Quaranzine 031

The Akin's email of bits.

It’s been a whole year since most of the world locked down. I’m simultaneously surprised (what is time anymore?) and grieving for a year lost (what do we have to show for it?). 

Over those 12 months, there has been a clear lean towards nostalgia. In some ways, yearning for ‘before covid’ helps us assess the things we miss the most. Though as the scholar Svetlana Boym wrote in her book - The Future of Nostalgia, “There should be a special warning on the side-view mirror: The object of nostalgia is further away than it appears. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.

We know that rose-tinted glasses are dangerous filters. Wearing them, we romanticise the past. Remember that guy Churchill, the war hero who voted against the founding of the NHS 21 times, tried to deny women the vote and was a huge racist. It’s human nature to minimise past traumas; it is how we survive; just ask women.

So before we all rush out and slip back into old behaviours, how can we ensure we action what we have learnt over the last 12 months? How can businesses and brands stick to their commitments when the nostalgia of ‘growth’ is thrown at them?

Speaking of old behaviours…

This week, we have asked NOK Ploipailin Flynn, an anti-racist technology consultant creating radical equity and anti-racist futures, to clarify what Google’s recent move to stop third-party cookies means. 

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Google Chrome – The world’s most-used web browser – follows the lead of  Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari and no longer supports third-party cookies. Does this mean Google is calling it quits on targeted advertising? Lol, no – Google’s ad business brought in nearly $170 billion (+11% YoY) in 2020 alone, and there isn’t any way they’re giving up that cash cow.

Wait, what is all the noise about then?

In short, not much is changing. Google will still offer targeted advertising, but this time in a “privacy-preserving” way that will be 95% as effective as cookie-based ads, and retargeting can still happen, just in a different way. So Budweiser, you can quit your weird email-capture campaign

So what’s the problem besides Google consolidating its duopolistic power in digital advertising alongside its friend Facebook? Well...

Targeted advertising makes money for no one but Google and Facebook. When big brands like P&G, Chase, and Uber stopped $200m, 99%, and $150m in digital ad spend, respectively, they saw zero change in business outcomes. But targeted ads help support publishing platforms! Ooo, not true: publishers make only 4% more with targeted ads than non-targeted ads. Maybe it’s time brands reconsider how they allocate their marketing spend. Study the ROI of your targeted advertising, then try reallocating some of that budget to support existing communities that are important to your customers. I’m curious to know it affects your ROI.

Targeted advertising is a MAJOR contributor to our post-truth world. Google’s new privacy-preserving technique, FLoCs (Federated Learning on Cohort), does zilch to address this bigger picture. Digital experts worry FLoCs will exacerbate discriminatory and predatory targeting, as we saw during the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Suppose targeted advertising is driven by businesses’ purchase incentives, and social media networks’ engagement incentives drive recommendation algorithms; what tools are driven by people’s incentives? Citizens? Society?

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What we have been reading about and thinking about this week:

  • Probably the best round-up of the last 12 months so far is by the NY Times. The week our reality broke is a series reflecting on a year of living with the coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected American society. There are a few pieces to shout extra loud about; one by Yaryna Serkez explores why “We didn’t all suffer equally; haves and have-nots have moved in different directions”. And Yolanda Wisher perfectly summarises my nostalgia, “We were born to be kissed in the dark; remembering what it felt like to be held and kissed by friends and strangers”.

  • What even is an office anymore? Is it a liminal space? Is it solely for congregation now? Wired Mag helps us remember through defining the secret geography of the office and the cardinal directions. “I find that the people who don’t want to go back to pre-pandemic office culture are the people who are the most concerned about their timeThe office doesn’t give meaning to my work, as it is the meaning of my work. It’d be hard to give that up.” 

  • How’s your social life? Do you feel something is missing but can’t see it? The Atlantic suggests that we have erased whole categories of friends, and it’s affecting us. “There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well… Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked.” Reading it made me nostalgic for shitty American sports bars and the randoms you meet in them.

  • Now to a dystopian startup that terrifies us. NewNew is a ‘human stockmarket’. Yes, the company describes itself like this in 2021. In short, you can buy shares of ‘influencers’, aka HUMANS, which are essentially votes, to control a certain level of a person’s life. Did we learn nothing from colonialism? If you want to learn more, Taylor Lorenz explores other platforms helping creators to sell themselves.

  • Know much about Instagram Guides, which launched in November, enabling the posting of longer-form content beyond a single photo or video? Vogue Business explains why luxury fashion brands are leaning into curation to connect with consumers, including the new Instagram Guides feature that enables users to aggregate content from their feeds and others.

  • Now for something to geek out on. A cosmologist and his pals have produced what they believe to be the most accurate flat map of the Earth ever made. Who doesn’t love a map? You can read about how he did it here.

  • And the last thing of the week to help you daydream a little. Doodle an iceberg and see how it would float. It is hugely addictive and educational :)

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Until next week, stay positive and testing negative. 

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