The Overview - July 12, 2021

The Overview is a weekly roundup of eclectic content in-between essay newsletters & 'Conversations' podcast episodes to scratch your brain's curiosity itch.

Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,

I wish that you and your family are safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. :)

Check out the last The Overview - June 28, 2021: HERE

Read our latest essay - Technopoly: HERE

Watch/listen to our ‘Conversation with Brent Cooper’: HERE

Get our E-Book for free by using ‘substack’: HERE

Below are some eclectic links for the week of July 12th, 2021.

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Table of Contents

Theme & Topics: Data, Decentralization, World Governance, Local-First, and the future of Smart Cities

  • Articles/Essays - Strelka Magazine; Palladium Magazine; The Atlantic; Boston Review; Rest of World; Symposium; Thousand Nations; Wrath of Gnon; Protean Mag; Jonathan Hillis & Creator Cabins

  • Books - Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds: Crisis and emergence in metamodernity by @perspecteeva (Edited: @Jonathan_Rowson & @laymanpascal); Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

  • Documentaries - Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet on NETFLIX - #PlanetaryBoundaries with @PIK_climate @sthlmresilience

  • Lectures - TTF // For Planetary Governance. Part 1: Introduction (@bratton); Samo Burja: Great Founders Build Civilization; #TheFutureOf Smart Cities: #SmartCities 2.0 with @NateLanxon

  • Paper - Democratic Data: A Relational Theory For Data Governance via @salome_viljoen_ in @YaleLJournal

  • Podcasts - What If Our Cities Were Smart? via @flashforwardpod; Ep. 71 – Jedidiah Purdy, After Nature via @alwaysalreadyon; Scaling Laws & Social Networks in The Time of COVID-19 with Geoffrey West (Part 1) via @sfiscience; Geoffrey West on Scaling, Open-Ended Growth, and Accelerating Crisis/Innovation Cycles: Transcendence or Collapse? (Part 2)

  • TED Talks - Adam Greenfield on the Dangers of Smart Cities via @reSITE_; 5 transformational policies for a prosperous and sustainable world | @jrockstrom

  • Twittersphere - “Students in my #opendemocracy seminar at @Yale via @landemore wrote an amazing 30-page constitution for #Mars based on a semester of readings and discussions.”

  • Videos (Short) - How Uber Is SCAMMING You via @bigblackjacobin in @GravelInstitute; This Smart City Knows Everything About You! | Big Data of Future Cities | Smart City Projects via @dw_scitech

  • Website - Local-first software via@inkandswitch; The Handbook of Handbooks for Decentralised Organising - @RichDecibels

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Articles/Essays

“New World Order”: For Planetary Governance via @bratton in @strelkamagazine (H/T: @nils_gilman)

“If so, then intelligence remakes itself by remaking the planet. Its specific talents for social self-organization based on communicable abstractions and technical mediation is not just something that happened on Earth; it is something that the Earth does. Over millions of years, this particular planet has folded itself in such a way to form mammalian brains and through them diverse forms of cunning and reason, including those of the human, which eventually came to ascertain its uniqueness and its aloneness in the astronomic neighborhood. It is not only capable of remaking the planet in the image of its industries, both petty and mighty, but also to comprehend and conceptualize the significance of this fact.

And so it has now come to a fork in a very long road. Is the revelation of its position of agency a cause for the abdication of that power, given the destruction that the angel of history retroactively surveys? Or, is this revelation of consequences a kind of threshold of maturation after which, this intelligence—a human intelligence because a planetary intelligence—might now, finally, be able to act back upon the planet with care, precisely because it now bears the ponderous weight of its precarious isolation?

Finally, there is no way to approach the question of planetarity without considering with wonder that we are an embedded species capable of mapping its own astronomic isolation but also of contemplating the significance of that isolation. The idea that our universe was teeming with life nearby persisted in the scientific community even into the 1970s, but it is a hope that has been dashed. It has been replaced by the Rare Earth hypothesis that suggests not only that advanced technological civilizations are rare, but life itself is incredibly rare. It is incredibly unlikely that we would find ourselves in this moment. It is unlikely that this moment would even be a thing. What is not entirely unlikely, unfortunately, is the extinction of the only species that we know of that is capable of understanding this moment as a moment in this way. That species realizes not only that it can compose itself, but that if such awareness and understanding as such is going to survive into the deep future, then it must compose itself and its condition. And that, in essence, is the definition of “governance” to which we should aspire: not simply the exercise of public authority, but the exercise of collective reason or, more specifically, what I call general sapience. Planetary governance is, or should be, the exercise of our capacity for collective self-composition, not just of the planet but as the planet.”

Why Civilization Is Older Than We Thought via @SamoBurja in @palladiummag

“As I gazed over the stones and pillars of Göbekli Tepe, the feeling of being confronted with something old and terrible—in the archaic sense—was inescapable, cheery tourist infrastructure notwithstanding. If it is hard enough for us to imagine how the Sumerians viewed the world, it is nearly impossible for us to imagine how the builders of this far more ancient site did. As the archaeologist Gary Rollefson pointed out, there is more time between Göbekli Tepe and Sumer than between Sumer and today. But although we may never see the world with the eyes that once saw excellent spots to carve vultures and lions into stone, in trying to understand something so terribly old, we might nevertheless come to see the world and our place in it with new eyes of our own.

The old paradigm of agriculture and civilization beginning after the last ice age, and proceeding on a materially overdetermined set course of progress, seems to rest on increasingly shaky theoretical grounds. As a consequence, the hypotheses of what we expect to find and what kind of digs we want to fund have to be revised as well. Not just because our timelines of monumental architecture and complex society have been thrown into question by Göbekli Tepe, but because of evidence of early cultivation, such as small-scale farming 23,000 years ago at the Ohalo II site near the Sea of Galilee. Over 10,000 years prior to when we had first thought agriculture began, at least some of our ancient ancestors had gathered over 140 plant species in one place, evidently sowing and harvesting early edible cereals and using rudimentary tools to turn them into flour...

With both agriculture and monumental construction much older than what was thought before, we should likely rethink the origins of urban life as well. How old might settlements of hundreds or thousands of people be? How frequently did such civilizations arise, only to fall and be forgotten? I strongly suspect they might be not thousands, but tens of thousands of years older than we believed previously. I’m happy to take a Long Bet with a qualified challenger skeptical of such a claim, that in twenty years, we will know of at least one such permanent settlement older than 20,000 years. Perhaps such a bet can, in its small way, help stimulate some interest in hunting for such sites.

It is important that we do so, even if we have to rethink some of our other assumptions about the nature of progress and technology. When it comes to thinking about politics, economics, and culture, such history is our only data set. Rethinking what humans are, and how we’ve lived over the last few hundred thousand years, may then open us up not just to new discoveries about prehistory, but new possibilities for our future. We, after all, hope to be more than just another set of ruins for our descendants to argue over.”

L.A. Is a City State via @rosecrans in @TheAtlantic

“No one seems to know what Los Angeles is, exactly: city of angels, revenge city, or something else.

To call L.A. a city doesn’t account for its game of thrones, the ways that county supervisors, city-council members, and eccentric billionaires tug at power. Metropolis doesn’t consider our countryside and endless townships. The idea that L.A. County is a collection of villages and suburbs doesn’t do justice to a place that’s bigger than 40 U.S. states in population, bigger economically than almost all of them. And yet L.A. is simultaneously too dense with city centers to be dismissed as a single sprawl. A heteropolis, meaning a place that loves difference, may seem right at times, considering L.A.’s openness to foreign cultures and strange ideas. But L.A. is a closed place, too. Privatized neighborhoods bristle with security features. A sizable gap continues to widen between the wealthy in their towers (the hills) and the workers in the fields (the flats)...

Whatever the best term for L.A. is, the exercise of defining the place seems worthwhile because Los Angeles so often feels less like a city of the present than a kingdom from the future, trying to tell us all something about what’s coming next. Go an hour in any direction from Dodger Stadium and it’s hard to tell where the realm stops. One essential feature of existence in Los Angeles, as many have pointed out, is an awareness of impermanence. We’re intimately in touch with earthquakes and fires, unrest and inequality, gig work and precarity. And yes, L.A. is a poster child for American poverty. It is a case study of California’s property-based politics gone tragically wrong. But it’s also a place where people from around the world, from wildly different backgrounds, more or less live in peace.

Soon enough, the lucky ones among us—or the very unlucky ones—will be invited to Musk-Bezos, a new city-state on Mars. Everybody else will move permanently onto the internet, to empires that baby Zuckerbergs have yet to magic into being. Until then, the city-state of Los Angeles will persist in its corner: the land of promise, but also the land of broken promises. City of revenge. City of sunsets. Tragic, triumphant, beautiful all the same. “There are a lot of things that are true of Los Angeles that are also true of other American cities,” the local novelist Héctor Tobar told me. “But in no other American cities are those truths as evident as they are in L.A.””

Beyond the Nation-State via @BostonReview

“To think about how decentering the state might matter, consider one historical example. Only sixty years ago, the challenges that colonized peoples faced in their struggle for freedom were exacerbated by the fact that, since they were not states themselves, they had almost no international legal rights against the states they sought to defy. Most importantly, they were not allowed to use force against their occupiers; if they did so, both domestic and international law considered them to be criminals rather than combatants. This applied regardless of the legitimacy of their cause, or of their ability to organize themselves into a complex network of national liberation movements. While in the majority of cases, they eventually managed to achieve freedom and found a place at the global diplomatic table through the formation of their own independent states, they would have found a much less obstructed path to freedom if early on they had enjoyed a baseline of rights in their capacity as collective actors.

Engaging with this history makes the current centrality of the states-system as a basis for organizing the globe look recent and in fairly good shape, not centuries-old and on the verge of collapse. The layering of sovereignty within polities like the EU, the rising power of corporations, the prominence of violent groups not considered “states”—none of these developments is fundamentally at odds with how international relations operated over the past 373 years. What is truly new, from a longue durée perspective, is the triumph of the state worldwide, and our inability to think of ways of organizing the world that do not involve either nation-states or organizations of nation-states.

The time is thus ripe to harness a more accurate understanding of the past to our efforts to imagine a less destructive future. Having an alternative narrative of our trajectory does not provide easy solutions, but it does open the way to envisioning an international order that could make space for a greater diversity of polities and restore some balance between the rights of states and the rights of other collectivities. Today the norm is that states enjoy far more rights than any other collectivity—ranging from indigenous peoples to transnational social movements—simply because they are states. But it is not at all clear why this should be the only framework available to our collective imagination, particularly if its legitimacy rests on a history of the states-system that has long been debunked. The myth of Westphalia has ultimately inflicted serious damage to our ability to think creatively about how to tackle the pressing global challenges that transcend both borders and levels of governmental organization, ranging from neighborhoods, villages, and towns all the way up to international institutions.

Now that our time for imagining more sustainable ways of organizing our world is starting visibly to run out, we must put that myth to bed for good.””

The failed promise of Kenya’s smart city via @CareyBaraka in @restofworld

“African governments keep burning money planning smart cities by following a McKinsey blueprint. But will any actually be completed?

It is unlikely that Konza will ever reach the form it was intended to. But then, no smart city in the world has been completed that perfectly accords with its initial claims or early plans. As the Kenyan government’s finances have collapsed, brought down by excessive loans and a culture of malfeasance overseen by President Kenyatta, Konza’s future seems especially dire. For the 2021/22 financial year, it has been allocated $168 million, a figure dwarfed by the amounts allocated to Kenyatta’s newer, less ambitious projects. Despite all this, the dream of a smart city, as crafted and packaged by McKinsey consultants, continues to be used by local administrators to sell a version of Kenyan modernity.

However, even administrators themselves admit that technology isn’t a magic bullet. Writing in the Africa Journal of Management in 2017, Ndemo argued that “the spread of digital technologies alone will not unlock any development opportunities.” Yet much of the talk in Kenyan policy circles around the potential of digital technologies ignores the fact that tech doesn’t fix failing systems.To offer two recent local examples: A sophisticated Huawei-built surveillance system installed in Nairobi to reduce crime had almost the opposite long-term effect. While there was a 46% reduction in crime rates in the first year, the next year it was up by 13%, and crime then ballooned by an additional 50% between 2016 and 2017.

A $63 million electronic vote-tallying system designed to prevent interference in the 2017 Kenyan general elections failed even more spectacularly. After the head of technology for the country’s electoral agency was murdered days before the vote, his login credentials were allegedly used to access the system, and Kenyatta was declared the winner. The election results were thrown out by the country’s Supreme Court a few weeks later, on account of multiple technical discrepancies, but Kenyattawent on to win 98.26% of the vote in a new election whose fairness was contested by multiple electoral commissioners.Despite these and many more examples, rhetoric around technology continues to ignore the fact that it is always an expression of human intention. Similarly, smart cities are not cure-alls for socioeconomic problems but rather ways to distract citizens from bigger, structural ones.”

The Case for a Free-Market Welfare State via @hamandcheese

“The case for the free-market welfare state is that economic freedom and universal social insurance are complementary. Democracies can respond to the economic insecurity generated by dynamic markets in one of two ways. Either the cooperative surplus of a productive, growing economy can be used to buoy workers in transition, or those affected by displacement will demand direct interventions in the market process itself, generating growth- and freedom-killing regulatory kludges, from occupational licensing to trade protectionism. By encompassing a wide number of competing interests, universal programs are particularly adept at reducing the demand for parochial interventions, and, when linked to prior contributions, can even mitigate the backlash against immigration.”

“Indeed, contrary to our usual ideological spectrum, which runs from “small government” libertarian to “big government” progressive, free-market welfare states stand out as among the freest countries on earth. Universal social insurance programs are thus not only freedom- and dynamism-enhancing in and of themselves, but appear to go together as part of a stable political equilibrium. This provides a framework for a reform agenda that goes beyond insulating markets from a reactionary backlash, to one based on social welfare policy as a tool for actively accelerating the American economy into the future.””

The Nakamoto Consensus — How We End Bad Governance via in @thousandnations

“You might be wondering if any government has been this bad. You might think Germany under Hitler, but they still had elections for a while. Stalin? He wasn’t very good at making money.

Neither of those dictatorships was structured as I just described.

But Apple is. Whole Foods is. Each product and price is a strict law declaring you must pay x dollars to get y. Every employee is subordinated to a private CEO who is not publicly elected. The organization sets all of their prices and designs its products by themselves in secret. Prices and what’s on offer change every day, every quarter, every year. And they set prices to make as much money for themselves as possible and their earnings are open to public view. In fact, all of your favorite companies are structured like tyrannical dictatorships (or better, constitutional monarchies). But they are not poorly behaved at all.

The same cannot be said of lawmaking territorial governments, even those obedient to the Washington Consensus and the characteristics it finds desirable. How can this be?”

How to Build a Small Town in Texas via @wrathofgnon

“Of all the questions I get on Twitter the most common is this: “How do you build a town?” We know well how it used to be done, but these last one or two centuries we have forgotten how to do it (with only a handful of notable exceptions during the last century). The other day I was asked again, but this time with a set of premises that made the question a little easier to approach. I have anonymized all the details but the general idea remains: four guys (friends) with money have bought a suitably large piece of land in Texas and now want to create a car-free human-scaled town of the kind that I am always writing about.

In this text I intend to set out the most bare-bone basic premises for how to start a good town, what is needed to build something antifragile and sustainable under the above mentioned scenario. I will go back to this text and edit it, add points, or discuss certain aspects deeper in future texts, especially those points that stimulate questions or controversy.

  1. Size and borders: “You can’t have a garden without fences.”

  2. Water, energy, food and connections: the needs hierarchy of towns.

  3. Materials and harmony.

  4. The problem of undeveloped and vacant lots.

  5. Who will live there?

  6. Build to the edge of the lot

  7. Personality, neighborhoods, and character.

  8. The Story, the founding Myth.

  9. Build the least valuable lots first.

  10. Public space.

  11. A grand entrance.

  12. How to live without cars.

  13. To grid or not to grid.”

There are Trees in the Future, Or, A Case for Staying via @proteanmag

“Through the pandemic, faced with a similar question as McClain’s characters—“Where and with whom should I be?”—people have left, returned, moved somewhere new amidst the crisis. These choices, of course, affect more than just the people who make them. TheLos Angeles Times reported that the “remote work revolution” brought on by the pandemic, for example, has quadrupled interest in second homes and led to a real estate surge near outdoor vacation destinations like Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs. What do we make of this trend when so many people do not have any safe and stable shelter? Long-term, how will this affect residents who already called these destinations home year-round, who now must adjust to inflated prices, housing and labor shortages, and congested traffic overnight? Confronted with our innate interconnectedness, we can’t pretend that where we live and how we move doesn’t affect the people and ecosystems around us.

Like a great science fiction story, the pandemic has revealed the absurd injustice of our current arrangements, while hinting at the possibilities and dangers that might accompany new ways of living. As we witness a reorganization of social life and space in real time, nothing is certain. All our best- and worst-case scenarios alike are possible. Hasn’t this realization—that the future can be anything at all—been the source of our collective hope and despair, our conflicting presence and anxiety? Maybe rather than asking “Should I leave or should I stay?” we should ask, “In which versions of the future can everyone have a choice?”

For many people—like those of us who are unhoused, undocumented, poor, disabled, incarcerated, Indigenous, Black—autonomy over housing feels impossible. Despite that, we keep working to create it. Together, masses of people keep ICE officers from snatching their neighbor, or block a landlord from changing the locks to someone’s home. Together, people and histories conjoin and transform, creating pathways to freer futures. The first step in winning a new world is to stay around long enough to fight. In moments of exhaustion, I think of Daniel’s tireless work, his unswerving loyalty to place and to the future: “I’ll stay until I know someone will be here after me to take care of the trees.””

Tech stack for decentralized cities via @creatorcabins & @JonathanHillis

“A decentralized city is a network of distinct physical locations tied together by shared governance and culture. It allows people to maintain close social ties and norms while moving around to different places. It also creates resilience against local changes in climate, regulation, and society.

Inspired by Balaji's essay on The Location Stack for technological progressives and conversations at Creator Cabins this past week, we've been thinking through a rough sketch of the tech stack for decentralized cities:”


Books

Metamodernity: Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds: Crisis and emergence in metamodernity by @perspecteeva (Edited: @Jonathan_Rowson & @laymanpascal)

The 21st century will feature a battle for the soul of humanity. We need new ways of thinking and feeling that help us survive and thrive in the world as we find it.

The internet has fundamentally changed our lifeworld for good and bad, we are contending with the spiritual and ecological exhaustion of modernity, and while there is scope for hope, we face a capricious future. And yet, shared insight into the precarity of planetary life and its elusive meaning heightens our sense of intimacy and elicits new impulses of wonder and tenderness.

This anthology is an attempt to help us perceive our context with an exploration of the premise, coherence and scope of the ‘metamodern’ sensibility: a structure of feeling, cultural ethos, epistemic orientation and imaginative outlook that has arisen over the last two decades.

Leading metamodern thinkers reflect upon the conjunction of premodern, modern and postmodern influences on the present, and go beyond critique into vision and method for viable and desirable futures. The authors aim to open a new set of pathways to enhance our sense of agency in this time between worlds, where our world system is dying and another is about to be born.

  • ‘Conversations’ Guest Brent Cooper (@tato_tweets) wrote the essay - Manifesting Mass Metanoia: Doing Change in Trying Times

  • ‘Conversations’ Guest (Coming out 07/19/2021) Jeremy Johnson (@jdj_writes) wrote the essay - Becoming the Planetary

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

  • “Olamina believes in a god that does not in the least love her. In fact, her god is a process or a combination of processes, not an entity. It is not consciously aware of her—or of anything. It is not conscious at all. “God is Change,” she says and means it. Some of the faces of her god are biological evolution, chaos theory, relativity theory, the uncertainty principle, and, of course, the second law of thermodynamics. “God is Change, and, in the end, God prevails.”

    Yet Earthseed is not a fatalistic belief system. God can be directed, focused, speeded, slowed, shaped. all things change, but all things need not change in all ways. God is inexorable, yet malleable. Odd. Hardly religious at all. Even the Earthseed Destiny seems to have little to do with religion.

    “We are Earthseed,” Olamina says. “We are the children of God, as all fractions of the universe are the children of God. But more immediately we are the children of our particular Earth.” And within those words lies the origin of the Destiny. That portion of Humanity that is conscious, that knows it is Earthseed, and that accepts its Destiny is simply trying to leave the womb, the Earth, to be born as all young beings must do eventually.

    Earthseed is Olamina’s contribution to what she feels should be a species-wide effort to evade, or at least to lengthen the specialize-grow-die evolutionary cycle that humanity faces, that every species faces.

    “We can be a long-term success and the parents, ourselves, of a vast array of new peoples, new species,” she says, “or we can be just on more abortion. We can, we must, scatter the Earth’s living essence—human, plant, and animal—to extra solar worlds: ‘The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.’”

    Grand Words

    She hopes and dreams and writes and believes, and perhaps the world will let her live for a while, tolerating her as a harmless eccentric. I hope that it will. I fear that it may not.”

    - pg. 42-43

“This Nebula Award-winning sequel to Parable of the Sower continues the story of Lauren Olamina in socially and economically depressed California in the 2030s. Convinced that her community should colonize the stars, Lauren and her followers make preparations. But the collapse of society and rise of fanatics result in Lauren's followers being enslaved, and her daughter stolen from her. Now, Lauren must fight back to save the new world order.”


Documentaries

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet on NETFLIX - #PlanetaryBoundaries with @PIK_climate @sthlmresilience

“Breaking Boundaries tells the story of the most important scientific discovery of our time - that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization. The 75-minute film takes the audience on a journey of discovery of planetary thresholds we must not exceed, not just for the stability of our planet, but for the future of humanity. It offers up the solutions we can and must put in place now if we are to protect Earth’s life support systems.”

Deepfakes and the infocalypse - seeing is believing VPRO

“Are we moving toward a world without truth? With the rise of social media, information bubbles and the possibilities of Deepfakes, we no longer live in a shared reality. How to proceed?”


Lectures

TTF // For Planetary Governance. Part 1: Introduction (@bratton)

“The Terraforming 2021: For Planetary Governance Introduction by Benjamin Bratton The Terraforming 2021, Strelka Institute for Media Architecture and Design, Moscow https://theterraforming.strelka.com/

Samo Burja: Great Founders Build Civilization

“Samo Burja is the founder and President of Bismarck Analysis, which applies the foundational sociological research that Samo and his team have produced over the past decade to deliver unique insights to clients about institutional design and strategy. Samo’s studies focus on the social and material technologies that foster healthy human societies with an eye toward understanding and restoring the structures that produce functional institutions.”

#TheFutureOf Smart Cities: #SmartCities 2.0 with @NateLanxon

“Bloomberg News' European Technology Editor Nate Lanxon and Bloomberg EU Legal Correspondent Stephanie Bodoni talk with executives from Siemens, Blackberry, Airbus, Privacy International, Mercedes-Benz and Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld about what #TheFutureOf cities will look like.”


Paper

Democratic Data: A Relational Theory For Data Governance via @salome_viljoen_ in @YaleLJournal

“Data governance law—the legal regime that regulates how data about people is collected, processed, and used—is a subject of lively theorizing and several proposed legislative reforms. Different theories advance different legal interests in information. Some seek to reassert individual control for data subjects over the terms of their datafication, while others aim to maximize data subject financial gain. But these proposals share a common conceptual flaw. Put simply, they miss the point of data production in a digital economy: to put people into population-based relations with one another. This relational aspect of data production drives much of the social value as well as the social harm of data production and use in a digital economy.

In response, this Article advances a theoretical account of data as social relations, constituted by both legal and technical systems. It shows how data relations result in supra-individual legal interests, and properly representing and adjudicating among these interests necessitates far more public and collective (i.e., democratic) forms of governing data production. This theoretical account offers two notable insights for data governance law. First, this account better reflects the realities of how and why data production produces economic value as well as social harm in a digital economy. The data collection practices of the most powerful technology companies are primarily aimed at deriving population-level insights from data subjects for population-level applicability, not individual-level insights specific to a data subject. The value derived from this activity drives data collection in the digital economy and results in some of the most pressing forms of social informational harm. Individualist data subject rights cannot represent, let alone address, these population-level effects. Second, this account offers an alternative (and it argues, more precise) normative argument for what makes datafication—the transformation of information about people into a commodity—wrongful. What makes datafication wrong is not (only) that it erodes the capacity for subject self-formation, but also that it materializes unjust social relations: data relations that enact or amplify social inequality. This egalitarian normative account indexes many of the most pressing forms of social informational harm that animate criticism of data extraction yet fall outside typical accounts of informational harm. This account also offers a positive theory for socially beneficial data production. To address the inegalitarian harms of datafication—and develop socially beneficial alternatives—will require democratizing data social relations: moving from individual data subject rights, to more democratic institutions of data governance.

Part One describes the stakes and the status quo of data governance. It documents the significance of data processing for the digital economy. It then evaluates how the predominant legal regimes that govern data collection and use — contract and privacy law — code data as an individual medium. This conceptualization is referred to throughout the Article as “data as individual medium” (DIM). DIM regimes apprehend data’s capacity to cause individual harm as the legally relevant feature of datafication; from this theory of harm follows the tendency of DIM regimes to subject data to private individual ordering.

Part Two presents the core argument of the Article regarding the incentives and implications of data social relations within the data political economy. Data’s capacity to transmit social and relational meaning renders data production especially capable of benefitting and harming others beyond the data subject from whom data is collected. It also results in population-level interests in data production that are not reducible to the individual interests that generally feature in data governance.

Part Three evaluates two prominent legal reform proposals that have emerged in response to concerns over datafication. Propertarian proposals respond to growing wealth inequality in the data economy by formalizing individual propertarian rights over data as a personal asset. Dignitarian reforms respond to how excessive data extraction can erode individual autonomy by granting fundamental rights protections to data as an extension of personal selfhood. While propertarian and dignitarian proposals differ on the theories of injustice underlying datafication (and therefore provide different solutions), both resolve to individualist claims and remedies that do not represent, let alone address, the relational nature of data collection and use.

Part Four proposes an alternative approach: data as a democratic medium (DDM). This alternative conceptual approach apprehends data’s capacity to cause social harm as a fundamentally relevant feature of datafication; from this follows a commitment to collective institutional forms of governing data. Conceiving of data as a collective or public resource subject to democratic ordering accounts for the importance of population-based relationality in the digital economy. This recognizes a greater number of relevant interests in data production and recasts the subject of legal concern from interpersonal violation to the condition of population-level data relations under which data is produced and used.

DDM therefore responds not only to salient forms of injustice identified by other data governance reforms, but also to significant forms of injustice missed by individualist accounts. In doing so, DDM also provides a theory of data governance from which to defend forms of socially beneficial data production that individualist accounts may foreclose. Part Four concludes by outlining some examples of what regimes that conceive of data as democratic could look like in practice.”


Podcasts

What If Our Cities Were Smart? Via @flashforwardpod

Today we travel to a future where cities get smarter…whatever that means. 

Guests:

Ep. 71 – Jedidiah Purdy, After Nature via @alwaysalreadyon 

“In this episode, Emily and John welcome John’s colleague Gary Kroll for a discussion of Jedediah Purdy‘s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. We map the contours of the book, asking questions about the scope of the argument and both the promises and limits of its framework. Throughout we interrogate the concepts of the Anthropocene, humanism, the posthuman (are they incompatible??), and democracy, and ask what work the environmental imaginary does. In classic Always Already fashion, notions of scientific authority appear along with our favorite questions: what of capitalism, and wherefore art the feminist lens? And, how would an engagement with Indigenous cosmologies and politics transform Purdy’s own environmental imagination? Tune in to help us welcome our first guest holding the very official title Mother of Dragons!”

Scaling Laws & Social Networks in The Time of COVID-19 with Geoffrey West (Part 1) via @sfiscience

“We’re living through a unique moment in history. The interlocking crises of a global pandemic, widespread unemployment, social unrest, and climate change, show us just how far human civilization has traveled along a path that leads to collapse. It is more crucial than ever to seek a deeper understanding of the systems that sustain us, and the thin layer of life on the surface of our planet. What are the underlying laws that govern how we live together and as individuals? How do our economies and cities grow? How are the human and non-human worlds related? And can we solve the problems we’ve created when we’re quarantined from one another?

By identifying the basic cardiovascular and nervous systems of human societies, we may one day be able to cure some of the complex diseases of civilization and found a new, sustainable mode of existence.”

Geoffrey West on Scaling, Open-Ended Growth, and Accelerating Crisis/Innovation Cycles: Transcendence or Collapse? (Part 2) 

“Cities define the modern world. They characterize the human era and its impacts on our planet. By bringing us together, these "social reactors" amplify the best in us: our creativity, efficiency, wealth, and communal ethos. But they also amplify our worst: the incidence of social crimes, the span of inequality, our vulnerability to epidemics. And built into the physics of the city is an accelerating cycle of crisis and innovation that now drives our global economy and ecosystems closer to the edge of existential peril. 

Many economists believe that open-ended growth and technological advances can save us from destruction, but the scaling laws that describe the evolution of the city seem to suggest the opposite: that we are on an ever-faster treadmill and can only jump to even faster treadmills, until our unchecked growth precipitates collapse. Are we on a super-exponential runway to abundance, or are we trapped in a kind of test of our ability to understand our constraints and steward our limited resources?”


TED Talks

5 transformational policies for a prosperous and sustainable world | @jrockstrom

“In a talk about how we can build a robust future without wrecking the planet, sustainability expert Johan Rockström debuts the Earth3 model -- a new methodology that combines the UN Sustainable Development Goals with the nine planetary boundaries, beyond which earth's vital systems could become unstable. Learn more about five transformational policies that could help us achieve inclusive and prosperous world development while keeping the earth stable and resilient.”

Adam Greenfield on the Dangers of Smart Cities via @reSITE_

“What are smart cities anyways? Where are they? For whom are they intended? By whom were they developed? Adam Greenfield challenges the popular concept of “smart cities”, warning against the danger it posses of strictly central planning. While smart cities are often designed to be about consumption, convenience, and security but Adams think that such a state will exist only for few, for the rest it will be a permanent state of exception. He argues that as a discourse, smart cities have nothing to do with cities, treating our urban environments as a market commodity. He believes that in setting out to design the technologized cities of the 21st century, wherever the public generates data, it also has meaningful access to and ownership of that data. Adams' lecture offers food for thought for all of us who never got to consider the possible negative sides of smart cities and how they could come to consider democracy as a disruption of the functional city.”


Twittersphere

Students in my #opendemocracy seminar at @Yale via @landemore wrote an amazing 30-page constitution for #Mars based on a semester of readings and discussions. I would love for them to hear constitutional scholars in particular chime on it. Anyone interested? Or Mars-imperator @elonmusk maybe?


Video (Short):

RIP MIKE GRAVEL

How Uber Is SCAMMING You via @bigblackjacobin in @GravelInstitute

“The ride-hailing company Uber is everywhere: it has rapidly become one of the most ubiquitous corporate entities in the United States. But beneath all of its bluster, Uber has a big secret: there’s no profit, no gains in efficiency or effectiveness, and, above all, no innovation. Simply put, Uber is one of the biggest scams in American economic history. And it’s not just scamming its investors (although it definitely is): it’s scamming you – its users – and, most of all, it’s scamming its drivers. While they get rich, you get ripped off. Edward Ongweso, Jr., technology reporter at VICE News, explains.”

This Smart City Knows Everything about You! | Big Data of Future Cities | Smart City Projects via @dw_scitech

“Smart city projects of the future collect huge amounts of data - big data. Challenged by growing populations and the increasing difficulty of meeting the needs of citizens, cities are counting on technology to provide data driven solutions. Smart Cities are collecting and sharing large amounts of data. Big data offers insights that can help to optimize smart city operations, manage resources, and improve the everyday life of citizens. So who are handing our data to? And for what price?”


Websites

Local-first software via@inkandswitch (H/T: @andy_matuschak)

“You own your data, in spite of the cloud.

Abstract: Cloud apps like Google Docs and Trello are popular because they enable real-time collaboration with colleagues, and they make it easy for us to access our work from all of our devices.However, by centralizing data storage on servers, cloud apps also take away ownership and agency from users. If a service shuts down, the software stops functioning, and data created with that software is lost.In this article we propose local-first software, a set of prin-ciples for software that enables both collaborationandown-ership for users. Local-first ideals include the ability to work offline and collaborate across multiple devices, while also improving the security, privacy, long-term preservation, and user control of data.We survey existing approaches to data storage and sharing,ranging from email attachments to web apps to Firebase-backed mobile apps, and we examine the trade-offs of each.We look at Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs):data structures that are multi-user from the ground up while also being fundamentally local and private. CRDTs have the potential to be a foundational technology for realizing local-first software.We share some of our findings from developing local-first software prototypes at the Ink & Switch research lab over the course of several years. These experiments test the via-bility of CRDTs in practice, and explore the user interface challenges for this new data model. Lastly, we suggest some next steps for moving towards local-first software: for researchers, for app developers, and a startup opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Contents:

  • Motivation: collaboration and ownership

  • Seven ideals for local-first software

    • No spinners: your work at your fingertips

    • Your work is not trapped on one device

    • The network is optional

    • Seamless collaboration with your colleagues

    • The Long Now

    • Security and privacy by default

    • You retain ultimate ownership and control

  • Existing data storage and sharing models

    • How application architecture affects user experience

    • Files and email attachments

    • Web apps: Google Docs, Trello, Figma

    • Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, etc.

    • Git and GitHub

    • Developer infrastructure for building apps

    • Web app (thin client)

    • Mobile app with local storage (thick client)

    • Backend-as-a-Service: Firebase, CloudKit, Realm

    • CouchDB

  • Towards a better future

    • CRDTs as a foundational technology

    • Ink & Switch prototypes

    • Trello clone

    • Collaborative drawing

    • Media canvas

    • Findings

    • How you can help

    • For distributed systems and programming languages researchers

    • For Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researchers

    • For practitioners

    • Call for startup

  • Conclusions”

The Handbook of Handbooks for Decentralised Organising - @RichDecibels

“A mega list of handbooks and toolkits for groups working without top-down management from social movements to workplaces open source for anyone to read, update, share.”


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