Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #6

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week. Social issues and technology; a procedurally generated video game makes a big splash at E3; a surprisingly insightful review of a web series; and an autobiographical critique of Modernism. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

People, Not Data: On disdain and empathy in Civic Tech

“I feel awkward and ashamed to know the relative sizes of all 400 Sci-Fi starships, but I barely have a clue how our homeless shelters or prisons work.” Jake Solomon's Code for America colleague Rebecca Ackerman signed up for food stamps in San Francisco (she declined the money) and they put together a timeline of the paperwork involved. They also wrote instructions on how to create your own timeline using TimelineJS and Google Docs). In this manifesto for more empathetic communication between government agencies and their clients, Solomon laments having the technology but lacking the will to build tools with users in mind rather than (or in addition to) fulfilling legal requirements.

Similar ideas I read around the same time: It's Not You, It's The System, San Francisco’s (In)Visible Class War.

Welcome back to No Man’s Sky

Since “playing” (more like “experiencing”) Proteus, where one visits an 8-bit island unique to each time someone plays the game, I’ve wanted something just a little closer to realism. No Man's Sky (no release date yet) will be that game: the interplanetary—nay, intergalactic—exploration game has the same generative elements as Proteus in more vivid detail. BBC's Dave Lee, reporting from E3, is impressed. In an interview with Rev3Games, Hello Games Managing Director Sean Murray was a little cagey on the generative aspects of the game. Unlike Proteus, the worlds, while created computationally using a random seed, every player sees the same universe. One can “discover” species and places, and despite overwhelming odds, it is evidently possible to run into others visiting the same place. Even though it won’t give me my very own, unique-to-me environment to go sightseeing, I still look forward to posting screenshots set to Björk lyrics, like I did with Proteus last year.

The comic intimacy of Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair's 'High Maintanence' web series

“We’re all bothered by this pesky itch; we all want to look but no one wants to be seen looking. High Maintenance is sweet salve for this irritation.” This review from Micah Hauser was a lot more insightful into the human condition than I would have given a review about a web series credit for. I first heard about High Maintenance, a series of short episdes pivoting around an independent narcotics-by-bicycle distributor, from a post on MetaFilter, and subsequently binge-watched all the previous episodes in one big gulp.

My favourites are “Helen”, about a lonely caretaker who orders everything online and calls over his drug dealer, only for company and “Heidi”, about a man in a new relationship who discovers The Guy knows her already. (Greta Lee, who you might remember as Soo Jin on HBO's Girls, plays the episode’s title character.)

Quote about the Home of the Future

This is a link to quote is from Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist Design in Our Time by Natalia Ilyin, pulled from the chapter in which Ilyin reflects on a visit to a Puget Sound company’s version of the Connected Home, which assumed “ongoing, inevitable entertainment, continual communication, constant surveillance.” I’m reading Ilyin’s autobiographical critique of Modernism and its desire to wipe out imperfections on the strength of Joe Clark's category of posts dedicated to the book. His initial review in 2007 has a few lengthy quotes.

Vancouverites can thank me for asking my local library to buy a copy of the book. Other quotes that caught my attention: a concluding thought about her stay at a house with straight lines and air conditioning and the relationship between objects and ideas.

Coincidentally, I read the chapter from which I drew this quote just before Denim & Steel linked to Wired's cautionary tale of the connected home. In Mat Honan’s fictional account, every appliance is hooked up to the Internet and, despite his best efforts, every one of his Internet of Things is compromised. This is the flip side of Ilyin’s dystopia. Instead of everything working as designed to the detriment of its owner, the home’s automated systems in Honan’s vision have all run amok.