You know that Black Mirror episode about how your social network ranking has a direct impact on your access to an apartment, preferred rates, a spare seat on an airline?
Nosedive is a chilling tale of a dystopian world connecting the trend lines of the technology evolving all around us. What if your online behavior and relationships had real world consequences? That is in fact what is happening today in China.
Mara Hvistendahl details in Wired how mobile payments providers are working with the Chinese government to integrate subscriber payment history, connections, and other behaviors are harvested and used to calculate a version of social credit that governs access and mobility.
The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed “seriously untrustworthy” can expect to receive substandard services. Ant Financial appears to be aiming for a society divided along moral lines as well. As Lucy Peng, the company’s chief executive, was quoted as saying in Ant Financial, Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”
Taking advantage of all the reports of poor air quality in China, British entrepreneur Leo De Watts is making “thousands of dollars” selling bottles of “naturally occuring, lovingly bottled” air to the Chinese.
Echoing the “bespoke” values of the old country, Aethaer uses traditional materials and packages their product in glass mason jars. This is opposed to their modern, upstart Canadian competition, Vitality Air, who are selling compressed oxygen in aluminum cans.
MacRumors posts that Chinese model Liu Wen will feature the Apple Watch on the cover of next month’s Vogue magazine (wearing the gold Edition model of course).
It is telling that Apple picked China to be the first country to feature the Apple Watch in a commercial fashion publication and, after the pop-up appearance at the Paris Fashion Week. This is the beginning of what is certain to be a well-scripted product placement campaign for the new device.
I really should read Joi Ito’s blog more. He has a fascinating post about a recent trip to Shenzhen where he visited the back alley electronic component markets and observes an ecosystem teeming with activity, rapidly iterating on designs in a way that I’m sure makes Silicon Valley rate of evolution feel glacial.
However, the more interesting phones were the phones that weren’t like anything that existed anywhere else. Keychains, boom boxes, little cars, shiny ones, blinky ones – it was an explosion of every possible iteration on phones that you could imagine. Many were designed by the so-called Shanzhai pirates who started by mostly making knockoffs of existing phones, but had become agile innovation shops for all kind of new ideas because of the proximity to the manufacturing ecosystem. They had access to the factories, but more importantly, they had access to the trade skills (and secrets) of all of the big brand phone manufacturers whose schematics could be found for sale in shops. These schematics and the engineers in the factories knew the state of the art and could apply this know-how to their own scrappy designs that could be more experimental and crazy. In fact many new technologies had been invented by these “pirates” such as the dual sim card phone.
While intellectual property seems to be mostly ignored, tradecraft and trade secrets seem to be shared selectively in a complex network of family, friends and trusted colleagues. This feels a lot like open source, but it’s not. The pivot from piracy to staking out intellectual property rights isn’t a new thing. The United States blatantly stole book copyright until it developed it’s own publishing very early in US history. The Japanese copied US auto companies until it found itself in a leadership position. It feels like Shenzhen is also at this critical point where a country/ecosystem goes from follower to leader.
This weekend’s Sunday New York Times features the striking photo seen above, spread over two pages. Most people experience the Great Wall, “on half-day tours from Beijing to the Badaling or Mutianyu sections of the Great Wall, which are 40 to 50 miles north of the capital” but the author of The Great Wall, Our Way chose the road less traveled and hiked along a remote section of the wall further to the North that have been essentially untouched for 500 years.