summing up 110

summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology 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.

Defining the Dimensions of the “Space” of Computing, by Weiwei Hsu

Traditionally, we have thought of computing not in terms of a space of alternatives but in terms of improvements over time. Moore’s Law. Faster. Cheaper. More processors. More RAM. More mega-pixels. More resolution. More sensors. More bandwidth. More devices. More apps. More users. More data. More “engagement.” More everything.

While trending technologies dominate tech news and influence what we believe is possible and probable, we are free to choose. We don’t have to accept what monopolies offer. We can still inform and create the future on our own terms. We can return to the values that drove the personal computer revolution and inspired the first-generation Internet.

Glass rectangles and black cylinders are not the future. We can imagine other possible futures — paths not taken — by searching within a “space of alternative” computing systems. In this “space,” even though some dimensions are currently less recognizable than others, by investigating and hence illuminating the less-explored dimensions together, we can co-create alternative futures.

It's difficult to suspend our current view of how technology shapes our world, and to imagine something completely new or different. We never paused and asked whether there was a way to build from a better, different blueprint instead of building on top of the existing technology. One of the most thoughtful pieces I've read lately.

Hypertext and Our Collective Destiny, by Tim Berners-Lee

It is a good time to sit back and consider to what extent we have actually made life easier. We have access to information: but have we been solving problems? Well, there are many things it is much easier for individuals today than 5 years ago. Personally I don't feel that the web has made great strides in helping us work as a global team.

Perhaps I should explain where I'm coming from. I had (and still have) a dream that the web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge. I imagine it immersing us as a warm, friendly environment made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out. I would like it to bring our friends and colleagues closer, in that by working on this knowledge together we can come to better understandings. If misunderstandings are the cause of many of the world's woes, then can we not work them out in cyberspace. And, having worked them out, we leave for those who follow a trail of our reasoning and assumptions for them to adopt, or correct.

Technology does not and cannot solve humanity's problems. We can enable, augment, and improve with technology, but ultimately humans have to deal with human problems.

Rebuilding the Typographic Society, by Matthew Butterick

Now and then there’s a bigger event—let’s call it a Godzilla moment—that causes a lot of destruction. And what is the Godzilla? Usually the Godzilla is technology. Technology arrives, and it wants to displace us—take over something that we were doing. That’s okay when technology removes a burden or an annoyance.

But sometimes, when technology does that, it can constrict the space we have for expressing our humanity. Then, we have to look for new outlets for ourselves, or what happens? What happens is that this zone of humanity keeps getting smaller. Technology invites us to accept those smaller boundaries, because it’s convenient. It’s relaxing. But if we do that long enough, what’s going to happen is we’re going to stagnate. We’re going to forget what we’re capable of, because we’re just playing in this really tiny territory.

The good news is that when Godzilla burns down the city with his fiery breath, we have space to rebuild. There’s an opportunity for us. But we can’t be lazy about it.

Technology should not replace humans, but it should play out its real strength, which is amplifying human capabilities. And once we understand how technology works, we can begin to focus on improving its quality, creating tools that truly make things cheaper, faster, and better without destroying the very fabric of our humanity.


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