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Welcome back.

The post-pandemic euphoria is inevitable. After a couple of rounds of the global vaccination efforts, we should expect a thirsty and voluptuous return to the physical world of events and daily encounters. The comparison with the 1920's is as predictable as human nature: war and disease followed by a rattling surge of bohemian exuberance and technological wonder. This too, certainly, must be coming to us soon.
The historic coincidence of these trends, a century later, is compounded by very contemporary and singular circumstances. While the northern hemisphere and its surrounding nodes might experience some early relief from the virus, all around the supply chains remain broken and besieged by years of plunder and humanitarian neglect. When the major capitals return to their feverish nightlife, a dark carbon cloud will continue to descend upon them. The laws of probability dictate that the biosphere will continue to haunt us and our travels, as will the oceans. This pandemic has revealed a new permanent, urban, fragile condition. We have learned to celebrate voraciously, for the return to our electronic community is always at hand.

The Blind Machine is brought to you by the good people at chumbo

Listen to our weekly playlist on Spotify, a careful selection of old & new futures.

Thank you for being here.

“The machine stops” by E. M. Forster

on Dec 15, 2020 08:12 pm

The Machine Stops” is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster’s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928.

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

Classic books are worth your while, read more.

Electrophone: the Victorian-era gadget that was a precursor to live-streaming

on Dec 13, 2020 02:39 pm

As the battle against COVID-19 continues to rage, the plight of Britain’s theatres, which have suffered catastrophic financial strain thanks to lockdown, continues to rumble through the arts world.

One source of hope has been live-streaming shows – and a number of theatre companies, including National Theatre Live had had some success with this format. And, interestingly, the idea of streaming live theatre into people’s homes goes back to the Victorian era.

From 1893 to 1925 the London Electrophone Company streamed the sound of live theatre into the home using a telephone device known as an Electrophone.

Streaming is old and new, read more.

14 tech trends to watch in 2021

on Dec 12, 2020 02:39 pm

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As tech ecosystems mature around the world, they’re not always following the path laid down by Silicon Valley.

2020 was a more eventful year than anyone could have imagined. What will the next year hold? The Rest of World team picked top tech trends to watch out for in 2021.

The future is always trending, read more.

Live, Social, and Shoppable: The Future of Video

on Dec 11, 2020 02:39 am



Social Strikes Back is a series exploring the next generation of social networks and how they’re shaping the future of consumer tech. See more at

Over the past year, it’s become obvious (sometimes painfully so) that video consumption is on the rise.
Americans are Zooming into work meetings, logging into online classrooms, FaceTiming friends and family, and streaming entertainment more than ever before (binge-watching and gaming are up 25 percent and 75 percent, respectively). But this screentime swell began well before COVID hit. Since 2015, video streaming has risen 13 percent year-over-year.

Now, we’re about to enter a whole new era of video-first products that extend far beyond entertainment and gaming. If phase one of video was a laid-back experience, video 2.0 will be far more interactive and participatory, with users engaging with the platform, giving direct feedback on the content, and fundamentally shaping the experience in real time. This video-first future will enable more engaging, gratifying and geographically unconstrained social experiences than ever before.

Watch a basketball game with your friend who lives on the other side of the country? Shop directly with a sales associate without having to step foot in a store? With this new era of video, all formerly in-person engagements are candidates for reinvention. How did we get to this moment?

Media platforms run the world, read more.

Sci-fi surveillance: Europe’s secretive push into biometric technology

on Dec 10, 2020 03:39 pm


EU science funding is being spent on developing new tools for policing and security.

€1.7bn from the programme over the past seven years backed the development of security products for police forces and border control agencies in the public and private sectors. Much of it involves cutting-edge technology: artificial intelligence, unmanned drones and augmented reality, as well as facial, voice, vein and iris recognition and other forms of biometrics that could be deployed for surveillance.

EU officials say such innovation is crucial for dealing with crime, terrorism and natural disasters. The strategic goal is to bolster the bloc’s security companies to compete with the US, Israel and China.

The surveillance industry is everywhere, read more.

Secret deal reveals how Chinese spies are given free rein in Switzerland

on Dec 09, 2020 08:39 pm


The full text of a secret deal between Switzerland and China that allowed Chinese security officials access to the country at Swiss taxpayers’ expense has been revealed for the first time as the government pushes to renew it.

The five-year “readmission agreement”, which was signed in 2015 and expired on Monday, lays out terms for Chinese agents to travel to Switzerland and interview suspected Chinese nationals that Swiss authorities wished to deport. Unlike more than 50 similar deals Switzerland has signed with other countries, it was never published by the government and was not even publicly acknowledged until August.

The official English translation of the agreement has been obtained by Safeguard Defenders, an Asia-focused human rights campaign group. It reveals an extraordinary commitment to secrecy within an agreement that had itself been concealed from the public, the group says.

Spies never go out of style, read more.

Best Music of 2020: The Year in Lists

on Dec 06, 2020 10:39 am


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Twenty twenty wap wap wap. Weird and problematic. Wintry and pandemicy. Wishing away politicians. Weeknd and Pop Smoke. Watermelon (sugar) and ppcocaine. Our annual running list of top 10s, top 40s, top 50s and top whatevers from around the music universe.

Who doesn’t have a long reading list? Read more.

All stars

on Dec 06, 2020 09:39 am

Is a great team more than the sum of its players? Complexity science reveals the role of strategy, synergy, swarming and more

Interest in collective behaviour is not new. It’s been the research subject of organisation scholars, anthropologists, economists, ethologists studying group-living animals and evolutionary biologists interested in the evolution of cooperation. And, of course, it’s the chief occupation of coaches and managers building teams across a wide range of sports. Although many of us believe a team is more than just the sum of its outstanding individual performers, this kind of simple-minded thinking still dominates recruitment and team assembly in sports, finance, academia and other settings.

Complexity is not complicated, read more.

From London to Lisbon to Toronto, mayors grapple with public backlash to tech in cities

on Dec 05, 2020 06:39 pm


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For the mayor of any modern city, an increasingly large part of the job entails managing the public backlash to new technology being deployed in those cities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to public fears about surveillance and data sharing. As tech tools are being used to track who’s infected with the virus and who they’ve come in contact with, local government officials are facing a crucial question: Who gets to know?

For this year’s virtual Web Summit, Protocol spoke with Mayor Sadiq Khan of London, Mayor John Tory of Toronto and Mayor Fernando Medina of Lisbon about how they’re adopting new technologies in their cities — from the London police’s new real-time facial recognition pilot to Toronto’s failed smart city partnership with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs — and what new challenges COVID-19 poses. The mayors discussed how they’re grappling with public expectations and trying to fend off tech’s many unintended consequences.

Cities and their policies affect most of us, read more.

The Exclusive and Elusive History of Goyard

on Dec 05, 2020 03:39 pm

Few brands can boast such longevity, dedication to hand-craftsmanship, and iconic status as Goyard. The notoriously exclusive luxury travel goods maker has stood as a symbol of wealth and classic French design, without ever displaying its products online. Yet, the name does not carry the same instant recognition as Louis Vuitton or Hermès, in part due to the brand’s aversion to marketing, interviews, and mass production. How, then, has Goyard managed to remain at the pinnacle of French opulence and craftsmanship for its two-plus century history?

The brand was founded by Pierre-François Martin in Paris in 1792 as “House of Martin,” specializing in box-making, trunk-making and packing for the French aristocracy. Martin predated the great trunk-makers to come in the 19th century, and quickly became favored among the French upper-class. He earned the title of official purveyor for Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Siciles, Duchess of Berry, and continued to develop his business. In 1834, Martin’s store moved from 4, rue de Nueve de Capucines—where Louis Vuitton would open in 1854—to 347, rue Saint-Honoré. A new street numbering policy in 1834 Paris changed the address to 233, rue Saint-Honoré, where the brand’s flagship store still resides.

Time is kind to the best luxury brands, read more.

‘We want to build a life’: Europe’s paperless young people speak out

on Dec 05, 2020 10:39 am

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A generation of undocumented Europeans – inspired by the ‘Dreamers’ in the US – are fighting for residency rights. 

Europe has its own dreamer generation, but unlike the US Dreamers, their stories are largely unknown. It is only when someone like the Glasgow-born singer Bumi Thomas is ordered to leave the UK that the immigration rules stopping people from staying in the countries they were born or grew up in stir public outrage. Millions of young people across Europe have, like Thomas, been born on the wrong side of little-known laws – in her case a 1981 restriction on automatic citizenship at birth. They grew up feeling British or French or Italian or European, but are now trapped in a state of limbo. The threat of deportation hangs over them because, like the US Dreamers, they lack the right piece of paper.

The US Dreamers have evolved into an influential campaign movement, and have changed how most Americans see undocumented people: as families, as strivers, as patriots. In Europe, populist politicians and rightwing press still fuel the perception that the undocumented population is a faceless mass of opportunists. It is not well understood that the majority of people without papers are young people, many of whom arrived in Europe as small children, and some were even born here.

Black European lives matter, read more.

Africa’s phone phenom: Your guide to Transsion

on Dec 02, 2020 11:39 pm

After spending the early 2000s globe-trotting for the overseas business arm of Chinese mobile phone maker Ningbo Bird, Transsion founder Zhu Zhaojiang broke out on his own. He opened Transsion’s first office in Lagos in 2008, and setting his sights on Sub-Saharan Africa, planned to sell millions of phones catering to the African market.

“In the past, firms that did business in Africa and South Asia did not spend too much on research and development (R&D), but in fact, emerging markets require more R&D efforts,” Zhu told Global Times, China’s state-owned national daily.

More than a decade later, Transsion operates three brands from its headquarters in Shenzhen in China: Infinix, Itel, and Tecno. Collectively, they represent the bestselling mobile phones on the African continent — on both basic so-called feature phones and smartphones. Transsion recorded over 40% of smartphone sales in Africa in the last quarter of 2019, according to research firm IDC. For the past three years, Transsion has led Africa in market share.

China and Africa go way back, read more.

The New Wave of Fishless Fish Is Here

on Dec 02, 2020 11:39 pm

Food scientists and marketers are creating healthy, plant-based, imitation tuna, crab, and shrimp that look and taste like the real thing.

Many of the most popular seafoods now suddenly face direct competition from dozens of startups offering animal-free alternatives. The industry is still tiny, but sales of plant-based foods have surged 29 percent in the past two years, compared with just 4 percent overall for U.S. retail foods, and many expect the category to follow the arc of plant-based milks, which now account for 14 percent of all retail milk sales.

This is happening just as the seafood industry grapples with COVID-19, which has forced changes to its business model—sales of fresh seafood in restaurants cratered, while canned and frozen seafood surged. The seafood aisle of 2021 may look significantly different from the one that took a hit in the first quarter of 2020. And from what I’ve seen and tasted, a great deal of it may have nothing to do with the sea.

The food industry is changing again, read more.


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