The Soothing Promise of Our Own Artisanal Internet

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In September, for instance, Nicole Wong, a veteran of Google and Twitter, said it might be time for a “slow food movement for the internet,” reminiscing about the early 2000s, when algorithms focused on showing users useful information rather than whatever keeps people on the platform. Behavioral advertising is to blame for “this crazy environment that we’re in now,” she told Recode.

For consumers, this means forgoing convenience to control your ingredients: Read newsletters instead of News Feeds. Fall back to private group chats. Put the person back in personalization. Revert to reverse chron. Avoid virality. Buy your own server. Start a blog. Embrace anonymity. Own your own domain. Spend time on federated social networks rather than centralized ones. And when a big story breaks, consider saving your appetite for the slow-cooked, room-temp take.

“I don’t know what the Michael Pollan version would be: Eat independent sites, mostly not Facebook?” says Glitch CEO Anil Dash…

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The Upside to Technology? It’s Personal

Illustration: Anthony Foronda

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In a sense, that’s what technology has always done. That’s true with planes, trains and automobiles. And that’s true with smartphones, social networks and search engines. They, and other technologies, connect us to people who are not with us, geographically or physically, and make us feel a little less alone in this big confusing world.

…We do so through the digital footprints left behind on Facebook and Twitter, the photos on our smartphones, and all the morsels scooped up by search engines. Technology allows us to connect.

So does the good outweigh the bad? For me, yes. And I think it will in the future too, as newer technologies force us to grapple with even bigger ethical quandaries.

Take driverless cars, which I believe will have a huge, unknowable impact on society. When that technology becomes widely adopted — some say this will happen in two years; others say 20 — many will lament the negatives. Pizza delivery guys, truckers, taxi drivers and countless others could lose their jobs. Hackers and terrorists may turn driverless cars into weapons. Teenagers everywhere will no longer experience the joy of getting a driver’s license.

And yet, there will be many positives as well. Roads may be converted into parks. Finding parking may become a thing of the past (as will parking tickets). Driving time may be reclaimed for more productive or enjoyable activities, like watching movies, exercising or sleeping.

How This Tokyo Bookstore Made Me Fall Back In Love With Print

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The longer I spent roaming the stacks, the more I became convinced that this store holds the key to understanding that deeper connection. I also felt like I was falling back in love with the printed word myself, which came as something of a shock — I’m a self-confessed, early-adopting, SIM card-swapping travel geek, currently on my seventh Kindle. This was not a nostalgic, Luddite moment, but a response to five specific principles that became increasingly clear to me as I wandered, browsed, read, and reflected.

Thinking of the store as a whole, and the way in which volumes of all kinds are beautifully displayed throughout, made me realize something else I’d been missing. The spine and cover designs of books, which used to be the predominant decoration of most of my friends’ apartments, offer a different kind of solace than that which comes from knowing that everything you’ve read lives somewhere in the cloud. Covers and spines are not just decorative items; they are external, tangible reminders of something that may have transformed you internally, emotionally, intellectually. To be able to call them up on your iPad simply isn’t the same as having them surround you — constantly reminding you, when you glimpse them, of the multitudes contained within each one.

The interaction reminded me of the extent to which, in doing research either for fun or for work, I’ve moved from seeking human guidance to doing all the digging myself, online. Obviously there are huge advantages to the powerful digital tools now at our disposal. But speaking with Tsutaya’s expert reminded me just how important — and enjoyable — it is to add a human perspective. He made connections between ideas I mentioned and stories he’d read in older periodicals (which the store still stocked).

 

Six Degrees of Separation? Facebook Finds a Smaller Number

Pedestrians who passed by One World Trade Center in 2015 are more closely linked than once thought, according to Facebook. The social media giant says its users in the United States are connected by an average of 3.46 people. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times

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…According to Facebook, depending on how you want to do the counting, the true number, referring to intermediaries or to links, is either 3.57 or 4.57 degrees of separation…

The new statistic is as much a testament to the growing popularity of Facebook as it is to a steadily shrinking human social world. The calculation includes only connections between the network’s 1.59 billion users, ignoring the approximately 5.7 billion other humans who have yet to set up accounts. (In July, the United Nations estimated that the current world population to be 7.3 billion.)

If you are logged into Facebook, the blog post will tell you your average degree of separation “from everyone.” The number is an estimate derived from statistical algorithms and not, as it seems, an intrusive estimate of the reach of your friends and family. According to the post, Facebook users in the United States are connected by an average of 3.46 people.

It placed my personal degree of connections at 3.2, below average but nowhere close to the reach of Sheryl Sandberg, who, the post says, is separated from everyone by only 2.92 degrees.