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The Best Quotes I Read in 2019

These are the quotes I read in 2019 that I felt were worth saving and sharing. The quotes aren’t necessarily from sources published last year, but they were new to me. I also sneaked in one from 2020.

Humanity

We have an extraordinary superpower as humans, which is to see with our eyes closed.

Chris Ware

Intelligence and stupidity are not just traits; they are practices, or habits. Being intelligent is one thing; staying intelligent another. The brightest minds can dim themselves over time through dogma and laziness.

Ian Leslie

It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder’.

Aldous Huxley

Humans + Technology

Technology is the reason we get old enough to complain about technology.

Garry Kasparov

Our societies are defined by the technologies that enable them. Humans without tools are not magically pure; they’re just unvaccinated, cold, and wet.

Nick Harkaway

Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.

Laurie Anderson (attrib.)

All technology is an echo of the wishes of whoever built it.

Cassie Kozyrkov

Technology has become advanced enough to give us the internet but we’re still finding out if society is advanced enough to accept it.

James Bridle

The Connected Life

Facebook is humanity. That is why it is so valuable, and it is why it can be so awful. It is why there is tremendous beauty there, and why there is tremendous “hate and misinformation.” Those are not Facebook issues; those are human issues, and they can only be managed, not cured.

Ben Thompson

Saying online is dangerous is like saying the subway is dangerous. But if you live in New York, you probably want to take the subway. Driving is dangerous. Everything is. Life itself isn’t safe. It’s a mix. You have to learn to discern. But most people are good, and most people are on Facebook.

Dave Winer

The dead are no longer hidden away, they are carried with us on our digital devices in the form of voicemails, WhatsApp messages, texts and photographs. But [using] these social network… to talk with the dead is blurring the distinction between the social lives of the living and those of the “socially active dead.”

Debra Bassett

There is a temptation to over-emphasise the novelty of internet culture, but our media, economic system and values did not spontaneously appear in, like, 1996. I sometimes think about the internet as a fun house mirror, a tool for stretching and magnifying existing dynamics.

Amanda Hess

Ethics

I believe in our moral progress, but it happens so slowly it’s almost imperceptible, while our folly is apparent every day.

Jules Evans

“Surveillance capitalism” is an extreme name for advertising cookies and the use of the word devalues the seriousness of actual surveillance by governments.

Jeff Jarvis

No-one should be synthesised without consent.

Victor Riparbelli

Immersive Spaces

What augmented reality allows us to do is put the answers right where the questions are.

Aparna Chennapragada

What gets me so excited about immersive mediums is it feels like we’re crossing the threshold from stories we witnessed to stories we live as our own.

Chris Milk

It’s very exciting to think about transmodality in input methods–combining things like eye tracking, voice recognition, hand gestures, fingerbone tracking–then you’re getting somewhere close to magic.

Timoni West

We start with the assumption that the whole world is dangerous, and then we start looking for the places that are safe.

Microsoft

Artificial Intelligence

Like electricity or the internet, humans need to get accustomed to the new technologies, to control them properly, and eventually to take them for granted. AI will be part of our future. How fast this will happen and how controlled this change will be depends on how we approach it now.

Rosaria Silipo

We could say that if World War I gave us—at least accelerated—the development of analog computers, World War II gave us digital computers, the Cold War gave us the Internet, the current alleged War on Terror and Mass Surveillance is giving us artificial intelligence.

Memo Akten

[People] should be really afraid to ride in a car that’s controlled by a huge neural net that has no way of telling you what it’s doing. That’s called a taxi driver.

Geoffrey Hinton

Before I played AlphaGo, I felt like I knew the world, like I knew many things. But afterwards, everything changed. Now I really believe everything is possible, because I saw something that people thought was impossible.

Fan Hui

Innovation

Within a given conceptual space, many thoughts are possible, only some of which may have been actually thought.

Margaret A. Boden

Radical innovation is about opening up new markets and audiences, while iterative innovation often seeks to maintain prominence in existing markets.

Philip Robinson & Daniel Whaley

True innovation isn’t just some magic carnival of invention. It is a continuing process of gradual improvement and assessment. Often that actually means adopting ideas and tools that already exist but make sense in a new context, or even returning to methods that worked in the past.

David Sax

The pace and form of innovation is no longer driven by what technology can do but what culture will allow it to.

Iris

Creativity & Storytelling

A book is still the best way we have for people to experience something big in the same order.

Gretchen McCulloch

While it is an insanely efficient distribution vessel for content, no one has really pushed the envelope of ‘the internet’ as a story-telling medium.

Gabriel Whaley

The technology we have at our fingertips now is the nearest thing we have to magic, but we routinely use it as a vehicle for the least thoughtful, least sophisticated, least creative work we produce.

Katrina Stirton-Dodd

If the technology at your disposal is sand and you’re going to draw something in that sand with your fingers, as you’re coming up with that idea, you’re recognising the limitations of that technology. You’re not going to draw a really fine, detailed illustration in the sand because it won’t support it. Your creativity is dependant on the technology at your disposal.

Nick Law

The best storytelling asks to be shared… it’s a social object. It’s a story that people want to tell themselves and so they share. The quality of the story says as much about the audience as it does about the [author].

Nick Law

The Social Photo

A special section dedicated to this super-fascinating book by Nathan Jurgenson, which was by far my most-highlighted book of the year.

We cannot understand photography or social media without stepping back and looking at the deeper impulse that fuels both: the desire for life in its documented form.

Nathan Jurgenson

What fundamentally makes a social photo is the degree to which its existence as a stand-alone media object is subordinate to its existence as a unit of communication.

Nathan Jurgenson

Photography is social photography to the degree that its central use is more expressive than informational, when the recording of reality is not its own end but the means of communicating an experience.

Nathan Jurgenson

To document is to be involved with our own experience instead of passively letting it float by.

Nathan Jurgenson

A photograph is made of time as much as it is of light.

Nathan Jurgenson

The Future

Knowing or predicting what’s going to change isn’t that important. What is important is reconciling what will change with what won’t change.

Alex Jenkins

History is a roadmap, and if you don’t study it you have only a scrap of paper with “you are here” scrawled on it. The more you learn about history, the larger your map. The larger your map, the more you are able to know where you’ve come from, and so know where you’re going.

Sarah Stroup

You can’t fuck the future. The future fucks you!

Nick Cohn / Norman Wexler (Saturday Night Fever screenplay)
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Consumer Digital Technology: Things to Watch in 2020

At the start of each new year I like to clarify my thoughts by writing about a few things I think are worth keeping an eye on in the year ahead. They’re not predictions; I’m not a futurist. In previous years I’ve described these as trends, but they’re better thought of as signals. Or, even better, just some things I think are interesting.

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Voice-forward phones: Google Assistant and the next billion users

A range of new flagship phones got shown off at the MWC19 trade fair. At one end of the scale, Samsung introduced three variations of its premium Galaxy S10 and a new model, the Galaxy Fold, with its innovative folding screen and almost $2,000 price tag. At the other, the Wizphone WP006, a phone made only for Indonesia (where it will be sold in vending machines), costing about $7.

The WP006 is a featurephone; it has a hardware keyboard, no touchscreen, 4G connectivity, runs on KaiOS (an operating system based on the abandoned FirefoxOS project), and has a prominent microphone button—it’s a voice-forward phone, powered by Google Assistant.

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Using Airtable to manage a trends-tracking email newsletter

For the last couple of years part of my job has been to keep my colleagues and employer up to date on technology trends; to make sure that everyone knows the moves in the technology landscape, and to try to follow trends in the market to help the company position itself well to meet them. This post is about a new process I’m implementing on a couple of aspects of that part of my role.

I have two problems that I want this process to solve. The first is that I want to be able to better track trends in technology, to understand new product releases and actions with better reference to what’s happened before. The second is that I send a weekly email newsletter with curated links to the most relevant and useful stories about the technology landscape, but my current method of assembling it’s cumbersome. I’m experimenting with a solution to both of these problems using Airtable.