The Download: Twitter’s user exodus, and fixing bridges

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This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.

Twitter may have lost over a million users since Elon Musk took over

The news: In the days since Elon Musk confirmed his purchase of Twitter on Oct. 27, tweeting “the bird is free,” many Twitter users have threatened to walk away. But while people often don’t follow through on threats to quit Twitter, new data suggests that a significant number of users are actually leaving the platform.

How they did it: The firm Bot Sentinel, which tracks behavior on Twitter, believes about 877,000 accounts were deactivated and another 497,000 were suspended between October 27 and November 1. This is more than double the usual figure.

Why it matters: Anecdotal evidence from social media suggests that people upset about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter are following through and choosing to deactivate their accounts in protest. If they continue to do this en masse, this could be a major problem for the platform and its new owner. Read the whole story.

—Chris Stokel-Walker

Data from drivers’ smartphones could help detect when bridges need urgent repairs

Smartphones could be used to monitor the safety of bridges much more quickly and cheaply than is currently possible, providing engineers with data they can use to fix structures before they become dangerously unstable.

Typically, the state of repair of bridges is monitored by visual inspection for cracks and failures, or by sensors that collect their vibration and movement data. But a new method developed by researchers at West Point Military Academy and other universities avoids the need to collect accelerometer data from smartphones in cars as they drive over bridges. Read the whole story.

—Tammy Xu

Here’s how personalized brain stimulation could treat depression

Sending a jolt of electricity through a person’s brain can do remarkable things. Just watch the videos of people with Parkinson’s disease who have electrodes implanted in their brains. They can go from struggling to walk to walking confidently across a room, literally with the flip of a switch.

We could use a similar approach to boost our mood, something that could be life-changing for people with disorders like depression. And we’re not just talking about general brain zaps, the goal is to create custom devices that track your brain activity and optimize it. Read the whole story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our new weekly newsletter that covers everything you need to know about what’s happening in the world of healthcare and biotech. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

EmTech 2022

This week, MIT Technology Review held our annual EmTech conference, our flagship event covering emerging technology and global trends.

Check out our live blogs covering two days of fascinating discussions with global change-makers, innovators and industry veterans as we try to sort out what’s likely, plausible and possible with tomorrow’s breakthrough technologies.

The first day focused on some of the exciting technologies that promise to change our lives, such as clean energy and CRISPR, while the second day showed what the future holds for the Internet, augmented reality, technology body and the AI.

Required readings

I’ve combed the internet to find you the funniest/important/scary and fascinating stories about technology.

1 Shady algorithms are calling the shots in Washington, DC
And the vast majority of residents have no idea how they work. (via cable $)
+ How the pandemic strengthened China’s surveillance state. (Blackboard)
+ Marseille’s battle against being spied on. (MIT Technology Review)

2 What Mark Zuckerberg has taught Elon Musk
The constant between the two companies? Disgruntled workers. (NYT$)
+ L’Oréal has paused its advertising spend on Twitter. (FT$)
+ Musk is trying to start a war between Twitter factions. (motherboard)
+ Here’s why, unfortunately, Twitter users should prepare for the worst. (The Atlantic $)

3 GOP midterm candidates are pushing Stop the Steal lies
Just because the narrative isn’t true doesn’t stop it from resonating. (Bloomberg$)
+ Swing voters are more powerful than ever. (NY Mag$)

4 What will be needed to regulate the space?🌌
One thing is clear: it won’t be easy. (Voice)

5 World leaders must accept that they have failed to stop climate change
The 1.5°C Paris agreement is no longer enough; we need action and fast. (Economist $)
+Scientists question industry’s largest oversight group. (FT$)
+ We need to fundamentally rethink “net-zero” climate plans. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What it’s like inside a Chinese covid detention center
Lights on all night, strict routines and endless dust. (FT$)
+ Vietnam wants to steal China’s tech manufacturing crown. (Rest of the World)

7 Social networks were not ready for the photos of the first pregnancies
But looking at them is essential to honest conversations about abortion. (The edge)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Loving the conspiracy theorist in your life can be hard
Treating them with compassion can help bridge the gap. (The Atlantic $)
+ How to talk to conspiracy theorists, and still be nice. (MIT Technology Review)

9 The heartbreak of a very modern breakup
Agonizing over whether to block your ex on Instagram only prolongs the pain. (The Guardian)

10 How to shape the other planets we could call home 🪐
Simulations are part of the search for alien life. (Magazine Quanta)
+ A new source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos has been discovered. (New Scientist $)

quote of the day

“We’re all working for the Trump White House.”

—A disgruntled Twitter worker describes what it’s like to work under Elon Musk’s new regime to the Washington Post.

The great story

I asked my students to hand in their cell phones and write about living without them

December 2019

A few years ago, Ron Srigley, a writer who teaches at Humber College and Laurentian University, conducted an experiment in a philosophy class he was teaching. His students had failed a test rather poorly, and he had a hunch that his widespread use of cell phones and laptops in class was partly responsible.

He offered them extra credit if they gave him their phones for nine days and wrote about living without them. Twelve students—about a third of the class—accepted the offer. What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably coherent. Read the whole story.

We can still have beautiful things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Drop me a line ortweet them to me.)

+ These beautiful houses built into the cliffs are not for the faint of heart.
+ Weighing a little emperor penguin it’s harder than you’d expect.
+ I know Halloween is over, but these creepy stories aren’t too good
+ Listen to me: the eels are fresh.
to share.
+ It’s not just you: many people feel homesick for places they’ve never been.

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