Would you survive in medieval Europe?

    Realistically, I’m never going to watch an hour-long YouTube video which is mainly a talking head. I mean, I’m into history, but I’m not that into it.

    Thankfully, Open Culture has summarised some of the most important points. If you’re the kind of person who watches a lot of YouTube, then maybe you want to add this to your queue?

    An intricately detailed illustration in the style of a medieval manuscript, depicting a lively street scene with Gothic architectural elements. The image is populated with figures dressed as merchants and pilgrims, in a color palette of light gray, dark gray, bright red, yellow, and blue, capturing the vibrancy of medieval Europe. The borders are adorned with floral motifs, enhancing the manuscript's authentic feel.

    In the new video above, his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist pro­vides an hour’s worth of advice to the mod­ern prepar­ing to trav­el back in time to medieval Europe — begin­ning with the dec­la­ra­tion that “you will very like­ly get sick.”

    The gastrointestinal distress posed by the “native biome” of medieval European food and drink is one thing; the threat of robbery or worse by its roving packs of outlaws is quite another. “Crime is rampant” where you’re going, so “carry a dagger” and “learn how to use it.” In societies of the Middle Ages, people could only protect themselves by being “enmeshed in social webs with each other. No one was an individual.” And so, as a traveler, you must — to put it in Dungeons-and-Dragons terms — belong to some legible class. Though you’ll have no choice but to present yourself as having come from a distant land, you can feel free to pick one of two guises that will suit your obvious foreignness: “you’re either a merchant or a pilgrim.”

    Source: Advice for Time Traveling to Medieval Europe: How to Staying Healthy & Safe, and Avoiding Charges of Witchcraft | Open Culture

    Image: DALL-E 3

    An end to rabbit hole radicalization?

    A new peer-reviewed study suggests that YouTube’s efforts to stop people being radicalized through its recommendation algorithm have been effective. The study monitored 1,181 people’s YouTube activity and found that only 6% watched extremist videos, with most of these deliberately subscribing to extremist channels.

    Interestingly, though, the study cannot account for user behaviour prior to YouTube’s 2019 algorithm changes, which means we can only wonder about how influential the platform was in terms of radicalization up to and including pretty significant elections.

    Around the time of the 2016 election, YouTube became known as a home to the rising alt-right and to massively popular conspiracy theorists. The Google-owned site had more than 1 billion users and was playing host to charismatic personalities who had developed intimate relationships with their audiences, potentially making it a powerful vector for political influence. At the time, Alex Jones’s channel, Infowars, had more than 2 million subscribers. And YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which accounted for the majority of what people watched on the platform, looked to be pulling people deeper and deeper into dangerous delusions.

    The process of “falling down the rabbit hole” was memorably illustrated by personal accounts of people who had ended up on strange paths into the dark heart of the platform, where they were intrigued and then convinced by extremist rhetoric—an interest in critiques of feminism could lead to men’s rights and then white supremacy and then calls for violence. Most troubling is that a person who was not necessarily looking for extreme content could end up watching it because the algorithm noticed a whisper of something in their previous choices. It could exacerbate a person’s worst impulses and take them to a place they wouldn’t have chosen, but would have trouble getting out of.

    […]

    The… research is… important, in part because it proposes a specific, technical definition of ‘rabbit hole’. The term has been used in different ways in common speech and even in academic research. Nyhan’s team defined a “rabbit hole event” as one in which a person follows a recommendation to get to a more extreme type of video than they were previously watching. They can’t have been subscribing to the channel they end up on, or to similarly extreme channels, before the recommendation pushed them. This mechanism wasn’t common in their findings at all. They saw it act on only 1 percent of participants, accounting for only 0.002 percent of all views of extremist-channel videos.

    Nyhan was careful not to say that this paper represents a total exoneration of YouTube. The platform hasn’t stopped letting its subscription feature drive traffic to extremists. It also continues to allow users to publish extremist videos. And learning that only a tiny percentage of users stumble across extremist content isn’t the same as learning that no one does; a tiny percentage of a gargantuan user base still represents a large number of people.

    Source: The World Will Never Know the Truth About YouTube’s Rabbit Holes | The Atlantic

    Richard Hammond's near-death experience

    Richard Hammond, co-presenter of the original Top Gear and The Grand Tour reflects on his near-death experience. Worth a watch.

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: Richard Hammond explains what he experienced during his coma | 310mph Crash | YouTube

    Bridging the divide

    Sure, it’s an advert for beer, but it’s also a brilliant example of how you can bring people together IRL to get to know one another despite seemingly-intractable differences.

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: This New Heineken Ad is Briliant #OpenYourWorld | YouTube

    NFTs, financialisation, and crypto grifters

    At over two hours long, I’m still only half-way through this video but I can already highly recommend it. There’s some technical language, as befits the nature of what’s discussed, but I really appreciate it going right back to the financial crisis to explain what’s going on.

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: The Problem With NFTs | YouTube

    Precrastinators, procrastinators, and originals

    A really handy TED talk focusing on ‘precrastinators’ (with whom I definitely identify) and how they differ from procrastinators and what Grant calls ‘originals’ in terms of creativity.

    (I always watch these kinds of things at 1.5x speed, but Adam Grant already talks quickly!)

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant

    Propeller-based car that can go faster than the wind

    "This is extremely dangerous to our democracy"

    Depending on what happens next year and in 2024, the US might not even be a democracy within this decade…

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: Multiple local news stations say the same thing verbatim | YouTube

    Everything intercepts us from ourselves

    The clever man often worries; the loyal person is often overworked

    Friday filchings

    I'm having to write this ahead of time due to travel commitments. Still, there's the usual mixed bag of content in here, everything from digital credentials through to survival, with a bit of panpsychism thrown in for good measure.

    Did any of these resonate with you? Let me know!


    Competency Badges: the tail wagging the dog?

    Recognition is from a certain point of view hyperlocal, and it is this hyperlocality that gives it its global value – not the other way around. The space of recognition is the community in which the competency is developed and activated. The recognition of a practitioner in a community is not reduced to those generally considered to belong to a “community of practice”, but to the intersection of multiple communities and practices, starting with the clients of these practices: the community of practice of chefs does not exist independently of the communities of their suppliers and clients. There is also a very strong link between individual recognition and that of the community to which the person is identified: shady notaries and politicians can bring discredit on an entire community.

    Serge Ravet

    As this roundup goes live I'll be at Open Belgium, and I'm looking forward to catching up with Serge while I'm there! My take on the points that he's making in this (long) post is actually what I'm talking about at the event: open initiatives need open organisations.


    Universities do not exist ‘to produce students who are useful’, President says

    Mr Higgins, who was opening a celebration of Trinity College Dublin’s College Historical Debating Society, said “universities are not there merely to produce students who are useful”.

    “They are there to produce citizens who are respectful of the rights of others to participate and also to be able to participate fully, drawing on a wide range of scholarship,” he said on Monday night.

    The President said there is a growing cohort of people who are alienated and “who feel they have lost their attachment to society and decision making”.

    Jack Horgan-Jones (The Irish Times)

    As a Philosophy graduate, I wholeheartedly agree with this, and also with his assessment of how people are obsessed with 'markets'.


    Perennial philosophy

    Not everyone will accept this sort of inclusivism. Some will insist on a stark choice between Jesus or hell, the Quran or hell. In some ways, overcertain exclusivism is a much better marketing strategy than sympathetic inclusivism. But if just some of the world’s population opened their minds to the wisdom of other religions, without having to leave their own faith, the world would be a better, more peaceful place. Like Aldous Huxley, I still believe in the possibility of growing spiritual convergence between different religions and philosophies, even if right now the tide seems to be going the other way.

    Jules Evans (Aeon)

    This is an interesting article about the philosophy of Aldous Huxley, whose books have always fascinated me. For some reason, I hadn't twigged that he was related to Thomas Henry Huxley (aka "Darwin's bulldog").


    Photo by Scott Webb
    Photo by Scott Webb

    What the Death of iTunes Says About Our Digital Habits

    So what really failed, maybe, wasn’t iTunes at all—it was the implicit promise of Gmail-style computing. The explosion of cloud storage and the invention of smartphones both arrived at roughly the same time, and they both subverted the idea that we should organize our computer. What they offered in its place was a vision of ease and readiness. What the idealized iPhone user and the idealized Gmail user shared was a perfect executive-functioning system: Every time they picked up their phone or opened their web browser, they knew exactly what they wanted to do, got it done with a calm single-mindedness, and then closed their device. This dream illuminated Inbox Zero and Kinfolk and minimalist writing apps. It didn’t work. What we got instead was Inbox Infinity and the algorithmic timeline. Each of us became a wanderer in a sea of content. Each of us adopted the tacit—but still shameful—assumption that we are just treading water, that the clock is always running, and that the work will never end.

    Robinson Meyer (The Atlantic)

    This is curiously-written (and well-written) piece, in the form of an ordered list, that takes you through the changes since iTunes launched. It's hard to disagree with the author's arguments.


    Imagine a world without YouTube

    But what if YouTube had failed? Would we have missed out on decades of cultural phenomena and innovative ideas? Would we have avoided a wave of dystopian propaganda and misinformation? Or would the internet have simply spiraled into new — yet strangely familiar — shapes, with their own joys and disasters?

    Adi Robertson (The Verge)

    I love this approach of imagining how the world would have been different had YouTube not been the massive success it's been over the last 15 years. Food for thought.


    Big Tech Is Testing You

    It’s tempting to look for laws of people the way we look for the laws of gravity. But science is hard, people are complex, and generalizing can be problematic. Although experiments might be the ultimate truthtellers, they can also lead us astray in surprising ways.

    Hannah Fry (The New Yorker)

    A balanced look at the way that companies, especially those we classify as 'Big Tech' tend to experiment for the purposes of engagement and, ultimately, profit. Definitely worth a read.


    Photo by David Buchi
    Photo by David Buchi

    Trust people, not companies

    The trend to tap into is the changing nature of trust. One of the biggest social trends of our time is the loss of faith in institutions and previously trusted authorities. People no longer trust the Government to tell them the truth. Banks are less trusted than ever since the Financial Crisis. The mainstream media can no longer be trusted by many. Fake news. The anti-vac movement. At the same time, we have a generation of people who are looking to their peers for information.

    Lawrence Lundy (Outlier Ventures)

    This post is making the case for blockchain-based technologies. But the wider point is a better one, that we should trust people rather than companies.


    The Forest Spirits of Today Are Computers

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature. Agriculture de-wilded the meadows and the forests, so that even a seemingly pristine landscape can be a heavily processed environment. Manufactured products have become thoroughly mixed in with natural structures. Now, our machines are becoming so lifelike we can’t tell the difference. Each stage of technological development adds layers of abstraction between us and the physical world. Few people experience nature red in tooth and claw, or would want to. So, although the world of basic physics may always remain mindless, we do not live in that world. We live in the world of those abstractions.

    George Musser (Nautilus)

    This article, about artificial 'panpsychism' is really challenging to the reader's initial assumptions (well, mine at least) and really makes you think.


    The man who refused to freeze to death

    It would appear that our brains are much better at coping in the cold than dealing with being too hot. This is because our bodies’ survival strategies centre around keeping our vital organs running at the expense of less essential body parts. The most essential of all, of course, is our brain. By the time that Shatayeva and her fellow climbers were experiencing cognitive issues, they were probably already experiencing other organ failures elsewhere in their bodies.

    William Park (BBC Future)

    Not just one story in this article, but several with fascinating links and information.


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    Header image by Tim Mossholder.

    That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate

    Today's title is quotation from Carl Jung, via a recent issue of New Philosopher magazine. I thought it was a useful frame for a discussion around a few things I've been reading recently, including an untranslatable Finnish word, music and teen internet culture, as well as whether life does indeed get better once you turn forty.

    Let's start with that Finnish word, discussed in Quartzy by Olivia Goldhill:

    At some point in life, all of us get that unexpected call on a Tuesday afternoon that distorts our world and makes everything else irrelevant: There’s been an accident. Or, you need surgery. Or, come home now, he’s dying. We get through that time, somehow, drawing on energy reserves we never knew we had and persevering, despite the exhaustion. There’s no word in English for the specific strength it takes to pull through, but there is a word in Finnish: sisu.

    Olivia Goldhill

    I'm guessing Goldhill is American, as we English have a term for that: Blitz spirit. It's even been invoked as a way of getting us through the vagaries of Brexit! 🙄

    Despite my flippancy, there are, of course, words that are pretty untranslatable between languages. But one thing that unites us no matter what language we speak is music. Interestingly, Alexis Petridis in The Guardian notes that there's teenage musicians making music in their bedrooms that really resonates across language barriers:

    For want of a better name, you might call it underground bedroom pop, an alternate musical universe that feels like a manifestation of a generation gap: big with teenagers – particularly girls – and invisible to anyone over the age of 20, because it exists largely in an online world that tweens and teens find easy to navigate, but anyone older finds baffling or risible. It doesn’t need Radio 1 or what is left of the music press to become popular because it exists in a self-contained community of YouTube videos and influencers; some bedroom pop artists found their music spread thanks to its use in the background of makeup tutorials or “aesthetic” videos, the latter a phenomenon whereby vloggers post atmospheric videos of, well, aesthetically pleasing things.

    Alexis Petridis

    Some people find this scary. I find it completely awesome, but may be over-compensating now that I've passed 35 years of age. Who wants to listen to and like the same music as everyone else?

    Talking of getting older, there's a saying that "life begins at forty". Well, an article in The Economist would suggest that, on average, the happiness of males in Western Europe doesn't vary that much.

    The Economist: graph showing self-reported happiness levels

    I'd love to know what causes that decline in the former USSR states, and the uptick in the United States? The article isn't particularly forthcoming, which is a shame.

    Perhaps as you get to middle-age there's a realisation that this is pretty much going to be it for the rest of your life. In some places, if you have the respect of your family, friends, and culture, and are reasonably well-off, that's no bad thing. In other cultures, that might be a sobering thought.

    One of the great things about studying Philosophy since my teenage years is that I feel very prepared for getting old. Perhaps that's what's needed here? More philosophical thinking and training? I don't think it would go amiss.


    Also check out:

    • What your laptop-holding position says about you (Quartz at Work) — "Over the past few weeks, we’ve been observing Quartzians in their natural habitat and have tried to make sense of their odd office rituals in porting their laptops from one meeting to the next."
    • Meritocracy doesn’t exist, and believing it does is bad for you (Fast Company) — "Simply holding meritocracy as a value seems to promote discriminatory behavior."
    • Your Body as a Map (Sapiens) — "Reading the human body canvas is much like reading a map. But since we are social beings in complex contemporary situations, the “legend” changes depending on when and where a person looks at the map."

    What UK children are watching (and why)

    There were only 40 children as part of this Ofcom research, and (as far as I can tell) none were in the North East of England where I live. Nevertheless, as parent to a 12 year-old boy and eight year-old girl, I found the report interesting.

    Key findings:
    • While some children took part in organised after school clubs at least about one a week, not many of them did other or more spontaneous activities (e.g. physically meeting friends or cultivating hobbies) on a regular basis
    • Many children used social media and other messaging platforms (e.g. chat functions in games) to continually keep in touch with their friends while at home
    • Often children described going out to meet friends face-to-face as ‘too much effort’ and preferred to spend their free time on their own at home
    • While some children managed to fit screen time around other offline interests and passions, for many, watching videos was one of the main activities taking up their spare time
    • YouTube was the most popular platform for children to consume video content, followed by Netflix. Although still present in many children’s lives, Public Service Broadcasters Video On Demand] platforms and live TV were used more rarely and seen as less relevant to children like them
    • Many parents had attempted to enforce rules about online video watching, especially with younger children. They worried that they could not effectively monitor it, as opposed to live or on-demand TV, which was usually watched on the main TV. Some were frustrated by the amount of time children were spending on personal screens.
    I've recently volunteered as an Assistant Scout Leader, and last night went with Scouts and Cubs to the ice-rink in Newcastle on the train. As I'd expect, most of the 12 year-old boys had their smartphones out and most of the girls were talking to one another. The boys were playing some games, but were mostly watching YouTube videos of other people playing games. Ofcom report table

    All kids with access to screen watch YouTube. Why?

    • The appeal of YouTube also appeared rooted in the characteristics of specific genres of content.
      • Some children who watched YouTubers and vloggers seemed to feel a sense of connection with them, especially when they believed that they had something in common
      • Many children liked “satisfying” videos which simulated sensory experiences
      • Many consumed videos that allowed them to expand on their interests; sometimes in conjunction to doing activities themselves, but sometimes only pursuing them by watching YouTube videos
      • These historically ‘offline’ experiences were part of YouTube’s attraction, potentially in contrast to the needs fulfilled by traditional TV.
    Until I saw my son really level up his gameplay by watching YouTubers play the same games as him, I didn't really get it. There's lots of moral panic about YouTube's algorithms, but there's also a lot to celebrate with the fact that children have a bit more autonomy and control these days.
    The appeal of YouTube for many of the children in the sample seemed to be that they were able to feed and advance their interests and hobbies through it. Due to the variety of content available on the platform, children were able to find videos that corresponded with interests they had spoken about enjoying offline; these included crafts, sports, drawing, music, make-up and science. Notably, in some cases, children were watching people on YouTube pursuing hobbies that they did not do themselves or had recently given up offline.
    Really interesting stuff, and well worth digging into!

    Source: Ofcom (via Benedict Evans)

    The rise and rise of e-sports

    I wouldn’t even have bothered clicking on this article if it weren’t for one simple fact: my son can’t get enough of this guy’s YouTube channel.

    If you haven't heard of Ninja, ask the nearest 12-year-old. He shot to fame in March after he and Drake played Fortnite, the video game phenomenon in which 100 players are dropped onto an island and battle to be the last one standing while building forts that are used to both attack and hide from opponents. At its peak, Ninja and Drake's game, which also featured rapper Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, pulled in 630,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch, Amazon's livestreaming platform, shattering the previous record of 388,000. Since then, Ninja has achieved what no other gamer has before: mainstream fame. With 11 million Twitch followers and climbing, he commands an audience few can dream of. In April, he logged the most social media interactions in the entire sports world, beating out the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Shaquille O'Neal and Neymar.
    This article in ESPN is testament to the work that Ninja (a.k.a. Tyler Blevins) has done in crafting a brand and putting in the hours for over a decade. It sounds gruelling:
    Tyler can't join us until he wraps up his six-hour stream. In the basement, past a well-stocked bar, a pool table and a dartboard, next to a foosball table, he sits on this sunny August day in a T-shirt and plaid pajama pants at the most famous space in their house, his gaming setup. It doesn't look like much -- a couple of screens, a fridge full of Red Bull, a mess of wires -- but from this modest corner he makes millions by captivating millions.

    […]

    In college, Jess [his wife] started streaming to better understand why Tyler would go hours without replying to her texts. A day in, she realized how consuming it was. “It’s physically exhausting but also mentally because you’re sitting there constantly interacting,” Tyler says. “I’m engaging a lot more senses than if I were just gaming by myself. We’re not sitting there doing nothing. I don’t think anyone gets that."

    The reason for sharing this here is because I’m going to use this as an example of deliberate practice.

    How does he stay so good? Pro tip: Don't just play, practice. Ninja competes in about 50 games a day, and he analyzes each and every one. He never gets tired of it, and every loss hits him hard. Hypercompetitive, he makes sure he walks away with at least one win each day. (He averages about 15 and once got 29 in a single day.)

    “When I die, I get so upset,” he says. “You can play every single day, you’re not practicing. You die, and oh well, you go onto the next game. When you’re practicing, you’re taking every single match seriously, so you don’t have an excuse when you die. You’re like, ‘I should have rotated here, I should have pushed there, I should have backed off.’ A lot of people don’t do that."

    The article is worth a read, for several reasons. It shows why e-sports are going to be even bigger than regular sports for my children’s generation. It demonstrates how to get to the top in anything you have to put in the time and effort. And, perhaps, above all, it shows that, just as I’ve found, growing up spending time in front of screens can be pretty lucrative.

    Source: ESPN