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Crypto talk could ruin Thanksgiving dinner

Diane Davis

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With the arrival of Thanksgiving, it’s time to talk turkey—by which, of course, I mean, it’s time to talk frankly with your family, over turkey, about crypto.

Blame Facebook all you want, but the kinds of harmful attitudes and misinformation about crypto that famously spread like wildfire on social media are just as likely to stem from dinner table talk. What transpires there, in the familial sanctum sanctorum, has just as much power as Mark Zuckerberg to shape your uncle’s opinions for years to come. While you can’t monitor all the suspicious news your closest relatives may ingest, especially with how gauche spyware is considered these days, Thanksgiving is a perfect chance to shut down alternative facts (aka fear uncertainty, and doubt; aka FUD) about altcoins in the meatspace, while gorging yourself on meat.

After all the uncertainty and chaos of the last year and a half—the Shiba vs Doge wars turning sibling against sibling—it may be a particularly tense time to have this conversation. Arguing about DAOs could potentially render the holiday spirit in your house DOA. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s how to talk with your family about crypto this Thanksgiving, without having mom and grandpa form a blockchain against you coming home for Christmas.

Don’t rush in

The hardest part of being a crypto enthusiast is not being able to talk about crypto for upwards of five minutes sometimes, but it’s a necessary sacrifice. When it comes to educating your family about the magic of Web3, you can’t just barge in as you would at a cocktail party, where it’s fully acceptable to use greetings, such as, “Hey, did you know that bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency that can be exchanged online without a bank or any intermediaries whatsoever?” In this instance, it’s better to let the mountain come to Muhammad. Or, put another way, let Mars come to Elon Musk.

The good news is that it almost certainly will! In light of recent events, odds are strong that the topic of bitcoin will emerge organically this Thanksgiving. (In fact, odds are so strong, I would bet on it. With bitcoin.) Picture it: Everyone is gathered ’round the TV on Wednesday night, watching the Laker game as a family, when an announcer mentions that soon the team won’t be playing at the Staples Center anymore, but rather at the Crypto.com Arena. (Same address, new name, starting December 25.) If that doesn’t happen, perhaps someone at the table will have heard that a group of high-profile crypto investors recently banded together to try to purchase the U.S. Constitution. Now you have an opening!

Lead with love

Before donning your debate hat at the dinner table, bear in mind that these are people whom you love. Family members are not ideological enemies to be destroyed with logic, but rather fellow token holders to be gently persuaded before a Discord call. If their response to your initial explanation is to say that crypto sounds like virtual currency, rather than real money, take it in stride. Do not point to the laptop from which Cousin Hunter is zooming in because of COVID and ask whether his virtual presence makes him any less real. Restraint is key.

From where you’re sitting—HODLing on a mountain of digital greenbacks—it seems like any fool should understand crypto’s undeniable tangibility. But it didn’t happen automatically for you, and it won’t for your family, either. Better to ease them in by explaining just how real bitcoin has become. Start with the fact that Coinbase, the crypto exchange hub, went public last spring, fetching an $85 billion valuation. It might not change your nephew’s mind, but it’s an impressive amount of money. Any way you slice it, an $85 billion valuation sounds real af.

While your Thanksgiving cohorts are still chewing on that number, hit them with the fact that crypto is considered legal tender in El Salvador, and that you will soon be able to use it to pay with PayPal or make donations to UNICEF. It’s not only digital gold, but it’s also much more than that! Serve them simple points with a soft underhand toss. If you had the patience to teach your grandma how to text, you can teach her the basics of bitcoin.

Connect on their level

Unfortunately, even a bitcoin has two sides, and it would be irresponsible not to hold forth on both. As you explain that a central feature of cryptocurrency’s decentralization is the loosey-goosey taxability of its transactions, you should also explain its volatility. This is the critical moment: expounding on the constant nail-biting drama of crypto without turning off an impressionable audience. How then to convey drastic shifts like the rug pull that felled the Squid Game coin, the way Elon Musk can alternately elevate or drop a coin with just a word, or that China can just suddenly decide to ban crypto one day, reigning chaos down upon investors around the globe?

You do it by connecting with them on their level. Go light on the technical jargon and get real. Sure, all this nerve-wracking volatility makes investing in bitcoin seem like a gamble, but what’s also a gamble if not our belief in the value of money persevering? Besides, do we not gamble with our lives every day? More than 38,000 people die each year in car crashes on U.S. roadways, so you might say that just getting into a car puts one at a similar level of risk as investing in Baby Doge. Plus, think of the learning experience when you click on a bad link in a Discord, and your crypto wallet gets emptied out.

You have one mouth, but two ears

At this point, it may turn out your family has concerns about crypto beyond just its staggering unpredictability. Resist the urge to steamroll past these points of contention with more amazing factoids, and instead hear them out. Listening is like the bitcoin to talking’s U.S. dollars: An alternative and possibly better route to getting where you want to be.

Someone in your family will likely bring up the potential energy problem posed by bitcoin mining, which is the process by which new bitcoins are created through the solving of a computational puzzle. Your family will likely have no idea what any of that means, but rather have just heard that it is bad. (They may have also heard that NFTs are bad for the environment as well, but there is only so much enlightenment that can be achieved across one Thanksgiving meal.)

If you’ve listened to your family’s concerns, and it seems like bitcoin mining is among the most prominent, now you have an area of focus, and you can form a plan of (gentle!) attack. Let them know that, according to an estimate from Cambridge University, bitcoin mining currently makes up just 0.4% of the world’s energy consumption. They don’t need to know that all the other data centers in the entire world only consume 1% of its energy. Part of listening, after all, is knowing what not to say.

Know when to fold ’em

Not everyone was born to be a brave explorer on Planet Crypto. Some people won’t budge on their skepticism for alternative currency, and you just may be related to them. If you’ve tried your best to convey the coolness of bitcoin to your family—explaining that it’s endorsed by such beloved politicians as Andrew Yang, Kyrsten Sinema, and Ted Cruz, or that rapper Money Man recently accepted the large advance for his album Blockchain in crypto—and they’re still not on board, it may be time to throw in the towel.

There’s nothing wrong with that!

When that DAO sought to buy the U.S. Constitution recently, they may have been thwarted by a last-minute 5% drop in the value of Ethereum—but at least they tried. It’s this same spirit of boundary-testing, determination, and grit that animated the pioneers of bitcoin . . . also the pilgrims. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on how well both of those projects turned out.


Technology & Innovation

The citizen scientists chronicling life at a neglected but vital Mexican river

Diane Davis

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Since the fall of 2021, Viaje al Microcosmos has organized walks on the river to encourage the general public to explore the space and make new connections with this misunderstood body of water. In the last few years, participants have created their own microscopes to study water samples they’ve collected; created an immersive art installation to showcase the species that live on the river; produced a podcast; developed a template to help people document water quality; contributed to the Río Santa Catarina’s Wikipedia page; and more. Each activity helps build a community of city dwellers who believe the river is a natural resource worth protecting. The effort seems only more urgent against the backdrop of a regional drought, rising temperatures, and a government that continues to place environmental issues on the back burner. 

A woman peeks into a microscope at Viaje al Microcosmos’s stand at the citizen science event.

LORENA RíOS

Viaje al Microcosmos’s goal is multifaceted and ambitious. The activists want to build a community of citizen scientists that pushes back against the belief that the river is for sale. They want to produce information about the river that can shape public policy and aid in its preservation. But perhaps most important, they want to instill the revolutionary thought that the Santa Catarina River can, in fact, be just that: a river. 

Lorena Ríos is a freelance journalist based in Monterrey, Mexico.

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What Luddites can teach us about resisting an automated future

Diane Davis

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A story in comic format. In this first panel, two figures in silhouette look out at a modern city skyline.  The text reads, "The future is here already. AI art has arrived. Simply write a prompt..."

A person's smiling headshot being uploaded.  The text reads, "Or allow a company unrestricted access to your likeness..."
The headshot from the previous panel with distroted features and a wavy new background. The text reads, "...And ta-da! Some absolutely serviceable hotel lobby art. But calling this 'AI art' uncritically buys into the AI hype machine."
Two people look at the blank space where the framed picture of a flower has been stolen by a giant robot hand. The text reads, "Algorithmically generated art theft" might be more accurate.

Two panels. In the first, a scrabbly line resembling a signature. The text reads, "Machine-learning software is "taught" by feeding it existing art without consent, credit, or compensation. To the extent that mangled signature remnants remain visible on AI art." In the second, the text reads, "Artists have begun to push back." over the image of protestors led by Matthew Butterick, co-counsel in a class action lawsuit brought against AI art by artists, who says, "Everybody would creates for a living should be in code red."
The text reads, "A common refrain from defenders of AI art has been to label these naysayers:"  above multiple speech bubbles saying "Luddite!" "Luddites!" and "Luddism!"
Text across the top continues, "...a term synonymous with technophobia, anti-progress, and reactionism. It's even used to describe being hapless with new tech." A group of people eating dinner together, and one person is saying, "Oh, I can't use TikTok! I'm such a Luddite!" The below the image reads, "In truth, the Luddites were skilled with machines. They were simply fighting for better worker rights."

A man in a cravat holding a plume at his writing desk smiles, while behind in shadow are two women at textile machines. The text reads, "In 1799, the British government passed legislation that prohibited trader unions and collective bargaining. Mill owners introduced more machines in their factories, reducing wages."
A man with his shirtsleeves rolled up, raising a sledgehammer.  The text reads, "And so, in 1811, after years of frustrating negotiations, a spate of coordinated attacks on mill frameworks erupted across the United Kingdom, led by "King Ned Ludd."

Sheets of paper flutter down to a gallows in the foreground as soldiers with bayonets raised corral a crowd of civilians behind.  The text reads, "But them, 14000 soldiers were sent to protect the mills and quash riots. New legislation made frame breaking a capital offense. Eventually, key Luddite organizers were identified, arrested and executed.
Lord Byron reciting from "Song for the Luddites" says with his eyes closed, "This is the dew, which the tree shall renew Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!"  The text above reads, "Yet the movement lived on. Outbreaks of machine breaking continued for years in the UK and beyond.
A woman smashing something with a sledgehammer. The text reads, "In 1837, a spinning jenny in Chalabre, France was destroyed by workers. The women workers 'made themselves conspicuous by their fury and violence.' From local newspaper, L'Aude."

The text reads, "In the 1870s, English textile designer, author, and socialist William Morris began taking an interest in the production process of his designs. He was disgusted by the poor living conditions of workers and the pollution caused by the textile industry." William Morris in profile saying, "Why does a reasonable man use a machine? Surely to save his labour. Under capitalism, machines were primarily used to increase production, thereby increasing the worker's drudgery."
The text reads, "People have been making similar arguments against AI art." A tweet from CatBastardQuinn, @QuinnCat13 reads, "We could automate menial jobs so people have time to make art and music but apparently we'd rather automate art and music so people have time for menial jobs."
An office worker at a laptop with face in hands and an Amazon worker in a pile of shipping boxes. The text reads" Likewise, Morris was interested in what he called 'worthy work'.' He wanted people to take pleasure in their work rather than 'mere toiling to live that we may live to toil.'"
The text reads, "He understood that machines were only as progressive as the people who used them." Morris facing us from a field of app notifications, says "[An unfree man is a] slave to machinery; the new machine MUST be invented, and when invented he MUST - I will not say use it, but be used by it whether he likes it or not."
Frederick Taylor overseeing factory workers standing around machines with a stopwatch.  The text reads, "In America, mechanical engineer Frederick W. Taylor began using what he called the 'Scientific Management' in his factories. Taylor timed each worker's every movement, breaking down their work into a set of discrete tasks. Then demanded workers speed them up."
The text reads, "Taylorism, as it became known, was less a science than a political ideology concerned with remolding workers into pliant subjects. Taylor faces us to say, "A complete mental revolution on the part of the workingman...toward their work, toward their fellow men, and toward their employers."
The text reads, "But the spirit of Luddism lived on. Seemingly out of nowhere, there was a rash of mechanical breakdowns at Taylor's factories." An angry Taylor tells us, "These men were deliberately breaking their machines." while two men stand behind him shrugging and smiling slightly while a plume a smoke rises from an unseen area.

A cover of a  book entitled, "Sabotage: Its History, Philosophy & Function by author Walker C Smith. shows a black cat climbing atop a bag of money.  The text reads, "Despite setbacks and intervention from Congress, Taylorism spread. The Industrial Workers of the World responded by publishing two tracts on the topic of sabotage in 1913. 'The aim is to hit the employer in his vital spot, his heart and soul, in other words, his pocketbook.;"
Hands reach to an assembly line where the words "Automation - as it was later dubbed by Delmar Harder, vice president of Ford Motor Company, in 1947 - continued unabated." repeat on each panel of the conveyor.

The text reads, "The legacy of the Luddites lived on in the latter half of the 20th century. Confined to the lowest-paying jobs, black workers were the first to be targeted by the midcentury push for automation.  Robert L. Allen quotes from his book, Black Awakening in Capitalist America (1969) "Not only is the economic situation of the masses of blacks grim, but the prospects are that it will not improve, rather it will deteriorate. This is due partly to the unregulated impact of automation."
The text reads, "The Black Panthers were also quick to recognize <a href=technology and automation were not politically neutral." Huey Newton, cofounder of the Black Panther Party says from a podium, "If the ruling circle remains in power it seems to me that capitalists will continue to develop their technological machinery because they are not interested in the people…Every worker is in jeopardy because of the ruling circle."” class=”wp-image-1088535″ />
A group of Black Panthers standing together.  The text reads, "The Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program was updated in 1972. 'People's community control of modern <a href=technology‘ was added to the demands for ‘land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace."” class=”wp-image-1088536″ />

A conveyor belt with a chart, titled "Overrepresentation of African Americans in 3 occupation categories with the highest expected displacement, %" The statistics are Office Support e.g. secretaries with a displacement rate of 36%, Food Services, e.g. fast-food cooks with a displacement rate of 35% and Production work e.g. machinists with a displacement rate of 34%. The text reads, "A 2019 McKinsey Global Intitute report found that: 'African Americans are overrepresented in occupations likely to be the most affected by automation.' And the 2030 outlook doesn't look much better."
A crowd of students holding a sign that says "STRIKE" and a button that says, "I am a human being: do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" The text reads, "The introduction of the computer in the 1970s only exacerbated growing tensions. Punch cards used in universities, similar to cards used for drafting recruits for Vietnam, were seen as a symbol of bureaucracy and alienation. Students burned, vandalized, and otherwise destroyed punch cards for course registration."
Lisa Gitelman, author of Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture (2008) says, "Many people simply stopped drawing distinctions between one card-enabled system and another. Whether the cards registered draftees or pupils, they helped 'the system.""
Men in a warroom facing a map. The text reads, "Vietnam had become the first computational war, bringing a shift toward strategies rooted in quantitative data collection and automated analysis."

A fighter plane with the name, "Tom Cat" on the side. The text reads, "Sensor arrays and unmanned drones became a big part of the war. An ongoing experiment with the intention of the eventual replacement of human pilots. American soldiers were sabotaging equipment, staging protests and refusing to fight. Automation of war as with the automation of industry, was a political strategy designed to, once again, reassert control over rebellious workers."
A person at the self-checkout frustrated by the machines error message which says, "Unexpected item in the bagging area!"  The text reads "Now, as more of our daily lives are automated, people are finding that it doesn't always make our lives easier."
The text reads, "In 2016, a study revealed that physicians spend two hours of computer work for every hour spent speaking with a patient face to face." Atul Gawande, surgeon and public health researcher tells us, "I've come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work's mastery over me."

The text above people using computers reads, "In the rush to claim success with new AI software, this invisible human work becomes even more insidious. Researcher Jathan Sadowski calls it 'Potemkin AI.'  Sadowski says to us, "There is a long list of services that purport to be powered by sophisticated software, but actually rely on humans acting like robots."
Writer and filmmaker Astra Taylor calls these modern-day Mechanical Turks an example of "fauxtomation" which she says "reinforces the idea that work has no value if it is unpaid and acclimates us to the idea that one day we won't be needed."
A sad person hold s a robot mask to their face. The text reads, "As a 2019 report by the think tank Data & Society concludes, 'Automated and AI technologies tend to mask the human labour that allows them to be fully integrated into a social context while profoundly changing the conditions and quality of labour that is at stake."

The text reads, "Opposition to 21st century tech can be found in unlikely places. Silicon Valley executives are restricting their own children's screen time and sending them to tech-free schools." Taewoo Kim, chief AI engineer at machine learning startup One Smart Lab, tells us from in front of a Waldorf school, "You can't put your face in a device and expect to develop a long-term attention span."
A bullet shaped robot outside near grass has sauce on it. The text reads, "In San Francisco, security robots sent to harass the homeless have been repeatedly assaulted, with one being covered in BBQ sauce and wrapped in tarp."
An autonomous vehicle with a broken window.  The text reads, "In Arizona, people are slashing the tires of driverless cars after Uber struck and killed a woman in Tempe." A quote from Douglas Rushkoff, author of Team Human (2019) reads, "People are lashing out justifiably. There's a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driverless technologies do not have our best interests at heart."
A pie chart with the words, "A pew research poll found that 85% of Americans favored the restriction of automation to only the most dangerous forms of work."

People standing around and looking at their cell phones. The text reads, "We're all living through an era in which we have become the product."  Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2018) tells us, "The age of surveillance capitalism is a titanic struggle between capital and each one of us. It is a direct intervention into free will, an assault on human autonomy. To tune and herd and shape and push us in the direction that creates the highest probability of their business success. [There's no way] to dress this up as anything but behavioral modification."
A facial recognition target over the face of a Black person next to a hand pointing at the word "Error." The text reads, "Many are also drawing attention to the biases of software made by an almost entirely male, predominantly white workforce."  A quote from Timnit Gebru, cofounder of Black in AI says, "I'm worried about groupthink, insularity, and arrogance in the AI community, [...] If many are actively excluded from its creation, this <a href=technology will benefit a few while harming a great many."” class=”wp-image-1088552″ />
The text reads, "VPNs, the dark web, and plugins like RequestPolicy are arguably Luddite responses to new <a href=technology. Computer science students have already developed Glaze- a tool to prevent AI models from mimicking artist styles." Maxigas, in Resistance to the Current: The Dialectics of Hacking (2022) says, "A retrograde attempt to rewind web history: a Luddite machine that, as they say ‘breaks’ the essential mechanisms of websites."” class=”wp-image-1088553″ />

Gavin Mueller in Breaking Things at Work (2021) says, "Luddism contains a critical perspective on <a href=technology that pays particular attention to technology‘s relationship to the labor process and working conditions. In other words, it views technology not as neutral but as a site of struggle. Luddism rejects production for production’s sake: it is critical of ‘efficiency’ as an end goal."” class=”wp-image-1088554″ />
Above a person tearing a line chart, the text reads, "'Degrowth,' 'slow living,' 'quiet quitting,' and the 'I Do Not Dream of Labour' movements could all be described as forms of modern neo-Luddism."  Jason Hickel, author of Less is More: How Degrowth will Save the World (2020)  says, "Lashed to the growth imperative, <a href=technology is used not to do the same amount of stuff in less time, but rather to do more stuff in the same amount of time."” class=”wp-image-1088555″ />

A man with a sledgehammer resting on his shoulder as hi looks out at the horizon. The text reads, "Questioning and resisting the worst excesses of <a href=technology isn’t antithetical to progress. If your concept of ‘progress’ doesn’t put people at the center of it, is it even progress? Maybe those of us who are apprehensive about AI art are Luddites. Maybe we should wear that badge with pride. Welcome to the future. Sabotage it."” class=”wp-image-1088556″ />

Tom Humberstone is a comic artist and illustrator based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Technology & Innovation

China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

Diane Davis

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Poster of the short drama "Mr. Williams! Madame Is Dying," showing the two protaganists.

Web novels are a unique form of literature that has been popular on the Chinese internet for much of the last two decades: long stories that are written and posted chapter by chapter every day. Each chapter can be read in less than 10 minutes, but installments will keep being added for months if not years. Readers become avid fans, waiting for the new chapter to come out every day and paying a few cents to access it.

While some talented Chinese book authors got their big break by writing web novels, the majority of these works are the popcorn of literature, offering daily bite-size dopamine hits. For a while in the 2010s, some found an audience overseas too, with Chinese companies setting up websites to translate web novels into English.

But in the age of TikTok, long text posts have become less popular online, and the web-novel industry is looking to pivot. Business executives have realized they can adapt these novels into super-short dramas. Both forms aim for the same market: people who want something quick to kill time in their commute, or during breaks and lunch.

Many of the leading Chinese short-drama apps today work closely with Chinese web-novel companies. ReelShort is partially owned by COL Group, one of the largest digital publishers in China, with a treasure trove of novels that are ready for adaptation.

Poster of the short drama Mr. Williams! Madame Is Dying.

COURTESY OF FLEXTV

To get a quick sense of what these stories are like, you just need to take a look at their titles: President’s Sexy Wife, The Bride of the Wolf King, Boss Behind the Scenes Is My Husband, or The New Rich Family Grudge.

One of the highest-grossing shows on FlexTV is called Mr. Williams! Madame Is Dying. It’s a corny romance story about a love triangle, ultra-rich families, cancer, rebirth, and redemption, and it was adapted from a Chinese web novel that has nearly 1,300 chapters. The original story has been turned into a Chinese short drama, but FlexTV decided to shoot another version in Los Angeles for an international audience.

These short dramas prioritize quick, oversimplified stories of love, wealth, betrayal, and revenge, sometimes featuring mythical creatures like vampires and werewolves. Stories of marrying into a rich family attract men, while stories with a powerful female protagonist in control of her life appeal to women, says Gao, the COO of FlexTV. 

“Quibi mostly served the [artistic] pursuits of directors and producers. They thought their tastes were better than the general public and their work was to be appreciated by the elites,” he says, “What we are making is more like fast-moving consumer goods. It’s rooted in the needs of ordinary users.”

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