Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons for Pessimism

Some folks have been asking me for my opinion on the recent decision to deplatform Donald Trump from major social media platforms. As this is a newsletter about the future, let’s take a look at some potential long-term implications.

My thoughts are still forming, but here are three reasons for pessimism and three for optimism that guide my thinking.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

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Image NC-BY-SA zug zwang

We live in times of great heartbreak, times of great suffering. The fallacy we brought to2021 was that it might be better, might get easier, but what we’re learning is that the legacy of 2020 remains. If each year feels more difficult, each day still brings opportunities for joy, and each day teaches us that the only way past these times is through them.

I am reminded of the writing of Rabbi Steven Leder, from the book More Beautiful Than Before:

This man then pointed something out to me that I had never thought about before. He pointed out that the Bible says God places words and commandments for kindness and decency upon our hearts. …

As we close out 2020, here’s a simple tool for reflecting on what’s to come

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Image CC-BY chip.hedler

It’s now been one year since Dr. Li Wenliang warned the world of the respiratory disease that would change the world, eventually taking his life in the process. As we think about a decade hence, it’s worth considering the potential ripple effects of what we’re seeing now.

During times of crisis, it helps to look at three factors: the past and how it’s shaping us, the present conditions and reality, and what’s likely to come. This is particularly tricky with COVID-19. One thing worth noting, for instance, is the pandemic’s second order effects. In other words, there’s what the pandemic is causing — death, illness, anxiety — but also what it’s causing that’s causing other things. Take, for instance, the boom in the dog market, alongside a drop in calls to domestic violence hotlines. …

A Substack newsletter about global media and technology futures

I’m pleased to introduce Yellow Canary Land 🐤 (yes, the emoji is part of the title), a Substack newsletter about global media and technology futures. Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, a yellow canary event is like a flashing warning sign for more danger ahead. It is a signal that is itself insightful, but to an expert is doubly so because of the conditions it reveals.

Why subscribe? I’ve spent the better part of a decade with my ears to the ground on what’s coming for technology, and much of what I wrote about early on continues to resonate today in new contexts. I started writing about political memes in 2011, about the fractured nature of our global internet in 2015, reality television culture’s influence on politics in 2018, the forces of the “technology cold war” that would shape China-US relations two years before the attempted TikTok and WeChat bans, and I helped coin the word misinfodemics nearly two years before COVID-19. …

Meditation runs counter to the demands of an attention economy. But it’s a critical skill for these times.

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Image CC BY-NC Tsalon

We’re living in a time of tremendous uncertainty. From the COVID-19 pandemic and now to the results of the US election, 2020 has been a lesson in embracing that which isn’t known and living with that feeling for weeks and months on end.

In the world of fact-checking, I’ve been thinking about the concept of midinformation, or informational ambiguity based on scant or conflicting evidence, often about emerging scientific knowledge.

In my new article for Columbia Journalism Review, I look at some of the challenges and opportunities.

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A photo I took in Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei District.

I have a new article out in Columbia Journalism Review that explores some unfortunate patterns I’ve seen in technology coverage lately as many people writing about tech — already a difficult beat — turn their eye toward China, perhaps for the first time:

Through Western eyes, The Economist points out, China is often seen as an “Otherland that is as much an idea as a place on the map.” This orientation seeps into tech journalism. …

I didn’t realize how much I missed conferences, cocktail parties and casual conversation. Clubhouse shows the value of weak ties.

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Photo CC-BY RichardBH

As the buzzy app hits the App Store, it seems worth reflecting a bit on my experience with Clubhouse. I’ve been on the app for about a month now,

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CC-BY Alexander von Halem

As the world slowly starts to open up (or not), we’ve entered a new pandemic stage: confusion. Where once the most solid advice was simply to stay indoors and avoid others, we seem to be encountering a panoply of recommendations. Wash your hands. Masks aren’t needed. Wear a mask. Stay six feet away. Actually, it might be airborne, so stay outside too. Take a test. Don’t take a test, because supplies are limited.

In the world of public health, this liminal stage we find ourselves in — moving past lockdown but nowhere near reaching either a social or medical endpoint to the pandemic — is often the most dangerous for a disease’s spread. In 1918, the city of San Francisco had the fewest reported cases of Spanish Flu in the country thanks to strict social distancing practices. The city and the people declared victory, emerged from lockdown, and returned to normal life. …

What a 2008 theory about online creative content explains about the geopolitics of today’s internet.

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CC-BY Filip Stepien

Este artículo está disponible en español también, traducido por Juan Arellano.

TikTok’s been in the news lately, for obvious reasons.

It’s worth noting what the challenge is here. Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cat Theory of the Internet is instructive. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

It posits that most people are not interested in activism; instead, they want to use the web for mundane activities, including surfing for pornography and lolcats (“cute cats”). The tools that they develop for that (such as Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, and similar platforms) are very useful to social movement activists, who may lack resources to develop dedicated tools themselves. …

Textfakes, Deepfakes, and the Power of Context

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“I’m going to the grocery store asap,” my friend texted me a few weeks ago, at the peak of the confusion around COVID-19 in the US. He’d heard word from a friend of a friend that President Trump was going to declare a nationwide quarantine. The text came through with urgency and authority — the President was going to invoke the Stafford Act, the National Guard was going to be called in, and no one would be allowed outside their homes for two weeks.

It wasn’t true, but it felt true, and it felt especially true in the early morning hours when I got the message. I could feel in my bones a sense of dread — wait, maybe this time it’s real? California and New York were already shutting down. President Trump did declare a national emergency using the Stafford Act. There were indeed credible recommendations from epidemiologists that we stock up for two weeks in case we need to quarantine. And the National Guard had already been called into a number of outbreak zones in the United States. …


an xiao mina

author and technologist. words and commentary in ny times, bbc, atlantic, hyperallergic, etc. meedan. opinions my own.

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