culture

In the September 2018 issue of Wired magazine Clive Thompson argues that we need software to help slow us down, not speed up. He discusses “friction engineering,” which is “software that’s designed not to speed us up but to slow us down. It’s a principle that inverts everything we know about why software exists.” In social scientific circles, a great example the article cites is the social media site Nextdoor’s attempts to redesign its software to reduce racial profiling [see also my August 13, 2018 post.]

One strange item about the article: the online title is “We Need Software to Help Us Slow Down, Not Speed up.” In the print magazine, however, the article appears on page 38 as “Slow Software: In Praise of Fiction.” Weird.

In an August 2016 post about racial profiling on Nextdoor.com, I noted that the social networking site was experimenting with ways to curb actions based on racial stereotypes and biases. I just discovered a May 2018 Harvard Business Review article that provides an analysis of their efforts. The author notes, “how Nextdoor responded illustrates not only the importance of reacting quickly in a crisis, but how useful a data-driven, agile approach can be. Agile teams benefit from different perspectives, skills, and expertise, so the co-founders assembled a small, diverse team to tackle the issue.” Hopefully Nextdoor will continue to have success in its efforts to combat racial profiling.

Inside Higher Education recently published a very interesting article, “Higher Education in a World Where Students Never Graduate.” The author notes, “much has been written about the potential decline in demand for traditional one- and two-year master’s programs in favor of short-term microcredentials.” He predicts that

As these trends crystallize, and professional education becomes unbundled and more transactional, universities can compete by focusing on the uniqueness of what we really offer: the deep relationship students build with us through their interactions with faculty, advisers, peers and professional networks. We must realize that we are in the relationship business; degree and certificate programs represent only a small part of the value we offer (and the one most likely to be disrupted by competition).[There are] concrete steps for universities to foster lifelong relationships to become the central hub to which students return as their life needs change.

He discusses the radical transformation of the newspaper industry as a cautionary tale for higher education. “Fortunately,” however, “there is one fundamental difference between news and education. Whereas news is based on content, education is fundamentally a complex set of relationships that encompass content/knowledge, mentoring and community. Whereas content can be commoditized, good relationships tend to be sticky and hard to replace.” Institutions of higher education can build on deep connections with students:

A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students — through our faculty, guidance counselors, student activities organizations, corporate partners, career counseling consultants and alumni organizations. These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks. We do a reasonably good job of offering such a multifaceted life-changing experience to our undergraduate students.

The author concludes, “In a world where students never really graduate, the role of the university is to take lifelong care of them, as we would take care of our true foster children. The transformation is not going to be easy: it will involve change in the way we handle everything, from academics to career counseling and alumni relations. But it is going to both better serve 21st-century learners and, ultimately, leave our institutions stronger in the face of a potentially disruptive future.” Indeed!

 

In the CityLab article “Inclusionary Zoning: Everything You Need to Know,” the authors state, “If you’ve hung around the CityLab site, sat through a City Council meeting, or hobnobbed with a housing developer, you’ve probably run across the term ‘inclusionary zoning.'” I have not, and suspect that many others haven’t either. It does appear to be a promising tool to produce affordable housing through the private market. The article is the pilot entry in the new “CityLab University,” a resource for “understanding some of the most important concepts related to cities and urban policy.”

In “The Rise of ‘Urban Tech,'” urban planner Richard Florida argues, “from food-delivery startups to mapping and co-living companies, technology focused on urban systems is drawing billions of dollars in venture capital.” These “urban tech” firms are “unleashing a new round of creative destruction on cities. Like previous economic transformations, the rise of urban tech and the emergence of the city as the primary platform for economic organization will not be without growing pains. It will be up to urban leaders and the struggles of workers and citizens to channel this transformation in a democratic way, so that it respects the needs of all city dwellers and creates prosperity for all.” Vigilance is required.

In my previous post I discussed bike sharing in Seattle. I must be closely tuned in to the Pacific Northwest lately, as the next interesting story I’d like to share is a PBS spotlight on Portland’s program to help African American families move back to areas of the city that they had to leave then gentrified. Check it out!

Dockless bike sharing is growing in many cities around the world. Wired magazine has an interesting story about the city of Seattle’s efforts to implement a dockless bike sharing system: “the city allowed three companies—Ofo, LimeBike, and Spin—to deploy up to 4,000 bikes each in a six-month trial, in return for a deluge of data about their customers and operations. Seattle planners wanted to understand in granular detail how the systems would work, and how its citizens would use them.” The data are now being analyzed. Hopefully insights will emerge that can be applied to other cities!

The Pacific Standard website has posted a long article about how an airport fence has sparked a debate over honoring victims of the United States’ internment of citizens of Japanese descent during World World II. A small airport was built on the site of the former Tulelake, California internment camp, and now debate about replacing a dilapidated fence with an eight-feet tall, three-miles long, barbed wire-topped new fence has raised questions about preserving the historical significance of the land. It is a very interesting read.

“Community trauma remains a major issue in marginalized communities,” begins an article on the Pacific Standard website about research on connections between police violence and community trauma. “But there’s still little research to show how police cause mental-health issues—or what can be done to lessen the communal anguish.” I’ll have to speak with the director of the forthcoming SJSU Human Rights Institute about research the institute can conduct in this area.

Memorial Day was a few days ago in the United States. I usually celebrate it as the unofficial first day of summer by going to see a summer blockbuster movie with friends [I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story this year.] I just came across an article about the need for social scientists to do more research on how and why holidays have moved from rituals of civic pride and remembrance toward family-oriented celebrations. This article was published in 2002, but it is still very much relevant today!