New Week Same Humans #45
A new study reveals how the pandemic pushed us all through three Stages of Grief. This Harvard professor wants to prove aliens exist. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about three glimpses of our world under global heating. Go here to read Three Climate Stories. 💡
This week, an analysis of social media data reveals the impact of the pandemic on our collective psyche.
Meanwhile, there are signs that public opinion is turning decisively against Big Tech.
Also, a Harvard scientist is convinced that intelligent life is out there, and now he wants to prove it.
😷 An emotional history of the pandemic
A new study published in the journal Nature offers a glimpse of the emotional journey we’ve travelled together via the pandemic.
Researchers analysed 120 million pandemic-related tweets, all published between January and December 2020, for sentiment. They discovered that the US population passed through three distinct stages when it came to COVID. First came a refusal to accept that the pandemic was real, mixed with a fear of the unknown. Then, as lockdowns began and the death toll mounted, refusal morphed into anger. And finally, anger gave way to acceptance of a new reality.
Refusal-fear, anger, acceptance: that’s the collective journey. The researchers compared it to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous stages of grief.
The study of collective psychology during pandemics isn’t new. The authors point out that their findings closely match the theory outlined by psychologist Philip Strong in his seminal 1990 essay Epidemic Psychology. Strong argued that any population living through a mass disease outbreak – whether that’s the Black Death or the HIV epidemic – passes through a set of distinct psychological stages including fear, moralisation, and action.
Social media, of course, has supercharged that journey. But the underlying structure appears to have remained stable.
⚡ NWSH Take: Last week I wrote about new research suggesting that people who seek tech-fuelled immortality tend to display Machiavellian psychological traits. Here’s another study that seeks a deeper understanding of our fundamental nature in the context of a changing world. // Search and social media data constitutes the richest window into the human soul – our authentic hopes, desires, and fears – ever assembled. Strange as it sounds, it’s still a massively under-used resource when it comes to developing a deeper understanding of complex social phenomena such as our collective response to a pandemic. // The goal in sight here? Let’s use the vast ocean of search and social data we have to enrich our understanding of human collective psychology, and then apply those findings to the next steps we take with emerging technologies. It will help us minimise unintended consequences, and build a future we want to live inside.
🏀 All net
In the last instalment of New Week I wrote that the Tokyo Olympics, denuded of spectators, would become a showcase for Japan’s robots.
What do I see this making headlines this week?
That’s NWSH: robot basketball foresight you can depend on.
The robot is called CUE, and it was developed by Toyota. Japan is leaning hard into robotics as part of its ‘Society 5.0’ plan for an economic and technological renaissance.
🌧️ A hard rain for Big Tech
A major new survey published this week finds that a majority of US citizens now want to see sweeping regulation of the Silicon Valley giants.
Pew Research surveyed 4,623 people and found that 68% believed Big Tech has too much power and influence, up from 47% in June 2020 and 51% in May 2018.
A slim majority were in favour of government action to limit the further growth of major technology companies.
A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook was dismissed by a judge; that dismissal is now being appealed. Meanwhile, President Biden has just appointed lawyer and prominent tech critic Jonathan Kanter as the new antitrust chief at the Justice Department; it’s being taken as yet another sign of Biden’s determination to tackle Big Tech.
⚡ NWSH Take: It’s the speed at which opinion is changing that should worry Facebook, Amazon, et al. // Then again, there’s what people say and there’s what they do. Amazon posted its first ever $100 billion quarter in Q4 2020; Q1 of this year saw sales of $108.5. Consumers are mainlining the platform as never before, and it’s the same story with Facebook and Google. For how long, and to what extent, can people tolerate this disconnect between their opinion of big technology companies and their practical relationship with them? That’s the key question. // Still, breaking up a company that billions are obsessed with is hard. It will mean all-our war between the state and the new socio-corporate powers headquartered in Silicon Valley. Zuck has no plans to slow down; he wants FB to own the metaverse. A hard rain is coming for Big Tech, but they don’t plan on getting wet.
🛸 Is anyone out there?
A team of Harvard scientists are set to lead a new project to search the cosmos for intelligent life.
Project Galileo will be led by Harvard astronomy professor Avi Loeb, and will scan the night sky for technosignatures: physical objects that suggest the presence of advanced civilisations.
Loeb made headlines when he claimed that the 100-metre asteroid known as Oumuamua, which passed through the solar system in 2017, was an alien object fuelled by light and on a long interstellar journey. Loeb said Oumuamua displayed behaviours that were otherwise impossible to explain; most of his colleagues remain sceptical.
⚡ NWSH Take: Where is everyone else? Project Galileo begins against the backdrop of a new and more focused search for Earth-like planets capable of supporting life. But stare into the night sky and all we see, still, is a strange and lifeless expanse. // There are many who believe that intelligent life must be out there somewhere. But I’m pretty persuaded by the thinking of those such as the English techno-philosopher James Lovelock, who argues that given the billions of years it takes to evolve human-level intelligence, it’s likely that it evolved only once. // It’s at least possible, then, that we are the ones. As I’ve argued recently, before we surrender to the post-human era some futurists are keen to usher in, we should consider the implications of that.
🗓️ Also this week
👨 Alexa now has a male incarnation called Ziggy. Users who switch must use ‘Ziggy’ as the wake word; currently the feature is available only in the US, but Amazon say they’ll soon roll it out worldwide.
🕵️ The neighbourhood watch app Citizen is paying people to livestream from crime scenes. That rhymes, and it’s also creepy as hell.
🏙️ Athens has appointed a Chief Heat Officer to navigate the city through the climate crisis. Eleni Myrivili will be responsible for finding new ways to cool the city.
₿ Amazon has denied a story claiming it will soon start accepting bitcoin. A spokesperson said the company was ‘interested in the space’ but had no concrete plans.
🧑💻 A major new survey saw one-third of respondents say they’ll quit their job if forced to go back to the office full-time. Ipsos surveyed 2,700 office workers across nine countries including the UK, Germany, India, China and Australia.
📉 A collective of climate scientists say the Earth’s vital signs have hit an all-time low. Despite the pandemic, they say, levels of atmospheric CO2 and methane hit all-time highs in 2021.
🌊 Lab-grown coral could save the world’s coral reefs. In a world first, scientists at the University of Miami cultivated starlet sea anemone and cauliflower coral in a lab.
🧠 Brain-computer interface startup Synchron has been cleared to run an FDA trial of its technology. The startup has beaten Elon Musk’s Neuralink to that staging post, and trials will start later this year.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,882,456,961
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7893169467
💉 Global population vaccinated: 14.1%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 57% complete
📖 On this day: On 28 July 1896 the city of Miami, Florida, is incorporated.
Can’t shake the feeling
Thanks for reading this week.
I’m endlessly fascinated by the secrets of the human soul we might discover if we plumbed the depths of search and social data.
For longtime readers, that will come as no surprise. This newsletter is fuelled by the idea that to better understand what lies ahead, we need to cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves.
I’ll keep pursuing that mission. And there’s one thing you can do to help: share!
If you found today’s instalment valuable, why not take a second to forward this email to one person – a friend, relative, or colleague – who’d also enjoy it? Or share New World Same Humans across one of your social networks, and let others know why you think it’s worth their time. Just hit the share button:
I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.