The week in quotes (2019W04)

Sebastian Greger

Another week of inspiring reads - here are five quotes that I found worth sharing:

Zeynep Tufekci’s contribution to Wired’s Free Speech issue, “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech” examines a world in which not speech, but attention, is the subject of control:

The institutional antibodies that humanity has developed to protect against censorship and propaganda thus far—laws, journalistic codes of ethics, independent watchdogs, mass education—all evolved for a world in which choking a few gatekeepers and threatening a few individuals was an effective means to block speech. They are no longer sufficient.

There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs—and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. […] We just need to start the discussion. Now.

Zygmund Baumann in “Moral Blindness: the loss of sensitivity in liquid modernity” (quoting his own Guardian op-ed):

As for the ‘death of anonymity’ courtesy of the internet we submit our rights to privacy to the slaughter of our own will. Or perhaps we just consent to the loss of privacy as a reasonable price for the wonders offered in exchange. Or the pressure to deliver our personal autonomy to the slaughterhouse is so overwhelming, so close to the condition of a flock of sheep, that only few exceptionally rebellious, bold, pugnacious and resolute wills will earnestly attempt to withstand it.

Everything private is now done, potentially, in public – and is potentially available for public consumption; and remains available for the duration, ‘till the end of time, as the internet ‘can’t be made to forget’ anything once recorded on any of its innumerable servers. ‘This erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cellphone cameras, free photo and video web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private’ [to quote Brian Stelter]. All those technical gadgets being, we are told, ‘user-friendly’ – though that favourite phrase of commercial copy means, under closer scrutiny, a product incomplete without the user’s labour, after the pattern of IKEA furniture. And let me add: with users’ enthusiastic devotion and deafening applause

In “Life Without the Tech Giants”, Kashmir Hill kicks off an article series on a self-experiment in trying to completely eliminate Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting her money, data, and attention:

People have done thought experiments before about which of the “frightful five” it would be hardest to live without, but I thought it would be more illuminating, if painful, to do an actual experiment: I would try to block a tech giant each week, to tell the tale of life without it. At the end of those five weeks, I’d try to block all of them at once. God help me.

Phil Lee, of European law firm Fieldfisher, summarizes the French €50m GDPR fine for Google, including this thought on the possible turning point this might be:

Longer term, query what impact this will have on the future of tech, data collection and ad personalisation - is this the beginning of the revolution, or will fines simply be seen as a cost of doing business…?

Greta Thunberg (16) travelled 30 hours by train from Sweden to deliver a chilling speech at the Davos WEF meeting:

At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. […] We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.

We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

A (more or less) weekly collection of inspiring, surprising or otherwise noteworthy texts, talks and podcasts. Usually around my core topics of usability, ethics, and digital society. Previous issues in the archive.

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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