Weekend edition—Tech’s Amish solution, wedding chatbot, praising middle managers

Good morning, Quartz readers!

After years designing gadgets and services to monopolize our attention and extract our data, tech giants face a mounting backlash. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, long under fire for “programming people’s brains,” will testify before the European parliament next week about his company’s use of data. Not long after, transformative new European privacy rules go into effect that will give EU consumers far more visibility into what companies know about them.

Now, tech CEOs insist they want to be part of the solution. On Tuesday, Facebook-owned Instagram confirmed a feature that will let users track their time spent on the platform. A week earlier, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a Digital Wellbeing initiative geared at helping people moderate their use of Google’s products and services by suggesting breaks from YouTube or batching notifications. He cited the concept of “JOMO,” or joy of missing out.

There’s nothing wrong with tech giants discovering (or appearing to discover) their scruples, but it’s worth remembering that the choice to use technology is ours too, and we can choose differently. Just ask the Amish.

Before accepting any new innovation, “the Amish use us as an experiment,” says Jameson Wetmore, an engineer-turned-social-researcher at Arizona State University. “They watch what happens to people in the outside world and decide if that technology is something they want to adopt for themselves.” Unlike Silicon Valley, the Amish recognize there’s no such thing as value-free technologies.

Wetmore notes that the Amish have also been steadily rejecting our own society in greater numbers. In the 1960s and 1970s, 75% of Amish children went on to become Amish adults. Today, it’s 95%. “To some extent, it’s a bit of an indictment, I think,” he says. “The Amish have always rejected our world, but now they’re doing it in record numbers!”

Perhaps they wouldn’t, if we saw technology as a choice, and not an inevitability. It doesn’t take a return to the past to realize people, not just governments and companies, can decide how technology enters our lives.—Michael Coren

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The Uber economy is really the low-wage economy. After years of conflicting data, there is now solid evidence that ride-hailing wages are below the legal minimum in many US cities. Alison Griswold dispenses with the myth of the lucrative Uber job, once and for all.

Time is just a story we tell ourselves. Writing on the work of theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, Ephrat Livni offers a mind-shifting perspective on how everything from stargazing to international phone calls prove that time is a fluid, human concept—not a fact of the universe. Time is really nothing but an illusion, according to quantum physics.

Are ebooks dying or thriving? Yes. Thu-Huong Ha takes a deep dive in the complexities of understanding the health of the book industry, and how Amazon’s power over self-publishing, a shadow industry running outside the traditional publishing houses and imprints, is insidiously invisible.

Let our chatbot tell you whether to attend that expensive overseas wedding. Whether it’s on a beach in Maui or one in Windsor, England with a prince, destination weddings come at a huge cost to attend as a guest. Rosie Spinks and David Yanofsky help you put a price on a friendship.

Coining a new economics term. A Bank of England official got in trouble for using the phrase  “menopausal economy” to describe those that are “past their peak.” But Allison Schrager thinks the phrase is actually a good one and it should rather apply to economies that are mature, productive—and  “run hot sometimes, but always keeps it together.”

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The problem with business school. The students of elite business schools are remarkably homogeneous, writes John Benjamin in the New Republic. Rarely do they see a problem that can’t be solved with more business, which means they’re failing to question the larger ideas that have produced inequality, environmental degradation, and political polarization.

Understanding what happened in Gaza. The situation—where Israeli soldiers shot dozens of Palestinian demonstrators at the border—defies partisans of all stripes. In Tablet, Yair Rosenberg explains that the violence was not linked to Donald Trump’s erratic diplomacy; that Israel’s blockade is self-defeating; and that Hamas manipulated unarmed protesters to incite violence.

Trash floats. In eight frames of video, data viz, and maps, the National Geographic team of Brian T. Jacobs, Kennedy Elliott, Jason Treat, and Laura Parker horrifically show how trash can travel thousands of miles from inland neighborhoods in East Asian countries to the shores of one of the most remote islands on Earth.

There is no guarantee liberal democracy will survive the century. Rival illiberal regimes in China, Turkey, and Russia claim broad popular support, and are now competing for legitimacy. The West’s remaining liberal democracies need to deliver for the populations if they want to survive, writes John Gray in the New Statesman.

Fighting back against the cult of flatness. Millennials who hate middle management must have cheered when Elon Musk announced he was “flattening” Tesla’s management structure. In the Wall Street Journal (paywall), Sam Walker says the research shows the future performance of companies “depends far more on the unsung commitment and contributions of their B-players” than the Musks of the world.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, menopausal metaphors, and useful MBAs to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Kira Bindrim and Kabir Chibber.