Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Featured artist: Ori Toor

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery
 

Welcome to Issue 215!

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Like many folks in Germany, for as long as I can remember my family has purchased bottled mineral water. Before everything got wrapped in plastic, it came in these crates of a dozen heavy glass bottles. I hated lifting them out of the boot of the car and carrying them up two flights of stairs to our pantry. It seemed like a lot of effort for something that came out of a tap. In part thanks to my laziness, bottled drinking water largely disappeared from my life the day I moved out of home.

I’m lucky to have lived in countries where tap water is perfectly safe to drink. The idea of purchasing water in a bottle – except for some rare circumstances – always seemed wasteful, both in terms of cost and material. With today’s awareness around single use plastic, you’d think that my behaviour would symbolise a broader generational shift in the way we think about drinking water, but the opposite is true. Demand is growing across the globe – people drink roughly 10% more bottled water every year. Here are some US-centric facts:

In 2016, bottled water surpassed carbonated soft drinks to become the largest beverage category by volume in the United States. Americans today drink more bottled water than milk or beer. To produce the roughly 50 billion water bottles that are sold in the US every year, about 17 million barrels of oil are needed. Absurdly, more water goes into making a bottle of water than goes inside it. A recent study found that North American companies use 1.39 litres of water to make 1 litre of bottled water.

What’s driving the growth? As this recent Vox piece explains, “the story of bottled water is part fear, part marketing, part laziness”. Sure, there are legitimate concerns about water contamination, even in the Western world. In the US, basic infrastructure is sometimes underfunded and health and safety legislation too lax. A few high-profile water crises managed to instil fear in consumers; a fear that beverage companies know how to leverage.

What I find most striking, though, is the fact that bottled water – because of the enormous profits it delivers – now has one of the biggest marketing budgets of any beverage. Celebrities, athletes and influencers get paid a lot of money to position H2O in a bottle, carton or can as a product ‘our health and wellness deserve’. How can any public water utility – no matter how safe and tasty their water is – compete with that?

I can’t help but draw a comparison with our transport system. Decades of highly stylised, extravagant commercials have ingrained in us the notion that owning a car is the ultimate expression of freedom and status. One can only imagine what our cities would look like today if walking or public transit had similar marketing budgets. – Kai

 

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Explore →

A brand new platform for creatives

Explore is a place where you can create a portfolio and meet the community without the distraction of ads or unwanted content. Readers of DD get 30 days of Explore for free by clicking on this invitation link. Let’s make the new creative space together!

 

Apps & Sites

Deckset →

Turn notes into slides

After sharing iA’s new Presenter app in DD two weeks ago, several readers pointed out that iA may have taken inspiration from Deckset, a macOS app with a similar text-based approach to generating slideshows. Friends of DD enjoy a 50% discount. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

Stardust →

Defuse cookie popups

During my recent visit to Europe I was reminded of how irritating those pesky cookie popups can be. Stardust offers a suite of browser extensions that saves your cookie preferences on a browser level and automatically answers (most) requests for you before they pop up.

Debirdify →

Match Twitter peeps on Mastodon

Trying to move to Mastodon but annoyed by having to start with zero people to follow? Once you connect Debirdify with your Twitter account, it will search Fediverse servers for accounts that may match the people you follow on Twitter.

Convertio →

File converter

A very easy-to-use, browser-based file converter with impressive capabilities. From videos and images to fonts and ebooks, you can throw almost anything at this thing. “We support more than 25,600 different conversions between more than 300 different file formats.”

 

Mini-Interview with Alex González Ormerod

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Alex González Ormerod is the Latin America Editor at Rest of World. He is a Mexican editor, writer, and historian focused on the effects of technology across Latin America. He is also interested in the region’s history, politics, and shared identity. Before that, Alex was a cheesemonger.

Can you briefly explain the backstory of the unusual title of your publication?

Rest of World is a tongue-in-cheek name based on the way US corporate-speak lumps enormous populations from Kenya, to Argentina, to Indonesia together. Rest of World’s mission is to unravel this amorphous blob into what are actually fascinating and diverse geographies by reporting on how the latest technologies are affecting their lives, cultures, politics, and societies.

Why should the English-speaking/Western world pay attention to the use of technology in typically overlooked countries?

Because the world is changing and increasingly multipolar. A very prescient example can be seen in Ukraine, which to Western observers seems like a clear cut Russian-Western conflict. Yet, if you see it through a Rest of World lens, you might see this as a Middle Eastern technological proxy war, in which Iranian and Turkish drones and smart weapons are tested out on European armies and populations. This is not something one might have expected in a previously unipolar or bipolar world.

You rely on an extensive network of global reporters. What are some of the journalistic challenges in working with reporters from vastly different cultural backgrounds?

Going back to basics, the genre of ‘investigative journalism’ is so diverse across the world. Our colleagues in Mexico, Japan, or the US might be doing excellent reporting on the same subject and then present it in entirely divergent formats. This is a big challenge if you work in a publication that aspires to feature local voices while presenting a unified tone and style to our audience.

Making good journalism financially viable is difficult even for large, established publications. Can you share some details about RoW’s business model?

Rest of World is a non-profit publication with funding from the Schmidt Foundation. However, we’re exploring options for monetisation looking towards the long term sustainability of the publication; we’re lucky in that we can be thoughtful and relatively slow paced, so that these efforts don’t affect the high quality of our journalism in any way.

Could you give us an example of tech-related phenomena that are specific to a particular country/region and that most Westerners would be unaware of?

Most people have heard about the leapfrog effect, when places that were once behind technologically can move far ahead of previously advanced places. This is the story we see all across the world; like in China where you can live your entire life, pay for your services, chat with your friends, and hail a cab on a single app. Or there’s Brazil where an enormous proportion of the population pays with QR codes, bypassing gimmicky fintech startups and cash. And then there’s this organic blossoming of non-corporate backed solutions that replicate things like Uber, or last-mile delivery, or payments apps by jumbling together something like Facebook Chat, a free QR payment system, and a GPS to hail a cab without ever having to go through a dedicated intermediary company.

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Alex González Ormerod in one click.)

 

Books & Accessories

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The End of Night →

A panoramic tour of the night

A really intriguing book about the wondrous beauty that is the night sky. “A starry night is one of nature’s most magical wonders, yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans’ eyes never switch to night vision, and most no longer experience true darkness. In The End of Night, Paul Bogard restores awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art.”

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How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century →

A manifesto for human flourishing

“It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism”, goes the famous quote. At a time when crises seem to be multiplying and human activity breaks one planetary boundary after another, it’s worth considering the benefits of some possible alternatives. “Capitalism has transformed the world and increased our productivity, but at the cost of enormous human suffering. Our shared values – equality and fairness, democracy and freedom, community and solidarity – can both provide the basis for a critique of capitalism and help to guide us towards a socialist and democratic society.”

 

Overheard on Twitter

Every 2-3 months there’s some scandal about a guy named like Daiquiri Dan who I’ve never heard of and I look him up and it’s like: “Daiquiri Dan is an American YouTube personality. He is worth $46.3m, $15m of which came from becoming the spokesman for the food ‘almonds’ in 2018.”

@cat_beltane

 

Food for Thought

The Tyranny Of Time →

Read

A really insightful deep dive into the concept of globally standardised clock time – how we made it up, how it dictates our economic systems, and how it (unnaturally) influences our perception of time throughout our lives. “There are more ways to arrange and synchronize ourselves with the world around us than the abstract clock time we hold so dear. Clock time may have colonized the planet, but it did not completely destroy alternative traditions of timekeeping. Certain religions maintain a connection to time that is rooted in nature, like salat in Islam and zmanim in Judaism, in which prayer times are defined by natural phenomena like dawn, dusk and the positioning of stars. The timing of these events may be converted into clock time, but they are not determined by clocks.”

The ugly story of how corporate America convinced us to spend so much on water →

Read

One of the pieces I mention in the intro that highlights our bizarre relationship with water in a bottle. “Water utilities don’t have advertising budgets; private companies do. ... The way we’ve commercialized water is ‘a symptom of a larger set of issues’, including the decline of public water systems that has led to distrust in those systems, advertising and marketing from brands happy to leverage that distrust, and ‘a society trained from birth to buy, consume, and throw away’.”

China’s Revolution Turns Green →

Read

A fascinating, thorough read about China’s vision of becoming a modern communist powerhouse that turbo-charges the global clean energy transition and builds a new societal ethos in the process. “Disappointment with political leaders is a sentiment that can be found in many countries around the world, but in China, the Party is advocating an ecologically driven vision of building something new, recognizing that what most human societies are doing in 2022 has no future. ... China is a millennia-old project of how to not get washed away, starved to death, killed by heatstroke; how to turn leaves into dinner and withered roots into medicine. Historical rulers took the preservation and extension of the population as the moral and practical core of their reign, and today’s leaders still see society as configured by a hierarchy whose legitimacy is based on controlling climate disasters.”

 

Aesthetically Pleasing

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Bali-based sculpture artist Spencer Hansen creates mythical creatures out of natural, found and recycled materials like wood, metal, bone, plant fibers and ceramic. (via)

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“Artist Bisma Hussain addresses the lasting consequences of her long-time struggles with chronic pain, social anxiety, and depression with her paintings. Drawing inspiration from photography and painting, both modern and contemporary, Hussain pictures herself and others in contorted poses, mirroring the discomfort and detachment she feels in certain relationships, places, and situations.”

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Big Branzino is a beautiful, spacious floating sauna. “The custom-designed sauna oven has glass in all directions, allowing the glow of the fire to be seen from the outside.”

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NaN Tresor is a charming, contextual-alternative-loaded sans family with up to eight alternates per glyph plus swashes.

 

Notable Numbers

80

France now requires that every surface parking lot with more than 80 parking spaces must be covered by solar panels. The measure could contribute up to 11 gigawatts of electricity, or the equivalent power of ten nuclear reactors.

90

A recent study on the health impact of air pollution found that exposure to high levels of particulate air pollutants increased older women’s risk of dementia by over 90%.

201,455

Many tech companies, fearing an economic downturn, have massively reduced their staff. So far in 2022, there have been 1213 layoffs at tech companies with 201,455 people impacted.

 

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The Week in a GIF

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