Misinformation could be minimised, but as a society we’re still enjoying the temporary relief of self-harming

Automation can be used to achieve any number of goals, but it all depends on groupthink

It’s outrageous that Facebook is allowed to tell the world that policing its site for harmful content is not possible without an army of fact-checkers when they know full well that such a goal could easily be achieved with a little strategic thinking — thinking which could help avoid democracy and the economy they depend on from toppling.

Clearly Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want his people to go down that road, so let’s do the thinking on his behalf, shall we? Now, I’m no Nick Clegg, but to most people out there, that’s an advantage…

Firstly, Facebook wants you to think…


PART ONE OF A NEW SERIES ON STORIES IN THE NEWS

People who are called “writers” are sort-changed by the term. Most “writing” involves some a priori thinking. But I guess it’s rude to pick people out as “thinkers”. After all, doesn’t everyone think?

Perhaps, but some writers spend more time thinking — or maybe they push on with their thinking where others fall away. So, in the spirit of kicking on, here’s the first of ‘What Were They Thinking?’, …


Not many folks have picked up on Boris Johnson’s description of the coronavirus as “a devilish illness” have they? So did Boris do a deal with the devil at the crossroads to stay alive? Was it the work of the devil?

Fact is, calling a viral infection “devilish” doesn’t fill you with confidence that the speaker is being led by the science. It’s the language of a medieval priest, and perhaps that’s the best impersonation Boris can offer, since he’s no more led by the science than David Attenborough is led by the prospect of a McDonald’s double cheeseburger.

“A…


The industrial era has brought the Earth to the very brink of destruction

Capitalism is over. Why? Because capitalism is based on capital, and capital has no heart, no mind and — crucially — no soul. None of the basic human emotions are directly engaged by wealth: it inspires no trust, no loyalty, no love.

Fact is, we’re done with capital, to the point where we’re moving towards a cashless society, thanks partly to coronavirus.

Our relationship with wealth has brought us to this sorry point, and we know it won’t get us out of the mess we’ve created. Wealth invokes only greed, envy, and destruction. And now, as the pursuit of capital…


What is the role of the journalist in the digital world? Halfway across the Rubicon from analogue to digital, the media’s ability to report events has vastly altered in the last 20 years — with more rapid changes than any time since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century.

Just like then, we don’t have a map for the future. At both points in history the traditional model broke down. Journalists have been through much the same change that scribes — who would go on become the literary classes — went through when the printing press arrived…


Forget everything you’re being told, and imagine we’ve got a five-year window to change our behaviour before species extinction — possibly even our extinction — becomes inexorable. Not 2050, not 2045, not even 2030: by the mid-2020s.

To turn to a metaphor, consider the photo of a polar bear on a small outcrop of ice. The polar bear is clinging to the ice that remains because that is its habitat. It will not survive in the water. …


The audience waits for Bob Dylan after Neil Young’s set, Hyde Park, July 12, 2019. Picture: Emily Scialom

Part two of the ‘Mick and Keith banter’ series of imaginary chats between two legends of rock

Mick and Keith are sitting in a club having a mano a mano a few hours before a gig. They’ve talked about the hassles of being on the road, future events and the possibility of making a new album, which is where they reach an impasse.

“So what do we think about it then?” says Mick to break the silence.

“What?”

“You know — did it escape your attention none of us gets any younger?”

“Everyone’s gotta go someday, Mick. It’s okay. I just hope it’s not in the next 72 hours.”

“Why 72?”

“Who gives a fuck whether it’s…


Mark Zuckerberg recently met Yuval Noah Harari

Author and historian Noah Yuval Harari recently met Mark Zuckerberg and during their discussion Zuckerberg revealed that he thinks “there’s a difference between what people want first order and what they want second order over time” — but how long do we have before the cat videos overwhelm us?

From the perspective of a print journalist whose online metrics are tracked ruthlessly — if only by myself — I’d say it’s quite possible that social media is accidentally incubating a “first-order only” state for the world wide web, which means we get all the cat videos we could ever want…


This is Adilia, who runs Adilia’s Norfolk Street Bakery. The food at this coffee shop/bakery is authentic on an industrial scale. I pop in regularly on a weekday morning, around 9.45am, for coffee prior to a regular slot for Cambridge105 on the Phil Rowe show.

One of the best bits when I grab a coffee at Adilia’s is that I can just say “coffee please!”. I like this. Navigating a coffee menu can be irksome. Do I like decaff mocha? Not so much. What about a steamed soya latte? Definitely not. I just want a cup of coffee. It’s good…


Most of the world’s leaders are narcissists. So who do you think voted for them — Buddhists?

Have you read Notes on a Nervous Planet? It’s a popular book which looks at the outrageous difficulties humanity finds itself in.

I’d recommend it, but not as much as I’d recommend Pressganged. That’s partly because I wrote Pressganged, but also because the world has had a lot of books saying how awful the internet is for your mental health, and as I was reading Nervous Planet I was thinking “you should try being a journalist mate!”.

So I made some notes about different approaches to a similar theme, and here they are:

1. One of the main reasons for…

Mike Scialom

Journalist, writer; facilitator at Cambridge Open Media

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