Tag: sustainability

Saturday shoutings

The link I’m most enthusiastic about sharing this week is one to a free email-based course I’ve created with my co-op colleagues. It’s entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Virtual Meetings and part of a new series we’re working on.

Skills for the New Normal

The other links are slightly fewer in number this week because time, it turns out, is finite.


Clean Language: David Grove Questioning Method

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.

BusinessBalls

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.


How ‘Sustainable’ Web Design Can Help Fight Climate Change

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.


Apple, Big Sur, and the rise of Neumorphism

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.


Snowden: Tech Workers Are Complicit in How Their Companies Hurt Society

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.


Brexit

Tea, Biscuits, and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness

[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…


How Big Tech Monopolies Distort Our Public Discourse

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.


Header image by Andrea Piacquadio

Ensuring the sustainability of Thought Shrapnel

Over the last couple of months, after coming back from a hiatus over Lent, I’ve really poured my free time into Thought Shrapnel. My hope was that, by providing daily content, there would be a corresponding uptick in the number of people willing to become a supporter.

In fact, the opposite has happened, with almost 10% of supporters ending their backing of Thought Shrapnel over the past few weeks. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong here.

After some research and comparison with other creators, I think I’ve figured out what’s gone wrong:

Most people do not want more email. So if the only thing you have to offer them is, ‘Hey, subscribe to this newsletter and you’ll get some more email,’ that’s not that compelling. But if you can create a different value proposition where you can say, ‘Look, I’m creating the kind of writing that you can’t find anywhere else and I need you to be a part of this and to support this work if you value it,’ then I think that people get into that. And they want to get it four times a week, but it’s not necessarily the idea of getting it four times a week that is going to be the motivating factor.

Judd Legum

Nobody asked me to send them more email. Not one of the supporters asked for ‘exclusive access’ to articles a week before everyone else. I just assumed.

With Thought Shrapnel, it’s not the money that drives me. After hosting costs, etc. I give away most of what I receive to support other creators and worthy causes. Rather, it’s the exchange of energy that’s important to me. Committing to even $1/month is different to just hitting ‘like’ or ‘retweet’.

So, going forward, I’m going to try a different approach. For everything I publish:

  • Comments are on
  • Three different types of post each week
  • Everyone gets access at the same time

On Mondays I’ll publish an article-style post. On Wednesdays I’ll publish a post answering any questions that have come in, or a microcast. And then on Fridays I’ll publish a round-up post of interesting links.

I’m still aiming to share 30 links per week. The weekly newsletter will still be a digest of what’s gone on the open web. I just hope that trying things this way will both be more sustainable.

So, I have a couple of questions:

  1. Do you have any questions for me to answer in tomorrow’s post?
  2. Would you consider becoming a supporter of Thought Shrapnel?

Thanks in advance!

The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources

This map of what happens when you interact with a digital assistant such as the Amazon Echo is incredible. The image is taken from a length piece of work which is trying to bring attention towards the hidden costs of using such devices.

With each interaction, Alexa is training to hear better, to interpret more precisely, to trigger actions that map to the user’s commands more accurately, and to build a more complete model of their preferences, habits and desires. What is required to make this possible? Put simply: each small moment of convenience – be it answering a question, turning on a light, or playing a song – requires a vast planetary network, fueled by the extraction of non-renewable materials, labor, and data. The scale of resources required is many magnitudes greater than the energy and labor it would take a human to operate a household appliance or flick a switch. A full accounting for these costs is almost impossible, but it is increasingly important that we grasp the scale and scope if we are to understand and govern the technical infrastructures that thread through our lives.

It’s a tour de force. Here’s another extract:

When a human engages with an Echo, or another voice-enabled AI device, they are acting as much more than just an end-product consumer. It is difficult to place the human user of an AI system into a single category: rather, they deserve to be considered as a hybrid case. Just as the Greek chimera was a mythological animal that was part lion, goat, snake and monster, the Echo user is simultaneously a consumer, a resource, a worker, and a product. This multiple identity recurs for human users in many technological systems. In the specific case of the Amazon Echo, the user has purchased a consumer device for which they receive a set of convenient affordances. But they are also a resource, as their voice commands are collected, analyzed and retained for the purposes of building an ever-larger corpus of human voices and instructions. And they provide labor, as they continually perform the valuable service of contributing feedback mechanisms regarding the accuracy, usefulness, and overall quality of Alexa’s replies. They are, in essence, helping to train the neural networks within Amazon’s infrastructural stack.

Well worth a read, especially alongside another article in Bloomberg about what they call ‘oral literacy’ but which I referred to in my thesis as ‘oracy’:

Should the connection between the spoken word and literacy really be so alien to us? After all, starting in the 1950s, basic literacy training in elementary schools in the United States has involved ‘phonics.’ And what is phonics but a way of attaching written words to the sounds they had been or could become? The theory grew out of the belief that all those lines of text on the pages of schoolbooks had become too divorced from their sounds; phonics was intended to give new readers a chance to recognize written language as part of the world of language they already knew.

The technological landscape is reforming what it means to be literate in the 21st century. Interestingly, some of that is a kind of a return to previous forms of human interaction that we used to value a lot more.

Sources: Anatomy of AI and Bloomberg

Simple sustainable stories

Some people are easy to follow online. They have one social media account to which they post regularly, and back that up with a single website where they expand on those points.

Stowe Boyd, whose work I’ve followed (or attempted to follow) for a few years now, is not one of these people. In fact, the number of platforms he tried earlier this year prompted me to get in touch with him to ask just how many platforms now had his subscribers’ email addresses.

Ironically, it was only last week that I decided to support Stowe’s latest venture via Substack. However, in a post yesterday he explains that he’s going ‘back to square one’:

I won’t recapitulate the many transitions that have gone on in my search for the ‘right’ newsletter/subscription technologies over the past year. But I have come to the conclusion that I am more interested in growing the community of Work Futures readers than I am in trying to make cash flow from it.

The thing I’ve learned about posting things to the internet over the last twenty years is that nobody cares. People support things that reflect who they believe themselves to be right now. That changes over time.

So if you’re putting things online, you have to make sure it works for you. Even the most fun jobs imaginable can become… something else if you focus too much on what a fickle audience wants.

As I said, I am motivated to take these steps in part by the desire to simplify my daily activities, and shelve work patterns that suck time. But I am equally motivated by making the discourse around these topics more open, while encouraging people to support Work Futures, but in that order of importance.

Openness always wins. You can support Stowe’s work via donations, and my work via Patreon.

Source: Work Futures

Clickbait and switch?

Should you design for addiction or for loyalty? That’s the question posed by Michelle Manafy in this post for Nieman Lab. It all depends, she says, on whether you’re trying to attract users or an audience.

With advertising as the primary driver of web revenue, many publishers have chased the click dragon. Seeking to meet marketers’ insatiable desire for impressions, publishers doubled down on quick clicks. Headlines became little more than a means to a clickthrough, often regardless of whether the article would pay off or even if the topic was worthy of coverage. And — since we all know there are still plenty of publications focusing on hot headlines over substance — this method pays off. In short-term revenue, that is.

However, the reader experience that shallow clicks deliver doesn’t develop brand affinity or customer loyalty. And the negative consumer experience has actually been shown to extend to any advertising placed in its context. Sure, there are still those seeking a quick buck — but these days, we all see clickbait for what it is.

Audiences mature over time and become wary of particular approaches. Remember “…and you’ll not believe what came next” approaches?

Ask Manafy notes, it’s much easier to design for addiction than to build an audience. The former just requires lots and lots of tracking — something at which the web has become spectacularly good at, due to advertising.

For example, many push notifications are specifically designed to leverage the desire for human interaction to generate clicks (such as when a user is alerted that their friend liked an article). Push notifications and alerts are also unpredictable (Will we have likes? Mentions? New followers? Negative comments?). And this unpredictability, or B.F. Skinner’s principle of variable rewards, is the same one used in those notoriously addictive slot machines. They’re also lucrative — generating more revenue in the U.S. than baseball, theme parks, and movies combined. A pull-to-refresh even smacks of a slot machine lever.

The problem is that designing for addiction isn’t a long-term strategy. Who plays Farmville these days? And the makers of Candy Crush aren’t exactly crushing it with their share price these days.

Sure, an addict is “engaged” — clicking, liking, swiping — but what if they discover that your product is bad for them? Or that it’s not delivering as much value as it does harm? The only option for many addicts is to quit, cold turkey. Sure, many won’t have the willpower, and you can probably generate revenue off these users (yes, users). But is that a long-term strategy you can live with? And is it a growth strategy, should the philosophical, ethical, or regulatory tide turn against you?

The ‘regulatory tide’ referenced here is exemplified through GDPR, which is already causing a sea change in attitude towards user data. Compliance with teeth, it seems, gets results.

Designing for sustainability isn’t just good from a regulatory point of view, it’s good for long-term business, argues Manafy:

Where addiction relies on an imbalanced and unstable relationship, loyal customers will return willingly time and again. They’ll refer you to others. They’ll be interested in your new offerings, because they will already rely on you to deliver. And, as an added bonus, these feelings of goodwill will extend to any advertising you deliver too. Through the provision of quality content, delivered through excellent experiences at predictable and optimal times, content can become a trusted ally, not a fleeting infatuation or unhealthy compulsion.

Instead of thinking of your audience as ‘users’ waiting for their next hit, she suggests, think of them as your audience. That’s a much better approach and will help you make much better design decisions.

Source: Nieman Lab

Potentially huge wind farm proposed in the North Sea

Dogger Bank, which thousands of years ago as Doggerland would have been visible from the North East of England where I live, is the proposed site for a huge new wind farm complex with a central island power hub.

To accommodate all the equipment, the island would take up around 5-6 sq km, about a fifth the size of Hayling Island in the English Channel.

While the actual engineering challenge of building the island seems enormous, Van der Hage is not daunted. “Is it difficult? In the Netherlands, when we see a piece of water we want to build islands or land. We’ve been doing that for centuries. That is not the biggest challenge,” he said.

The short YouTube video is pretty cool.

Source: The Guardian

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