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Photo of author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Personal file
Carl Karlsson

-OpEd-

"Do you get how big this is? It's been two hours now…"

No, I didn't get how big it was. Mostly, I was amazed that Daniel was both speaking in full sentences and making eye contact — I'd only ever seen him muted and bent over his computer screen scrolling through graphs and columns. But now he was reclining and spinning his office chair in the freshly remodeled common area of the co-working space I've called "the office" for the past four weeks.

Facebook vs. freedom

"If Facebook stays down, some of my clients will lose six-figures," he said, looking half-amused, half-panicked. Daniel (who turned out to be quite the talker during social media outages) had quit his day job after getting "almost rich" on bitcoin, and now divided his time between crypto trading, PR consultancy and freelance "growth hacking."

His isn't a particularly original story here at the shared office in central Sofia, Bulgaria. Many I've spoken to since arriving in September do something IT-Crypto related — mostly expats, some having moved here for the corporate tax flat rate of 10%, others just passing through before the next nomadic destination.

I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes.

No matter what their gig or angle or life hack, every single person gives the same reason as Daniel for moving their lives online and on the road: more freedom. "Have you checked bitcoin? … Way up. Decentralization, man," Daniel went on. More people had dropped into the common room, unable to either work or waste time in the usual ways on Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp. Suddenly, there was far more social interaction in this kitsch four-story building than I'd seen ever since arriving.

Photo of a backlit hand holding a smart phone with Facebook, WhatApp and Instagram icons on the screen.

Facebook-linked apps suffered a 6-hour outage

Andre M. Chang/ZUMA

Back to Zuckerberg's normal

A full-fledged debate was on about what this all meant: "If they built Facebook on a blockchain, this wouldn't have happened," an Estonian web designer from the top floor weighed in. "How safe is our data if they can't even keep their platforms up and running?"

The discussion went on as the evening arrived. Sitting there, listening to the tech-heavy analysis I couldn't fully understand — and philosophical riffs nobody could understand — I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes and digital noise. My only (unshared) thought was: This couldn't possibly be "more freedom."

Any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free.

After all, who really did understand any of this? Who actually knows where blockchain will take us? Who has read Facebook's privacy policy?

We will be assured that some simple glitch took down the Facebook empire, and now all is back online — and Mark Zuckerberg will even recoup his lost billions. But the forces behind our economy are more complex than ever, and any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free. And we digital nomads of Bulgaria jonesing for Facebook and WhatsApp to come back online are the final, self-deluded proof.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

Keep reading...Show less

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