6 things to read this week (14.08.17)

Rewind my week to fast forward yours #34

This week’s links call techno-utopianism into question: from what the Google manifesto means about branding, to the ways in which social media is making us miserable and onto racist robots. But hey, at least we’re keeping ourselves busy sexting…


🙋 It’s impossible to ignore the culture wars that are raging in Silicon Valley (first Uber, now Amazon). As technology companies become the most valuable and influential in the world, the level of scrutiny they get subjected to is – rightly – increasing. But this isn’t just about Silicon Valley. My colleague David Mattin wrote a great piece explaining why for all brands, internal culture is a new marketing frontier.

📱 Tragic, brilliant, depressing and compelling analysis from the Atlantic. One staggering statistic (among many): “the number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40% from 2000 to 2015”. And a stark conclusion: “all screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.”

👎 If you want to go deeper on how and why this is happening, then it’s worth listening to Tristan Harris (an ex-design ethicist at Google). His key insight: “we experience the world through a mind and a meat-suit body operating on evolutionary hardware that’s millions of years of old, and that we’re up against thousands of engineers and the most personalized data on exactly how we work on the other end.” And right now, they’re taking us in directions that are good for the platforms they work for, but bad for us, individually and as a society.

📢 A more positive spin (in parts) on the new models enabled by social media comes from this deep dive into Patreon – a crowdfunding site that differs from Kickstarter in that backers are not funding anything specific, but simply agreeing to support an artist’s future output. While this is enabling many long-tail artists to make far more than they ever would from YouTube ads, the article touches on the challenges of navigating user-generated content: what happens when individuals’ ‘creative’ output is hateful or divisive? And where does this atomisation take us? Tough questions.

Jack Conte is CEO of Patreon. Here’s his (Patreon-funded) music video:

🤖 But if you think social media is bad…wait until the robots take over (our lives, not just in music videos). That’s the depressing message in this piece from the Guardian that looks at how prejudice and discrimination are being ‘baked in’ to decision-making algorithms. My hope: it will be harder for people to write off prejudices as being the result of an individual bad apple when they are exposed (see also last year’s ‘unprofessional hair’ scandal).

🔞 We’re always fascinated by data that shows big shifts in behaviour, especially over a short period of time. A new study (of 140,000 people in 200 countries!) from Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute reported that 67% had sexted someone, up from just 21% in 2012. Basic needs, served in new ways. Our model of trends down to a tee :)

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