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Don't Sell Your Friends: Social Media as Social Programming
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Cooperativism to Come - First talk about my upcoming book

I just attended a terrific conference on Platform Cooperativism, hosted by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider. It was a great gathering of hundreds of activists, alternative economy folks, thinkers, and doers. I was quite humbled to be asked to deliver the closing keynote, which was essentially a first effort at expressing the gist of my upcoming book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Busin 40 minutes of speaking. 

So here's the video of that talk. It's pretty high energy and fast-paced; I'm going to have to cut a lot of this material before I start doing my real talks about this book. But this may be the only talk where I try to include everything, and I think it's interesting to look at the evolution of the expression of these ideas. 

Plus, the talk is followed by a great analysis of the book's ideas by Astra Taylor. 


Maybe you can handle the truth: How tech has dulled our taste for tall tales 

Digital culture seems up in arms about the ways the new Steve Jobs movie diverges from factual history. Unlike the film, nothing ever failed in an Apple demo, Jobs didn’t get into fights with people before going on stage, Wozniak never said any of the things his character does in the movie, and engineers simply don’t work and speak the way they do in the movie.

For people who knew Jobs or Apple well – or have even read Walter Isaacson’s book – the poetic license taken by the film feels like an inaccuracy being entered into the historical record. In that sense, it’s worse than a time-travel inconsistency in the Star Trek universe.

But is that really why people are so disturbed? Biopics have always taken liberties with real lives of their subjects; the dismay over this fictional take on the Jobs legend rivals the hoopla over a lustful Jesus in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.  Something else is going on: We’re dissatisfied with how movies work, because digital media has rendered them – or at least the way they tell stories — obsolete...

Read the whole thing at Digital Trends.


Russia, the Internet and a New Way to Wage War?

Russians hovering near Internet cables?
(CNN) -- According to a report in The New York Times this week, the presence of Russian spy ships near important trans-Atlantic data cables is causing consternation among American military and intelligence officials. What, if anything, are the Russians planning to do? Are they trying to see how easily they could cut the cables if war broke out?

All anybody knows for sure is that the game theory that we used to plot out provocations and responses during the Cold War is obsolete in a digital age.

On the one hand, concerns about acts of digital sabotage in wartime are silly. If war broke out between the United States and Russia, we'd have much bigger problems on our hands than spotty connectivity over the Internet. Sure, it would put a serious dent in Internet-based communications, international banking and a host of other rather essential digital traffic. But unless an enemy shot our satellites out of the sky, the military could maintain basic command and control without the Internet.

On the other hand, the genuine threat here is that the Internet offers a new way for superpowers to, in theory, wage war without blowing up the whole planet. Tactically, an offensive against a Western data pipeline would be more like an extreme embargo. It would be nasty and debilitating, but it doesn't necessarily call for nuclear retaliation.

It's a way to cause pain without bombing cities or launching the kinds of assaults that demand an escalation of violence. Like the recent hack of U.S. government employee files, presumably by China, it's a meaningful attack but in a virtual realm, making it hard to gauge an appropriate response.

That's why this alleged saber rattling (or actually wire-cutter rattling) makes us nervous. It suggests a whole new range of potential engagements for which we need to establish new protocols. And fast.

What makes this difficult is that -- at least from our point of view -- an attack on the Internet wouldn't really be an attack on America so much as an attack on the free world. Europe's objections to National Security Agency and corporate surveillance notwithstanding, the Internet wires us all together in one big family of Western corporate media companies, free expression and democratic governance.

From the perspective of a downsized Russia attempting to reassert its former nationalist and hierarchical glory, the Internet is just an extension of American imperialism. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Apple, and Intel are all essentially American companies, and their platforms and devices are embedded with the values of free market capitalism.

Russia's oligarchy may not realistically want to restore the entirety of the former Soviet Union, but it does want to maintain an entirely less open and fluid order -- one it sees threatened by the spread of the Western market, ideology and, yes, Internet, through Europe and beyond.

So while the Chinese simply block Internet traffic that presents alternative narratives to that of the ruling party, the Russians may well want to make the networked future appear less inevitable and entirely more vulnerable to the whims of a single world leader, Vladimir Putin. By conducting operations in those waters, Russia may not be merely saying, "We could take out the Internet," but also asking, "And just what would you do in return?"

Besides, as Micah Sifry, co-founder of Civic Hall, pointed out, "Last I checked, Russia was pretty well integrated into the world financial system, so any move to cut those transcontinental cables would hurt it as much as anyone else. I don't think they could somehow surgically cut cables carrying traffic not affecting their interests -- it's all bits and packets, right?"

That's why -- along with Russia laying claim to parts of the Arctic Circle, in an effort to pre-empt Western claims on untapped oil reserves -- this implied threat, in this case to the Western communications infrastructure, demands response. No, not in the form of a counterthreat, but an open conversation about how we administer the use and abuse of our shared resources.

Until we can demonstrate that the Internet is less a national network than a true international commons, Russia may think it has less at stake in its survival than its destruction.

Read it at


Why Uber’s Bid For Platform Monopoly is Dangerous

This is a response to Susan Crawford’s recent piece “Getting Over Uber.”

My problem with Uber all along has been that it’s optimized for a really specific utility, but at the expense of others. It’s a bit like online universities, which offer courses isolated from the fabric of education or a learning community. That’s the nature of any digital business: you get what you program for, but lose everything else — and sometimes it doesn’t come back.

Remember what Clearchannel did to the FM dial? They bought it all up, and replaced local stations and deep music knowledge with long-distance, computer-generated play lists. It was all excused as free market capitalism; thanks to VC they had more money, so they were entitled to purchase the landscape. Eventually, the non-local Clearchannel FM stations proved they weren’t profitable enough to sustain the company’s valuation, so Clearchannel began selling them. But the institutional knowledge enjoyed by those original FM stations was gone.

Uber may be of great utility in the limited frame of providing low-cost rides for people with iPhones. But it does not serve any of the other functions that a local taxi service does. Meanwhile, its programmed not just to provide rides, but to take out competition. It is a platform monopoly in the making. This is because it cannot support it’s multi-billion-dollar valuation by being a ride broker.

Uber needs to create a platform monopoly so that it can leverage into other verticals, from logistics to self-driving cars. If anything, Uber’s drivers are the R&D for Uber’s driverless future. They are spending their labor and capital investments (cars) on their own future unemployment. And even that would be okay, if they were shareholders in Uber capable of participating in those future profits — but it’s not a worker-owned cooperative at all.

As every economist since Adam Smith and before has known, the factors of production are land, labor, and capital — and sometimes entrepreneurial effort. But the current digital economy rewards only capital, and acts as if acknowledging the contributions of land and labor were a communist, regulatory plot.

The people providing the labor and the communities providing the territory for Uber’s operations deserve an equal say in the way the company works, and revenues the company earns.

Read the piece at


No, You Can't Have it All

(CNN) -- Technology has always been about choice: Fire allowed us to choose to live in colder climates. Electric lighting offered us the choice to read at night. Drugs give us the freedom to choose stressful, self-destructive lifestyles.

And digital technology gives us the ability to do more than one thing at the same time -- or at least it feels that way.

In Anne-Marie Slaughter's provocatively commonsensical new book, "Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family," she's not concerned with the digital at all, but the problem she's pointing to is a form of its multitasking ethos writ large: the way women and men, but women in particular, must prioritize (that is, juggle) career and family.

In stark opposition to the can-do feminism embraced by some of today's C-suite female superstars, Slaughter makes the simple but undeniably realistic case for lowering our expectations. The idea of parents perfectly balancing family duties so they can prioritize their careers equally just doesn't work in practice, says Slaughter. "The problem is that 'fifty-fifty' is just too pat. Life rarely works out that way. And it's much harder to be honest about what it really takes."

As a result, we must abandon the notion that anyone -- man or woman -- can fully dedicate themselves to both family and career at the same time. "We often cannot control the fate of our career and family; insisting that we can obscures the deeper structures and forces that shape our lives and deflects attention from the larger changes that must be made."

Sadly, perhaps, one parent will end up doing more parenting and miss out on career opportunities, while the other will miss out on some family joys, but end up higher on the corporate ladder. This is more the problem of competitive corporate culture than it is the failure of individuals to find balance or to work hard enough.

But our technologies, and the culture they spawn, would beg to differ. They want us to believe we can do it all. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandburg became something of a pop business hero for advocating that women "lean in" and do whatever it takes to strive for leadership roles in the workplace -- even if it means hiring people to nanny, tutor, and coach one's kids. Outsource, borrow, push, and strive. It's a pedal-to-the-metal approach to life and work that really only makes sense if you're thinking of your family like a startup you can "flip" once you've finished building it by any means necessary.

The inclination for multitasking engendered by our digital platforms and their advocates has created the false impression that we can actually do everything we want, all at once. We think we can answer email as well while driving a car as we can at our desks, send sensible tweets while watching a concert, or do homework well while conversing on Snapchat.

Yet every study so far has shown us to be less effective when attempting to multitask. Even when our subjective impression is of having accomplished more in less time, in reality we get less done, we do it with less accuracy and depth, and we remember less about it later. Doing more at once robs all our activities of the attention they deserve -- and the experience we deserve.

Slaughter daringly suggests we stop compensating for the unreasonable and dehumanizing demands of corporate culture by running our home lives as if they were the offshore manufacturing arms of a conglomerate. And that we stop blaming ourselves for not being able to measure up to these false ideals.

As she says: "When law firms and corporations hemorrhage talented women who reject lockstep career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over the quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women."

Read the piece at


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