Mindful Cyborgs: What Would the Web Look Like if We Built It Today?

On the 25th anniversary of the web, Alex Williams and I talked about what the web might look like if we it were built today. Would it be more like an API than a protocol? Would it have a payment system baked in?

Download and Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 28 – Diasporic Destiny for the 21st Century Mind

Fundraiser for an Essay on Technology and the Occult

As long-time readers likely know, my own interest in things magical and occult has largely dissipated. But I know many of you are still interested the intersecton between technology and magic, so a project by my friend Damien Williams may well interest you. He’s raising funds to write a lengthy essay called “Techne: The State of the Art”:

I’ll show what happens when magical ideas intersect with modern technology, looking at things like AI, and why “artificial” might have been a poor choice of adjective. I’ll consider questions like, “What is it that drives humanity to create technology in our image?” “How can stories like the Golem, the Homunculus, or the Tulpa,” (and we’ll get to those) “help us in our search to create AI?” and “Might perspectives such as Jungian psychology’s take on alchemy provide us with tools to better engage our world?”

I’ll also examine the use of cutting edge tech in modern magical practices and vice versa. Musicians, roboticists, and authors who weave magical intentions through electronic music, who use magical theory in the programming of their creations and who see in our world, something like the fulfilment of Arthur C. Clarke’s line that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

You can back the project on Inkshares, a crowdfunding site for the written word.

(I missed it, but Technoccult interview alum David Forbes recently raised some money for an essay of his own about the history of far right politics in science fiction that sounds absolutely fascinating)

Mindful Cyborgs: Interview with Meatspace CEO Jen Fong-Adwent


This week Chris Dancy, Alex Williams and I talk with Jen Fong-Adwent, CEO of the weird new chat app Meatspace. Here’s an exceprt where she explains the origins of the service:

It was actually just an experiment between a colleague and I because she was doing a GIF library with WebRTC for the camera on your browser, and I have been doing chat experiments for a few years now. A lot of mixed media embedded interactions. Basically, experiments with social interaction and very limited forums with very limited effort by the user.

This was the first time around May when I just said hey, you think if you pressed enter and it recorded a few frames of your face as you were reacting as you were typing, we can do that and then my colleague so it was like, yeah, I fixed this. So, we did it and like 2 days we scrapped something together and we played with it internally and then it became public when I spoke in October at Portland and that was when it blew up and it went [unclear 0:02:29] Reddit, everywhere, and there was a lot of people that showed up like the first couple of days and there was a joke that it shut down Silicon Valley because everyone was just so mesmerized by all the GIFs of all these faces and some people were very famous and some people were just normal people. Some people weren’t even tech. It was pretty crazy.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 25 – Meatspace and the Organic Ephemeral Marketplace

My Interview with Daemon And Influx Author Daniel Suarez


I interviewed Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon and the forthcoming Influx for TechCrunch:

TechCrunch: You wrote this book before the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, but you’ve said that the Snowden revelations weren’t that surprising given the leaks that had come before. Did you have the NSA in mind when you wrote the book?

Suarez: Well, it’s funny that I showed them in the book as sort of hapless victims in a way of the BTC. There was something appealing of course about seeing the NSA being tapped and helpless, trying to figure out how to resist a technologically superior foe. I thought that that was an interesting way to look at things. It’s not just the NSA, but any unseen and unaccountable concentration of power that I’m trying to portray in this story. And right now that might be the NSA, but over time it might change. And I wouldn’t really put a specific nationality on it. It’s a story about progress and an effort to try to retain advantage.

So, yes, it was partly about the NSA but then it’s also partly about the broader issues — the broader issues of control and transparency.

TechCrunch: It feels like the power imbalance isn’t just a political power imbalance but it’s also the lack of understanding and awareness on the part of the public as to how these things work.

Suarez: And possibly interest. It’s been mildly infuriating to me to speak with even friends and people I know who shrug and say “Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about surveillance?” And of course you and I would probably say well, actually, it’s not just people doing things wrong. For example somebody running for Congress 20 years from now I think is going to have a very detailed record to have to defend. “Why were you standing next to this person every day for five years and this person later turned out to be a criminal?”

I think that is why these revelations were powerful. I don’t think that many technology or IT people were surprised by this, but I think it became much more personal with Snowden. Now, it’s dying down again but I think there will be more revelations that hopefully wake people up. We can’t just be passive. Being a citizen in a democracy really does require some interest.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Daemon And Influx Author Daniel Suarez On Why Innovation Has Stalled

How to Become a User Experience Designer

Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.

From the summary:

When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.

Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.

The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.

Summary: Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Career Advice.

Or: Download the full report.

Occupy Wall Street leader now works for Google, wants to crowdfund a private militia

Justine Tunney

From Yasha Levine at Pando:

Remember Justine Tunney? The OWS-anarchist-turned-cultist-Google-employee who bashed my reporting on Google’s for-profit surveillance? Well, today she hit the big time.

Over the last few days, Tunney has been causing a Twitter outrage tsunami after she took full control of the main Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Twitter account, claimed to be the founder of OWS and then proceeded to tweet out stream of ridiculous anarcho-corporatist garbage. She railed against welfare, described the government as “just another corporation,” argued poverty was not a political problem but “an engineering problem” and told politicians to “get out of the way.” She also debunked what she thought was a misconception: people thought OWS activists were protesting against concentrated corporate power, and that, she claims, is simply not true.

Full Story: Pando: Occupy Wall Street leader now works for Google, wants to crowdfund a private militia


Undercover Googlers Defend Surveillance Valley

Occupy Wall Street’s Final Implosion

Mindful Cyborgs: E-Waste in the Internet of Things, Enterprization of the Consumer, and More

In the latest Mindful Cyborgs, Alex William and use the Consumer Electronics Show as a springboard to talk about the state of the tech industry. Here’s a bit where we talk about the way that tech still flows from the military to industry to the consumer — and not vice versa:

KF: That hits on something else because that Vuzix company said it already had the industrial applications for it and I think that article also said that they were doing military heads up displays. That ties into the older trend of technology starting out being in the military or the government and then trickling down to business and then out to consumers.

AW: Yeah.

KF: And we’ve been covering the consumerization of IT for the last few years and there’s this perception that that flow has changed, that things start in the consumer category and then flow up to business, to enterprises. But if we look at some of the stuff like augmented reality we can see that’s not necessarily the case. The military has been using augmented reality for years and years and years now. And they’re using virtual reality for simulation trainings and stuff. That stuff hasn’t really properly trickled down into consumer video games or anything like that yet either. So in a lot of ways business and military are actually still ahead of the curve in terms of technology.

AW: Yeah. And I think you were writing about the influence of the VC’s [00:06:01] In-Q-Tel. Did you write about In-Q-Tel recently in the context of one of your stories? I thought I saw one of your stories.

KF: Yeah I mentioned that in my ‘Mega-Networks’ story. This fund that was setup, I think originally by the CIA and now other intelligence agencies are a part of it, to fund private companies that are building technology that intelligence agencies think could be eventually useful to them. So they’ve put a bunch of money into NoSQL and big data stuff.

AW: Right.

KF: MongoDB and Cloudant are the two I remember writing about. And that’s pretty interesting that those companies are expecting to sell technology to businesses that in a lot of cases are probably actually trying to reach consumers themselves. But a lot of the money is coming from government agencies that expect it to be useful to them as well.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: On the Entropy of the iToaster, CES, and Mega-Networks

Mindful Cyborgs: Why APIs Are Important

I missed this Mindful Cyborgs recording session, but in this episode Chris Dancy talks to API evangelist Kin Lane about APIs and why it’s important to have access to your data:

KL: I mean, really just the pace at which everything is. In 2012 . . . so, I started API Evangelist in 2010. First year and a half I was evangelizing. I was really telling stories over and over and over trying to make the mainstream aware of what was happening. Now, I don’t have to do that. The pace is there. I mean, you see articles in the New York Times, in the Washington where they say API in the title. You used to never see that acronym. It’d be in the body of the post but . . .

CD: Well, it doesn’t seem so scary.

KL: It isn’t.

CD: It doesn’t seem to scare especially when people use hundreds APIs every day and they are just labeled with do this with this API, you become more comfortable with it but they seem to be exponentially scary. Are you familiar with Zapier? Yeah, Wade Foster I think is this really great guy, great customer service too but one of the things I thought they did that was really unique is because of the way they work with different APIs and then they’ve got this Zapier or bundle servicing where they can take up service without an API and kind of like give you some access to it.

For Google Glass which some people love, some people hate. It is what it is, because they had a wrapper. They just built a wrap around it and suddenly you have all this access to all these services that would never show up on Glass that overnight you have 100 new glass applications. That can be scary for companies.

KL: Yeah. That’s empowerment right there. That for me APIs are not just for developers because someone can access their own resources.

CD: It’s your data, yeah.

KL: And the thing is we operate in all of these clouds. We’ve migrated to the cloud environment and we exist in 14, 15 different places and these people are monetizing our data and so I’ve been doing a lot of talk at the university level lately. I’m working on a project right now called reclaim your domain which is basically teaching people basic web literacy stuff and the fact that those are your Instagram photos, those are your Flickr photos, that’s your Twitter data. You can get it out. How do you reclaim your domain and start taking control and APIs are how we do that.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Data Hacking with Fanatics and the API Coming Out Party

My Smart Phone Freedom Trilogy


I did a few articles for Wired that sort of form a trilogy. The last, which was published today, actually works best as the starting point:

The Place Where Android Thrives Outside of Google’s Control

The Quest to Build a Truly Free Version of Android

The German Plot to Give You Complete Control of Your Phone

See also: Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet

Contemplative Computing: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future

Photo by Beth Kanter

I wrote about Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s new book The Distraction Addiction for TechCrunch:

“The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain but to serve the body,” William S. Burroughs once said in a Nike commercial, of all places. But things haven’t worked out that way, at least not for most of us. Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.

But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul.

He calls the idea “contemplative computing.”

Contemplative computing, Pang writes, is something you do, not something you buy or download. He does mention a few useful-sounding applications, such as Freedom, which will block your Internet connection for a set period of time, and full-screen text editors like WriteRoom and OmmWriter (my personal favorite is FocusWriter).

These tools, along with applications like RescueTime and SelfControl, are great — but they’re meant to treat the symptoms of a digital environment designed to distract you. Pang points out that OmmWriter was, ironically, designed by an online ad agency to help keep its copywriters from being distracted.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future

Also: Watch for Pang on the next Mindful Cyborgs podcast!

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