The Best Minds of Our Generation

Facebook takes aim at the pre-teen market; a center for tuckered out tech titans; and more.


      • Allen baby, why so jaded? Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded?

      • — “Hey Jack Kerouac,” 10,000 Maniacs

  • Tech unplugged: The Esalen retreat center has a new executive director, Ben Tauber, a former Google executive manager and start-up executive coach, who has a bead on the market segment most likely to prop up the once-unique human potential center: burned out tech moguls. As he tells Nellie Bowles of The New York Times, “There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognize that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place. The C.E.O.s, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.” Naturally, the solution is for those execs to drop $3000 on a weekend stay so they can “connect to themselves” with courses like “Connect to Your Inner-Net.”

  • Among the courses expected at the new Esalen: “From Rolfing to ROFLing,” “The Tao of Steve: Reshaping Your Reality Distortion Field,” “Self-Compassion for VCs,” “Startup with Yoga,” “Getting Into Your Root Server (A Gardening Primer),” “How to See Your Own Source Code,” and of course, “Empathy for Beginners.” (I’ll be here all night.)

  • Battle for the net: Joshua Topolsky of the Outline connects the dots between the end of net neutrality and the rise of platform monopolies and paints a very ugly picture: “One can easily envision a day when an internet provider like Comcast offers a tier of access wherein your ability to view and interact with content online will be channeled only through Facebook’s pages and services. This would be a virtuous circle for the two companies. There won’t be an internet where you can watch shows on Hulu then jump over to Gmail — you’ll watch Facebook TV and send Facebook Messages. Services that look and act like something distinct but are sadly part of a homogenized whole will also be available; Instagram and WhatsApp do this already. There you will be delivered ads according to your interests, interests predicated on the content you view, content promoted by bots and agents of a corrupt government and its many corporate and civilian allies. It will be a win-win for everyone but you.”

  • A coalition of 40 consumer protection and digital rights groups, and some local governments including New York City, have written a joint letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai urging him to delay a December 14 vote on new rules gutting net neutrality, until after a pending court case that could also strip the FTC of jurisdiction over broadband providers is resolved.

  • Life in Facebookistan: If you want to be banned from Facebook, write a post stating that “men are scum.” Writing “women are scum” won’t do it. That’s according to Taylor Lorenz’s report in the Daily Beast, which details the experience of a number of female comedians, several of whom have received 30-day bans from the site. FacebookJailed.com is collecting their stories.

  • Keep in mind that Facebook’s own internal censorship guidelines treat white men as a protected class but not black children, as ProPublica’s Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger reported back in June.

  • Perhaps this as good a time as any to remind you that Facebook was originally created by Mark Zuckerberg as a tool for sexual harassment.

  • Oh, and if you think that when you draft a post or comment on Facebook but then decide not to publish it, your actions are private, check out this new study of “self-censorship” on Facebook.

  • Facebook is expanding into the pre-teen market with a new version of Messenger called Messenger Kids, Nick Statt reports for The Verge. While the app will not carry advertising and is designed to be complaint with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, you have to wonder about the designers who think that they aren’t exploiting vulnerable children. As Statt writes, “Messenger Kids is primarily designed to offer video and text chat along with the types of playful masks and filters, originally popularized by Snapchat, that are now prevalent across Facebook’s many messaging products. Facebook says there is a ‘library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools lets them decorate content and express their personalities.’” Addict them while they’re young, Zuck!

  • Ethics of AI: “Man is to Computer Programmer as Woman is to Homemaker?” That’s the title of a research paper examining bias in artificial intelligence programs, and what to do about it. “We have to teach our algorithms which are good associations and which are bad the same way we teach our kids,” Adam Kalai, a Microsoft researcher who co-authored the paper, tells Dina Bass and Ellen Huet of Bloomberg Tech.

  • Trump watch: A Seattle man who told a reporter about his longtime girlfriend’s arrest by immigration authorities has now himself been detained by ICE, Nina Shapiro reports for The Seattle Times. The arresting agent said to him, “You are Rosas. You are the one from the newspaper.”

  • One in four Americans support limits on press freedom that would let government officials prevent media outlets from publishing a story, a new study by academics Brendan Nyhan, Andrew Guess and Jason Reifler finds. Sixty percent of self-identified Trump supporters agree with his statement that the media is “an enemy of the American people.”

  • Outdoor sporting goods retailers Patagonia and REI took political stands with their home pages in the wake of President Trump’s shrinkage of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, calling on their customers and members to take action.

  • New York City is looking for submissions for participation in next year’s Open Data Week. The deadline is December 15.