Rian van der Merwe

Product manager • Designer • Speaker

One of my favorite minimalist jazz albums is Nightfall by Till Brönner and Dieter Ilg. It’s a beautiful journey for trumpet and bass, which ends with an absolutely stunning rendition of Ach, bleib mit Deiner Gnade.

I am equal parts excited and scared to read this.

📖 Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism.

Simple, solid advice from Farhad Manjoo:

Don’t just consider how well a product works, but look at who’s making it and how it is sold. Before you dive into any new doodad, consider a company’s ethics, morals, branding and messaging. If you aren’t comfortable, look to alternatives.

Brian de Haaff in “Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers—Here’s Why”:

Without being able to lean on physical proximity, remote workers must reach out to one another frequently and with purpose. This leads to stronger collaboration and camaraderie.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, this has been my experience as well.

Trust-Busting as the Unsexy Answer to Google and Facebook” by Gabriel Nicholas is not only a really well-written book review about the problem with monopolies, he also makes some excellent points himself. Here he is on Silicon Valley’s obsession with destroying competition:

It’s not just the feigned benevolence nor the arrogance that struck me in these memoirs but how these self-made millionaires talk about consuming, rather than overcoming, competition. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen celebrates software companies’ “eating the world,” ingesting entrenched industries in their path. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, declares that “competition is for losers,” and claims that companies can only reach their highest creative potential if they don’t waste energy fending off pesky competition. Capitalism, according to all these men, is about frictionless, seamless engorgement.

John Harris in the excellent essay “How Facebook robbed us of our sense of self”:

Among the many arguments against Zuckerberg’s goal of “bringing the world closer together”, perhaps, is the fact that the human condition demands that we also need to regularly be apart, and alone.

John Herrman’s story on The Secret Life of Amazon’s Vine Reviewers is a fascinating look at Amazon’s program for “professional” product reviewers:

If you invested $5,000 in Amazon in August of 2007, when Vine was announced, your stock would now be worth more than $100,000. If, instead, you had started reviewing your Amazon purchases, built a reputation as a reliable reviewer, secured an invite to the Vine program, kept your head down, filed your assignments and avoided the occasional purges of reviewers, your take-home total might today exceed that number, although in somewhat less liquid forms: five vacuums here; 14 hard drives there; some laptops and cellphones; Bluetooth speakers, and headphones, and headsets, and, well, pretty much anything with Bluetooth, so much Bluetooth, mouthful after mouthful of blue teeth.

This doesn’t exactly give me a confidence in the quality of Amazon’s product reviews.

We need more of this. Harvard works to embed ethics in computer science curriculum:

Embedding ethics across the curriculum helps computer science students see how ethical issues can arise from many contexts, issues ranging from the way social networks facilitate the spread of false information to censorship to machine-learning techniques that empower statistical inferences in employment and in the criminal justice system.

Courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning are obvious areas for ethical discussions, but Embedded EthiCS also has built modules for less-obvious pairings, such as applied algebra.

“We really want to get students habituated to thinking: How might an ethical issue arise in this context or that context?” Simmons said.

A better way to use social media: within it, but detached from events

The best way to use social media is to act like a 19th-century Parisian is an excellent essay, and it’s worth reading the entire thing. The setup:

If you’re not quite ready to quit Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, a more measured approach is to treat virtual spaces more like a bustling street—a place where, like a flâneur, you can pick up a lot of information by observing the action, while being more reticent to offer opinions and circumspect about posting.

The 19th-century German philosopher Walter Benjamin likened the flâneur to an urban investigator, within the city but detached from events, the quintessential modern artist citizen.

I love that phrase “within the city but detached from events.” That would be my desire for my own experience with social media. It’s worth reading up on the concept of a flâneur — sometimes referred to as “a connoisseur of the street” — which is a very apt analogy:

While Baudelaire characterized the flâneur as a “gentleman stroller of city streets,” he saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in, and portraying the city. A flâneur thus played a double role in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer. This stance, simultaneously part of and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary, and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace.

And this is some solid advice right here from the original article:

But operating under the influence of the masses clearly has deleterious effects on our thinking and behavior. By simply refusing to provide the desired engagement, or at least slowing down the pace of our interactions and taking time to think, we can collectively, and very politely, undermine the expectations for empty affirmations and recognize the effects of groupthink. This could change the tenor of the cultural conversation and make actual engagement meaningful again.

I never knew that August and Everything After wasn’t just the name of Counting Crows’ debut album. It was also an unfinished song, and the lyrics of that song is what appears on the cover of the album. Now, 25 years later, they revisited the song, finished it, and recorded it with a live orchestra. And it is really lovely.