Our ability to create synthetic media is only getting more uncanny, with simulated voices and images that are increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing. But while the media we create may be less and less constrained by physical reality, many other experiences are deeply tied to the spaces in which they happen. From the pandemic transforming our urban spaces to Cuba’s revolutionaries grappling with the country’s tenuous relationship with the internet, our physical reality still shapes us in powerful ways. …

This week we spent time looking at places that are typically obscured, either through incorrect assumptions, through deliberate obfuscation, or through neglect and decay. In each case, looking where we aren’t supposed to yields interesting results. Read on for chickens as data sources, underground warehouses, and bizarre products you don’t need but really want anyway.

— Alexis & Matt

1: Blockchain chicken farm

Chickens wearing blockchain-connected trackers to prove to consumers that they’re free range. Taobao villages where entire towns manufacture cheap consumer goods for Alibaba. Rural pearl farmers who sell second-rate pearls to American live-streamers. “Digital towns” where workers spend all day categorizing…

This week, we take a look at the physical world to see how our furniture reflects social change, how our workspace contains implicit choices, and how the products we own are increasingly not ours to use. Don’t miss the end, featuring the first extraterrestrial selfie. Cheers!

— Alexis & Matt

Zoom room or board room?

If you have any kind of office job, then you have almost certainly been bombarded with questions, surveys, and communications regarding your “return to the office” following the year-plus closures from Covid-19. You may also have very strong opinions about remote vs. …

I just started reading Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and loved this passage. I have always been fascinated with our relationship to time — how the present moves into the past without notice, and how our perception of the same context can markedly shift with the passage of time. She captures some of this perfectly in her writing about nostalgia:

Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instills makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. To get a sense that we have already journeyed through something—survived it, experienced it—is often so…

Welcome back! We took a break from the last issue for a long Memorial Day weekend, and we hope you’re all enjoying the beginning of summer. This week’s issue is all about how reality is represented in computational systems: how our identities are reflected or distorted, how data is collected (or synthetically created), and how the software we use are modeled on societal frameworks. Read on to the end for some transparent screens from the future.

Alexis & Matt

1: Reimagining computing metaphors

How do the computing paradigms we use reflect our social reality? And what happens when societal change outpaces those paradigms…

I really enjoyed this post by Phil Gyford in which he reflects on what the internet — specifically blogging — was like 20 years ago. He notes that it’s easier to remember the experience of first getting on the internet in the mid-nineties than it is to specifically recall the mini-eras between then and now. I often try to recall those in-between moments, like that early 2000s thing where you had internet maps but no smartphones, so you would print out Mapquest directions before going someplace.

This piece is full of those “oh riiiight” moments, like the fact that permalinks…

A few months ago, we wrote about being in a “plastic hour”, and that the pandemic might be a portal to new possibilities. This week’s newsletter surfaces both those possibilities and those tensions. We see opportunities to remake systems, from our relationship with work to the shape of the internet. But we also see the immense pressure of the status quo and those who benefit from it, right down to how we make decisions and what factors we consider to be important. As always, we lighten it up with some fun things at the end, including a crypto-art-project-slash-multi-player-game.

— Alexis…

This week’s signals speak to the importance of questioning the premise — ways that we can alter the underlying web to make it better, how to see what could be subtracted from a system, and what kinds of incentives you might (intentionally or unintentionally) create. But first, we rant about something incredibly dumb. And we end with a sandwich.

— Matt & Alexis

Gamifying fame with crypto and oh god make it stop

On April 15, pioneering musician Imogen Heap tweeted a cryptographic hash, claiming ownership of her profile in a new BitCoin-based social network. The basic premise of this network is that as people become more famous and well-known…

How do we make the spaces we want to live in, both online and off? Do we innovate within the context of public works, or private markets? Once we build those spaces, how do we tend to them, make them safe, allow people to flourish personally and financially in them? This week’s newsletter gathers thinking on how we imagine, create, and care for our current and future communities. (And there’s an emoji palate cleanser at the end!)

— Alexis & Matt

1: Community moderation & the logic of care

How do we talk to each other online? How can we build the right guardrails for those conversations that…

“It’s not like we’re building a machine,” Moore said. “It’s more like we’re gardening. You need a good patch of land, sun and water, and you give it all that and hope the tomatoes turn out okay.”

From this thoughtful piece by Sophie Haigney about moderation vs. community building, and how the dominant approach to corralling online discourse has shifted as platforms have scaled.

Alexis Lloyd

Ethical design and weird machines. VP Product Design at Medium & co-founder Ethical Futures Lab. Previously @automattic , @axios , @nytimes R&D. She/her.

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