The Long View

Last week’s newsletter took a look at shifting sentiments toward emerging tech and resulting actions. While these cultural shifts are important to keep an eye on, history also tells us that fear of technological advancement isn't new. 

I recently came across the Pessimist Archive in Kevin Kelly’s weekly Recomendo newsletter (which I highly recommend). The Archive looks at "reactions to old things when they were new" on both a podcast and Twitter stream. Combing through historical reports and newspapers, it finds old warnings about the "horrors" of inventions including cars, light bulbs and bicycles. Here's a taste:

1865: An article titled 'THE MODERN YOUTH' complained kids were reading newspapers in class rather than listening to teachers: “They read the law and police reports under their desks when they ought to be learning their lessons.”

1896: Do Bicycles Hurt Books—Publishers Discuss the Effect of Wheeling on their Trade.

1897: Report says women who ride bikes leads to them torturing pets.

1906: Boys are Ruined: Dime Novels Cause Lads to Murder.

1907: Horse drawn cab drivers of London freak out about motor cabs.

1907: Farmers Arm for Autoists, Say They Will Shoot Drivers Who Do Not Stop When Signaled.

1929: Death Strikes Bird in Air; Radio Currents Suspected.

1929: Telephone Ear is a New Malady to Plague the Public.

1946: Kids these days use "radio as a means of emotional overstimulation or as a retreat into a shadow world of reality.”
From Mary Meeker's 2019 Internet Trends Report. More on this in today's Deep Take.
I strongly suggest checking out the rest. While it's fun to read about the dangers of "devil wagons" and "bicycle eye," many of the less blatantly absurd headlines are eerily familiar. The ideas that modern technology will replace human jobs, distract from reality or ruin the next generation have been recycled decade after decade. 

These end-of-the-world claims may seem ridiculous now, but are invaluable in putting today's distrust over tech into perspective. According to Meeker's report, 88% of us in the United States believe the Internet has been mostly good for us personally, and 70% believe it's mostly good for society.

The news has long presented unfamiliar ideas colored by fear. Taking the long view can help when trying to read the tea leaves. 
Chris Perry 

P.S. In case you missed it, Media Genius is the new name for the newsletter. It better reflects how the content within has evolved and what you can expect to see as the worlds of artificial intelligence and media come together at a breakneck speed.  

As always, if you find this newsletter valuable I would be grateful if you encouraged others to sign up by directing them here.
What We're Reading
Media Forensics
The Meaning of the Word “Normal”
By Tom Whyman, The Outline  

We are constantly told that we live in uncertain, almost unprecedented times — the age of President Trump, the rise of populism and the alt-right, of Brexit and “fake news.” But as Walter Benjamin notes in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.

Content Experience
Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online
By Gretchen McCulloch, Wired

One of the nominees for the Hugo Awards this year is Archive of Our Own. The fanfiction archive contains nearly 5 million fanworks—about the size of the English Wikipedia, and several years younger. At a time when we're trying to figure out how to make the internet livable for humans, the site's unique filtering process is something that the rest of tech could learn from.

Synthetic Content
Six Lessons from my Deepfakes Research at Stanford
By Tom Van de Weghe,  Medium

While final solutions to combating deepfakes are still far off, certain aspects about combating these fake videos are becoming clear. Deepfakes are easier to create than ever before, even with just a single image, and the detection solution will require a combination of both technology and human skills. 

Media Forensics
The Media Has a Big Problem, Reuters Institute Says: Who Will Pay for the News?
By Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its annual Digital News Report, which finds that most people are not willing to pay for online news. Even those who do pay often suffer “subscription fatigue” from being asked to pay for so many different subscriptions. Many will opt for films or music rather than pay for news, and some media companies will fail.

Platform Dominance
Confessions of a Reddit 'Karma Whore'
By Brian Burlage
, Motherboard

Viral points on Reddit, known as karma, are earned by sharing a post or making a comment that gets upvoted. Having a lot of karma is proof that you can repeatedly impress scores of people on a site as huge as Reddit, but usually involves stealing content and hacking attention as a primary motivation for doing so.

Media Forensics
The Making of a YouTube Radical
By Kevin Roose, The New York Times

YouTube's recommendation algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site. Some worry the technology has inadvertently created a dangerous on-ramp to extremism by combining two things: a business model that rewards provocative videos with exposure and advertising dollars, and an algorithm that guides users down personalized paths meant to keep them glued to their screens.

Platform Dominance
The Groups Where Thousands of Facebook Users Ask for Money
By Taylor Lorenz, The Atlantic
While larger sites such as GoFundMe have become popular for raising funds for large expenses such as medical bills, there is no one-stop platform to crowdfund just a few dollars. But now thousands of people are turning to Facebook groups to plead for the help they need, from people who are essentially strangers online.
Content Experience
Steven Spielberg Writing Horror Series for Quibi That You Can Only Watch at Night
By Michael Schneider, Variety

Steven Spielberg is penning a horror series for Quibi that users will only be able to see when their phone knows it’s dark outside. A clock will appear on phones, ticking down until sun sets in the user's area, until it’s completely gone. Then the clock starts ticking again to when the sun comes back up — and the show will disappear until the next night.

Emerging Technology
A Scarily Simple New Way to Create Fake Videos
By James Vincent, The Verge

In the latest example of deepfake technology, researchers have shown off new software that uses machine learning to let users edit the text transcript of a video to add, delete, or change the words coming right out of somebody’s mouth.

Deep Take
Here’s Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report
By Kate Clark, TechCrunch
The Internet Trends Report — everyone’s favorite slide deck — is back. Bond Capital founder and former Kleiner Perkins general partner Mary Meeker made her presentation on stage at Vox/Recode’s Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona on Tuesday.
Copyright © 2019 Weber Shandwick

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