Tuesday 21st July 2020

Computers, comments and climate change

I keep finding myself thinking about this photo of different Lego computers, posted to Instagram by Present and Correct last month

Part of the appeal, I think, is that I had a lot of these pieces when I was little, and regularly used to put them in prime positions in the spaceships and futuristic sci-fi castles I built. It’s a fun trip down nostalgia lane.

But also they it remind me of a world without computers. Of a time before we spent all day sitting at our desks tapping away. A time before, to be honest, I really knew what a computer was for. I spend so much time now, sitting at my desk, typing my keyboard, wiggling my mouse, staring at my screen, that’s it’s weird to remember that for the first third of my life we didn’t have these at all. If we wanted to know a random fact we had to go to an encyclopedia and look it up, rather than type it into Google.

Looking at these now, I see a Death Star Trench, a radar, a targeting computer, a calculator, a green screen with only three buttons. Three buttons! How much could you do with that computer? Up, down, select maybe?

As a child, computers were something in films. Usually baddies had them… to do bad things with. In Dr No all the computers are used to jam a space shuttle launch to start a war between the Americans and the Russians. No one is using them to look at pictures of funny cats or comment on Reddit.

And this is the thing. I couldn’t even imagine then that we’d use computers in the way that we do now. This week on OneZero, I have a piece about the politics of moderating our online communities.

Deleting a comment is no longer an apolitical act - it is attacking someone’s “right to free speech” (it isn’t of course). Whenever the topic of free speech comes up, I find myself thinking of the XKCD comic on the subject:

defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.


Elsewhere

A lovely little two minute read in Wired about how nice Twitter was when verified accounts weren’t allowed to read.

for everyone else—the people who normally don’t wield the largest megaphones—it was paradise. Fewer self-important windbags; fewer politicians. Even news outlets were being locked out, and in the era of doomscrolling, this can be a blessing. There might’ve even been a minute there where President Trump couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Trump! It all felt like one of those sepia-toned dreams in an ’80s TV comedy.


A fascinating piece about extracting CO2 from the air as a solution to climate change. Climate change is the problem of our era - and as time goes on, it’s only going to become a bigger and bigger part of our lives. We hear a lot about reducing emissions, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that its too late for that to be the solution. If your boat is sinking, you don’t just want to slow the water coming in. You also need to start bailing the water out.

With that in mind; there are two general approaches to keep warming to below a certain level:

  1. Reducing emissions

  2. Removing previous emissions from the sky

If you remember one thing from this piece, it should be that we need to do both. Gone are the days where optimistic emissions reductions kept us below a 2-degree warming target.


Until next time friends.

Yours,

Simon