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The End of Cyberspace

One of the enduring expectations about cyberspace is that it would erase the importance of place in commerce. A group of designers working in ateliers and studios in Nairobi, Munich, Buenos Aires and Perth, financed by money pulled together in Silicon Valley, would create products sourced to factories in Malaysia and China, thence to be sold in Seoul, Mumbai, Toronto… you get the picture. Talent was what would matter in this world. Place wouldn’t.

Ironically, you can make the case that the trend toward placelessness has been most evident in manufacturing, though it’s been so for a combination of brutal economic rather than utopian technological reasons, and has required an enormous amount of labor to make those transfers work. Put another way, manufacturing has become more placeless not because technology has made place irrelevent, but because it’s helped connect multinationals to mouth-wateringly cheap labor markets. But it hasn’t been a matter of effortlessly transferring zeroes and ones around the world at the speed: to make this system work, you’ve got to put a lot of engineers on planes to Shanghai, just as you need to get a lot of farmers’ kids into the cities.

Placelessness has also had a mixed record in finance, the most abstract of economic activities. On one hand, I can transfer money between my checking and savings account on my iPhone. On the other, the financial centers in New York and London are now even more tightly connected together, and process a greater portion of the world’s wealth, than ever before. (And as recent events have shown, they have a greater capacity to destroy it, too.) So place continues to matter in finance, even as technology makes some kinds of transactions easier to conduct in a wider variety of places.

This trend is something that’s interested a number of cultural and economic geographers, though they’re still lots to do on the subject. As Caitlin Zaloom, an amazingly smart observer of the enduring materiality and social nature of financial markets, says,

Globalization theorists such as David Harvey and Manuel Castells argue that under neoliberalism, capitalist institutions have used information technology to flatten the distinctions among places, reducing the significance of spatial distance and temporal difference. They claim that this is nowhere more true than in the sphere of global finance, since economic networks are bound together with technological systems that permit institutions to coordinate activity in real time on a planetary scale, and that allow modern financial instruments to turn commodities—oranges, grain, Treasury bonds, and the like—into abstractions that are bought and sold thousands of times without ever moving an inch. Even global skeptics, it seems, are willing to admit that the speed and scale of financial markets enabled by innovative communications technologies is something new and profound. Never before have financial actors been able to trade with dealers from Frankfurt to Singapore at any time of the day or night. However, these depictions often overstate the role of technology, leading observers to believe that such interconnections were inevitable, a narrative that obscures the human activities that propel money through technological channels, including the labors, false starts, and complex histories of the social and technical forms of global work. (Zaloom, «Markets and Machines: Work in the Technological Sensoryscapes of Finance,» American Quarterly 58:3 (September 2006) 815-837, quote on 816.)

Today I ran across another example of how place continues to matter in finance, but at a very small scale: high-frequency trading. If the concentration of wealth and financial services in places like New York and London is like gravity, high-frequency trading is like the strong force in particle physics: it operates at very small scales, but at that scale is incredibly powerful. As the New York Times explains in a July article, «in 1998, the Securities and Exchange Commission authorized electronic exchanges to compete with marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange. The intent was to open markets to anyone with a desktop computer and a fresh idea.» But things have’t quite worked out that way:

But as new marketplaces have emerged, PCs have been unable to compete with Wall Street’s computers. Powerful algorithms — “algos,” in industry parlance — execute millions of orders a second and scan dozens of public and private marketplaces simultaneously. They can spot trends before other investors can blink, changing orders and strategies within milliseconds.

High-frequency traders often confound other investors by issuing and then canceling orders almost simultaneously. Loopholes in market rules give high-speed investors an early glance at how others are trading. And their computers can essentially bully slower investors into giving up profits — and then disappear before anyone even knows they were there.

High-frequency traders also benefit from competition among the various exchanges, which pay small fees that are often collected by the biggest and most active traders — typically a quarter of a cent per share to whoever arrives first. Those small payments, spread over millions of shares, help high-speed investors profit simply by trading enormous numbers of shares, even if they buy or sell at a modest loss.

In this world, as UCSD graduate student Martha Poon observes,

The trades are so fast that materiality matters. ‘Co-location’, which involves situating the trading room next to the exchange so that the wires and cables running between them are as short as possible, actually confers an advantage to high frequency traders.

As a result, LSE lecturer Yuval Millo points out,

In a world where every millisecond counts, event at light-speed speeds, physical distance counts. In fact, we should say ‘physical distance’ counts AGAIN. Yes, physical distance, which used to be an all-important factor in the face-to-face trading pits, is now making a comeback in the form of vicinity from the exchanges’ servers.

This, of course, brings back the issues about the politics embedded in market spatiality. Kate Zaloom shows how important were the top steps of the trading pit in the Chicago futures exchanges, and, consequently, how the political (and sometimes physical!) struggles for these coveted locations. Can we expect similar fights to rage over positions in the electronic communication network that transmits trading orders? Judging from the evolving competition for ‘electronic proximity’ the answer is positive. For example, Wall Street & Technology reports that in 2007 about a 100 trading firms relocated their serves into Nasdaq’s trading headquarters, just to be close to the executing servers and to shave off about 7-35 milliseconds from the communication time (depending on previous location of trading servers). Similar trend is evident in NYSE and the Chicago futures markets.

What does trend teach about the techno-social nature of markets? From an actor-network perspective, this is yet another evidence that markets, just like any other social institution, do not exist in a baboon society. That is, materiality, in general, and tools and devices, in particular, are delineating and indeed, shaping social interaction. There is at least one more insight to be gleaned here, though. It is true that physical space is reintroduced to markets through the relocation that comes along with HFT, but something much more important is being introduced to market with it: the rich, nuanced information that used to be the lifeblood of face-to-face trading and the infrastructure of liquidity supply is now communicated electronically.

This last point is kind of subtle, but it’s interesting to think of algorithmically-executed orders as a form of «rich, nuanced information.»

So what can we conclude? Place still matters because there’s money to be made in occupying distinct physical locations; and it matters even in electronically-driven finance because, at bottom, this is still a physical activity: while it’s easy and fashionable to think of modern finance as just a bunch of digitized signifers, the reality is that those zeroes and ones exist on servers, move through Ethernet cables, and are analyzed and responded to by software sitting on computers. Under some conditions we can ignore all that; but the fact is that even in the most information-intensive, abstract activities, materiality is still there.

[To the tune of Isabelle Antena, «Nothing To Lose,» from the album Versions (I give it 2 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

Gene Spafford’s axioms of Usenet, first circulated in 1987 and 1988. (This version from Spafford’s 1992 farewell to Usenet.)

Axiom #1: «The Usenet is not the real world. The Usenet usually does not even resemble the real world.» Corollary #1: «Attempts to change the real world by altering the structure of the Usenet is an attempt to work sympathetic magic — electronic voodoo.» Corollary #2:

«Arguing about the significance of newsgroup names and their relation to the way people really think is equivalent to arguing whether it is better to read tea leaves or chicken entrails to divine the future.»

Axiom #2: «Ability to type on a computer terminal is no guarantee of sanity, intelligence, or common sense.» Corollary #3: «An infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards could produce something like Usenet.» Corollary #4:

«They could do a better job of it.»

Axiom #3: «Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) applies to Usenet.» Corollary #5: «In an unmoderated newsgroup, no one can agree on what constitutes the 10%.» Corollary #6:

«Nothing guarantees that the 10% isn’t crap, too.»

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The End of Cyberspace

Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« links for 2010-05-18 | Main | links for 2010-05-21 »

  • The economics profession has an unfortunate tendency to view recent experience in the narrow window provided by standard datasets. With a few notable exceptions, cross-country empirical studies on financial crises typically begin in 1980 and are limited in other important respects. Yet an event that is rare in a three decade span may not be all that rare when placed in a broader context. In my paper with Kenneth Rogoff we introduce a comprehensive new historical database for studying debt and banking crises, inflation, currency crashes and debasements. The data covers sixty-six countries in across all regions. The range of variables encompasses external and domestic debt, trade, GNP, inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices. The coverage spans eight centuries, going back to the date of independence or well into the colonial period for some countries.

  • «This paper offers a “panoramic” analysis of the history of financial crises dating from England’s fourteenth-century default to the current United States sub-prime financial crisis. Our study is based on a new dataset that spans all regions. It incorporates a number of important credit episodes seldom covered in the literature, including for example, defaults and restructurings in India and China….. [O]ur aim is to illustrate some of the broad insights that can be gleaned from such a sweeping historical database. We find that serial default is a nearly universal phenomenon as countries struggle to transform themselves from emerging markets to advanced economies. Major default episodes are typically spaced some years (or decades) apart, creating an illusion that “this time is different” among policymakers and investors. A recent example of the “this time is different” syndrome is the false belief that domestic debt is a novel feature of the modern financial landscape.»

  • «Intuition, it seems, is not some sort of mystical chemical reaction but a neurologically based behavior that evolved to ensure that we humans respond quickly when faced with a dilemma (e.g., fight or flight). Too much data, however, throws a monkey wrench into the process. The more variables we consider, the harder it is to make the «right» decision—as anyone who has faced an aisle full of shampoos knows.

    Our brains have evolved to take the quickest and most efficient route to a decision, based on experience and a set of innate and unconscious rules developed since birth to negotiate our physical and social environment. Start considering lots of other information and variables, and the brain slows down or falters. Simplicity, writes Gigerenzer, is an evolutionary adaptation to uncertainty: «A complex problem demands a complex solution, so we are told. In fact, in unpredictable environments, the opposite is true.»»

  • Gerd Gigerenzer on gut feelings. «It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from. My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.»

  • «Why do we make errors? are they blunders caused by the limitations of our cognitive system? Or are errors indispensable parts of every intelligent system? From the first perspective, all errors are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful…. From the second perspective, there are errors that need to be made—that is, errors that are indispensable and functional…. The characteristic of a good error is that a person is better off making the error than not making it—for reaching a goal more quickly, or attaining it at all. In this view, every intelligent system has to make errors. Making no errors would destroy the intelligence of the system.»

links for 2010-05-19

  • The economics profession has an unfortunate tendency to view recent experience in the narrow window provided by standard datasets. With a few notable exceptions, cross-country empirical studies on financial crises typically begin in 1980 and are limited in other important respects. Yet an event that is rare in a three decade span may not be all that rare when placed in a broader context. In my paper with Kenneth Rogoff we introduce a comprehensive new historical database for studying debt and banking crises, inflation, currency crashes and debasements. The data covers sixty-six countries in across all regions. The range of variables encompasses external and domestic debt, trade, GNP, inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices. The coverage spans eight centuries, going back to the date of independence or well into the colonial period for some countries.

  • «This paper offers a “panoramic” analysis of the history of financial crises dating from England’s fourteenth-century default to the current United States sub-prime financial crisis. Our study is based on a new dataset that spans all regions. It incorporates a number of important credit episodes seldom covered in the literature, including for example, defaults and restructurings in India and China….. [O]ur aim is to illustrate some of the broad insights that can be gleaned from such a sweeping historical database. We find that serial default is a nearly universal phenomenon as countries struggle to transform themselves from emerging markets to advanced economies. Major default episodes are typically spaced some years (or decades) apart, creating an illusion that “this time is different” among policymakers and investors. A recent example of the “this time is different” syndrome is the false belief that domestic debt is a novel feature of the modern financial landscape.»

  • «Intuition, it seems, is not some sort of mystical chemical reaction but a neurologically based behavior that evolved to ensure that we humans respond quickly when faced with a dilemma (e.g., fight or flight). Too much data, however, throws a monkey wrench into the process. The more variables we consider, the harder it is to make the «right» decision—as anyone who has faced an aisle full of shampoos knows.

    Our brains have evolved to take the quickest and most efficient route to a decision, based on experience and a set of innate and unconscious rules developed since birth to negotiate our physical and social environment. Start considering lots of other information and variables, and the brain slows down or falters. Simplicity, writes Gigerenzer, is an evolutionary adaptation to uncertainty: «A complex problem demands a complex solution, so we are told. In fact, in unpredictable environments, the opposite is true.»»

  • Gerd Gigerenzer on gut feelings. «It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from. My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.»

  • «Why do we make errors? are they blunders caused by the limitations of our cognitive system? Or are errors indispensable parts of every intelligent system? From the first perspective, all errors are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful…. From the second perspective, there are errors that need to be made—that is, errors that are indispensable and functional…. The characteristic of a good error is that a person is better off making the error than not making it—for reaching a goal more quickly, or attaining it at all. In this view, every intelligent system has to make errors. Making no errors would destroy the intelligence of the system.»

  • About the end of cyberspace

    Cyberspace is a «metaphor we live by,» born two decades ago at the intersection of computers, networks, ideas, and experience. It has reflected our experiences with information technology, and also shaped the way we think about new technologies and the challenges they present. It had been a vivid and useful metaphor for decades; but in a rapidly-emerging world of mobile, always-on information devices (and eventually cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and swarm intelligence), the rules that define the relationship between information, places, and daily life are going to be rewritten. As the Internet becomes more pervasive— as it moves off desktops and screen and becomes embedded in things, spaces, and minds— cyberspace will disappear.

  • This blog is about what happens next. It’s about the end of cyberspace, but more important, about what new possibilities will emerge as new technologies, interfaces, use practices, games, legal theory, regulation, and culture adjust— and eventually dissolve— the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds.

  • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an historian of science and futurist.

    ping Pang

  • Part of the Corante Innovation Hub.

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[Reprinted from my Red Herring blog, 2005]

About fifteen year ago, we began to hear about children who helped their parents with new technologies. They were the ones who knew how to program the VCR, get onto the Internet, and troubleshoot the computer. It was a cliché, but a meaningful one that marked two shifts in the way technology was integrating into our lives. The first is that children were getting their hands on new technologies. Before, they had had intermediaries standing between them and a new device, slapping their hands away and warning them that they’d lose an eye if they touched it. Now, not only were they using computers without grown-ups, they were adapting faster to them than their parents. They could figure out computers more easily, were more flexible in the face of rapid change, and more willing to just play around with a device—and hence really learn how it works.

Kids are big market for technologies today. Adolescents are major consumers of cell phones, users of instant messaging, patrons of Playstation. But their importance goes beyond simple numbers. They’re also fanatical consumers: teen gamers do more research on new games than adults do when buying a new car. They’re harsh critics: visit any game or computer discussion board, and see for yourself just how detailed they can be in their criticism.

Finally and most important, they’re serious social innovators: they’re much less likely to follow the manual, and much more likely to invent new ways of using technologies, or build entire subcultures around them. Teens turned cell phones from business tools into pieces of youth culture. They’ve driven the growth of instant messaging and SMS. And they’ve flocked to blogs. They’re not just early adopters. They’re early adapters, too.

Of course, today’s kids are tomorrow’s consumers. There are new products to be created to serve their preferences; new skills to be exploited by the next generation of devices; and new services to be sold to support their lifestyles. But today, even really small children—the Sesame Street and Disney Princess set—are interacting with technologies, and developing some powerful assumptions about technology and media.

As a parent of two small children, I often feel like an anthropologist, trying to make sense of a little tribe of humans who live in a fundamentally different universe. We already know that teens are a serious market for new tech, and are important sources social innovations around technologies. But younger kids are also growing up with some really interesting views of technology and media. Having studied this tribe at close hand, I’m convinced that they offer clues about what tomorrow’s serious tech consumer is going to want.

So what has the under-8 set learned from cell phones and TiVO?

Computers are boxes of fun. Naturally, kids are more familiar with «Dora the Explorer» than Internet Explorer, but the deep consequence of this is that they see computers as machines that they can have fun with. Even typing gibberish on a word processor can be fun, if you use the right font.

Interaction is entertainment. Clicking on things, getting the computer to beep, pounding on the keys, are fun in themselves. They’d better stay fun, if manufacturers want to make sales. This will have serious consequences for interaction design, and for peripherals makers.

They’re all thumbs. Twenty years ago, mice had one or two buttons at most. Generation Playstation can handle two buttons on the top of the mouse, a scroll wheel that doubles as another button, and a fourth button under the thumb. (Thirty years ago, computer pioneer Doug Engelbart stopped at three buttons because he couldn’t figure out how to get more onto the mouse. It’s revealing that he never thought of putting one under the thumb.) Kids today have far greater thumb dexterity than their elders: Generation Galaxian got carpal tunnel syndrome, while Generation Playstation (and SMS) do things with their thumbs that the rest of us do with our fingers—dial phone numbers, press elevator buttons, etc..

In Japan (which, when translated into tech-speak, means «that giant island laboratory of technology-driven social innovation») already refer to wired teens as «oyayubi soku,» which translates into «thumb tribe.» This is slang that signifies deeply.

Phones are cellular, and wires are stupid. I can’t get my two year-old to talk on a land line, and I can’t keep him away from my cell phone. Partly it’s because of the superior design values of telephones, but it’s also because they do cooler stuff (see #2 above). His big sister was three before she really understood that some phones had cords. Her response: «That’s dumb, Daddy.»

Note to telcos: prepare exit strategy from land line business.

So young kids think interact differently with technologies than even their older brothers and sisters. But they also think differently about media.

I get to choose. At four, my daughter could already parse the functional difference between broadcast television, videos, and DVDs.

TV was the stuff you have to watch at certain times. Some shows are good, but as a medium, TV is dumb. (We don’t have TiVO. I want the kids to learn that some things are beyond their control.)

Videos are what you can watch any time. That’s better than TV. You can also skip forwards and backwards.

But DVDs are far and beyond the medium of choice, because you can skip up to any scene, and watch a movie in any order you want. Of course, this is a boon to parents (we can skip the shark chase in Finding Nemo), but for children it’s not just an avoidance technology, but one that gives them total control over the viewing experience. When my daughter puts in Toy Story 2, she has an elaborate shooting script mapped out in her head. Who cares what John Lasseter thought? She knows how it should be edited—today. Tomorrow, it’ll be different.

Interestingly, this doesn’t mean they treat all media as equally fungible. They still know that stories are supposed to be read from beginning to end. But once they realize that they have a little control, they expect to be completely in charge. This is very bad news for preprogrammed, scheduled media.

Pictures are experiences. When I grew up, I wasn’t allowed to use my parents’ camera: «Do you how much film costs?» my father would say. But when you go from film to digital photography, you no longer have any real limit to the number of pictures you can take. You pay a tiny cost for each picture, which means that mistakes are no longer expensive. That in turn means that pictures are basically disposable. Finally, the results are immediately visible: you can see them on the LCD on the back.

They also go from being artifacts to save, to artifacts to share. When my five year-old borrows my camera, she takes pictures of her friends. They then look at the pictures and giggle. When cameras are equipped with Bluetooth, and we can share them instantly, you’re going to see a white-hot traffic in photographs taken among friends. If I take a great picture of my friends, I can beam it to them instantly. In other words, picture-taking becomes an experience, not a commemoration.

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Virginia Heffernan laments the demise of datebooks like the Filofax:

It’s hard to remember, surveying my dull Google version (“parents in town,” “book club”), that a Filofax was also a place for plot arcs, self-invention and self-regulation. It was, in every sense, a diary — a forward-running record, unlike backward-running blogs. The quality of the paper stock, the slot for the pen, the blank but substantial cover, the hints of grand possibilities that came with the inserts — all of these inspired not just introspection but also the joining of history: the mapping of an individual life onto the grand old Gregorian-calendar template….

[N]ow that I’ve shelved my Filofax in favor of a calendar program that seems somehow to flatten existence, I realize that another year is passing without my building up the compact book of a year’s worth of Filofax pages that, every December, I used to wrap in a rubber band and put on a shelf, just as my new refills came in the mail.

If there is one thing we’ve discovered about print media, especially in the wake of the disappearance of some artifact (card catalogs, the encyclopedia, etc.), is that readers and users don’t treat print media merely as inefficient carriers of information that wanted to be digital (or free, or expensive, as Stewart Brand put it), but developed all kinds of other uses for print that increased their utility, were taken for granted, and tended to be overlooked by engineers. Engineers looked at the Filofax and saw a digital calendar-in-waiting; in Heffernan’s hands, in contrast, it was «a place for plot arcs, self-invention and self-regulation. It was, in every sense, a diary — a forward-running record, unlike backward-running blogs.»

We don’t just act on information or media; we interact with it, and the character of those interactions, as much as the information itself, define our relationships with media. One reason I still prefer printed books to digital is that it’s difficult to annotate digital books in a way I find satisfactory: when I’m reviewing a book, or using it in my work, I need to be able to underline, annotate, add Post-Its, and make notes— to document my dialogue with or reflections on the book. (This goes far beyond the kind of annotations you can make on ebooks today, and a world away from leaving comments on blogs, or hitting the «Like» button on a Web page.) This kind of reading is more like a martial art than the quiet, interior activity that many people think of when they think about «reading.» And while I don’t do it with everything— I never got the calendar bug, for example— there are a few activities in which the affordances of print media support practices and interactions that electronic media cannot.

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  • Technological innovations are key causal agents of surprise and disruption. In the recent past, the United States military has encountered unexpected challenges in the battlefield due in part to the adversary’s incorporation of technologies not traditionally associated with weaponry…. [T]he Committee for Forecasting Future Disruptive Technologies [was tasked] with providing guidance and insight on how to build a persistent forecasting system to predict, analyze, and reduce the impact of the most dramatically disruptive technologies. The first of two reports, this volume analyzes existing forecasting methods and processes. It then outlines the necessary characteristics of a comprehensive forecasting system that integrates data from diverse sources to identify potentially game-changing technological innovations and facilitates informed decision making by policymakers.
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  • «Scientists have transferred men’s minds into a virtual woman’s body in an experiment that could enlighten the prejudiced and shed light on how humans distinguish themselves from others. In a study at Barcelona University, men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes. The «body-swapping» effect was so convincing that the men’s sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.»
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  • Interesting article on what makes the Finnish school system world-class.
  • «Ross Todd speak about «The Essential Pieces» for school librarianship. Dr. Todd emphasized that librarians must rethink, redefine, and recast both their role in, and their vision for, school libraries. He challenged us to discard our dearly-held notion that the library is the hub or heart of a district and to seek ways to enable students to actively engage with learning wherever, whenever, and however that occurs. Another key point that Dr. Todd made was that librarians need to TEACH, to initiate as well as collaborate, to be able to show evidence of the type of quality teaching that has been proven to have a key effect on student learning. The library, he warned us, can’t just be about «stuff.» To use my new vocabulary, the library has to provide the tools and space to upcycle information, to improve the quality of the original material. It has to facilitate the process of bricolage: creation and invention, through tinkering, without penalty for failure.»
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  • «The last decade has brought an explosion in dazzling technological advances — including enhancements in surround sound, high definition television and 3-D — that have transformed the fan’s experience. There are improvements in the quality of media everywhere — except in music. In many ways, the quality of what people hear — how well the playback reflects the original sound— has taken a step back. To many expert ears, compressed music files produce a crackly, tinnier and thinner sound than music on CDs and certainly on vinyl. And to compete with other songs, tracks are engineered to be much louder as well. … In fact, among younger listeners, the lower-quality sound might actually be preferred. Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, said he had conducted an informal study among his students and found that, over the roughly seven years of the study, an increasing number of them preferred the sound of files with less data over the high-fidelity recordings.»
  • On the need to replace risk management with risk leadership. «In a complex and dynamic world an increasing number of challenges have the character of wicked problems, i e problems which usually are impossible to formulated in isolation and often without straight forward or verifiable solutions. The problem is that our risk management methods cannot cope with these kinds of problems, sometimes even intertwined with more traditional problems.» As David Hancock explains, «What confuses real decision-making is that behavioural and dynamic complexities co-exist and interact in what we call wicked messes. Dynamic complexity requires high level conceptual and systems thinking skills; behavioural complexity requires high levels of relationship and facilitative skills.»
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  • Most futures research is the work of social, managerial and natural scientists and specialists in technology assessment. Historians are conspicuous by their absence. When they do contribute, they usually limit themselves to studies of the history of futurism itself. It is argued that all inquiry into the future is a species of applied history, in which historians should play a far greater part. Support for the argument is drawn from a new book which attacks the ‘dread of change’ and the ‘closure of the historical mind’ in postmodern thought, Mythical Past, Elusive Future: History and Society in an Anxious Age, by Frank Füredi.