What we read this week (12 July)

Emulating brains to improve businesses, differing perspectives on what cryptography is, the story of urban planner Robert Moses, and Prism and The Californian Ideology.

Quote of the week

Digital communities are a perfect hallucinatory cocktail of hyper-tech building and idealised nature.

Sam Jacobs

Articles of the week

  • What the Digital Brains of the Future Might Be Like
    Alexis Madrigal interviews Jeff Hawkins, entrepreneur and neuroscience buff, on his new company Grok and how to help businesses automate some of their processes by emulating the human brain.
  • Is Cryptography Engineering or Science?
    Bruce Schneier on two conceptions of cryptography – the theoretical, mathematical component in which cryptographic algorithms are developed, and the implementation of these algorithms as usable products. As he sees it, “the world needs security engineers even more than it needs cryptographers. We’re great at mathematically secure cryptography, and terrible at using those tools to engineer secure systems.”
  • In the footsteps of Robert Moses
    On a road trip and discovering the work and impact of Robert Moses, the power-hungry “quasi-dictator” of New York City urban planning from the Great Depression to the post-WWII years.
  • “Prism is the dark side of design thinking”
    Sam Jacobs on design thinking’s effects on digital culture, and our understanding of public and private, looking in particular at Prism as an example of the inversion of what the openness of digital culture set out to accomplish.
  • The Californian Ideology
    We stumbled upon this essay by English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron of the University of Westminster via Sam Jacob’s article. Written in 1995, it’s a description of the thinking of Silicon Valley as “a fatalistic vision of the natural and inevitable triumph of the hi-tech free market – a vision which is blind to racism, poverty and environmental degradation and which has no time to debate alternatives.” More than 20 years later, the analysis seems more on point then ever.

Week 142 – Working in Times of Strangeness

It’s an essential part of building a business for the 21st century to deal with the “strangeness” of our times.

We featured this quote in some of our presentations:

You can’t help but realize, that the next 10-to-40 years are going to be really strange. Totally strange. And… that rate of strangeness seems is going to get exponentially more strange. And the problem we have right now is the people that are in charge of this stuff don’t understand a) how strange it’s going to be, or b) the form of the strangeness itself.

Ben Hammersley

And then we have days like yesterday that are best summed up this way:

Twitter today reads like a @GreatDismal novel in realtime, and reality unfolds like a Jason Bourne plot in realspace #EdwardSnowden

– Juha van ‘t Zelfde (@juhavantzelfde) June 23, 2013

I find myself going back and forth between different layers in my everyday life these days. As we mentioned in previous weeks, work is plenty. Currently, our greatest challenge is how to get all those projects done. Then I open my Twitter app and a completely different world opens up in which our worst apprehensions are coming true. The US and UK governments have found ways to track and collect our complete digital communications and are chasing the guy who told us around the world.

So there are tons of work and tons of things to think about and I’m asking myself how to behave in a situation like this. Do I just close all input channels, put on some music and drown myself in work to wait and see what will come of it all? Do I immerse myself in every little news item that emerges, join and start endless conversation about what this means and where it will take us? Should I move all our company data away from any of those US platforms that are involved in PRISM or would that make our work impossible? What role should privacy and data security play in my consulting work? This is but a fraction of the questions lingering at the fringes of our minds at the moment.

There are no easy answers these days and we embrace that. It’s an essential part of building a business for the 21st century to deal with the “strangeness” of our times. To immerse and retract, to drown and zoom out, to adapt and resist. We move back and forth to keep the balance and to avoid the two extremes we fear the most: lethargy and panic. Practically, this means that we prepare a workshop or develop a strategy deck in the morning and write an essay on the problem of the commercialization of technology in the afternoon.

What we’re finding right now to be most important for us is to organize ourselves even more then before. With so much work, input and conversations going on, we need fixed points to regroup and re-plan. Inspired by the agile development system, we’ve started doing quick stand-up meetings in the morning and the afternoon to quickly discuss what each one of us is working on in the next hours. This also helps our minds to keep on track and to feel more accountable for how we spend our days. It’s just one very practical tool to keep organized.

I don’t know exactly why this is like that, but somehow all the “strangeness” happening around us is invigorating. Everything is uncertain, nothing is determined. I feel extremely privileged to be in a position where this is a blessing, not a curse. How dare I not make a move.

So, how do you adapt your work in times of strangeness?