Thought Shrapnel is now on its usual December hiatus, so see you next year for more links and thoughts on the intersection of technology and society!
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When Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone in 2007, he didn’t show off the App Store. That’s because it didn’t exist.
The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps.Steve Jobs
Jobs’ vision was for a world where web apps worked as well as native apps. Unfortunately, at the time, web technologies weren’t quite ready for his vision, so, almost as a temporary workaround, Apple invented a billion-dollar industry.
Writing in The New York Times, Shira Ovide reflects on the recent controversy around Epic Games and Apple, among other things, and wonders whether we actually need apps?
Apple and Google dictate much of what is allowed on the world’s phones. There are good outcomes from this, including those companies weeding out bad or dangerous apps and giving us one place to find them.
But this comes with unhappy side effects. Apple and Google charge a significant fee on many in-app purchases, and they’ve forced app makers into awkward workarounds. (Ever try to buy a Kindle e-book on an iPhone app? You can’t.) The growing complaints from app makers show that the downsides of app control may be starting to outweigh the benefits.
You know what’s free from Apple and Google’s iron grip? The web. Smartphones could lean on the web instead.Shira Ovide, Imagine a World Without Apps (The new York Times)
It’s almost impossible for a small developer to get discovered in the Apple and Google app stores these days. As VentureBeat put it three years ago, “you have a better chance of making the NBA than making your app viral.”
Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, make an alternative, web-centric world a reality. When Google launched its gaming service, Stadia, on iOS, it used a PWA to bypass the Apple App Store.
Organisations from Twitter and Tinder to the Financial Times have PWAs. Pinterest used it to increase the number of people installing their app by 45%.
This is about imagining an alternate reality where companies don’t need to devote money to creating apps that are tailored to iPhones and Android phones, can’t work on any other devices and obligate app makers to hand over a cut of each sale.
Maybe more smaller digital companies could thrive. Maybe our digital services would be cheaper and better. Maybe we’d have more than two dominant smartphone systems. Or maybe it would be terrible. We don’t know because we’ve mostly lived with unquestioned smartphone app dominance.Shira Ovide, Imagine a World Without Apps (The new York Times)
Initiatives such as Mozilla’s Firefox OS were cursed with being too early to the market. Had they kept going, or if it were launching now, I think we’d see very different adoption rates.
As it is, and as Todd Weaver, CEO of Purism points out, it’s going to require a combination of both market dynamics and regulation to fix the current situation. Let’s get back to that original vision of the web as the platform for human flourishing.
I can’t think of a worse company than Facebook than to be creating a IRL surveillance panopticon. But, I have to say, it’s entirely on-brand.
On Wednesday, the company announced a plan to map the entire world, beyond street view. The company is launching a set of glasses that contains cameras, microphones, and other sensors to build a constantly updating map of the world in an effort called Project Aria. That map will include the inside of buildings and homes and all the objects inside of them. It’s Google Street View, but for your entire life.Dave Gershgorn, Facebook’s Project Aria Is Google Maps — For Your Entire Life (OneZero)
We’re like slowly-boiling frogs with this stuff. Everything seems fine. Until it’s not.
The company insists any faces and license plates captured by Aria glasses wearers will be anonymized. But that won’t protect the data from Facebook itself. Ostensibly, Facebook will possess a live map of your home, pictures of your loved ones, pictures of any sensitive documents or communications you might be looking at with the glasses on, passwords — literally your entire life. The employees and contractors who have agreed to wear the research glasses are already trusting the company with this data.Dave Gershgorn, Facebook’s Project Aria Is Google Maps — For Your Entire Life (OneZero)
With Amazon cosying up to police departments in the US with its Ring cameras, we really are hurtling towards surveillance states in the West.
Who has access to see the data from this live 3D map, and what, precisely, constitutes private versus public data? And who makes that determination? Faces might be blurred, but people can be easily identified without their faces. What happens if law enforcement wants to subpoena a day’s worth of Facebook’s LiveMap? Might Facebook ever build a feature to try to, say, automatically detect domestic violence, and if so, what would it do if it detected it?Dave Gershgorn, Facebook’s Project Aria Is Google Maps — For Your Entire Life (OneZero)
Judges already requisition Fitbit data to solve crimes. No matter what Facebook say are their intentions around Project Aria, this data will end up in the hands of law enforcement, too.
More details on Project Aria:
This morning, I came across a long web page from 2016, presumably created as a reaction to everything that went down that year (little did we know!)
Ostensibly, it’s about preparing for scenarios in life that are relatively likely. It’s pretty epic. While I’ve converted it to PDF and printed all 68 pages out to read in more detail, there were some parts that jumped out at me, which I’ll share here.
[T]he purpose of this guide is to combat the mindset of learned helplessness by promoting simple, level-headed, personal preparedness techniques that are easy to implement, don’t cost much, and will probably help you cope with whatever life throws your way.lcamtuf, Doomsday Prepping For Less Crazy Folk
Growing up, my mother was the kind of woman who always had extra tins in the cupboards ‘just in case’. Recently, my wife has taken this to the next level, with documents containing details on our stash including best before dates, etc.
Effective preparedness can be simple, but it has to be rooted in an honest and systematic review of the risks you are likely to face. Plenty of excited newcomers begin by shopping for ballistic vests and night vision goggles; they would be better served by grabbing a fire extinguisher, some bottled water, and then putting the rest of their money in a rainy-day fund.LCAMTUF, DOOMSDAY PREPPING FOR LESS CRAZY FOLK
I see this document, which goes into money, self-defence, hygiene, and even relationships as neighbours as more of a philosophy of life.
Rational prepping is meant to give you confidence to go about your business, knowing that you are well-equipped to weather out adversities. But it should not be about convincing yourself that the collapse is just around the corner, and letting that thought consume and disrupt your life.
Stay positive: the world is probably not ending, and there is a good chance that it will be an even better place for our children than it is for us. But the universe is a harsh mistress, and there is only so much faith we should be putting in good fortune, in benevolent governments, or in the wonders of modern technology. So, always have a backup plan.LCAMTUF, DOOMSDAY PREPPING FOR LESS CRAZY FOLK
Recommended reading 👍
(also check out the author’s hyperinflation gallery)
Anxiety is a funny thing. Some people are anxious over specific things, while others, like me, have a kind of general background anxiety. It’s only recently have I’ve admitted that to myself.
Some might call this existential or philosophical anxiety and, to a greater or lesser extent, it’s part of the human condition.
Humans are philosophising animals precisely because we are the anxious animal: not a creature of the present, but regretful about the past and fearful of the future. We philosophise to understand our past, to make our future more comprehensible… Philosophy is the path that we hope gets us there. Anxiety is our dogged, unpleasant and indispensable companion.Samir Chopra, Anxiety isn’t a pathology. It drives us to push back the unknown (Psyche)
One of the things my therapist has been pushing me on recently is my tolerance for, and ability to sit with uncertainty. We all want to know something for definite, but it’s rarely possible.
We are anxious; we seek relief by enquiring, by asking questions, while not knowing the answers; greater or lesser anxieties might heave into view as a result. As we realise the dimensions of our ultimate concerns, we find our anxiety is irreducible, for our increasing bounties of knowledge – scientific, technical or conceptual – merely bring us greater burdens of uncertainty.Samir Chopra, Anxiety isn’t a pathology. It drives us to push back the unknown (Psyche)
To be able to tolerate the philosophical anxiety of not knowing, then, is a form of superpower. It may not necessarily make us happy, but it does make us free.
Anxiety then, rather than being a pathology, is an essential human disposition that leads us to enquire into the great, unsolvable mysteries that confront us; to philosophise is to acknowledge a crucial and animating anxiety that drives enquiry onward. The philosophical temperament is a curious and melancholic one, aware of the incompleteness of human knowledge, and the incapacities that constrain our actions and resultant happiness.Samir Chopra, Anxiety isn’t a pathology. It drives us to push back the unknown (Psyche)
Ultimately, it’s OK to be anxious, as it makes us human and takes us beyond mere rationality to a deeper, more powerful understanding of who (and why) we are.
The most fundamental enquiry of all is into our selves; anxiety is the key to this sacred inner chamber, revealing which existential problematic – the ultimate concerns of death, meaning, isolation, freedom – we are most eager to resolve.Samir Chopra, Anxiety isn’t a pathology. It drives us to push back the unknown (Psyche)