summing up 96

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty, by Eric Meyer

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

this hits home on so many levels. we throw technology at people, hoping something will stick. instead, we should use the computer and algorithms to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, to help us make our lives better. that is the sweet spot of our technology.

10 Timeframes, by Paul Ford

The time you spend is not your own. You are, as a class of human beings, responsible for more pure raw time, broken into more units, than almost anyone else. You are about to spend whole decades, whole centuries, of cumulative moments, of other people’s time. People using your systems, playing with your toys, fiddling with your abstractions. And I want you to ask yourself when you make things, when you prototype interactions, am I thinking about my own clock, or the user’s? Am I going to help someone make order in his or her life?

If we are going to ask people, in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats—if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?

our technological capability changes much faster than our culture. we first create our technologies and then they change our society and culture. therefore we have a huge responsibility to look at things from the other person's point of view – and to do what's best for them. in other words, be considerate.

Finding the Exhaust Ports, by Jon Gold

Lamenting about the tech industry’s ills when self-identifying as a technologist is a precarious construction. I care so deeply about using the personal computer for liberation & augmentation. I’m so, so burned out by 95% of the work happening in the tech industry. Silicon Valley mythologizes newness, without stopping to ask “why?”. I’m still in love with technology, but increasingly with nuance into that which is for us, and that which productizes us.

Perhaps when Bush prophesied lightning-quick knowledge retrieval, he didn’t intend for that knowledge to be footnoted with Outbrain adverts. Licklider’s man-computer symbiosis would have been frustrated had it been crop-dusted with notifications. Ted Nelson imagined many wonderfully weird futures for the personal computer, but I don’t think gamifying meditation apps was one of them.

every day we make big fuss about a seemingly new hype (ai, blockchain, vr, iot, cloud, ... what next?). as neil postman and others have cautioned us, technologies tend to become mythic. that is, perceived as if they were god-given, part of the natural order of things, gifts of nature, and not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context. and by that we completely fail to recognize how we can use technology to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, to help us make our lives better.

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My letters are about long-lasting, sustainable change that fundamentally amplify our human capabilities and raise our collective intelligence through generations. Would love to have you on board.