Another Monday, Another Naive Weekly - Curated stories on Technology and Internet Culture.
19 years ago Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone. The culmination of a longer research into how Americans slowly, but steadily has lost spaces and places for social interaction since the 1950s.
The bookcover shows a person bowling alone, but it might as well have shown people sitting in their livingroom gazing passively into the televisions, completely disengaged from their local neighbourhood outside of their windows.
In one of the recent 99% Invisible podcast episodes, Eric Klinenberg describes how, what Putnam described as dystopia almost sounds like utopia today. The image of a family sitting together on the couch with everyone engaged in the same film with no second or third screen is a rarity, almost a mirage.
The title of the podcast episode is Palaces for People. I think it is a beautiful title. It is also a beautiful idea to create palaces for people. Palaces with high-ceiling. Palaces of beauty. Palaces for social interaction.
In the podcast Eric argues that social interaction is a deep, universal human need. With proper social infrastructure, societies can help fight inequality, polarization and the decline of civic life that Putnam described in Bowling Alone.
One proxy of a good social infrastructure is the feeling of ownership. When you see a broken window it is a sign that the building is abandoned and that no one feels ownership. The broken window invites people passing by to treat the place accordingly; with no care.
The past few years our digital feeds have moved from being controlled by ourselves to increasingly being constructed by algorithms. Most obvious was this development when Twitter went away from the reverse-chronological feed to the algorithmic feed.
In many ways it makes sense that our feeds are becoming algorithmic. As we follow more people and as companies increasingly produce content for our feeds, we’d be overwhelmed with the quantity if it wasn’t filtered.
However, when I listened to Eric talk about social infrastructure, I couldn’t stop wondering if the seemingly innocent move from everything to highlights would influence our feeling of ownership.
When I am presented everything, it is up to me to ensure that everything is desirable. It is up to me to clean the feed and find an amount content that I am capable of digesting and adds value to my day.
When my feed is algorithmic, I rely on an artificial Marie Kondo to come and clean up my mess. At first it is pleasant to enter an optimized feed, but after a while it all ends up looking the same.
What this has to do with Bowling Alone I still don’t know.
Cities of the Internet
Eric Klinenberg mainly talks about our social infrastructure in physical spaces. Of course I think social infrastructure is key in the digital spaces too. Last week I came across a few interviews with the people in charge of building the digital social infrastructure.
Last year the two founders of Instagram left the company. Recently this interview with Instagram’s new Head of Product was published on Medium. I found it fascinating how much Vishal emphasizes commerce; from talking about Instagram as a shopping mall to highlighting commerce as a much larger part of GDP than marketing.
The interview took me roughly 20 minutes to read, yet only once did the word ‘photo’ occur. That is still one more mention than ‘community’ and ‘social’.
This interview mainly focuses on the YouTube recommendation engine and how/whether it fuels radicalization. I was surprised to learn that 70% of total time spend on YouTube comes from the recommendation engine and think Neal addresses the concerns of radicalization well.
With more than 2 billion people using YouTube and an endless stream of videos being posted, it is hard to see how YouTube would be useful without some algorithmic recommendation - yet the algorithms clearly need improvement.
‘Jack Dorsey Has No Clue What He Wants’. That is the title of this long interview with the Twitter CEO and co-founder. I find the title rather frustrating. Reading the interview it is true that Jack provides more questions than answers, but I don’t necessarily see that as negative. Having spent quite some time reading Greek philosophy, I value the ‘I know that I know nothing’ mantra.
Five Stories on Technology and Internet Culture
I’m continuously impressed with the product decision of the video-streaming website Stream. More than most other platforms in the social-product space, they seem to take their community seriously, implementing user-generated hacks into the core product.
Last year Tim Cook announced that Apple would change strategy, moving away form being a product company to a service company. We saw the impact of this move at last week’s Apple event. Apple announced three new subscription products: Apple TV+, Apple News+ and Apple Arcade. These services are added to the family already including Apple Music, Apple Care and iStorage, meaning it is soon possible to pay Apple more than $50/month in subscriptions.
For the first time American’s who doesn’t have any religious affiliation is now the majority. Few desires are truly universal, but I do think the spiritual gap is being filled by marketers, movements and doctors.
… and this interview with her about how to do nothing is nothing but great. What is the length of your train of thought?
Another article about the growing awareness of the downsides to social media. What makes this one worth reading is the on-point list of how people are changing their habits. I agree with reading newsletters instead of news feeds. Fall back to private group chats. Put the person back in personalization. Revert to reverse chron. Avoid virality…
Some housekeeping: PewDiePie is no longer the most subscribed YouTube channel. Article 13 passed (FFS!). Severin published another amazing podcast. New York Times wrote a nice article about the area where we are opening a 280sqm office. And sorry if the introduction today was all over the place, my mind was elsewhere this past week and I still lack the clarity to put the digital social infrastructure thoughts into words.