Good morning, Quartz readers!
You might think of the internet as a series of walled gardens, surrounded by wild jungle.
“You can make the walled garden very, very, sweet,” as Tim Berners-Lee has noted, referring to the corporate-managed plots where the planting is controlled. “But the jungle outside is always more appealing in the long term.”
This year may have proved Berners-Lee right, though perhaps not in the way he might have hoped for. Out of the jungle this year have emerged hacks, disruptions, and theft of unprecedented scale. There were vast swathes of the internet taken out for hours at a time; a billion user accounts compromised at one of the internet’s commercial pioneers; and, of course, the theft and subsequent leak (paywall) of communications from the Democratic party, aimed at swaying the outcome of the US presidential election.
Part of the reason disruptions keep happening is the internet’s decentralized design. For instance, a technical fix exists for DDoS attacks, but all the internet’s tens of thousands of service providers must implement it for it to work. A combination of inertia and costs makes this unlikely to happen anytime soon.
You only have to look at the how the internet has responded to the exhaustion of IP addresses, the network’s basic identifiers—which has been predicted for decades—to see how difficult it is to get a decentralized system to do something collectively. IPv4 addresses have been exhausted since 2011 in some regions, yet the uptake of IPv6, its successor protocol, remains at roughly 15%, some eight years after it became available.
We may remember 2016 as the year digital disruptions went from merely expensive nuisances to serious economic and political threats. As the internet gets more intertwined with our critical infrastructure, we’ll have to pay as much attention to its wildernesses as the walled gardens they surround.—Joon Ian Wong
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Ikea’s lonely Chinese singles club. The furniture giant’s Shanghai flagship store is in an uneasy standoff with the hundreds of senior citizens who come to its cafeteria to talk, cruise, and eke out cheap snacks for hours on end. Zheping Huang spent some time hanging out with them and writes of the dilemmas faced by many aging Chinese in the increasingly money- and property-conscious country—and Ikea’s dilemma of how to deal with them.
Meet the man trying to disrupt sin. Daniel Saynt is trying to take the burgeoning but insider-y scene of New York sex parties and make it glamorous and chic. Can he succeed without getting anyone hurt? Alden Wicker profiles him and provides a revealing look at the logistical, ethical and business challenges of getting a hundred people naked with each other.
The 30-year bond boom is over. In this clear interactive explainer on the evolution of bond prices and yield curves, Jason Karaian and David Yanofsky outline how the US Federal Reserve’s latest rate hike signals the beginning of the end of an era for the US economy and a hint of what Trumponomics will look like.
The Great American word mapper. Based on data from billions of tweets analyzed by forensic linguists, Nikhil Sonnad produced this mapping tool that lets you search for any of 100,000 words and see where they are most commonly used in the continental US. Try searching for foods, slang words, sports teams, and other cultural touchstones, and share your results.
Gift-giving around the world. Our 25 Days of Exchange series continues; the latest installments include a guide to the delicate and complex art of Japanese gift-giving by Nevin Thompson, a catalog of American Christmas dinners from a century ago by Johnny Simon, a chronicle of how gift-giving has evolved in Poland from Communism to capitalism by Hanna Kozlowska, and a discourse on how the Jewish festival of Hannukah embodies a well-tested management principle, by Ephrat Livni.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
On the legacy of a black president. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates reviews the Obama presidency, and his assessment is one of enormous pride shot through with disappointment and fear. Only a black man who grew up largely insulated from racial prejudice could have reached the highest office, Coates argues, and only such a man could have underestimated the ensuing backlash that now threatens to undo all he achieved.
Take your doctor’s advice with a (giant) grain of salt. It’s not her fault, but your physician is probably not doing as good a job as she thinks. There’s simply too much received wisdom, poor clinical trial design, and bad data in medicine. In three parts, the Freakonomics podcast clearly lays out the systemic issues that plague medical science, and offers a primer on how to become a smarter health consumer.
Dying of cancer on Britain’s National Health Service. The last column by beloved British journalist AA Gill, published in the Times after he died, is a peerless account of a man’s encounter with his own mortality. It’s also a brilliant, trenchant, poignant, meandering paean to the NHS, the pride of Britain, and—as Gill learned the ultimate hard way—a fundamentally flawed institution when it comes to dealing with cancer.
We don’t have the tools to fight digital red-lining. When advertisers target users on social media, they often engage in racial discrimination unwittingly. Before the internet, courts held newspaper publishers responsible for exclusionary ads, but social media sites operate in a more permissive legal framework. As Vox’s Alvin Chang explains, that could make discrimination a more intractable problem in the digital age.
Time to rethink addiction. The notion of addiction as a disease rather than a choice or a mere bad habit has become mainstream. But it has made the stigma worse instead of better, made recovery harder, and doesn’t match the evidence, writes Marc Lewis in Aeon. Instead, a growing medical view is that we should indeed treat it as a learned habit—just of a particularly pernicious kind.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, sex-party tickets, and word maps to email@example.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.