Friday Reading #23

What a technology fuelled week it was and we learned so much. Microsoft have seriously misunderstood their target market i.e. gamers, with their insistence on the always online always watching never share or sell any games ever again approach. Sony (a company with an awful record of non-standard formats and DRM hell) in response pulled off one of the marketing masterstrokes of the year. Jony Ive went from design ubergod to soundly mocked loser the minute he dare enter the artistic realm of digital interaction design and show off his flat and gradient obsessed buttons. The scariest powerpoint in the world showed what we all knew about the US spying on everything and everyone and that the NSA need to hire some designers. It is that subject we begin with this week. A classic and timeless piece from Bruce Schneier on the The Eternal Value of Privacy and a fantastic piece of writing by James Bridle on The Politics of the New aesthetic. His own words on what NA means and what he is trying to think through about how technology and humans exist together in society today and in the future. There were two other good pieces this week by James and on James that you should also read. One of the great thinkers/makers/artists of our time. Other selections this week include Stef Lewandowski on creating everyday, a Microsoft intern writes the greatest critique of large enterprises I have ever read, can robots evolve, the constant cry for attention and the teen who stole Half Life 2.


 The Eternal Value of Privacy

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” Watch someone long enough, and you’ll find something to arrest — or just blackmail — with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies — whoever they happen to be at the time.


The Politics of the New aesthetic

I believe that much of the weak commentary on the New Aesthetic is a direct result of a weak technological literacy in the arts, and the critical discourse that springs from it. It is also representative of a far wider critical and popular failure to engage fully with technology in its construction, operation and affect. Since at least the introduction of the VCR – perhaps the first truly domesticated computational object – it seems there has been a concerted, societal rejection of technical understanding, wherein the attitude that “I don’t understand this and therefore don’t like this and therefore I will not investigate this” is ascendant and lauded.


Create something every day

There’s a beautiful Japanese concept that deals with entropy, and accepts it as not just a part of life, but something to be viewed as a form of beauty – wabi-sabi. We spend our lives trying to push back against the force of entropy – arranging things, making patterns out of objects, designing processes for how things happen, sometimes just attempting to keep things the way they are for a little while. Wabi-sabi is an acceptance of the inevitable decline of order and that the imperfection and fleetingness of things is to be celebrated, not mourned.


8 months in Microsoft, I learned these

Expect no documentation in corporations. I have seen the knowledge inside the company is mostly transferred by talking and hands-on sessions. Some parts of knowledge base generated are only emailed and not saved anywhere permanent. This is not how the information flows in the digital world. There are certain people, if they got hit by a bus, nobody can pick up their work or code. And it is okay. If this would have been my own company there would be tons of wiki pages.


Robot Evolution

…the MANIAC (‘Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer’). The acronym was apt: one of the computer’s first tasks in 1952 was to advance the human potential for wild destruction by helping to develop the hydrogen bomb. But within that same machine, sharing run-time with calculations for annihilation, a new sort of numeric organism was taking shape. Like flu viruses, they multiplied, mutated, competed and entered into parasitic relationships. And they evolved, in seconds.


How Not To Be Alone

Most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldn’t always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a kind of interaction possible without the person being near his phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster, and more mobile, messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes.

The Boy Who Stole Half-Life 2

At 6am on 7th May 2004, Axel Gembe awoke in the small German town of Schönau im Schwarzwald to find his bed surrounded by police officers. Automatic weapons were pointing at his head and the words “Get out of bed. Do not touch the keyboard” were ringing in his ears.

Gembe knew why they were there. But, bleary-eyed, he asked anyway.

“You are being charged with hacking into Valve Corporation’s network, stealing the videogame Half-Life 2, leaking it onto the internet and causing damages in excess of $250 million,” came the reply. “Get dressed.”


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