WhatsApp 1, Dictator 0


Protest in Zimbabwe (Getty Images)

Today’s Top Stories

WhatsApp 1, Dictator 0: The messaging app chronicles dissent in Zimbabwe.

Does Futurism Have a Future? A call for more long-term thinking

Ride-Sharing Services Pivot to Better Behavior … if that’s what it takes to get into the airport-pickup business.

Microsoft Wants To Be Like the Cool Kids: Don’t make fun. It’s the right idea.

Thanks, Obama: Here’s one unexpected activity that may raise test scores.

WhatsApp 1, Dictator 0. In the post-Arab Spring world, dictators rely on a blunt, powerful tool when it comes to managing dissent on social media: they shut it down. But in Zimbabwe, a WhatsApp blackout was no match for massive protests against Robert Mugabe’s failing economy (Quartz). The Zimbabwe government denied it was blocking WhatsApp yesterday, a day of strikes and protests, but it stopped working unless people connected to secure VPN services. Service seems to have been restored by last night, but even before that those connecting via VPN shared photos proving that what they saw before their eyes was happening around the country. The strikes were a success and major intersections in major cities looked like ghost towns. The technology arms war continues. (Speaking of tech wars, Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton thinks they will become more literal, although his column on the topic is a strange mashup of conventional wisdom and Chicken Little.)

Does Futurism Have a Future? We at NewCo have had Alvin Toffler on the mind lately–Steve Case’s recent book borrowed its title from him–and we’re not alone, in part because he died recently. In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo offers a spirited defense of Toffler’s “future shock” idea, the notion that accelerating technology change is making us sick, and wants to encourage more of us to pick up his torch. Manjoo’s argument overstates the problem a bit, but he’s right that the future is coming at us faster and faster and futurism has turned into a joke. There are plenty of NewCos that take the long view, but Manjoo says government has to play a role, too.

Ride-Sharing Services Pivot to Better Behavior. There are still some important places closed to pickups from ride-sharing services, in particular 10 of the 40 busiest airports in the U.S. (Wall Street Journal). Uber and Lyft are navigating the various regulations and ordinances, which can be confusing. There’s no argument that ride-sharing doesn’t cut into other modes of ground transportation: taxis in San Francisco airports are down 10% since the competition was allowed in, and car rentals are down as well. In some cases, ride-sharing services are being allowed in because they’re agreeing to be subject to regulation, which is a welcome shift from Uber and Lyft’s recent hissy-fit approach in Austin.

Microsoft Wants To Be Like the Cool Kids. There are a lot of reasons to be impressed by what Microsoft has pulled off under CEO Satya Nadella. It has bravely built new cloud-based businesses that do far more than just prop up Windows and Office, and it has become much more open in both its technology and its approach. And then there’s this. A Microsoft recruiter sent out a note (Bloomberg) inviting “bae” interns to “get lit” on “lots of dranks.” After the note went viral, Microsoft sent out the inevitable apology. The press is making fun of the Redmond Giant for this, but you can’t expect any BigCo of Microsoft’s size to be 100% on message all the time, and erring on the side of the light and colloquial may be awkward but is exactly what Microsoft needs to do if it doesn’t want to be perceived as your grandparents’ software company.

Thanks, Obama. Correlation is not causality, people. But if Michelle Obama is looking for something to do after she’s done with the White House, she might want to keep visiting schools (Economist). Schools the First Lady has visited tend to have higher test scores after she shows up.

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