Weekly readings and other things

The usual list of things to be reading this week and watching this week:

  1. The This is America clip by Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover)
  2. One of the many takes on the above clip – this one in the New Yorker
  3. On the other artist in the news, Ta Nehisi Coates on Kanye – mixed in with his own experience of getting famous and how that impacted him
  4. Japan’s rent-a-family industry is not as weird as it sounds (recommended)
  5. How measuring economic success on GDP is bad and leads to relying on the immigration growth ponzi scheme (Australian context but relevant for all)
  6. Facebook and journalism continues to be a depressing mix
  7. another not great sign for democracy in the US – the attempts to influence Obama officials on the Iran deal
  8. Interesting piece from Ross Douthat about the distribution of sex, not necessarily agreeable, but though provoking
  9. YouTube trying to fix their problems, also pretty depressing it seems
  10. How the UK government uses administration to push immigrants out of the country
  11. Campbell Brown the head of news at Facebook – again, doesn’t fill one with confidence in the company’s ability to deal with news / media
  12. Ben Thompson on Apple and Amazon racing to be the first trillion dollar company
  13. Is the US becoming more like Japan? Relevant for a lot of western countries
  14. Tim Urban and Wait But Why tackle career decisions and trajectories in a way that encompasses old advice whilst adding some new helpful things
  15. A different take on the “you are the product” idea, apparently we are not the product necessarily if something is free (Facebook, Google etc)
  16. Some of the new features of Google’s technology in making phone calls and using a generated voice to make appointments and bookings and react in real time
  17. Inside the life of Lance Armstrong and his pretty staggering drug cheating methods and his general jerk like behaviour
  18. Brutal morning television in Australia aimed at white semi-racist peopleand the introduction of the great term “basic boomers”
  19. Zuckerberg continues not to learn – the WhatsApp founder is leaving the company because of Privacy concerns that Facebook are forcing on WhatsApp (getting rid of encryption so they can see peoples messages)
  20. I have been to Nicaragua a few times, and it is sad to see the political situation remains highly troubling and corrupt

 

Facebook goes to DC and Paul Ryan quits

I once had a dream about Paul Ryan. I landed in Wisconsin and we met for dinner at a diner. He was a nice guy with blue kind looking eyes. Then we argued for ages about cutting taxes for the rich and doing more to screw over poor people (he was in favor of both). I woke up feeling very depressed, far more than I should have been as an Australian with no stake in the game. He wasn’t even speaker by then, but the argument would prove to be a true representation of the type of rubbish he supported for his entire career. He announced his retirement from the House today to go spend time with his kids. His great achievements are seemingly being normalising the chaos of the Tea Party movement, supporting a racist that pissed on his party to get elected, helping that same racist by stalling the Mueller investigation, and getting big tax cuts through (adding trillions to debt). That he was once known for his supposed morals (lol) and his fiscal austerity (seriously) is obviously now lost.

He represented the normalisation of terrible ideas that should have been too extreme to get attention. He looked like a normal Republican and acted like one in public so fraudulently gave voters the comfort that he might legislate like one too (I guess his initials are PR). It is hard to know what is left of the normalised Republican movement (or worldwide, the normalised “conservative” movement). Who are the people in Congress that are centrist in any context? The end of Paul Ryan perhaps signals the end of that lie. But with only two parties, most people still vote with their party. The next Republican on the ticket in PR’s seat is an anti-semite who was kicked out of Breitbart. I guess we can no longer pretend we couldn’t see it coming. I used to think it was good if extreme people had a chance to get voted in, as we would prove their ideas would fail in the spotlight and they would never win. I am no longer so confident. Thanks to Paul for helping fascism to be normalised.

Facebook goes to DC

Meanwhile the other happenings of DC was the arrival of the cyborg and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg to get “interrogated” by Congress. This appears to be a largely symbolic event where he agrees to look intimidated in front of a lot of camera’s and allows members of Congress to pontificate and ask “hard” questions before he goes back to Silicon Valley and continues to do his thing. Facebook’s stock was up 4.5% on the performance, so any concept that it was troubling is probably a bit off. Nonetheless there were a few pieces written about it that nice covered the key takeaways of the day, particularly:

  1. Statechery with the best reality of the meaning of the performance by Zuckerberg
  2. New Yorker on the Dorm Room defence put up by Zuck
  3. NY Times on how we can protect ourselves against Facebook
  4. Bill Simmons Podcast on the topic (second half)

My thoughts are that nothing is going to happen quite yet, so we will be stuck with Facebook yielding a bunch of power over our data for a while. Obviously, the best way to get out of this is to stop using Facebook (and delete your data). Unfortunately Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, so best not to use those either. But as most of us are convenience driven and there is no alternative to Facebook for a lot of people in regards to keeping in touch with friends and family without having to actually speak to them, it’s likely people will keep using it (the convenience trap).

The long term view is starting to be less about whether Facebook will become regulated, but rather how Facebook will be regulated.  This seems mainly to be because Facebook has decided that the alternative to that is likely antitrust – which is breaking the company up because it is a monopoly. Zuck also begs for regulation because he wants the cash from the monopoly of Facebook but none of the responsibility in making meaningful decisions.

In this line, many even argue that regulation would help entrench their advantages so might be a positive for their business model. Needless to say, this is a complicated space, and the potential for ideologically driver 70 yr old white guys to come up with the right answer is pretty remote. Plus tech has so much money that regulation will likely be written by Facebook than imposed upon them. More likely a better answer comes in Europe where privacy is taken much more seriously.

A couple of other thoughts on the topic which I will expand on further at some point

  • Zuckerberg has too much power to be able to functionally run the company well (60% of voting rights – this is a monopoly with an authoritarian at it’s head). He is young and makes poor decisions over and over. This is guaranteed to get worse.
  • Along that line, “self regulation” (lol) of something with the potential to influence so many people is unlikely to improve anything (more likely for it to get worse in the near term)
  • Facebook has no idea what they are doing – they gave all their data away for free until recently, and continually earnestly deny their ability to influence in public, whilst directing a business model further towards convincing companies that advertising on Facebook can influence people. I actually can’t tell if they see the hypocritical nature of this or not. Silicon Valley drinks so much of it’s own kool-aid that they I think they believe both can be true. Troubling.
  • In 10 years (maybe less) we will look back and wonder how it was that we all gave so much information to a random company controlled by one person we don’t know at all for free.
  • So much for oversight, half of Congress just want’s some of Facebook’s money