China Extends Social Credit Scoring To Corporations

As a Technocracy, China must apply social engineering to everything, everyone, everywhere, and that includes corporations as well. Corporate punishment for perceived bad behavior could be devastating to western firms.

When Technocrats in the U.S. pick up on this idea, firms who don’t measure up on Sustainable Development, for instance, could be forced to comply by threats of being shunned out of business: permits could be denied or revoked, access to critical services could be shut off, etc. ⁃ TN Editor

Foreign businesses in China are ill-prepared for the tough sanctions and constant surveillance demanded by a social credit system to be rolled out this year, a European business group warned Wednesday.

Under this new system for ranking businesses, both foreign and domestic companies will be required to install surveillance cameras in their premises and share the data with the government.

They will also be rated on their tax record and compliance with a range of existing laws, including customs or environmental regulations.

Those who violate rules will be placed in “blacklists” and subjected to “immediate and severe punishments”, the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said in a report published Wednesday.

The sanctions are not limited to penalties but also include more frequent inspections, customs delays, not getting subsidies or tax rebates and public shaming, the report added.

“The corporate social credit system could mean life or death for individual companies,” said Jorg Wuttke, president of the EU chamber.

“The overwhelming absence of preparation by the European business community is deeply concerning.”

Each company operating in China is already being assessed against at least 300 different “specific rules” ranging from emissions levels to workplace safety and complaints against their products on e-commerce platforms, government documents showed.

“Beijing plans to combine all these different ratings into a single database by the end of the year,” said Bjorn Conrad, head of the Berlin-based consultancy Sinolytics that co-authored the report.

A single score could mean that a company is penalised across China for a slip by one of its regional branches.

Companies will also be rapped for working with suppliers or partners with bad social credit.

The system will also involve the unprecedented demand that all businesses have to install surveillance cameras in their premises and transfer huge amounts of data and footage to government officials.

“Dozens of companies have raised concerns about the sheer volume and depth of data that needs to be shared with the government,” said Conrad.

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Apps To Solve Homelessness Is ‘Seriously Disturbing’

Smart City Technocrats don’t have problems that can’t be fixed by throwing more technology fixes at them. In this particular ludicrous extreme that seeks to fix broken lives, critics can only respond, “people are not potholes.’ ⁃ TN Editor

San Francisco and Seattle residents are becoming increasingly familiar with an easy-to-remember phone number: 311.

As income inequality widens and tech companies continue to stake their claim in West Coast cities, a growing number of people are left without affordable housing. As a result, there’s been a surge in homeless encampments or “tent cities” that are often reported by local residents via 311.

Individuals without housing in San Francisco surged 17% from 2017 to 2019. The Seattle Times reports that King County, WA, home of Seattle, saw an 8% decrease in the county’s homelessness in 2019, but that estimate is doubted by a city council member and service providers. And despite the reported decrease, there was a 309-person uptick of people living in tents or unsanctioned encampments.

The encampments have stirred a back-and-forth debate among business owners, residents and local politicians about how to “deal with” the homelessness problem. True to form, many cities have proposed tech-oriented solutions using apps to locate homeless people and get individuals off the street. But many questions remain about whether or not the apps are a “smart” solution to homelessness, or a waste of government money.

To app or not to app

Apps allow community members to report encampments quickly and remotely, providing the ability to send a report directly to the corresponding city department. If someone experiencing homelessness is loitering at a local business or if they appear to need medical attention, all it takes is a few clicks to make the city aware.

San Francisco has touted their technology as a “lifeline,” a smart solution to a widespread problem, and a way to get help quickly for people living on the streets. Others have called it a “snitch” app.

Seattle’s “Find It, Fix It” app is a mobile version of the city’s 311 number. Residents can alert the city to public problems with a message including a location and description. Users submit issues by category, such as illegal dumping, potholes, dead animals, and “other inquiries,” allowing residents to report encampments, city spokeswoman Cyndi Wilder told Smart Cities Dive in an email interview.

“With ‘Find It, Fix It,’ reporting an issue is as easy as snapping a photo with your smartphone,” according to the City of Seattle Website.

However the app has faced particularly strong backlash. Homeless advocates and contracted service providers call Seattle’s effort “seriously disturbing,” and “at best, pointless.”

“Smart policy makers and elected officials should know better than to use technology for what might offer the illusion of a quick fix,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, in an email to Smart Cities Dive. The “Find It, Fix It” app has received similar public backlash as well as hundreds of false reports, which took city employees a full day to manually sort.

“Smart policy makers and elected officials should know better than to use technology for what might offer the illusion of a quick fix.”

There’s also not much evidence that the apps are successful beyond serving as a way to temporarily quell residents’ frustrations. And they aren’t always efficient for the city. It often takes the city weeks to respond to requests, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Homelessness Emergency Response team.

‘People are not potholes

Is there a way to create and roll out apps that help, not harm, people experiencing homelessness? Experts say it depends on the effectiveness of the homeless services system, city resources, the way the apps are explained to communities and the working relationship of various stakeholders.

Conflict between between the people experiencing homelessness, the homeless service providers and the city’s human services department is one reason why the app can’t work, according to Eisinger.

“Meaningful engagement takes time,” she said. “People are not potholes.”

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Ride Sharing Increases Traffic Crush At Airports

Ride sharing was promised to be the “sustainable” way to get people out of their cars and decrease traffic congestion and hence, pollution.  It has failed on all counts and now aggravates travelers even more. ⁃ TN Editor

Been at an airport lately? Then you’ve surely been in a backup on the roadways or had to jockey for a place in front of the terminal to pick up or drop off a traveler.

It is not your imagination: Traffic at the airports — even before you get inside — has gotten worse. The cause is not just the record number of travelers. It’s also the shift to ride sharing.

One frequent business traveler says her own experience bears this out.

“Airports were planned for taxi lines, not this other large vehicle transportation mode,” said Tanvi Gandham, a management consultant.

To address the crowding, airports are starting to make changes, adding express lanes for travelers without checked bags, separate areas for ride-share companies and larger off-site lots for waiting. At the same time, ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber are adding new capabilities to their apps, matching, for example, drivers who have just dropped off passengers with people waiting to be picked up, cutting down the time vehicles are circulating and waiting.

The explosion in ride-share demand has caught airports off-guard, “and operations staff are scrambling to address it,” said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for the Portland International Airport in Oregon. Ride-share pickups there, she said, have climbed to 106,000 from 48,000 in the last two years.

The congestion problem starts with this: More people are flying than ever. According to the International Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s trade group, the total number of airline passengers in North America will top one billion this year, an increase of about 19 percent from 2014. To accommodate the additional travelers, airports have been building new gates and terminals, and that construction is causing even more traffic problems.

In 2014, San Francisco International Airport became one of the first airports to license ride-sharing companies, and within a few years the traffic volumes “were untenable,” Doug Yakel, the airport’s spokesman, said. “Our goal is for the average speed through the area to be 15 miles per hour,” he said. “We regularly had stop-and-go traffic, and gridlock.”

The airport, which served almost 58 million travelers in 2018, compared with 47 million five years ago, is in a developed area without room to expand. With a freeway on one side and a bay on the other, the airport can’t increase its footprint, Mr. Yakel said.

Airport models showed that to achieve that goal of 15 m.p.h., the airport needed to remove 45 percent of ride-sharing cars from its roadways, Mr. Yakel said. A variety of ideas, including financial incentives for passengers to be dropped off in the main parking garage, didn’t yield the hoped-for traffic reductions. So the airport recently moved almost all ride-share passenger pickups to the top floor of that garage. The black car services and specially equipped vehicles for disabled people can still go to the terminal curbs.

Ms. Gandham, a frequent ride-share user, travels from the San Francisco airport almost every week and has been to 11 cities in the United States this year. She said the change at San Francisco’s airport has made catching a ride more efficient, though it does involve a longer walk from the gate. That ride-share area is better, she said, than many other airports’, which seem to repurpose “makeshift spaces that weren’t designed for pick up and drop off.” Sometimes, she said, “they’re just a couple of cordoned-off rows in a parking lot.”

Marcus Womack, head of global airport products at Uber, said the company had been working more closely with airports over the past two years to improve the experience for riders and drivers. “Neither one wants to spend time waiting,” he said.

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Autonomous Delivery Robots Coming To U.S College Campuses

Students rejoice! Pizza delivered to your door by robot that you don’t need to tip. Starship assumes that this will really work, but they face a mountain of problems, including vandalism. ⁃ TN Editor

The quintessential college experience of getting pizza delivered to your dorm room is about to get a high-tech upgrade. On Tuesday, Starship Technologies announced its plan to deploy thousands of its autonomous six-wheeled delivery robots on college campuses around the country over the next two years, after raising $40 million in Series A funding.

It’s a big step for the San Francisco (née Estonia)-based startup and its robots, which have been tested in over 100 cities in 20 different countries, traveled 350,000 miles, crossed 4 million streets, and just marked the milestone of completing its 100,000th delivery. College campuses, with their abundance of walking paths, well-defined boundaries, and smartphone-using, delivery-minded student bodies, are an obvious place for Starship to stake out the next phase of its business.

The company is working closely with the administrations of each college where it intends to launch. It started at George Mason University and Northern Arizona University, and it will be followed in September by the University of Pittsburgh and the Purdue University in Indiana. Starship plans to deploy 25–50 robots at each campus over the next 24 months, which means there could be upwards of 5,000 robots puttering around these schools by 2021.

Each robot is electric, has a trunk that can fit about 20 pounds of cargo, and has a suite of cameras around the outside that can be used to identify obstacles and help guide the robot to its destination. They have a delivery radius of three to four miles and can travel a maximum speed of 4 mph, which is obviously slower than a delivery by a human on a bike or in a car. Starship CEO Lex Bayer says the robot’s ability to work for many hours without a break is what gives it an advantage.

“There’s also no guilt or shame,” Bayer says. “You can order whatever you want, whenever you want. And you don’t have to worry about another student who you’re sending around to do this pick up for you. It’s just a robot who’s going to deliver it to you.”

The robots can climb curbs but not stairs, which may limit their appeal to customers who live in multistory buildings. Bayer says this is why Starship is targeting markets that are less dense with lower heights. But he also speculates that if robot delivery takes off, building owners may eventually decide to include a separate door just for the robots, much like cat owner would include a door flap for their pet. “Definitely possible in the future,” he opines.

With the closing of this Series A funding round, Starship has now raised a total of $85 million. The round was led by Morpheus Ventures along with prior investors, including Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, and MetaPlanet Holdings, as well as new investors, including TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures, and others.

Starship makes money by charging customers $1.99 per order. It also has contracts with the universities and restaurants it delivers for, but Bayer says Starship can be more profitable than rival, human-powered (and heavily subsidized) delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates.

“It’s a really tough business from these other companies to run,” he said. “I think what they’ve really proven is that consumers want deliveries, they love the convenience, but actually getting the business model to work is really complicated and questionable. On the other hand, we’re using autonomous technology to do this. It’s a completely different approach.”

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700 Robots: 2019 World Robot Conference Convenes In Beijing

The largest robot convention in the world is held annually in Beijing. Every conceivable kind of robot from brain surgeons to warehouse pickers and personal service attendants will be showcased. ⁃ TN Editor

Cutting-edge robots are on display at the 2019 World Robot Conference in Beijing, running from August 20 to 25, are expected to attract nearly 200 guests from 22 countries.

The conference features a series of exhibition areas for new robotic technologies and products – including medical, multi-legged, and smart logistics – as well as four contests with an anticipated 4,500 professional participants.

Over 700 robots specialising with more than 21 industrial applications will be exhibited between now and the close of the conference.

Among those exhibiting will be HRG Robotics, whose, president Wang Meng, said: ‘We will be showcasing a string of successful companies which have got off the ground through the help of HRG, alongside our representative products at WRC 2019, as we aim to form new partnerships with companies around the world.’

Also on display will be SmartBird, created by German firm Festo, whose design was inspired by the herring gull and whose flight mimics that of the bird.

The ultralight flying drone was created with the best aerodynamics and maximum agility in mind and it is able to take off, fly and land under its own power.

Forward propulsion and lift are generated entirely by the beating of the SmartBird’s wings, which consumes just 23 watts of power – up to half of the power used by some laptops – even though the SmartBird weighs around 450 grams and has a wingspan of two metres.

Measurements have revealed electromechanical efficiency of up to 45 per cent and aerodynamic efficiency of 80 per cent.

SmartBird can fly for approximately 20 minutes on a standard rechargeable lithium battery, thanks to its low energy consumption.

The sequence of wingbeats and rotation is executed with a cycle time of just a few milliseconds and creates optimum conditions for the flow of air over the wing.

Thanks to its flow-optimised shape and lightweight construction using carbon fibre technology, the SmartBird is also an excellent example of the efficient use of energy.

Another robot on display will be Laikago, China’s answer to US robotic firm Boston Dynamic’s ‘robo-dog’ Spot.

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Facebook Busted: Audio Chats Transcribed By Paid Contractors

It is inconceivable that Mark Zuckerberg can lie with impunity to Congress about not snooping on users audio interactions, while the company is doing exactly that. No accountability, no investigation and no indictments.  ⁃ TN Editor

Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work.

The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.

On Wednesday, the Irish Data Protection Commission, which takes the lead in overseeing Facebook in Europe, said it was examining the activity for possible violations of the EU’s strict privacy rules.

Shares of the social-media giant were down 1.3% at 7:49 a.m. in New York during pre-market trading.

Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.

Big tech companies including Inc. and Apple Inc. have come under fire for collecting audio snippets from consumer computing devices and subjecting those clips to human review, a practice that critics say invades privacy. Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software, and that similar human review was used for Apple’s Siri and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant. Apple and Google have since said they no longer engage in the practice and Amazon said it will let users opt out of human review.

The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg denied the idea directly in Congressional testimony.

“You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads,” Zuckerberg told U.S. Senator Gary Peters in April 2018. “We don’t do that.”

In follow-up answers for Congress, the company said it “only accesses users’ microphone if the user has given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio (like voice messaging features.)” The Menlo Park, California-based company doesn’t address what happens to the audio afterward.

Facebook hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio. That’s led some contractors to feel their work is unethical, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.

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Self driving car

Hacking Cars Could Freeze Traffic In Major Cities

If self-driving vehicles are exposed to the Internet, which they are, does anyone really think that they cannot be hacked en mass and turned into objects of total chaos in cities? ⁃ TN Editor

A hack that affects a small number of internet-connected cars could completely gridlock Manhattan, according to a study from researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems, Inc. The research was published in the journal Physical Review E.

The paper found that randomly stalling 20% of cars during rush hour would stop traffic in Manhattan. Even a hack that affects 10% of cars at rush hour would create enough blockages to stop emergency vehicles from getting through traffic.

The research suggests cities “split up the digital network influencing the cars to make it impossible to access too many cars through one network.”

Cybersecurity experts have warned that connected cars can be targets for hackers, who could stall or take control of a vehicle, or could compromise connected stoplights.

This study, said lead author Peter Yunker, was designed to take a broader look at what would happen if a larger number of cars were struck by the same hack and were stopped either by being shut down or by getting into an accident.

“When a large-scale hack occurs on an actual grid of roads, there might be consequences that you wouldn’t predict from an isolated car that’s been stopped or is out of control,” Yunker, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics, told Smart Cities Dive.

The researchers found that it takes a relatively small number of stopped cars to cause havoc if they are stalled with less than a vehicle’s width between them. At a critical value, the probability of blockages jumped up tremendously, meaning that any additional hacked cars wouldn’t make a difference.

The paper looked at Manhattan, where there is data about road size and traffic patterns, but Yunker said the effects of a hack could be worse in other cities.

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RideShare: Big Tech’s Ugly Disruption Of Public Spaces

Scooters, e-bicycles and ride sharing companies are invading public space in cities with ugly consequences, and a war is brewing between cities, their citizens and the Big Tech companies who have barged in to disrupt. ⁃ TN Editor

Summer is here and the electronic hum of scooters is filling city sidewalks all over the world. From L.A. to D.C., many American downtowns have hit their one-year anniversary with scooters, and European capitals have begun to allow them.

The benefit is obvious: Scooters provide on-demand, affordable mobility to any able-bodied smartphone user. As the vehicle’s fan base grows, however, so do the frustrations that provoke other urbanites to detest them — abandoned scooters left on walkways and even scooter-pedestrian collisions. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says escalating tensions are leading to “anarchy” on her city’s boulevards and footpaths. And an even bigger issue looms over arguments for and against this revamped child’s toy. Scooters may well be the Trojan Horse with which big tech colonizes the world’s public space.

Scooters (and dockless e-bikes) inhabit cities like few other consumer products ever have. Through location-tracking and app-based transactions, scooter barons oversee their business from a distance while storing their entire inventories on our streets and sidewalks for next to nothing. When in use, scooters generate revenue for Bird, Lime or some other “micro-mobility” company. When not in use, they just sit there, wherever there happens to be: a bike lane, a doorway, a neighbor’s front yard. Citizens have no lawful recourse, leading some to resort to micro-vandalism.

Scooters’ success in spite of the persistent backlash is a warning about whether tech can succeed in leveraging public space. A playbook seems to be taking shape. First, identify a point of friction in urban life (such as “the last-mile problem” in public transportation). Next, develop a profitable solution and deploy it in cities and ask for permission later. When people howl, let your early adopters fight the battle for you — use them as a shield whenever critics speak ill of your business model. Finally, push aggressive expansion while voicing support for sensible regulations that are essentially unenforceable.

Like Uber and Airbnb before them, scooter companies aim to satisfy their customers with little regard for how their businesses affect our cities’ ecosystems. All three services tamper with neighborhood norms in ways that are annoying at first and deeply disturbing upon further inspection. Via Airbnb, for instance, a quaint bungalow surrounded by family homes suddenly becomes a bachelor party pad replete with fresh groups of drunken idiots each weekend. Annoying. But what’s far more worrisome is recent data indicating that Airbnb is worsening the housing crisis in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans. Landlords love Airbnb: Why lease a place to lower-income tenants for $900 a month when you can earn double by renting it out here and there to well-off tourists? When residential units are converted into the equivalent of chic motels, the pool of long-term housing decreases and rental prices rise.

As for Uber and other ride-sharing apps, originally framed as a solution to urban congestion, they are instead putting more cars on the road, making traffic worse. A San Francisco study found that bumper-to-bumper delays soared 62% from 2010 to 2016, and roughly half of this increase was caused by ride-sharing vehicles. Very few riders are choosing to share trips with other passengers and rates of car ownership in the city remain steady. The big loser has been public transit, particularly buses, whose ridership has decreased nearly 13% — a drop that presents grave challenges to a service that is both more affordable and energy efficient than Uber’s fleet of vehicles.

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Bezos: Spends Billions On Space Because ‘We’re Destroying The Planet’

Jeff Bezos is an extreme Technocrat, expressing his altruistic side by providing the ultimate engineering solution to earth’s emergency of global warming, namely, build space ships and colonize outer space. ⁃ TN Editor

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world with a current net worth of $125 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. And he’s investing much of his Amazon fortune in the development of space technologies through his aerospace company Blue Origin.

Why? “Because I think it’s important,” Bezos tells Norah O’Donnell of “CBS Evening News” in an interview which aired Tuesday. “I think it is important for this planet. I think it’s important for the dynamism of future generations. It is something I care deeply about. And it is something I have been thinking about all my life.”

Bezos — who says “you don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you” — became fascinated with space when he was a child watching astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong land on the moon, he tells O’Donnell.

Further, developing space technologies is critical for human beings to have a long future, Bezos says.

“We humans have to go to space if we are going to continue to have a thriving civilization,” Bezos says. “We have become big as a population, as a species, and this planet is relatively small. We see it in things like climate change and pollution and heavy industry. We are in the process of destroying this planet. And we have sent robotic probes to every planet in the solar system — this is the good one. So, we have to preserve this planet.”

To do that will require being able to live and work in space, says Bezos.

“We send things up into space, but they are all made on Earth. Eventually it will be much cheaper and simpler to make really complicated things, like microprocessors and everything, in space and then send those highly complex manufactured objects back down to earth, so that we don’t have the big factories and pollution generating industries that make those things now on Earth,” Bezos says. “And Earth can be zoned residential.”

It will be “multiple generations” and “hundreds of years” before this is a reality, Bezos said on CBS, but with Blue Origin he is working to develop the technology that will make it possible.

People will be able to live in space (in self-sufficient space structures) if they so choose, Bezos says.

“People are going to want to live on Earth, and they are going to want to live off Earth. There are going to be very nice places to live off earth as well. People will make that choice,” Bezos says.

Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, wrote Bezos a letter in 2016 saying the work Bezos was doing would eventually make space travel as common as air travel.

“He wrote me the most beautiful letter just a few days before he passed away and I have it framed in my office and it is very meaningful to me,” Bezos says. Glenn said in that letter he saw a future when we will board spacecraft like jetliners, and “when that happens, it will largely be because of your epic achievements.”

“I think that is entirely believable,” Bezos says. “If you went back in time a hundred years and told people today that you would be able to buy a ticket and fly across the world on a jetliner, they would have thought you were crazy. But that’s the kind of change that can happen in just 100 years or less.”

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social media

Social Media Is Making Us Dumb, Angry And Addicted

Social media giants have intentionally re-wired the brains of their users in ways similar to drug addicts, as the release of dopamine is stoked by certain predictable triggers. Under addiction, behavior is easily modified. ⁃ TN Editor

A few years ago, I noticed that I really enjoyed reading on airplanes and wondered why. After a bit of reflection, I realized that it was because I wasn’t distracted by the temptation to check a device every now and then, allowing reading to be the kind of immersive experience I once took for granted.

Now I make a point of semi-disconnecting every night, sitting down with a novel and a glass of wine, with my computer and phone out of reach. I try to do the same thing when I’m reading for work instead of pleasure, setting my devices aside so that I can read deeply and really think about things, but it’s always a struggle. And I don’t think that I’m alone.

I’m not suggesting something as simplistic as books good, Internet bad. There’s nothing inherently good about books as such – Das Kapital and Mein Kampf are both books with murderous consequences, and books that obviously did nothing to improve their readers’ critical thinking abilities.

But the capacity for deep reading and deep thinking is a valuable one, and one that is being tossed aside for no particular reason. As Fulford notes, “Universities report that students now avoid signing on for classes in 19th century literature. They realize they can no longer work through Dickens or George Eliot.”

In his classic The System of Freedom of Expression, Yale First Amendment scholar Thomas Emerson wrote:

Freedom of expression is an essential process for examining knowledge and discovering truth. An individual who seeks knowledge and truth must hear all sides of the question, consider all alternatives, test his judgment by exposing it to opposition, and make full use of different minds.

The kind of deep, wide ranging, multipolar community debate that Emerson envisioned as key to our system of freedom of expression is at odds with the surface skimming, tribal, catch phrase-based nature of social media.

It’s unfortunate that social media not only makes such debate more difficult on its platforms, but also, it seems, rewires people’s brains in such a fashion as to make such debate more difficult everywhere else. It is made worse by the fact that Twitter in particular seems to be most heavily used by the very people – pundits, political journalists, the intelligentsia – most vital to the sort of debate that Emerson saw as essential.

In fact, the corruption of the political/intellectual class by social media is particularly serious, since their descent into thoughtless polarization can then spread to the rest of the population, even that large part that doesn’t use social media itself, through traditional channels.

Twitter is also the most stripped down of the social media platforms, and thus the most illustrative of social media’s basic flaws. Just as sad people repetitively pulling the levers on gas station slot machines illustrate the essence of gambling without the distracting glamour of casinos and racetracks, so Twitter, without a focus on “friends” or photos, or other sidelines, displays raw online human political nature at its worst.

Social media is addictive by design. The companies involved put enormous amounts of thought and effort into making it that way, so that people will be glued to their screens. As much as they’re selling anything, they’re selling the “dopamine hit” that people experience when they get a “like” or a “share” or some other response to their action.

We’ve reached the point where there are not merely articles in places like Psychology Today and The Washington Post on dealing with “social media addiction,” but even scholarly papers in medical journals with titles like “The relationship between addictive use of social media and video games and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: A large scale cross sectional study.” One of the consulting companies in the business of making applications addictive is even named DopamineLabs, making no bones about what’s going on.

Nor is this addiction limited to young people. In fact, as a recent article in Wiredby Clive Thompson reported, the evidence is that older people – the middle aged Generation Xers in particular – are the most hooked.

It’s also a terrible way to learn empathy, as the emotional response to one’s behavior, normally displayed in things like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, is reduced to text and emojis. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the shame mobs: To the mobs, their targets don’t really seem human. But while the shame mobs throw their stones in a sort of play, their victims’ lives and careers are ruined in earnest.

People are more likely to believe misinformation on social media because they tend to only read headlines that mesh with their preconceived ideas, and they tend to get and share those headlines from friends, family, or people they see as ideological allies. This makes them less critical and more willing to pass on things that on further thought they would probably recognize as bogus. In addition, of course, social media passes along only tiny niblets of information, allowing and even encouraging people to make assumptions about the background, assumptions that also tend to follow their preconceptions and prejudice.

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