Mine!: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives

Book by Michael Heller and James Salzman: “A hidden set of rules governs who owns what–explaining everything from whether you can recline your airplane seat to why HBO lets you borrow a password illegally–and in this lively and entertaining guide, two acclaimed law professors reveal how things become “mine.”

“Mine” is one of the first words babies learn. By the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural, whether buying a cup of coffee or a house. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you reclining or the squished laptop user behind? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock-off a recipe or a dress design? And after a snowstorm, why does a chair in the street hold your parking space in Chicago, but in New York you lose the space and the chair?

Mine! explains these puzzles and many more. Surprisingly, there are just six simple stories that everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the story that steers us to do what they want. But we can always pick a different story. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. As Michael Heller and James Salzman show–in the spirited style of Freakonomics, Nudge, and Predictably Irrational–ownership is always up for grabs.

With stories that are eye-opening, mind-bending, and sometimes infuriating, Mine! reveals the rules of ownership that secretly control our lives….(More)”.

Opinion Fetishism: Can we escape the reductio ad tweetum?

Essay by Alexander Stern: “Something once expressed, however absurd, fortuitous or wrong it may be, because it has been once said, so tyrannizes the sayer as his property that he can never have done with it.” 

So observes the German social theorist Theodor Adorno in his 1951 book Minima Moralia. Although he is reflecting on the transformations of individuality and interpersonal relations in the industrial society of the late 1940s, Adorno sounds almost as though he is discussing Twitter, particularly the way tweets are taken as immutable expressions of a person’s essential being. Thoughts tweeted in the distant past are exhumed to torment people who have risen to prominence. People engage in ritual apologies for innocuous tweets that offend overly delicate sensibilities. Some insufficiently prudent souls even end up losing jobs for tweets that are hardly controversial. 

While all of this seems to be very much of our time, one of the many unhappy products of our highly mediated lives, the provenance of Adorno’s observation suggests that the distance between what we say and who we are—between ideas and identity—has been shrinking for a long time. The consequence of that shrinkage is not just that it can dehumanize. It also distorts democratic discourse, turning it into a war of all against all. Without the distance between self and thought, self and utterance, we are unable to entertain, probe, or debate ideas. We are unable to change our minds or to persuade others. We are not even in a position to form our views in thoughtful, disinterested ways. But there may yet be a way out. Precisely by codifying and accelerating the collapse of the distinction between ideas and identity, Twitter might ironically be alerting us to the absurdity and shallowness of intellectual life practiced on its terms. 

How exactly did we come to this pass? The simple answer, for Adorno, was that utterances—and those who utter them—have taken on a commodity character, in Karl Marx’s sense of the term. Commercial products, Marx thought, began to evince a strange quality under industrial production. They no longer appeared to be the result of a social process mixing labor and material but took on a fetishized glow that hid the specifics of their production and endowed their mere materiality with a quasi-mystical sheen—the kind that makes teenagers covet Air Jordans, for example. The amplification of this fetish character is, indeed, the explicit aim of contemporary branding….(More)”.

Reimagining the Role of Cities & City Diplomacy in the Multilateral Order

Report by The Berggruen Institute: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the foreground the important role of cities in responding to global challenges. Through informal and established international networks, city leaders are connecting across borders and shaping the global pandemic response. City and municipal governments were some of the earliest to turn toward their peers to share information, collaborate, and identify solutions, even as national-level cooperation was often delayed or challenged. 

While the pandemic has revealed the necessity of international cooperation, it has also shown the limits of current systems, especially in how multilateral institutions learn from and meaningfully include city leadership. City and municipal governments occupy an increasingly visible and important position in international affairs, are already working together through city-to-city networks on many issues, and engage in international activities often described as “city diplomacy.” Looking forward, rapid population growth in urban areas means many global challenges and the responses to them will be concentrated in cities. Cities will be at the center of the global response to climate change, migration, violence and injustice, health security, economic inequality, and security. Yet the current international system was designed by countries for countries; it is not structured to channel city voices and lacks pathways for cities to influence global governance.

The Berggruen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the City of Los Angeles, and the United Nations Foundation co-organized a virtual workshop in July 2020 titled “The Rise of Urbanization and the Role of City Diplomacy in the Multilateral System” to explore these dynamics further. By bringing together current and former national diplomats, representatives of and diplomats in multilateral organizations, city directors of international affairs, and specialists in international relations under the Chatham House rule, the workshop aimed to reimagine how different levels of government can work together more effectively on issues of global governance. Together, these actors form a novel group to grapple with the issue of city voice in multilateralism. In particular, the group explored opportunities and challenges to building cooperation between cities and the current multilateral system and considered practical, researchable ideas for how the multilateral system might adapt to engage subnational actors to address global challenges….(More)”.

How We Built a Facebook Feed Viewer

Citizen Browser at The MarkUp: “Our interactive dashboard, Split Screen, gives readers a peek into the content Facebook delivered to people of different demographic backgrounds and voting preferences who participated in our Citizen Browser project. 

Using Citizen Browser, our custom Facebook inspector, we perform daily captures of Facebook data from paid panelists. These captures collect the content that was displayed on their Facebook feeds at the moment the app performed its automated capture. From Dec. 1, 2020, to March 2, 2021, 2,601 paid participants have contributed their data to the project. 

To measure what Facebook’s recommendation algorithm displays to different groupings of people, we compare data captured from each over a two-week period. We look at three different pairings:

  • Women vs. Men
  • Biden Voters vs. Trump Voters
  • Millennials vs. Boomers 

We labeled our panelists based on their self-disclosed political leanings, gender, and age. We describe each pairing in more detail in the Pairings section of this article. 

For each pair, we examine four types of content served by Facebook: news sources, posts with news links, hashtags, and group recommendations. We compare the percentage of each grouping that was served each piece of content to that of the other grouping in the pair.  

For more information on the data we collect, the panel’s demographic makeup, and the extensive redaction process we undertake to preserve privacy, see our methodology How We Built a Facebook Inspector.

Our observations should not be taken as proof of Facebook’s choosing to target specific content at specific demographic groups. There are many factors that influence any given person’s feed that we do not account for, including users’ friends and social networks….(More)”.

Financing the Digital Public Goods Ecosystem

Blog by the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA): “… we believe that digital public goods (DPGs) are essential to unlocking the full potential of digital technologies to enhance human welfare at scale. Their relevance to one or multiple sustainable development goals (SDGs), combined with their adoptability and adaptability, allows DPGs to strengthen international digital cooperation. Stakeholders can join forces to support solutions that address many of today’s greatest global challenges in critical areas such as health, education and climate change. DPGs are of particular importance for resource constrained countries looking to accelerate development through improving access to digital services.

Still, precisely due to their nature as “public goods” – which ensures that no one can prevent others from benefiting from them – DPGs can be difficult to fund through market mechanisms, and some of them should not have to prioritise generating profit….

Sustainably funded infrastructural DPGs can become a reliable core for broader ecosystems through community building:

  • For the Modular Open Source Identity Platform (MOSIP) core code management and evolution is fully funded by grants from a group of philanthropic and bilateral donors.** This enables the team responsible for managing and evolving the generic platform to focus exclusively on maximising utility for those the platform is designed to serve – in this case, countries in need of foundational digital identity systems.
  • Similarly backed by grant funding for core code development and maintenance, the team behind District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2) has prioritised community building within and between the 70+ countries that have adopted the software, enabling countries to share improvements and related innovations. This is best exemplified by Sri Lanka, the first country in the world to use DHIS2 for COVID-19 surveillance, who shared this groundbreaking innovation with the global DHIS2 community. Today, this system is operational in 38 countries and is under development in fourteen more.
  • The data exchange layer X-Road, which is publicly funded by NIIS members (currently Estonia and Finland), demonstrates how infrastructural DPGs can use community building to advance both the core technology and the  quality of downstream deployments. The X-Road Community connects a diverse group of individuals and allows anyone to contribute to the open-source technology. This community-based support and knowledge-sharing helps local vendors around the world build the expertise needed to provide quality services to stakeholders adopting the technology….(More)”.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment

Book by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein: “Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients—or that two judges in the same courthouse give markedly different sentences to people who have committed the same crime. Suppose that different interviewers at the same firm make different decisions about indistinguishable job applicants—or that when a company is handling customer complaints, the resolution depends on who happens to answer the phone. Now imagine that the same doctor, the same judge, the same interviewer, or the same customer service agent makes different decisions depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. These are examples of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical.
In Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein show the detrimental effects of noise in many fields, including medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Wherever there is judgment, there is noise. Yet, most of the time, individuals and organizations alike are unaware of it. They neglect noise. With a few simple remedies, people can reduce both noise and bias, and so make far better decisions….(More)”.

Government Reform: Lessons from the Past for Actions in the Future

Report by Dan Chenok and John Kamensky: “This report provides an overview of the evolution of various federal government reform efforts over the past 30 years, with a focus on How government works to get things done for the American people, and the leaders in government who have and continue to implement important agency missions.

This overview of government reforms and actions provides important lessons for leaders today and tomorrow.

Reform approaches will vary, depending on the types of reform are being pursued. Each type relies on different strategic implementation approaches, with different lessons learned that the authors hope will be of value to leaders today.

Strategic Approach 1: Overarching Reform Initiatives: examines reforms that affect the broader governance systems of the federal government and its organization. Examples include the Reinventing Government reform initiative in the 1990s.

Strategic Approach 2: Governmentwide Mission Support Initiatives: examines the evolution of a series of mission support “chiefs” in each agency, often by congressional mandate. These would include positions such as chief financial officers, chief information officers, chief human capital officers, and most recently, chief data officers.

Strategic Approach 3: Initiatives That Enable Mission Delivery: various presidential administrations place an emphasis on developing different capabilities that can improve agencies’ ability to better deliver on their missions. Examples include open government, improving customer service, and fostering innovation….(More)”.

Liberation Technology

Tim Keary at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Human traffickers have forced hundreds of women, children, and men into sexual slavery in Colombia during the past decade. According to Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior and Justice, 686 cases of human trafficking occurred within the country from January 2013 to July 2020. Many of those seized were women, children, and Venezuelan migrants.

To combat this crime, Migración Colombia, the nation’s border control agency; the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a mobile application called LibertApp last July. Pressing the app’s panic button immediately sends the user’s live geolocation data to the Colombian Ministry of the Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Operations Center (COAT), where an expert anti-trafficking team investigates the report.

The app also functions as a resource hub for information and prevention. It offers an educational module (available in both English and Spanish) that explains what human trafficking is, who is the most at risk, and the most common strategies that traffickers use to isolate and exploit victims. LibertApp also includes a global directory of consulates’ contact information that users can access for support.

While COAT and Migración Colombia now manage the app, IOM, an international organization that supports migrant communities and advises national governments on migration policy, developed the original concept, provided technical support, created user profiles, and built the educational module. IOM saw LibertApp as a new tool to support high-risk groups such as Venezuelan migrants and refugees. “It is necessary to permanently search for different strategies for the prevention of trafficking” and to ensure the “rescue of victims who are in Colombia or abroad,” says Ana Durán-Salvatierra, IOM Colombia’s chief of mission….

PRM funded the app, which had a budget of $15,000. The investment was part of the department’s overall contribution through the United Nations appeal known as the Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, a global initiative that had granted a total of $276.4 million to Colombia as of November 2020.

In less than a year of operation, 246 people have used the app to make reports, culminating in a handful of investigations and rescues. The most notable success story occurred last summer when COAT received a report from LibertApp that led to the rescue of a Venezuelan minor from a bar in Maní, in the Casanare region of Colombia, that was being run as a brothel. During the raid, authorities captured two Colombian citizens alleged to have managed the establishment and who coerced 15 women into sexual slavery….(More)”

Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil

Book by Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and, Francis de Véricourt: “The essential tool that will enable humanity to find the best way through a forest of looming problems is defined in Framers by internationally renowned authors Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Francis de Véricourt. From pandemics to populism, AI to ISIS, wealth inequity to climate change, humanity faces unprecedented challenges that threaten our very existence.
To frame is to make a mental model that enables us to see patterns, predict how things will unfold, and make sense of new situations. Frames guide the decisions we make and the results we attain. People have long focused on traits like memory and reasoning leaving framing all but ignored. But with computers becoming better at some of those cognitive tasks, framing stands out as a critical function—and only humans can do it. This book is the first guide to mastering this innate human ability.
Illustrating their case with compelling examples and the latest research, authors Cukier, Mayer-Schönberger and de Véricourt examine:
·       Why advice to “think outside the box” is useless.
·       How Spotify beat Apple by reframing music as an experience.
·       What the historic 1976 Israeli commando raid on Entebbe that rescued over 100 hostages can tell us about how to frame.
·       How the #MeToo twitter hashtag reframed the perception of sexual assault.
·       The disaster of framing Covid-19 as equivalent to seasonal flu, and how framing it akin to SARS delivered New Zealand from the pandemic.
Framers shows how framing is not just a way to improve how we make decisions in the era of algorithms—but why it will be a matter of survival for humanity in a time of societal upheaval and machine prosperity….(More)”.

From Tech Critique to Ways of Living

Alan Jacobs at the New Atlantis: “Neil Postman was right. So what?… In the 1950s and 1960s, a series of thinkers, beginning with Jacques Ellul and Marshall McLuhan, began to describe the anatomy of our technological society. Then, starting in the 1970s, a generation emerged who articulated a detailed critique of that society. The critique produced by these figures I refer to in the singular because it shares core features, if not a common vocabulary. What Ivan Illich, Ursula Franklin, Albert Borgmann, and a few others have said about technology is powerful, incisive, and remarkably coherent. I am going to call the argument they share the Standard Critique of Technology, or SCT. The one problem with the SCT is that it has had no success in reversing, or even slowing, the momentum of our society’s move toward what one of their number, Neil Postman, called technopoly.

The basic argument of the SCT goes like this. We live in a technopoly, a society in which powerful technologies come to dominate the people they are supposed to serve, and reshape us in their image. These technologies, therefore, might be called prescriptive (to use Franklin’s term) or manipulatory (to use Illich’s). For example, social networks promise to forge connections — but they also encourage mob rule. Facial-recognition software helps to identify suspects — and to keep tabs on whole populations. Collectively, these technologies constitute the device paradigm (Borgmann), which in turn produces a culture of compliance (Franklin).

The proper response to this situation is not to shun technology itself, for human beings are intrinsically and necessarily users of tools. Rather, it is to find and use technologies that, instead of manipulating us, serve sound human ends and the focal practices (Borgmann) that embody those ends. A table becomes a center for family life; a musical instrument skillfully played enlivens those around it. Those healthier technologies might be referred to as holistic (Franklin) or convivial (Illich), because they fit within the human lifeworld and enhance our relations with one another. Our task, then, is to discern these tendencies or affordances of our technologies and, on both social and personal levels, choose the holistic, convivial ones.

The Standard Critique of Technology as thus described is cogent and correct. I have referred to it many times and applied it to many different situations. For instance, I have used the logic of the SCT to make a case for rejecting the “walled gardens” of the massive social media companies, and for replacing them with a cultivation of the “digital commons” of the open web.

But the number of people who are even open to following this logic is vanishingly small. For all its cogency, the SCT is utterly powerless to slow our technosocial momentum, much less to alter its direction. Since Postman and the rest made that critique, the social order has rushed ever faster toward a complete and uncritical embrace of the prescriptive, manipulatory technologies deceitfully presented to us as Liberation and Empowerment. So what next?…(More)”.