Week 48: Sandwiches, biohackers and mutual political incomprehension

Weekly web missives from the Friday strategy team. A selection of this week's encounters with design, business, trends and culture. 

Science, user needs and Snapchat

In the kind of scientific ethics debate that excites us, New Scientist writes about whether biohackers hacking their own genome through CRISPR should be regulated through the FDA and relevant bodies, or straight out banned. One of the biohackers quoted claims that accessing and editing his own genome is a basic human right. “I am of the opinion that your genome is your own,” says Ishee. “I think that it is important that people have the ability to choose what kind of gene expression they want for themselves.”

 At one end of the spectrum the issue strays into terrifying questions of eugenics, and a less nightmarish but still critical one, of professional athletes editing themselves in ways that anti-doping agencies could only dream of detecting. And yet I was also struck by this undeniable quote from bioethicist John Harris, “There is a long and noble history of both doctors and scientists experimenting on themselves [think the many 19th century scientists who sustained damage and sometimes died through X-ray experimentation]. It has proven tremendously valuable in the public interest.”

Snapchat are separating friends from businesses. The stated aim was to attract new users by making it easier to understand for #normals. But CEO Evan Spiegel's pseudo-press release mostly talks about how the entanglement of the two has driven fake news.

We've also been nodding to this short provocative piece, putting users first is not the answer to everything. It is not enough to only consider users’ individual interests when designing a system. Considering the collective needs of a community, or even of society is likely to lead to better outcomes.

Philosophy and politics

“Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar comforting habits.”

This interview on NiemanLab.org made us want to read How to Think, a new book by Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs.

Jacobs, who wrote the book during last year’s presidential campaign, said that the idea was born after conversations he had with U.K. friends about Brexit, which he said was “marked by a lot of mutual incomprehension, a lot of hostility, a sense that if you’re on the other side from me on an issue, then there is a gulf between you and I that just cannot be crossed.” That sounds a lot like 2017."

Cultural Identity

Last week's Guardian long read was a brilliant and surprisingly lyrical exploration of the £8bn per year sandwich industry in the UK. We loved this quote: "The homeliness of the sandwich has been able to mask its extraordinary effectiveness as a commercial product." 

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