process. Rest assured, they know what they are doing. (Also, this is where the scary part of the ‘gradual’ is eliminated since there is little space for a leak.)

“Hmm, so does this mean the protests outside my house will stop? I really need to get saving (the world won’t pause any longer without permanent damage). I’ve had to wait seventy-one years too long.”

Not so fast. There’s a long way to go, Atom, a very long way.

You are an expensive, little brat. Thanks to the general dislike and less-than-optimal production and usage. But once you match, or even surpass, the level of your coal compatriot, we can get around to calling you ‘cheap’ like we ache to. Even then, popular mentality isn’t changed so easy. It needs to start at the grass-root, with explaining what-the-eff energy production and consumption entails without mainstream media bias. Remember, Atom, the more neutral you are in your approach, the better you can expect people to think for themselves.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things that make you special. Don’t let it get to your head, though.

Besides, you are seventy-one years old, barely out of your diapers. Live a little (without killing and maiming others, of course). You can expect more than your share of presidential duties in the very Nuclear future.

“Yeah, yeah, you say that like it’s so easy. We’re living in 2016! For now, I have more than my share of activists to dodge.”

 

Sujitha is an Indian Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://pompeiiresurget.wordpress.com/

Why Religions & Dictators Hate being Made Fun Of

“Question something enough and you’ll begin to doubt it”

Humour and satire are incredibly powerful mediums for exposing the powerful. One only has to look from President Erdogan of Turkey demanding the arrest of a German comedian for a sketch, Kim Jong Un banning satire in North Korea or religious police attacking free thinkers for “blasphemy” across the globe, satire is the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.

In a light hearted way it asks people to question assumptions and dogma in their society. The BBC’s “Monty Python & The Holy Grail” was a beautiful illustration of how simply by humanising religious figures and stories one can examine religion from a different angle and question the authority of Church in society.

In this piece Bassem Youssef discusses his experience in Egypt as a comedian discussing the triple assault on comedy: Social Media Judgement, Religion, And Fascist Regimes.