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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


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If you lose access to virtual memory spaces, some of your memories might go out with it

The internet is a time capsule. Like an external hard drive or a diary tucked under your mattress, the email accounts, instant messenger conversations, and blogs of our past hold nostalgic and sometimes even crucial memories. But just as an external hard drive is susceptible to file corruption and a diary might get lost in a move, we can lose access to that essential repository of memories. If you haven’t somehow preserved that information — by printing out important correspondences or forwarding your emails, for example — those memories could be lost in the ether, never to be experienced again.


The feature uses photos to track body fat percentage and to create a 3D model of your body

The moment Amazon announced its first fitness band, the $99 Amazon Halo, my social feeds lit up with bafflement and concern over its emotion-detecting software, which listens to your speech to discern your mood. While tracking voice tone is certainly strange, I was immediately far more concerned about the Halo’s body-scanning feature. The feature requires users to take several photos of their body from different angles with their smartphone, which the app then analyzes for body fat percentage. …


They have a lot of haters, but don’t write them off

Of all the different tools and features we use to communicate virtually, read receipts might be one of the most contentious.

“I hate read receipts, especially with men I’m talking to,” says Sarah Solomon, an author based in New York. “It’s such a one-sided power move, like, ‘I’ve chosen to ignore you. Deal with it.’”

“If someone is going to read my text, but not respond to it, I don’t need to know about it,” says Rose London, a law clerk in St. Petersburg, Florida. “When I see that ‘read’ with no response, it’s like, well, fuck you too then.”


Research shows that a modicum of extra effort in online conversations goes a long way

When Instagram introduced the option to “heart” direct messages in 2015, my personal experience of the platform began its slow, steady descent into hell.

This nosedive accelerated in 2018 when Instagram introduced Quick Reactions to its Stories. Quick Reactions allow audiences to, yes, quickly react with one of eight emoji, including a clapping emoji, a fire emoji, and a crying emoji. These reactions show up in the direct messages folder, alongside actual thoughtful and considered responses to someone’s Story. Facebook introduced Messenger reactions in 2017, while Twitter released a similar feature for its direct messages at the beginning of 2020.


A cultural shift to remote work may keep you working at home even when the pandemic passes, if history is any guide

Only a bright laptop screen is visible in this dark room.
Only a bright laptop screen is visible in this dark room.

Four months into New York City’s lockdown, I’m finally committing to outfitting my own home office.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, I worked at my husband’s desk, which has multiple large monitors, a very nice desk chair, and even one of those green-glass banker’s lamps. Now that he’s working from home, I need to design my own little work nook, which will cost a little bit of cash I’m loath to part with in these precarious times.

The investment of energy, creative thinking, and money into creating a home workspace is intimidating, but it’s never been more essential…


Video can break down hierarchies by bringing people into each other’s worlds more fully

A photo of a Macbook in a Zoom call against a sky blue background.
A photo of a Macbook in a Zoom call against a sky blue background.

I recently had a frustrating phone call that was full of trial and error. I was calling a professor for this story, and I was already a bit nervous, as I usually am when chatting with accomplished experts in their fields. Then came a series of technological mishaps — a spotty connection, Zoom problems, and a Bluetooth nightmare.

Though we were eventually able to conduct our interview, I still worried that the bumpy beginning would lead my source to judge me negatively. Would he think that I wasn’t competent at my job?

It’s ironic that the episode itself was illustrative…


Without repairable gadgets, device convergence won’t save the planet.

Loyal readers of Microprocessing may remember that, about a month ago, I bought an AlphaSmart Neo 2, a 2000s-era word processor with a small, six-line LCD screen. It does nothing but type. Though my experiment so far has been a successful one (the amount I am writing on this thing… folks, the difference is incredible), I feel a little bit guilty for relying on wasteful consumerism to help me get the job done.

Before I bought the Neo 2 I already had two devices — a laptop and a smartphone — that could have not only assisted me in writing…


Here’s how experts say to design ‘nudges’ that actually work — and their thoughts on Apple’s new feature

Apple Watch on a table.
Apple Watch on a table.

I always thought I was pretty good at washing my hands, but when the pandemic began and hand-washing became an issue of life and death, it became starkly obvious that a quick scrub with hand soap was not enough. I got onboard the intense, 20-second hand-washing train, and I probably haven’t had hands this clean since I left food service.

But lately, I’ve felt myself slipping up, washing my hands for 10 seconds instead of 20, then having to go back and do the whole thing over again. As New York has begun to ease up on its stay-at-home orders…


The pandemic has exposed a major rift in the retail industry

“Julie answer your DAMN phone!” wrote a user on the J.Crew Instagram account. “Your online department is impossible to log into or reset a password… YOUR SYSTEM CRASHES WHEN A PROMO CODE IS ENTERED OR I TRY TO CHECKOUT. Fix this.”

“We’ve sent you a DM to help!” responds the beleaguered J.Crew Instagram account in response.

“NO REPLY TO EMAILS TERRIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE AN ORDER WAS PLACED OVER 2 weeks ago and no status on shipping i want my money back asap NOONE IS CONTACTING ME BACK FROM CUSTOMER SERVICE,” wrote another.

I began to notice a surge of these…


Pandemic or no, virtual study abroad programs are here to stay

It’s 9 a.m. in New York , and you log onto your study abroad program’s learning module to check in with your cohorts in Cape Town, South Africa. You agree to hop onto a call in half an hour — 3:30 p.m. local time in Cape Town — to touch base on a project you’re working on together. Your mission: create a mock-up of a small, high-end textile business with storefronts in both cities. Next week, you’ll present your part of the project — an e-commerce website — that you’ve created with your partner more than 7,800 miles away.


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