News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Last month, Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s president of global business solutions, was asked if he was concerned about competition from existing social-media networks like Facebook. Chandlee, who spent more than twelve years at Mark Zuckerberg’s company before moving to TikTok, dismissed the idea. “Facebook is a social platform. They’ve built all their algorithms based on the social graph,” he said, referring to the network of links to friends, family, and casual acquaintances that Facebook users painstakingly assemble over time. “We are an entertainment platform. The difference is significant.” Chandlee appeared to be responding to recent moves made by Facebook. Last year, the company integrated a TikTok-style short-video format called Reels directly into its main app. Then, in an internal memo sent this spring, Tom Alison, a senior executive at the social-media giant, announced a plan to modify the platform’s news feed to focus more on these short videos, tweaking the algorithm to display the most engaging content, even if these selections are “unconnected” to accounts that a user has friended or followed. Facebook, it seems, is moving away from its traditional focus on text and images, spread among people who know one another, to instead adopt TikTok’s emphasis on pure distraction. This shift is not surprising given TikTok’s phenomenal popularity, but it’s also shortsighted: platforms like Facebook could be doomed if they fail to maintain the social graphs upon which they built their kingdoms.

To understand Facebook’s current danger, it helps to better understand its original success. In the spring of 2004, when my college friends signed up for, as it was then called, they did so because other people they knew were signing up as well. (One of the platform’s early killer features was the ability to check the “relationship status” of classmates.) By the end of 2006, the year in which Facebook opened to the general public, the service had already gathered twelve million active users. At that point, network-effect advantages made it hard for a competitor to emerge; two years later, when Facebook hit a hundred million active users, competition became all but impossible. Why would you join a new network dedicated to connection with people you know if everyone you knew was already on Facebook?

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Imagine you are growing up in Moscow, part of a family of eight living in a small apartment. The Berlin Wall fell not too long ago. Four times a year, you join your siblings in unpacking large boxes of buckwheat that your mother has kept stacked against a wall. You spread the kernels, pluck out the weevils, bake it all at a sterilizing temperature, and pack it up again. You are preparing for the future.

Around you, there is piracy and chaos. But you’re enterprising, and keep to your path. At university, you hardly sleep, and you eat what you can afford. Why do you work yourself this way? It’s not as if you’re getting paid for it.

Another version of yourself, in another time, though, is. Now, living in the California sun with some success, you reflect on your poor, wan, sleepless younger self and feel a wave of gratitude, and then of prickly regret. The kid you were had different dreams; it strikes you as unfair that you sit pretty on the spoils of that person’s efforts. If you could take some of your wealth and send it backward in time, to your younger self, you would.

We usually think of inequalities as extending from bottom to top: I earn a little wealth over eight hours; Bill Gates earns much more. But there are also inequalities that extend longitudinally, from the past into the future. Your young self does labor for which your older self collects rewards. Such timing issues—how much money you receive or can spend now and later—have effects on your financial fate. In a more equal world, you cannot help but think, people would draw on their lifetime wealth throughout their lives, not merely at the pinnacle of their careers. You notice that older generations and big corporations rule the roost in the United States, but it’s not clear why this should be so.

At your day job, which deals in shareholder capital, you impress your graying superiors, while at night you talk with young friends who, beset by debt and meagre wages, feel they’re barely eking out a life. You dream of what would happen if the money from your day job could cross over to your friends at night. Imagine that this idea becomes a fixation, so much that you decide you’d risk a piece of your own future on a solution. And now imagine that, instead of being one person, you are two.

Daniil and David Liberman, two entrepreneur brothers who purport to share a single life, met me one chilly November afternoon in midtown, and we set off for a walk through Central Park. The brothers have a sandy shade of hair and a punctilious Eastern European way of furrowing their brows and making little tutting noises as they zero in on the mot juste. They were fresh from Playa Vista, California, a residential and office-space hamlet whose chief virtue is its proximity to LAX. Daniil, who is older, at thirty-nine, has a gaunt, freckled face, and when we met was wearing his hair in the long, curling style of George Frideric Handel. David, a year younger, resembles Stephen Hawking in his youth. For some days, they’d been courted by fancy investors, with a schedule that included a trip in a private helicopter, an experience they found fun but, like most things that aren’t part of what they call their “mission,” distracting. “We need to get back home so we can really work,” Daniil, who was wearing green trousers with Pokémon and flowers on the legs, told me. The brothers’ mission, they think, is chasing the future, so in one way or another they are usually playing catch-up.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Drive along this part of US-19, a stretch of highway in Pasco County that parallels Florida’s Gulf Coast, and you’d be forgiven for not noticing the danger. It looks like a lot of American roads, especially in the South: flat, straight, and wide. Three lanes move in each direction, and extra turn lanes on the right and left bring the total number of lanes to eight or nine at most intersections. The road runs through several cities and places — Hudson, Port Richey, New Port Richey, and Holiday — but because of all the sprawl, you never really feel like you’ve left town.

Along the road is a panoply of American consumerism: Walmart, Publix, tattoo parlors, chain hotels, motels, 7-Elevens, multiple Dunkin’s, medical equipment stores, condemned buildings, strip clubs, auto body repair shops, oil change places, custom paint job businesses, chain restaurants, deserted property waiting to be redeveloped, and a mini-golf course where you can feed baby alligators, fenced in near the sidewalk.

Walk along this road, and you might begin to notice the danger. The speed limit is 45 to 55 miles per hour, but the cars are often going much faster. The crosswalks are so few and far between that a simple act — crossing the street to get to a business a few hundred feet away — might mean walking over half a mile to reach the nearest crosswalk. Even with sidewalks set back from the road, it’s clear that US-19 wasn’t built for pedestrians.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

My 11-year-old daughter’s wide eyes narrowed, her lips pressed into a thin line — as if I’d suggested ridding our house of all screens, permanently.

“It’s summer!” A whine creeps into her voice. Yes, and it’s just a monthlong Mandarin class.

I’m anxious — trying to shore up nearly a decade of Mandarin as she’s balanced on the precipice of a new phase. She’s heading to a Mandarin-less middle school and leaving behind her bilingual elementary school where half her day was in Chinese.

She stands in the doorway — long, dark hair framing her face — not budging. Over the past few months, she’s shot up several inches in height, little-kid roundness replaced by angles and planes.

While her younger brothers, ages 6 and 9, still happily switch between Mandarin and English, it’s increasingly difficult to coax more than a word or two from her. Sometimes, when my parents visit, or when my youngest’s former babysitter comes by for an afternoon, she’ll bust out an awkwardly phrased sentence or two. But when I try to engage, she rolls her eyes and exhorts, “Speak English, mom!”

I don’t — I can’t — blame her. Conversing in Mandarin doesn’t come naturally to me either.

Decades ago, Mandarin was all I knew. Although I was born in the U.S., I didn’t learn English until preschool, when I was thrust into a monolingual classroom. There, English was inexorable, with the power to erase all else in its wake. To stem the tide, my parents — like many first-generation Chinese immigrants of that era — enrolled me in Saturday Chinese school.

By the time I was 10, it had become a chore to check off in the most perfunctory of ways. The Friday evenings before exams, I’d cram lists of vocabulary words — the spindly strokes, from which words materialized, fleeing my brain before the teacher had even collected our tests. And as my ability to express myself in my first language plummeted, so did the desire to use it.

I longed to fit in at school; at the church across the street where my nonreligious parents had inexplicably signed me up for choir; at the sleepovers that I mostly skipped anyway thanks to my Saturday morning schedule and later stopped receiving invitations to altogether. I longed to avoid the scorn I had seen strangers direct at my parents when they stumbled over unfamiliar syllables or swapped their pronouns (he and she have identical pronunciations in Mandarin). Sometimes, I’d jump in as an interpreter, as if to say, “I may look different too, but I speak English. I belong.” Once I asked a librarian where the new books were shelved and she responded by complimenting my English. My cheeks burned with equal parts shame and pride, but I didn’t correct her.

The extent of the language loss hadn’t occurred to me until years later when a grad-school classmate chuckled at the halting Mandarin I unearthed when I discovered she hailed from the same province as my dad. “Not bad for a lǎo wài,” or foreigner, she joked.

I don’t know what my father thought when I could no longer communicate with my Mandarin-speaking grandparents. Or when I begged to stay home while he and my mother made their weekly 40-minute drive to San Francisco for groceries — fish plucked from murky tanks and leafy heads of jiè lán, a bitter Chinese version of broccoli. Now on the receiving end of my daughter’s withering looks, I imagine he felt rejected.

It’s a natural, even expected, developmental phase: tweens and teens pulling away from their families. But for immigrant families — for whom language, culture, and customs already divide children and parents — the separation can feel especially charged.

It’s not just about carving out a separate identity. It’s a repudiation, even if unintentional, of a parent’s experiences — of all the decisions, small and large, that have led to their shared present. And because a common language is among the first casualties, the path back to one another sometimes vanishes altogether. A permanent estrangement.

When my Italian-born husband and I began planning our family, I surprised myself (and him) by how adamantly I wanted our children to know the Chinese side of their heritage.

Read the rest of this article at: The Cut

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News 29.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The ‘cloud’ is not an intangible monolith. It’s a messy, swelling tangle of data centres, fibre optic cables, cellular towers and networked devices that spans the globe. From the tropical megalopolis of Singapore to the remote Atacama Desert, or the glacial extremes of Antarctica, the material infrastructure of the cloud is becoming ubiquitous and expanding as more users come online and the digital divide closes. Much has been written about the ecological impact of the cloud’s ongoing expansion: its titanic electricity requirements, the staggering water footprint required to cool its equipment, the metric tonnes of electronic waste it proliferates, and the noise pollution emitted by the diesel generators, churning servers and cooling systems required to keep data centres – the heart of the cloud – operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

But less has been written about those who work inside the machinery of the cloud. Though often forgotten, this community of technicians, engineers and executives is integral to the functioning of our increasingly digitised society. They are the caretakers of the digital, the wardens of our data, and the unsung heroes working tirelessly to sustain an ever-expanding array of digital objects, including our emails, cat videos, maps, non-fungible tokens, metaverse avatars, digital twins and more. The idea of digital caretakers might conjure science fiction images of empty, towering warehouses stacked with racks of automated machines. But these workers are very much flesh and blood. The silicon milieu they’re part of is as human as it is mechanical. From their vantage, the cloud is not merely an infrastructure they maintain, but a way of life, an identity, a culture of stewardship – replete with its own norms, rituals and language.

For the past six years, I have observed, shadowed and interviewed data centre professionals in the United States and Iceland as an anthropologist. During the course of my ethnographic fieldwork, I witnessed and performed many of the tasks that cloud workers engage in on a daily basis: I dined, trained, travelled and bonded with the crews that I had the privilege of joining as an eager intern, guest and social scientist. Along the way, I learned what it meant to be a steward of the cloud. I also learned that the cloud is no monolith, and that the cultures emerging among its workers are far from uniform. Data centres – as workplaces and sites of culture – vary considerably from continent to continent, node to node, or business model to business model. How they operate depends greatly on where they’re located.

Every site has its constraints, which are political (regulatory considerations), economic (total cost of operation, tax-breaks, business model), environmental (climate conditions, risk of natural disasters) and geographic (proximity to power, network, and other natural resources like water). Some companies lease server space or data to other companies, operating shared centres known as ‘colocations’ or ‘colos’. Other companies or entities, such as governments, choose to build their own data centres instead of renting out space in a colocation.

Data centres also differ based on their technological sophistication: there is a tiering system that ranks centres according to their resources, scale of operation, and level of redundancies (fail-safes) that influence their ability to provide uninterrupted service or ‘uptime’. Only about one-third of the world’s data centres resemble the oft-circulated images of Google’s idyllic facilities, glittering with colourful pipes and smiling technicians who get around their workplaces on scooters. The remaining two-thirds of data centres are far less impressive. Some are found in mouldy basements, others in the shells of decaying office buildings or abandoned military installations. Many companies still use outdated, energy-inefficient designs or do not have the resources to invest in cooling or power-optimisation solutions. As such, the workers in these facilities must rely more readily on their experiences and finely tuned instincts to keep their patches of the cloud ‘up’, however imperfectly. They do not see themselves as automatons, as mere cogs in a perfectly optimised machine, but rather as hunters, firefighters or even priests, who must make, find or invent ways to meet the impossible demand of an unremitting cloud.

While not an exhaustive account of an incredibly diverse, global industry, in what follows, I draw on interview transcripts and field notes to recreate my experiences and encounters with cloud workers (to protect their anonymity and the companies they work for, pseudonyms have been used throughout this essay). These are their stories.

Read the rest of this article at: Aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.