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.

This week takes us on a journey from the web of the past to the objects of the future — and even further to some truly wild, speculative futures. One theme throughout is that innovation often isn’t about a shiny new object, but about the nuances of how that object works in relationship to everything around it. The design of incentives, defaults, protocols, and interconnections is what really determines how our reality unfolds. So let’s continue to pay attention to the nuances and seams in order to create the things we’ll want to live with.

— Alexis & Matt

1: A future object is designed for an alternate reality


Happy March, the month that wants to be spring but is, in every way, still winter. Take your mind of your seasonal affective disorder with this week’s signals, which explore product evolution, virtual collaborations, the beauty of abundance in digital art, and the most hilarious AI exploit ever. Enjoy!
— Alexis & Matt

The product growth paradox

We’ve written before about the concept of “playable systems”: systems that are designed to afford virtuosity, in the way that a musical instrument might. One of the design principles we identified for building playable systems is that they should be open enough that they allow space for…

Orthogonal, intersectional, and communal futures

This week’s newsletter is a compilation of some of the most thoughtful folks we know, all of whom are touching on a recurrent theme we’ve been exploring at EFL: the increasingly urgent need to think, create, and innovate in the broader context of systems and communities. We have reached the current state of our techno-social reality by looking through narrow lenses — a focus on profit, a focus on groups with power, an individualistic focus on the user, a focus on direct effects while ignoring indirect ones. Increasingly, we see technologists, designers, academics, and others calling for fundamental change in…

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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