Nintendo’s Philosophy: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology

“…’withered’ technology usually means mature technology. It is
much easier for companies to create best-selling products by using mature technology as this kind of technologies are abundant, well-understood and cheap. Mature technologies are often studied extensively by people, and it is easy to experiment with or make further innovations. Even if the technology might be obsolete, it is applicable as long as used appropriately.”

—Weisi Han, “Nintendo’s Philosophy: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology.” Medium.com. December 6, 2017.

Instantly recognized this as my philosophy as well. I mostly buy used items, from clothing to computers. It means I never pay retail, which lowers the cost of failure if you are trying to do something new.

It’s much easier to install a custom operating system on a phone or computer when you paid <$100 than when you paid >$1,000.

It also gets you in a frame of mind where you can think differently about technologies you want to learn. For example, I’m more interested in learning Common Lisp because it’s a mature technology in a way that Julia is not. Mature languages have libraries, standards and other elements that newer languages don’t.

In short, accepting limitations and using different tools than others can be a source of creativity and can change your focus.

David Byrne on Love – Believer Magazine

“Love, it seems to me, is a joyous self-deception, practiced by two
people at the same time. No one is as wonderful as the object of one’s love appears to be, and yet who among us would trade that illusion for the truth? Being an illusion, it is not real, but despite not being something we can see or touch, feelings are as real as any physical object. So in that sense, love is absolutely real. Real and not real at the same time. Like some kind of quantum physics puzzle, it binds the universe.”

—David Byrne, “David Byrne in Conversation with David Byrne.” The Believer. August 1, 2019.

The Mutable Web

…After a little research, I found two solutions to this problem [of changing a website’s code locally and having those changes persist across browser sessions.]

The first is to use a browser extension. You could make one yourself, but that’s a little too involved for what I’m trying to do, so I turned to an extension called Stylus3. One way to use Stylus is to search https://userstyles.org for the website in question and find a theme you like. Alternatively, you can create new stylesheets right in the browser. You can apply them to specific pages, entire domains, or every site you visit.

The second method is to use web browsers’ native ability to apply custom stylesheets to web pages. In Chrome the feature is called Local Overrides, while in Firefox it’s the Style Editor. In Chrome, you can specify a directory on your filesystem to save the changes you make in dev tools and it will load that stylesheet the next time you visit the site, which is more or less how I think things should work, but for various reasons I don’t use Chrome. Firefox’s system seems to be geared toward developing your own website rather than overriding existing websites, which is cool but doesn’t really work for my use case.”

-Dylan, “The Mutable Web.” simulacrum.party. July 23, 2019

Like RSS, this is about taking more control of your experience of content online. Of course, there are styles that can be used to change The New York Times.

Taking Control of Content and Breaking Algorithms With RSS

“Engagement isn’t a form of serendipity through algorithmically personalized feeds; it’s the repeated satisfaction of Present You with your myopically current loves and interests, at the expense of Future You, who will want new curiosities, hobbies, and experiences.”

—Dan Cohen. “Engagement Is the Enemy of Serendipity.” DanCohen.org. July 23, 2019.

In the post above, Dan Cohen writes about how The New York Times (NYT) changed their iPad app and how it ruined his experience of their content. He then talks about how algorithmic feeds undermine serendipity and the evolution of the self. Valid complaints and correct to the point of cliché, but what is to be done about it?

There are often options. If you read the NYT, you don’t have to use their app or their website and be annoyed. What should you do instead?

Newspaper RSS Feeds

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) provides a list of posts from a particular website. For example, here’s the RSS for the Top Stories from the NYT. Want to browse by section? There’s RSS feeds for sections as well.

Most newspaper services and newspapers provide RSS. Reuters, The Guardian, Der Spiegel in English, Times of India, Le Monde in English, Jerusalem Post, China Daily, The Age, The Japan Times, the Financial Times and of course, The BBC are all good examples.

Given these options, why would you want to use a single newspaper’s app, particularly one that is annoying you? There’s a whole world of options. You can select each yourself, and they all inter-leaf in the display based on time (or you can sort it by a different method), which facilitates serendipity.

How Does It Work?

To use RSS feeds, you need an RSS reader. There are many. Just yesterday, for instance, someone accessed this website using Inoreader. I’ve never heard of it. Feedly is probably the RSS reader most commonly used. I use Nextcloud News. This is what Nextcloud News looks like on a computer:

This is the display in the mobile app:

Getting Beyond the News

You can use RSS to replace the WordPress Reader. For example, if you wanted to subscribe to the RSS feed for this website, you’d need to add this url to your RSS reader:

https://cafebedouin.org/feed

Add /feed to the main site url to any WordPress site, and you can add it to your Reader. Most other blog websites have a standard formula, e.g.:

RSS is also used for other forms of media. For example, it’s used extensively in delivering podcasts. The BBC’s World Service is just one of many podcasts they offer with an RSS feed. Every NPR podcast has an RSS feed. Most podcasts provide a feed either from their website or one of the many podcast aggregators.

Why Haven’t I Heard of This Before?

Content providers and aggregators do not like RSS. You’ll frequently hear the claim that usage is declining. The fact is that it’s harder to track usage and monetize content delivered through RSS. The user has much more control over what they see and in what context. As you can see above, this website is thrown in right next to Reuters, Mother Jones, and TheHill.com with little to differentiate them when I look at my feeds through Nextcloud News. Then, there’s this when I look in on a Reuter’s article:

There’s no need to click in to the Reuter’s website and read the article. There’s no advertising, and Reuter’s only knows my RSS reader pulled the feed. They don’t know whether I looked at this article or not.

RSS does not just challenge the business model of content providers like the NYT. It’s does the same for content aggregators. Google, for example, launched Google News in September 2002, and it became an official product in January 2006. Google Reader, Google’s RSS reader, was launched in October 2005, became an official product in September 2007 and was discontinued in July 2013.

The speculation, at the time, was that Google was trying to drive sharing of information through their now-defunct Google+ social media network. But, there’s an easier explanation. Google News makes Google money. Google Reader didn’t, even though Google Reader’s users loved it.

In the same way, the NYT wants people to use their apps and to subscribe to their services. Google wants you to click on their links and not RSS links direct to the article, so they can get credit for the referral. So, the poor user experience that makes them money is invested in and the better user experience that doesn’t make them money is discontinued because usage is “declining.”

Conclusion

Using an RSS feed reader is often better than using a dedicated website or application by a single content provider. By using and demanding these services, we are able to take more control over selecting what we see from algorithms and we cut down on surveillance capitalism making money by tracking us.

Many newsletters are moving to a model where there are some public posts, and then there are some posts that are only available to subscribers. This model also works for RSS feeds. The Browser, for instance, has a RSS feed for subscribers. Personally, I’d like newsletters to move over to the RSS format, so I could read them in my reader rather than having them sit in my email inbox, many of them without a text only option.

But, right now, the incentives are for single content provider, single site based on surveillance capitalism. You can choose differently. If you don’t like RSS, maybe consider that the web is mutable and it is possible to change it to your liking. At the very least, if you find a website or an application by someone annoying, stop using it and do something else.

The Plastic Industry’s Fight to Keep Polluting the World

“A Bag’s Life is just one small part of a massive, industry-led effort now underway to suppress meaningful efforts to reduce plastic waste while keeping the idea of recycling alive. The reality of plastics recycling? It’s pretty much already dead. In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world. And as for those plastic shopping bags the kids were hoping to contain: Less than 1 percent of the tens of billions of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are recycled…

…A 2018 study found that 93 percent of bottled water samples contained microplastics. While all the big brands tested positive for microplastics, the worst was Nestlé Pure Life, which claims that its water ‘goes through a 12-step quality process, so you can trust every drop.’…

…One study found that half of recycled plastics in India contained a flame retardant associated with neurological, reproductive, and developmental harms.”

—Sharon Lerner, “The Plastic Industry’s Fight to Keep Polluting the World.” The Intercept. July 20, 2019.

You know, in case you need a little nightmare fuel.

Commodified Emotions as Entertainment

“As with Fear Factor nearly two decades ago, it’s worth asking
what exactly what is being watched and why? It seemed to me then, and still does, that we are watching human beings whose emotions are extracted and commodified for our entertainment. I would still argue, as I did then, that this is dehumanizing, both for the participant and for the viewer (the consent of either notwithstanding). I’d extend this point not only to reality television, but to each of the myriad ways we are now enabled to watch one another, with or without the consent of the watched. In my view, this calls for the renewal of a new sort of chastened vision, one which would turn away from spectacle of intimate life extracted and commodified.”

—L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society, No. 20. July 27, 2019.

I’ve been subscribing to a lot of newsletters lately. The Convivial Society, after reading only one issue, seems worth a mention.

Mind-Bending “Quantum Darwinism” Theory Passes Experimental Tests

“The main idea of quantum Darwinism is that we almost never do any direct measurement on anything,” Zurek told The Foundational Questions Institute in 2008. “[The environment] is like a big advertising billboard, which floats multiple copies of the information about our universe all over the place.”

—Kristen Houser, “Mind-Bending ‘Quantum Darwinism’ Theory Passes Experimental Tests.” Futurism. July 24, 2019

Or, see the Wikipedia page on Quantum Darwinism.

The Resulting Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions – Issue 55: Trust – Nautilus

“In life, it’s usually even more complicated because in most real decisions we haven’t examined the coin. We don’t know if it is a fair coin, if it has two sides with a heads and tails on it and is weighted properly.

That’s the hidden information problem. We can’t see everything. We haven’t experienced everything. We know the facts that we know, but there may be facts that we don’t know. Then the job of the decider is to reduce the uncertainty as much as they possibly can, but to understand that they’re always working within a range and they have limited control over how things turn out on any given try.”

—Stuart Firestein, “The Resulting Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions.” Nautilus. Issue 55.

Safety or Stalker App?

“…Life360, a location-sharing app aimed at families, is apparently ruining the lives of teenagers all across the United States…Parents can now remotely check their child’s browsing histories and social media accounts, watch their movements via motion-sensing cameras, and track everywhere they go with location-sharing apps. In a Pew Research Center study last year, 58 percent of US parents said they sometimes or often look at their teenager’s messages, call logs, and the websites they visit. In a separate study from 2016, 16 percent said they used location-sharing apps.”

—Louise Matsakis, “On TikTok, Teens Meme Life360, the Safety App Ruining Their Summer.” Wired. July 12, 2019.

Contrast the features of Life360 with this report from The Citizen Lab on Stalkerware:

“Persons who engage in technology-facilitated violence, abuse, and harassment sometimes install spyware on a targeted person’s mobile phone. Spyware has a wide range of capabilities, including pervasive monitoring of text and chat messages, recording phone logs, tracking social media posts, logging website visits, activating a GPS system, registering keystrokes, and even activating phones’ microphones and cameras, as well as sometimes blocking incoming phone calls. These capabilities can afford dramatic powers and control over an individual’s everyday life. And when this software is used abusively, it can operate as a predator in a person’s pocket, magnifying the pervasive surveillance of the spyware operator.”

Christopher Parsons, Adam Molnar, et al. “The Predator in Your Pocket A Multidisciplinary Assessment of the Stalkerware Application Industry.” Citizen Lab. June 12, 2019.

Open question: What distinguishes a “safety app” from a “stalking app,” the presumably benign intentions of parents? What happens to children that grow up in this environment? Will they go on to submit to this kind of surveillance from their domestic partners and spouses? What of the underlying economics that are reporting all your activity in order to refine automotive insurance pricing?

If you think through the implications, surveillance capitalism is often sold as a “safety” feature, but the economics are driven by other considerations. Further, the impact on human flourishing and autonomy are rarely understood and often significant. These developments are not good for anyone other than the people providing the app. Don’t be fooled.