Issue 3: A Matter of Culture

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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter crafted to turn global technology shifts into a three-minute read. Xische has led debate on the issues that matter most across technology and governance for over a decade. We aim to distill our insights to help you connect the dots. Feel free to share feedback at as we refine our voice. Towards a meaningful future! – Danish Farhan. 


A Matter of Culture

From the printing press to the invention of photography, technology has always heavily influenced the arts. New technology has spurred everything from vigorous debate to wholly new artistic and cultural movements. Our present moment has a similar uncertainty. Do we fully understand the power of digital technology to transform artistic production in the age of augmented realities and intelligences? We are in uncharted territory. 
Looking back: Many commentators worry about the impact of emerging technologies on the future of art, but perhaps we are looking in the wrong direction. Recently, scientists and artists have been exploring the role of digital technology in preservation. Consider the power of virtual reality platforms to catalogue everything from endangered flora and fauna to the reconstruction of ancient cities crumbling under the weight of conflict in the Middle East.
The crux: Cataloguing the world’s information is becoming a reality. But who will own the knowledge? Google’s ambitious project to scan every book in the world’s leading libraries is admirable but does Google have the right to own the information it scans? The public and private sectors will need to work in concert to ensure that the preservation and advancement of culture is done in a manner that protects the public interest. The UAE’s approach is an example that others should emulate.


“We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts … affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art."

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction


The rise of the super app: Last month, Facebook announced a radical business pivot. The social media giant plans to funnel its businesses into one super application that would be various parts social media platform, payments service, and messaging application. It is revolutionary, exciting, and not all that new. China’s WeChat has been operating a similar model for years with incredible success. The super application, Facebook just made clear, is the future.

In a special two-part series, we investigate the rise of the super application and the challenges unified platforms present to users and regulators. The second part of the series is a deep dive into how global governments are addressing the regulatory hurdles posed by this new breed of internet business. Super apps are here to stay, it is time to get smart about how they will change the internet.


Open for business: Dubai’s startup ecosystem made a big splash last week with Uber acquiring rail-hailing application Careem for $3.1bn. It was the largest technology sector acquisition in the history of the Middle East and it did more than boost the prospects of one company. It reveals the power of the UAE’s startup ecosystem. This week, the UAE announced a new five-year visa for owners or founders of technology companies. Between these two events, the message is clear: the UAE is one of the best places to get a startup off the ground.

iFixit? The smartphone is a ubiquitous extension of our daily lives. So why is it so hard to fix them ourselves? This perplexing question was taken up in the most unlikely of places this week: the New York Timeseditorial page. Following on calls for a national “right to fix it” law, the Times argued that it was high time companies like Apple allowed consumers to obtain the necessary information, tools, and parts to easily (and cheaply) repair their products. It sure would make life easier for many of us.


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