The UK is a pretty bad place to live at the moment. Except for the US, and well a lot of other places. I guess what I’m saying is that things are pretty bad politically and in terms of economically, but then the rest of the world is pretty screwed as well.
Britain today is a poor and divided country. Parts of London and the southeast of England might be among the wealthiest places on the planet, but swaths of northern England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are among Western Europe’s poorest. Barely a decade ago, the average Brit was as wealthy as the average German. Now they are about 15 percent poorer—and 30 percent worse off than the typical American.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum and then in the 2019 general election, Johnson offered voters the chance to “take back control” of their destiny, to rebalance the country and to pull it together again. On both occasions, he won.
Six years on, however, we can safely say his project is failing. His government is busy trying to wrest back more control rather than exercising what it has regained. It has not united the country. It has not even begun to level it up.
The truth is, this government won’t accomplish any of that. Until Britain stops trying to restore a vanished past—whether the one imagined by its pro-Brexit Leavers or its anti-Brexit Remainers—and begins to construct a viable future, the country as a whole never will.
Developing Questions “(And) what kind of X (is that X)?” “(And) is there anything else about X?” “(And) where is X? or (And) whereabouts is X?” “(And) that’s X like what?” “(And) is there a relationship between X and Y?” “(And) when X, what happens to Y?
Sequence and Source Questions “(And) then what happens? or (And) what happens next?” “(And) what happens just before X?” “(And) where could X come from?”
Intention Questions “(And) what would X like to have happen?” “(And) what needs to happen for X?” “(And) can X (happen)?”
The first two questions: “What kind of X (is that X)?” and “Is there anything else about X?” are the most commonly used.
As a general guide, these two questions account for around 50% of the questions asked in a typical Clean Language session.
I had a great chat with Kristian Still this week, for the first time in about a decade. Kristian was part of EdTechRoundUp back in the day, and early EduTwitter. Among the many things we discussed is his enthusiasm for “clean questioning” which I’m going to investigate further.
Even our throwaway habits can add up to a mountain of carbon. Consider all the little social emails we shoot back and forth—“thanks,” “got it,” “lol.” The UK energy firm Ovo examined email usage and—using data from Lancaster University professor Mike Berners-Lee, who analyzes carbon footprints—they found that if every adult in the UK just sent one less “thank you” email per day, it would cut 16 tons of carbon each year, equal to 22 round-trip flights between New York and London. They also found that 49 percent of us often send thank-you emails to people “within talking distance.” We can lower our carbon output if we’d just take the headphones off for a minute and stop behaving like a bunch of morlocks.
Clive Thompson (WIRED)
Small differences all add up. Our design choices and the decisions we make about technology all have a part to play in fighting climate change.
When you boil it down, neumorphism is a focus on how light moves in three-dimensional space. Its predecessor, skeumorphism, created realism in digital interfaces by simulating textures on surfaces like felt on a poker table or the brushed metal of a tape recorder. An ancillary — though under-developed — aspect of this design style was lighting that interacted realistically with the materials that were being represented; this is why shadows and darkness were so prevalent in those early interfaces.
Jack Koloskus (Input)
The dominant design language over the last five years, without doubt, has been Google’s Material Design. Will a neumorphic approach take over? It’s certainly an interesting approach.
He called on those in the tech industry to look at the bigger picture regarding their work and its implications beyond simply a project—and to think deeply and take a stronger stand with regards to who their labor actually serves.
“It’s not enough to read, it’s not enough to believe in something, it’s not enough to write something, you have to eventually stand for something if you want things to change,” he said.
Kevin Truong (Motherboard)
The tech industry is an interesting one as it’s a relatively new and immature one, at least in its current guise. As a result, the ethics, and the checks and balances aren’t quite there yet.
To my mind, things like unions and professional associations show maturity and the kind of coming together that don’t put moral decisions on the shoulders of individuals, but rather on the whole sector.
[T]here is a narrative chasm between the twee and borderless dreamscape of fantasy Britain and actual, material Britain, where rents are rising and racists are running brave. The chasm is wide, and a lot of people are falling into it. The omnishambles of British politics is what happens when you get scared and mean and retreat into the fairytales you tell about yourself. When you can no longer live within your own contradictions. When you want to hold on to the belief that Britain is the land of Jane Austen and John Lennon and Sir Winston Churchill, the war hero who has been repeatedly voted the greatest Englishman of all time. When you want to forget that Britain is also the land of Cecil Rhodes and Oswald Mosley and Sir Winston Churchill, the brutal colonial administrator who sanctioned the building of the first concentration camps and condemned millions of Indians to death by starvation. These are not contradictions, even though the drive to separate them is cracking the country apart. If you love your country and don’t own its difficulties and its violence, you don’t actually love your country. You’re just catcalling it as it goes by.
Laurie Penny (Longreads)
I always find looking at my country through the lens of foreigners cringe-inducing. I suppose it’s a narrative produced for tourists but, sadly, we seem to have believed our own rhetoric, and look where it’s gotten us…
The idea that Big Tech can mold discourse through bypassing our critical faculties by spying on and analyzing us is both self-serving (inasmuch as it helps Big Tech sell ads and influence services) and implausible, and should be viewed with extreme skepticism
But you don’t have to accept extraordinary claims to find ways in which Big Tech is distorting and degrading our public discourse. The scale of Big Tech makes it opaque and error-prone, even as it makes the job of maintaining a civil and productive space for discussion and debate impossible.
Cory Doctorow (EFF)
A tour de force from Doctorow, who eviscerates the companies that make up ‘Big Tech’ and the role they have in hollowing-out civic society.
Baltasar Gracián was a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit who put together a book of aphorisms usually translated The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence or simply The Art of Worldly Wisdom. It’s one of a few books that have had a very large effect on my life. Today’s quotation-as-title comes from him.
The historian in me wonders about why we seem to live in such crazy times. My simple answer is ‘the internet’, but I want to dig into a bit using an essay from Scott Alexander:
[T]oday we have an almost unprecedented situation.
We have a lot of people… boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.
This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.
What is going on here?
It’s long, and towards the end, Alexander realises that he’s perhaps guilty of the very thing he’s pointing out. Nevertheless, his definition of an ‘outgroup’ is useful:
So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.
Over the last three years in the UK, we’ve done a spectacular job of adding a hatred of the opposing side in the Brexit debate to our national underlying sense of xenophobia . What’s necessary next is to bring everyone together and, whether we end up leaving the EU or not, forging a new narrative.
As Bryan Caplan points out, such efforts at cohesion need to be approached obliquely. He uses the example of American politics, but it applies equally elsewhere, including the UK:
Suppose you live in a deeply divided society: 60% of people strongly identify with Group A, and the other 40% strongly identify with Group B. While you plainly belong to Group A, you’re convinced this division is bad: It would be much better if everyone felt like they belonged to Group AB. You seek a cohesive society, where everyone feels like they’re on the same team.
What’s the best way to bring this cohesion about? Your all-too-human impulse is to loudly preach the value of cohesion. But on reflection, this is probably counter-productive. When members of Group B hear you, they’re going to take “cohesion” as a euphemism for “abandon your identity, and submit to the dominance of Group A.” None too enticing. And when members of Group A notice Group B’s recalcitrance, they’re probably going to think, “We offer Group B the olive branch of cohesion, and they spit in our faces. Typical.” Instead of forging As and Bs into one people, preaching cohesion tears them further apart.
So, what can we do? Caplan suggests that members of one side should go out of their way to be overwhelmingly positive and friendly to the other side:
The first rule of promoting cohesion is: Don’t talk about cohesion. The second rule of promoting cohesion is: Don’t talk about cohesion. If you really want to build a harmonious, unified society, take one for the team. Discard your anger, swallow your pride, and show out-groups unilateral respect and friendship. End of story.
It reminds me of the Christian advice to “turn the other cheek” which must have melted the brains of those listening to Jesus who were used to the Old Testament approach:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matthew 5:38-40 (ESV)
Over the last 20 years, as the internet has played an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, we’ve seen a real ramping-up of the feminist movement, gay marriage becoming the norm in civilised western democracies, and movements like #BlackLivesMatter reminding us of just how racist our societies are.
In addition, despite the term being coined as long ago as 1989, we’ve seen a rise in awareness around intersectionality. It’s not exactly a radical notion to say that us being more connected leads to more awareness of ‘outgroups’. What is interesting is the way that we choose to deal with that.
Let’s have a quick look at the demographics from the Brexit vote three years ago:
Remain voters were, on the whole, younger, better educated, and more well-off than Leave voters. They were also slightly more likely to be born outside the UK. I haven’t done the research, but I just have a feeling that the generational differences here are to do with relative exposure to outgroups.
What’s more interesting than the result of the referendum itself, of course, is the reaction since then, with both ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ digging in to their entrenched positions. Now we’ve created new outgroups, we can join together in welcoming in the old outgroups. Hence LGBT+ pride rainbows in shops and everywhere else.
As I explained five years ago, one of the problems is that we’re not collectively aware enough of the role money plays in our democratic processes and information landscapes:
The problem with social networks as news platforms is that they are not neutral spaces. Perhaps the easiest way to get quickly to the nub of the issue is to ask how they are funded. The answer is clear and unequivocal: through advertising. The two biggest social networks, Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp), are effectively “services with shareholders.” Your interactions with other people, with media, and with adverts, are what provide shareholder value. Lest we forget, CEOs of publicly-listed companies have a legal obligation to provide shareholder value. In an advertising-fueled online world this means continually increasing the number of eyeballs looking at (and fingers clicking on) content.
Sadly, in the west we invested in Computing to the detriment of critical digital literacies at exactly the wrong moment. That investment should have come on top of a real push to help everyone in society realise the importance of questioning and reflecting on their information environment.
Much as some people might like to, we can’t put the internet back in a box. It’s connected us all, for better and for worse, in ways that only a few would have foreseen. It’s changing the way we interact with one another, the way we buy things, and the way we think about education, work, and human flourishing.
All these connections might mean that style of representative democracy we’re currently used to might need tweaking. As Jamie Bartlett points out in The People vs Tech, “these are spiritual as well as technical questions”.
Space for More Spaces(CogDogBlog) — “I still hold on to the idea that those old archaic, pre-social media constructs, a personal blog, is the main place, the home, to operate from.”
Clay Shirky on Mega-Universities and Scale(Phil on EdTech) — “What the mega-university story gets right is that online education is transforming higher education. What it gets wrong is the belief that transformation must end with consolidation around a few large-scale institutions”