They called it “photographic mania”, and it sounded just like today’s social media critiques.

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Photograph by The Byron Company from The Museum of the City of New York.

If you post a selfie on Instagram, are you a narcissist? Today’s social scolds say yes. They believe that social media — and the many selfies that followed — created a rise in vanity. But more than 150 years ago, when photography was a new innovation, people were saying much the same thing.

Here are some highlights of a time before social media, when the camera was a strange and new cultural phenomena.

‘Photography Mania’

It was a common phrase in the 1800s. Women were considered the main victims — helpless against the need to show off. …


Rethinking Profile Pictures and Identity Online

NOTE: Twitter Verification is Broken

Note: Twitter verification in broken. It is exclusive, meaning it has become a status symbol and a form of legitimacy when it should actually be about rooting the web in reality. It is easily abused: in the UK election the Conservatives repurposed an old verified account as a faux-fact checking service and a verified Twitter users changed their name and profile picture to the leader of the Labour party, calling his political opponent a ‘nonce.’

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Imagine if everyone had access to the facemask tech from Mission Impossible. Anyone could become you, steal your face and name, then interface with the world as your doppelganger. Imagine the confusion, the chaos, the fraud and uncertainty… here’s the thing, this essentially is the reality online. Profile pictures can be copy and pasted, your likeness cloned in seconds at no cost. …


New York (Daily) Times, February 28th, 1852

Newspapers are becoming more and more the medium of intellectual culture — the avenues for recorded thought. What will not be found in their crowded columns? History, speeches, political, forensic and theological, geography, maps, discoveries, anecdotes, biography, statistics, all the sciences, the doings of all nations and the wants of all men, commercial interests, adventures and prospects, and all the events and thoughts that illustrate the age, are here arranged under their appropriate heads, and stamped on the ephemeral, yet it may be, immortal page. Each paper is a volume — each issue a library. …


As Putin Weaponizes Ethereum, its Creator is Working with Him

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While the West plays catchup with the Kremlin’s use of the internet to disrupt elections, the Kremlin has moved on to weaponzing a much newer technology: blockchain.

Where the internet disrupted the flow of information and undermined mainstream media outlets, blockchain technology is doing the same to flows of liquid capital and banks. According to a new indictment by Mueller the 2016 US election hacking was funded by freshly mined Bitcoin and a recent New York Times article quoted an FSB agent, representing Russia at a blockchain event in Tokyo saying:

“The internet belonged to America. …


Backspace, often used rarely considered. As keyboards replaced cursive, backspace replaced erasers and whiteout. Then touchscreen keyboards emerged, yet backspace remained unquestioned and unchanged.

On a touchscreen, backspace functions as it does on physical keyboards, as if there were a real key with a pressure pad underneath. Then and now, backspace has a very binary 2-bit input: you can TAP or HOLD.

TAP and you delete one character at a time, it gives you control and precision over what you delete. But this requires an exorbitant amount of taps. Tap tap tap tap tap tap.

HOLD and you can delete many characters at a time, faster and quicker, with no taps. But you feel less control and it is easy to overshoot. …


Ukrainian botnets and an inner circle with questionable associations

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Ron Paul shakes hands with supporters after speaking during his Rally for the Republic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2008. The protest convention was held on day two of the Republican National Convention, which took place in nearby St. Paul. (Keith Bedford/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In October of 2007, the race for the White House was heating up, and a debate among Republican candidates had just taken place. Shortly after, 162 million unsolicited emails were sent out promoting one candidate: Ron Paul. The subject lines included such lauding pronouncements as “Ron Paul wins GOP Debate!” and “Ron Paul Stops Iraq War!” The messages were made to look as if they had been sent from real people, but they were actually sent from a botnet based in Ukraine. …


‘Hey Anita’ was the ‘Hey Alexa’ of the 1990s

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For dumb-phone users in the late 1990s, voice portals filled the gap between mobile tech and the world wide web. (Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)

Voice-controlled assistants are big right now. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft Google, and Amazon all have their respective offerings. Voice is seen as a new computing frontier, the next big thing everyone wants in on, but today’s offerings are not as new as they seem.

Nearly two decades ago, in 1998, Visa, Motorola, and others joined forces with Nuance Communications to create a standard for voice recognition, claiming that “telephone access will break down the last barrier remaining between the mass of consumers and the Internet.” …


The game we associate with geniuses today was once seen as a waste of time

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This article is based on on Episode 7 of the Pessimists Archive Podcast

A new form of entertainment emerged, a viral sensation accessible to the masses, a hit app made of atoms not bits. Some called it a distraction from more serious ends, others said it was anti-social and even blasphemous. Its name? Shatranj, the game we know today as chess.

Chess is endowed with the kind of unquestioned reverence reserved for those things that have been around for millennia. If a child plays chess for hours on end, they’re treated as clever and intellectual. The same could not be said for a computer game. Why? Because what is old is familiar, and what is familiar isn’t a threat. But chess wasn’t always familiar—it was once strange and new. …


Mental illness, Bad Morals and Heart Attacks

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A Victor bicycles advertisement from 1896 features a woman gazing after another woman riding a bicycle. (Will Bradley/Library of Congress)

The year was 1890, and a bicycle boom was underway. Its cause? The safety bicycle, a cheaper, more practical two-wheeled vehicle. This new design didn’t have the impractically big wheel of a penny farthing from the 1880s, or the bumpiness of a metal wheeled peddle-less hobby horse of the 1860s.

The safety bicycle was a huge hit, and sales skyrocketed—which led some to worry they were causing insanity. …


The Missing Factor in Online Learning

Online learning, it was supposed to be the future. MOOCs would disrupt the educational order, but they didn’t, why? The mainstream conclusion is that nothing can replace the magic and motivational factor of campus life. Silicon valley and the internet was no match for the ancient, timeless institutions of higher education. I reject this conclusion.

We mistook the motivational factor of a credential, for the motivational factor of campus life. We saw 4% completion rates of MOOCs and assumed the campus was the crucial missing element, not the credential. In turn we abandoned the pursuit of lower marginal cost credentials. Now lost is the notion of reducing that high marginal cost, which is assumed inevitable and continues to go unquesitoned. …

About

Louis Anslow

Solutionist • Promethean • Designer • Inventing…

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