Productive Procrastination #26 – San Francisco, what's up?





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Productive Procrastination

February 13 · Issue #26 · View online

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Welcome back. 
Two major items in this issue: a request for San Francisco recommendations and the role of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in the US election. 
Take care of your community.

A Research Trip to San Francisco
Over the last few years, there has been no other city that I’ve never been to, that came up more often in conversations – personal or professional – than San Francisco. It is closely connected to “Silicon Valley,” which has become more of a shibboleth for the digital future than just a geographical location. At times, San Francisco seems to be the intellectual and even physical battleground between the glorious opportunities and the dire consequences of the so-called Californian Ideology. Thus I decided that it is time for me to replace hearsay and prejudices with personal observations and experiences.
From March 4 till 8, I will be in San Francisco for a research trip, exploring the city, visiting its places and spaces, meeting as many people with different perspectives and stories as I can and mainly absorbing the city. My goal is to get a “feel” for the city, its current mood and its ideas about the future. I don’t have a very specific question, but am more looking for lots of strong and weak signals.
I have two primary objectives:
1. Tech Culture
I’m interested in the ongoing conversation on “Silicon Valley,” the startup scene and its role in and effect on society. My hope here is to find more nuance than there currently is on this topic in Germany. I’m interested in where people think it is going in the near and farther future.
2. Civil Society
Visiting the US within two months of Trump’s inauguration has put a whole other layer to this trip. With this, there seems even a bigger gap between what I can read in the news and what it must be like on the ground, especially in a city like San Francisco. I would love to get as many insights as possible into how people are organizing and all the initiatives to strengthen civil society.
With these objectives in mind, I’m very thankful for any recommendations for and introductions to:
  • people, who would be willing to give me their perspective on any aspects of this topics
  • spaces to visit like cafes, bookshops and other community spaces
  • events like meetups, readings, presentations
  • other places in San Francisco that are must-visits
In return, I’m also happy to offer personal and more general perspectives on:
  • What’s happening and what’s the thinking in Berlin, Germany, and Europe in tech culture, politics, and civil society, etc.
  • Insights on current research topics at Third Wave like automation, the gig economy, utopias, mobility, etc.
On Cambridge Analytica
“The stories of Cambridge Analytica’s omniscience are fiction. The 2016 election was stranger than fiction.”
– David Karpf
It was the first weekend of December last year when German Twitter lit up with links to an article in a Swiss magazine about an obscure data firm called Cambridge Analytica, that supposedly had more or less won Trump the White House. I read the article and added another angry tweet to the cacophony, but then deleted it 30 seconds later. A journalist friend had rightfully criticized another tweet of mine a couple of days earlier for linking to an article that had just one source and hadn’t fact-checked the quotes. And this one on Cambridge Analytica had the same problems. So I searched for articles mentioning the company and found quite a few that seemed much more unconvinced about the claims of impact and the role of the firm in the elections. In the end, the kerfuffle around Cambridge Analytica on that weekend felt more like an example of how easy “the left” can fall prey to the same mechanisms of rage-retweeting something without checking it first, which it usually blames the right of. 
Now that the article has been translated into English and is going round for round on social media again, I thought it’s time to repeat that observation and link to a couple of articles. 
Btw. if you wondered how good the email targeting by the Trump campaign was: I received numerous emails from the campaign, asking me to donate and give my opinion on Trump’s agenda. 
My opinion on Cambridge Analytica: They are brilliant self-marketers. The efficiency of their methods is conveniently hard to asses. They profit from the hype und naivete around big data in politics on all sides. If we want to criticize the role of algorithms and digital media in campaigning, we have to be much more precise. Less hysteria, more in-depth understanding. 
Will the Real Psychometric Targeters Please Stand Up?
No, Big Data Didn't Win the U.S. Election
Inside the Trump campaign: The most powerful woman in GOP politics
Cruz-Connected Data Miner Aims to Get Inside U.S. Voters' Heads
Articles on Activism & Organizing
Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement
A 10-point plan to stop Trump and make gains in justice and equality
With “Burst Your Bubble,” The Guardian pushes readers beyond their political news boundaries
Learning from History
Against Normalization: The Lesson of the “Munich Post”
When It’s Too Late to Stop Fascism, According to Stefan Zweig
Giving up on Godwin’s Law
Other Reading Recommendations
How places can influence the mind – and vice versa
Beyond Blade Runner: Community in Cities of the Future
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