Links: September 2017

Move Fast and Break Everything

John Battelle writes about the intense regulatory headache posed by Google and Facebook:

At stake is not only the fundamental advertising models that built our most valuable tech companies, but also the essential forces and presumptions driving our system of democratic capitalism.

It’s going to be very complicated.

Do You Masturbate?

Rachel Sherman writes about a complex taboo: talking about wealth.

She conducted interviews that, predictably, produced some funny quotes.

The stigma of wealth showed up in my interviews first in literal silences about money. When I asked one very wealthy stay-at-home mother what her family’s assets were, she was taken aback. “No one’s ever asked me that, honestly,” she said. “No one asks that question. It’s up there with, like, ‘Do you masturbate?’”

She argues that this anxiety of affluence is socially noxious.

By not mentioning money, my interviewees follow a seemingly neutral social norm that frowns on such talk. But this norm is one of the ways in which privileged people can obscure both their advantages and their conflicts about these advantages.

It encourages a moving of the moral goal posts.

When we evaluate people’s moral worth on the basis of where and how they live and work, we reinforce the idea that what matters is what people do, not what they have. With every such judgment, we reproduce a system in which being astronomically wealthy is acceptable as long as wealthy people are morally good.

She suggests that we should move the stadium.

We should talk not about the moral worth of individuals but about the moral worth of particular social arrangements. Is the society we want one in which it is acceptable for some people to have tens of millions or billions of dollars as long as they are hardworking, generous, not materialistic and down to earth? Or should there be some other moral rubric, that would strive for a society in which such high levels of inequality were morally unacceptable, regardless of how nice or moderate its beneficiaries are?

White Addicts and Black Criminals

There’s significant national attention on the opioid crisis.

Ekow N Yankah had something important to say last year. His op-ed is resonant.

It is hard to describe the bittersweet sting that many African-Americans feel witnessing this national embrace of addicts.[…] White heroin addicts get overdose treatment, rehabilitation and reincorporation, a system that will be there for them […]. Black drug users got jail cells and “Just Say No.”

The difference in the national response is staggering, but sadly, unsurprising.

No sane community faced with addiction and crime would invite or acquiesce to brutal policing as their fate, and no moral community would impose it as a primary response. We do not have to wait until a problem has a white face to answer with humanity.

…or unity.

Tragic Comedy

Every other day, I hear about yet another hardworking person contributing to society. This frightens me, because as someone who was born in this country I know that we can only withstand so many decent, helpful people entering our borders before we are simply overrun with contributors to society.

Consider The Janitor

Neil Irwin tells a compelling story of modern economic inequality. The protagonists are two janitors.

Gail Evans and Marta Ramos have one thing in common: They have each cleaned offices for one of the most innovative, profitable and all-around successful companies in the United States.[…] They both spent a lot of time cleaning floors. The difference is, for Ms. Ramos, that work is also a ceiling.

Of course, it’s not just about janitors.

“It’s great if you’re a software engineer. If you’re educated, you’re in command.” But in the 21st-century economy, many millions of workers find themselves excluded from that select group. Rather than being treated as assets that companies seek to invest in, they have become costs to be minimized.

In my mind, the villain is educational inequity.

Silicon Valley Did Not Ruin Journalism

This is a great piece. I encourage you to read every word.

Unfortunately, it is totally wrong.

The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller.

In fact, it is Journalism that is small-minded.

Data have turned journalism into a commodity, something to be marketed, tested, calibrated. Perhaps people in the media have always thought this way. But if that impulse existed, it was at least buffered. Journalism’s leaders were vigilant about separating the church of editorial from the secular concerns of business. We can now see the cause for fanaticism about building such a thick wall between the two.

The preciousness with which Journalism understands itself is rather ironic. That “thick wall” was a privilege bestowed by a great business model. If they want to keep the wall in the Internet world, they need a new business model.

Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter.

Silicon Valley did not take over Journalism.

Journalism mistook Silicon Valley.

Generation IG

Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor and author, paints a grim portrait of modern teenage life.

So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.

One of her remarkably self-aware subjects says some haunting things.

She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Twenge provides some interesting graphs and statistics. Here’s one I found alarming.

Like this one, many of the statistics have an inflection point around 2011.

What happened in 2011? It was the first year of Instagram.

Notably, the first few years of the iPhone, before mobile-focused social media, did not coincide with significant changes in behavior.

To me, mobile computing and social networking are a poisonous cocktail. I think most people, including me, have noticed some of the effects first-hand. But unlike this generation, most of us did not begin our social lives under the influence. Will there be a hangover?