Monday 21 June, 2021

Quote of the Day

”The whole way I think about politics came out of the English Department. They taught a form of literary criticism which was based on analyzing texts in a very close way. If you start analyzing the text of a newspaper or a political commentator on CNN using the same approach of close textual analysis, you come to understand it in a different way. It’s not any different from reading Henry James.”

  • Joan Didion, 2001

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Keith Richards and Norah Jones | Love Hurts


Long Read of the Day

 Minimum Viable Self

Nice meditation by Drew Austin.

This is how it begins…

Two decades ago, before social media existed, Zygmunt Bauman articulated a perfect description of how it would soon shape our behavior and frame our relationships to one another. In his 2000 book Liquid Modernity, Bauman wrote: “Seen from a distance, (other people’s) existence seems to possess a coherence and a unity which they cannot have, in reality, but which seems evident to the spectator. This, of course, is an optical illusion. The distance (that is, the paucity of our knowledge) blurs the details and effaces everything that fits ill into the Gestalt. Illusion or not, we tend to see other people’s lives as works of art. And having seen them this way, we struggle to (make our lives) the same.” The conditions Bauman described had already emerged in other media environments, such as television, but the participatory nature of the internet and specifically social media would compel everyone involved to develop an online identity, intentionally or not, that would correspond to their offline identity but would never quite mirror it perfectly.

Reasons to be cheerful — well, more optimistic anyway

Scott Galloway’s glass-half-full view

This week’s edition:

And this week, Lina Khan, the author of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” was confirmed by the Senate (with 19 Republican votes) as Federal Trade Commissioner. In a surprise move, Biden even appointed her Chair of the Commission. A 32-year-old, British-born woman of Pakistani heritage is now facing down the most powerful corporations in history, backed by the full might of the U.S. government.

I. Am. Joyous.

Our existing antitrust laws are heavy ammunition, but they’ve been weakened by business-friendly judges and aren’t optimized for our digital world. So Congress is working on Antitrust 2.0, with a legislative package that would address Big Tech’s habit of buying the competition, their monopolistic platforms, and their restrictions on consumer data portability. Significant parts are still a long way from passage, but still … progress.

Ms. Khan will get more resources as well. Biden has proposed an 11% funding increase to the FTC, boosting its spending from $351 million to $390 million. The president’s proposal will also see the FTC increase its headcount to 1,250 — its largest staff since it was eviscerated in the early 1980s. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division will receive a budget increase of 10%.

Galloway’s blog is always like a a breath of fresh air.

Is Biden’s appointment of a pioneering young lawyer bad news for big tech?

Answer: hopefully yes!

My column in yesterday’s Observer.

Arrayed on big screens before the members of the subcommittee are the four bosses of the aforementioned tech giants: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, then midway through his Star Trek makeover; Tim Cook of Apple, looking like the clean-living lad who never understood the locker-room jokes; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, wearing his trademark glued-on hairdo; and the Google boss, Sundar Pichai, every inch the scholarship boy who can’t understand why he’s been arrested by the Feds. And on the vast mahogany bench towering above these screened moguls sits David Cicilline, subcommittee chairman and the politician who has overseen the investigation.

To be honest, I was watching out of duty and with low expectations. All the previous congressional interrogations of Zuckerberg and co had alternated between political grandstanding and farce. I expected much the same from this encounter. And then I noticed a young woman wearing a black mask standing behind Cicilline. She looked vaguely familiar, but it took me a few moments before I twigged that she was Lina Khan. At which point I sat up and started taking notes.

I had been following her for years, ever since a paper she had published as a graduate student in the Yale Law Journal in January 2017…

The perfect number of hours to work every day? Five

From Wired:

Tower CEO Stephan Aarstol says he was startled by the results when the business adopted a five-hour working day in 2015. Staff worked from 8am to 1pm with no breaks and, because employees became so focused on maximising output in order to have the afternoons to themselves, turnover increased by 50 per cent.

“The warehouse guys were rolling their eyes when we first rolled this out, but the biggest gains were actually there,” he says. “It had taken them five minutes per package to ship before, but within a few weeks they had got that down to less than three minutes. They were doing stuff that real productivity experts would do. I told them they had a constraint and it forced them to creatively think.”

Rheingans CEO Lasse Rheingans says when he first floated the idea of compressed working with staff they came up with the idea of banning distractions like smartphones from their desks and minimising the use of “productivity killers like Slack”. The aim for Rheingans was to keep productivity constant but to give people more time off.

I really like that reference to Slack. I’ve never understood why people use it.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • Rocket Man Nice five-minute movie about Ky Michaelson. He’s a retired Hollywood stunt man who lived to tell the tale. Now builds rockets in his garage. He was the first civilian to successfully launch an amateur rocket into space in 2004. Link
  • Tim Hunkin: Secret life of the fax machine. Link
  •  Monty Python | The Royal Society For Putting Things On Top of Other Things Link
  • The Onion’s guide to modern Irish literature.  After reading its Bloomsday spoof the other day, Cormac McKenna sent me the link to a much more creative spoof they had done — this time on Samuel Beckett: “Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That May As Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play”.

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, Monday through Friday, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!