It’s exchange time:

1) Justin Randle at Truthout has an incredible article on a “modern mode of punishment” – solitary confinement, in which 80,000 Americans find themselves every day. “It is well-documented that prolonged isolation quite literally sends healthy people insane. For those with a pre-existing mental illness, the effects are catastrophic. Behaviours that can be a manifestation of mental illness – self-mutilation, throwing of faeces and urine, refusing instructions – cruelly become justifications for a prisoner’s continued placement in solitary. On top of this, because they are so isolated, solitary prisoners are at greater risk of medical neglect, abuses of power and excessive force.”


2) Any decent hippie is probably abuzz about the explosion of urban agriculture – especially as urbanisation and the GFC left many without employment and living in “food deserts”. But there are a plethora of drivers behind this new food movement: e.g. the invention of new processes like window gardens, roof gardens, and community gardens, as well as advances in the ‘maker’ community, and a surge in environmentalism. Aliza Eliazarov, a photographer, has an interesting photo series that highlights the sheer diversity of the sustainable food movement in America.


3) Speaking of urban agriculture, the Smithsonian Magazine has one of the coolest examples of the urban agriculture movement that I have ever seen; a company that has converted one of London’s disused bomb shelters into a farm. “After the war, the underground shelters sat unused, dark and damp, empty or holding rows and rows of legal and financial documents. These days, one of the eight shelters has a very different use: an urban farm, which despite being underground (and thus cut off from sunlight) is churning out high-quality microgreens and lettuce for the London market.”


4) Bernice Dapaah, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, tells her story of entrepreneurism empowering Women in Ghana: “I teamed up with two other students to explore what, in our own small way, we could do to create jobs for young people in rural Ghana. We realised that the abundance of bamboo forests in the country could be converted into high quality, environmentally friendly bikes – sturdy and shock-resistant, and suitable for high terrains and rough roads. This is how the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was born”


5) Not content with harping on about the dangers of inequality, Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz has decided to address the “innovation enigma” – the difficulty in quantifying the impact of technological progress on living standards; “In a simpler world, where innovation simply meant lowering the cost of production of, say, an automobile, it was easy to assess an innovation’s value. But when innovation affects an automobile’s quality, the task becomes far more difficult. And this is even more apparent in other arenas: How do we accurately assess the fact that, owing to medical progress, heart surgery is more likely to be successful now than in the past, leading to a significant increase in life expectancy and quality of life?”


6) Joseph Williams, a veteran White House correspondent, tells the depressing story of losing his job in 2012 at age 50, and going to work for a sporting goods store: “Having once supervised an 80-member news division of a major metropolitan newspaper, the first weeks on my new job triggered a self-esteem meltdown… As the learning curve flattened, however, my past life faded over the horizon and I gave up looking for an on-ramp back to journalism. Starved for approval after so much rejection, I started to take a weird, internal pride in my crappy menial job, almost against my will.” He’s back in the communications field now, but his two year experience in retail puts a different face on working conditions and America’s minimum wage debate.


7) The internet hasn’t done much to solve the extraordinary number of blunders that slip into even quality publications. If anything, it’s worse now. But an offhand comment in a Columbia Journalism Review article makes a good point; as media consumption is stratified, and traffic is increasingly driven by search engines and links from social media, who sees retractions anymore? As media consumption becomes less about quality sources and more about good sub editing, and if the media must worry less about the loss of face a retraction causes, will there be much incentive to emphasise fact checking? “When a salacious scoop gets posted online, it bounces around social media such as Facebook, and comes up in searches for the subject’s name, in both instances divorced from the context… And, in the modern media environment, where people read by social media stream rather than by publication, they certainly may not see the retraction posted later or an apology posted elsewhere.”


8) Souad Mekhennet, a journalist and World Economic Forum global leader, has an interesting reflection on working as a reporter in conflict zones, and specifically the benefits of female war reporters: “Looking back at 2003, I think the problem was that we as journalists didn’t do enough reporting about people’s daily lives in Iraq… It seemed all the media outlets spoke to the same people….It is a challenge for sure for journalists to break with existing views on these events, especially in the West, where most politicians and other journalists see things the same way…That is why it is so important to listen to the stories of women – those who suffer a great deal in conflicts, yet fight to keep their societies together.”


9) The past couple of years have seen a whole load of focus on the issue of punitive patents and patent lawsuits. Marcus Wohlsen over at Wired Magazine is set on furthering the angst, with an interesting point on how DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions may scupper the ‘internet of things’; “Ultimately, Kominers argues, the obstacles to a wide-open Internet of Things are more likely to be organisational than technological. “Because many (Internet-of-Things) systems are being developed separately, by different firms under different proprietary standards, it is unclear how interoperability will emerge on the systemic level, or if it ever will””


10) According to an article by Time’s audience engagement guru, Tony Haile, native advertising may not be the saviour of digital media it is cracked up to be. The reason? Online readers barely engage at the best of times, and what little attention they give drops off a cliff when it comes to native advertising copy: ‘on a typical article two-thirds of people exhibit more than 15 seconds of engagement, on native ad content that plummets to around one-third.‘ Next plan?


And that’s all for this week’s exchange. The exchange will hopefully be back again next weekend with more intriguing stories and ideas. Same bat channel.

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