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


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

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

The news: In the days since Elon Musk confirmed his purchase of Twitter on October 27, tweeting “the bird is freed,” many Twitter users have threatened to leave. But while people often fail to follow through on threats to quit Twitter, new data suggests that a significant number of users really are abandoning the platform.

How they did it: The firm Bot Sentinel, which tracks behavior on Twitter, believes that around 877,000 accounts were deactivated and a further 497,000 were suspended between October 27 and November 1. That’s more than double the usual number.

Why it matters: Anecdotal evidence from social media suggests that people upset with Elon Musk purchasing Twitter are following through and deciding to deactivate their accounts in protest. If they continue to do so en masse, that could come to be a significant problem for the platform—and its new owner. Read the full story.

—Chris Stokel-Walker

Smartphone data from drivers could help spot when bridges need urgent repairs

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

Usually, bridges’ state of repair is monitored either through visual inspection for cracks and faults, or sensors collecting their vibration and movement data. But a new method developed by researchers at West Point Military Academy and other universities sidesteps the need for either by collecting accelerometer data from smartphones in cars as they drive over bridges. Read the full 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. You only have to watch the videos of people with Parkinson’s disease who have electrodes implanted in their brains. They can go from struggling to walk to confidently striding across a room literally at the flick of a switch.

We might be able to use a similar approach to lift our moods—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 personalized devices that track your brain activity and optimize it. Read the full story.

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—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our new weekly newsletter covering everything you need to know that’s going on in the world of healthcare and biotech. Sign up to receive it in 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 liveblogs covering the two days of fascinating discussions with global changemakers, innovators, and industry veterans, as we try to unpick what’s probable, plausible, and possible with tomorrow’s breakthrough technologies.

Day one focused on some of the exciting technologies promising to change our lives, including clean energy and CRISPR, while the second day unpacked what the future holds for the internet, augmented reality, body tech, and AI.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Shadowy algorithms are calling the shots in Washington, DC 
And the vast majority of residents don’t have a clue about them, or how they work. (Wired $)
+ How the pandemic bolstered China’s surveillance state. (Slate)
+ Marseille’s battle against being spied upon. (MIT Technology Review)

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

3 Republican 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 it take to regulate space? 🌌
One thing’s clear—it won’t be easy. (Vox)

5 World leaders must accept that they’ve failed to curb climate change
The 1.5°C Paris agreement is no longer enough—we need action, and fast. (Economist $) 
+ Scientists are questioning the sector’s biggest oversight group. (FT $)
+ We must fundamentally rethink “net-zero” climate plans. (MIT Technology Review)

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

7 Social media wasn’t ready for photos of early pregnancies
But looking at them is essential for honest abortion conversations. (The Verge)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

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

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

10 How to model the other planets we could call home 🪐
The simulations are part of the quest to find alien life. (Quanta Magazine)
+ 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 the new Elon Musk regime to the Washington Post.

The big story

I asked my students to turn 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, performed an experiment in a philosophy class he was teaching. His students had failed a test rather badly, and he had a hunch that their pervasive use of cell phones and laptops in class was partly responsible. 

He offered them extra credit if they would give him their phones for nine days and write about living without them. Twelve students—about a third of the class—took up the offer. What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent. Read the full story.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ These beautiful homes built into cliffs aren’t for the faint of heart.
+ Weighing a baby emperor penguin is more challenging than you’d expect.
+ I know Halloween is over, but these spooky stories are too good not
+ Hear me out: eels are cool.
to share.
+ It’s not just you—plenty of people feel nostalgic for places they’ve never been.





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