Ever since, years ago, I coined the expression “McFB way of life” and particularly since my intriguing FB articles (Is there life after Facebook I and II) have been published, I was confronted with numerous requests to clarify the meaning. My usual answer was a contra-question: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
Not pretending to reveal a coherent theory, the following lines are my instructive findings, most of all on the issue why it is time to go home, de-pirate, and search for a silence.
Largely drawing on the works of the grand philosophers of the German Classicism and Dialectic Materialism, it was sociologist Max Weber who was the first – among modern age thinkers – to note that the industrialized world is undergoing a rapid process of rationalization of its state (and other vital societal) institutions. This process – Weber points out – is charac-terized by an increased efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over any ‘threat’ of uncertainty. Hereby, the uncertainty should be understood in relation to the historically unstable precognitive and cognitive human, individual and group, dynamics. A disheartened, cold and calculative over-rationalization might lead to obscurity of irrationality, Weber warns. His famous metaphor of the iron cage or irrationality of rationality refers to his concern that an extremely rationalized (public) institution inevitably alienates itself and turns dehumanized to both, those who staff them and those they serve, with a tiny upper caste of controllers steadily losing touch of reality.
Revisiting, rethinking and rejuvenating Weber’s theory (but also those of Sartre, Heidegger, Lukács, Lefebvre, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Bloch), it was the US sociologist George Ritzer who postulated that the late 20th century institutions are rationalized to a degree that the entire state becomes ‘McDonaldized’, since the principles of the fast food industry have gradually pervaded other segments of society and very aspects of life (The McDonaldization of Society, a controversial and highly inspiring book of popular language, written in 1993).
Thus paraphrased, Ritzer states that (i) McEfficiency is achieved by the systematic elimination of unnecessary time or effort in pursuing an objective. As the economy has to be just-in-time competitively productive, society has to be efficient as well. Corresponding to this mantra, only a society whose forms and contents are governed by business models, whose sociability runs on marketing principles is a successfully optimized polity. Premium efficiency in the workplace (or over broader aspects of sociableness) is attainable by introducing F.W. Taylor’s and H. Ford’s assembly line into human resources and their intellectual activity (sort of intellectual assembly line). Even an average daily exposure to the so-called news and headlines serves an instructive and directional rather than any informational and exploratory purpose. Hence, McEfficiency solidifies the system, protecting its karma and dharma from any spontaneity, digression, unnecessary questioning and experimenting or surprise.
(ii) McCalculability is an attempt to measure quality in terms of quantity, whereby quality becomes secondary, if at all a concern. The IT sector, along with the search engines and cyber -social clubs, has considerably contributed to the growing emphasis on calculability. Not only the fast food chains (1 billion meals, everybody-served-in-a-minute), Google, Facebook, TV Reality Shows, and the like, as well as the universities, hospitals, travel agencies – all operate on a nearly fetishised and worshiped ‘most voted’, ‘frequently visited’,‘most popular’, a big is beautiful, matrix. It is a calculability which mystically assures us that the BigMac is always the best meal – given its quantity; that the best reader is always a bestseller book; and that the best song is a tune with the most clicks on YouTube. One of the most wanted air carriers, AirAsia, has a slogan: Everyone can fly now. In the world where everyone is armed with mobile-launcher gadgets powered by the micro-touch, soft-screen & scream tech to add to the noisy cacophony – amount, size, frequency, length and volume is all what matters. Thus, a number, a pure digit becomes the (Burger) king. Long Yahoo, the king! Many of my students admitted to me that Google for them is more than a search engine; that actually googalization is a well-domesticated method, which considerably and frequently replaces the cognitive selection when preparing their assignments and exams. Ergo, instead of complementing, this k(l)icky-Wiki-picky method increasingly substitutes the process of human reasoning.
(iii) McPredictability is the key factor of the rationalized McDonalds process. On the broader scale, a rational (rationally optimized) society is one in which people know well beforehand what (and when) to expect. Hence, fast food is always mediocre – it never tastes very bad or very good. The parameter of McFood is therefore a surprise-less world in which equally both disappointment and delight are considerably absent. McMeals will always blend uniform preparation and contents, as well as the standardized serving staff outfit and their customized approach. In the end, it is not about food at all. What makes McDonalds so durably popular is a size, numbers and predictability. (All three are proportionately and causally objectivized and optimized: a meal, who serves it and those served – until the locality and substance of each of the three becomes fluid, obsolete and irrelevant. And what would symbolize this relativization and /self-/trivialization better than a clown – well-known mascot Ronald of McDonaldland). In such an atmosphere of predictability or better to say predictive seduction and gradual loss of integrity, the culture of tacit obedience (ignorance of self-irrelevance through the corrosive addiction) is breeding, even unspotted. Consequently, more similarities than differences is the central to a question of predictability, on both ends: demand (expectation, possibility) and supply (determination, probability). No wonder that even the Pirates offer just a routinized protests under only one simplified and uniformed, ‘anonymous’ mask for all.
(iv) McControl represents the fourth and final Weberian aspect for Ritzer. Traditionally (ever since the age of cognitivity), humans are the most unpredictable element, a variable for the rationalized, bureaucratic systems, so it is an imperative for the McOrganization to (pacify through) control. Nowadays, technology offers a variety of palliatives and tools for the effective control of both employers (supply, probability) and customers (demand, possibility), as well as to control the controllers. A self-articulation, indigenous opinionation, spontaneous initiative and unconstrained action is rather simulated, yet stimulated very seldom. Only once the wide spectrum of possibilities is quietly narrowed down, a limited field of probabilities will appear so large. To this end, the IT appliances are very convenient (cheap, discreet and invisible, but omnipresent and highly accurate) as they compute, pre-decide, channel and filter moves, as well as they store and analyze behavior patterns with their heartless algorithms. (The ongoing SOPA, PIPA and ACTA fuss or any other rendering stringent regulative in future does not constitute, but only confirms and supplements its very cyber nature.)
Aided by the instruments of efficiency, calculability and predictability, the control eliminates (the premium or at least minimizes any serious impact of) authenticity, autonomous thinking and independent (non-consumerist) judgment. Depth and frequency of critical insights and of unpredictable human actions driven by unexpected conclusions is rationalized to a beforehand calculable, and therefore tolerable few. Hyper-rationalized, frigid-exercised, ultra-efficient, predictable and controlled environment subscribes also a full coherence to the socio-asymmetric and dysfunctional-emphatic atmosphere of disaffected but ultimately obedient subjects (‘guided without force’, ‘prompted without aim’, “poked, tweeted & fleshmobbed for ‘fun”, ‘useful idiots’, ‘fitting the social machine without friction’). Hence, what is welcomed is not an engagement, but compliance: a self-actualization through exploration challenges while consumerism confirms – status quo. Veneration of nullity!
Ergo, the final McSociety product is a highly efficient, predictable, computed, standardized, typified, instant, unison, routinized, addictive, imitative and controlled environment which is – paradoxically enough – mystified through the worshiping glorification (of scale). Subjects of such a society are fetishising the system and trivializing their own contents – smooth and nearly unnoticed trade-off. When aided by the IT in a mass, unselectively frequent and severe use within the scenery of huge shopping malls (enveloped by a consumerist fever and spiced up by an ever larger cyber-neurosis, disillusional and psychosomatic disorders, and functional illiteracy of misinformed, undereducated, cyber-autistic and egotistic under-aged and hardly-aged individuals – all caused by the constant (in)flow of clusters of addictive alerts on diver-ting banalities), it is an environment which epitomizes what I coined as the McFB way of life.
This is a cyber–iron cage habitat: a shiny but directional and instrumented, egotistic and autistic, cold and brutal place; incapable of vision, empathy, initiative or action. It only accelerates our disconnection with a selfhood and the rest. If and while so, is there any difference between Gulag and Goo(g)lag – as both being prisons of free mind? Contrary to the established rhetoric; courage, solidarity, vision and initiative were far more monitored, restricted, stigmatized and prosecuted than enhanced, supported and promoted throughout the human history – as they’ve been traditionally perceived like a threat to the inaugurated order, a challenge to the functioning status quo, defiant to the dogmatic conscripts of admitted, permissible, advertized, routinized, recognized and prescribed social conduct.
Elaborating on a well known argument of ‘defensive modernization’ of Fukuyama, it is to state that throughout the entire human history a technological drive was aimed to satisfy the security (and control) objective; and it was rarely (if at all) driven by a desire to (enlarge the variable and to) ease human existence or to enhance human emancipation and liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless operationalized by the system, both intellectualism (human autonomy, mastery and purpose), and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
Consequently, all cyber-social networks and related search engines are far away from what they are portrayed to be: a decentralized but unified intelligence, attracted by gravity of quality rather than navigated by force of a specific locality. In fact, they primarily serve the predictability, efficiency, calculability and control purpose, and only then they serve everything else – as to be e.g. user-friendly and en mass service attractive. To observe the new corrosive dynamics of social phenomenology between manipulative fetishisation (probability) and self-trivialization (possibility), the cyber-social platforms – these dustbins of human empathy in the muddy suburbs of consciousness – are particularly interesting.
Facebook itself is a perfect example of how to utilize (to simulate, instead of to stimulate and empathically live) human contents. Its toolkit offers efficient, rationalized, predictable, clean, transparent, and most intriguing of all, very user-friendly convenient reduction of all possible relations between two individuals: ‘friend’, ‘no-friend’. It sets a universally popular language, so standardized and uncomplicated that even any anonymous machine can understand it – a binary code: ‘1’ (friend) ‘0’ (no-friend), or eventually ‘1’ (brother/sister), ‘1/0’ (friend), ‘0’ no-friend – just two digits to feed precise algorithmic calculations. Remember, number is the king. Gott ist tot, dear Nietzsche – so are men.
Be it occupied or besieged, McDonalds will keep up its menu. Instead, we should finally occupy ourselves by de-pirating enormous tweet/mob noise pollution in and all around us. It is a high time to replace the dis-conceptual flux on streets for a silent reflection at home.
Sorry Garcin, hell is not other people. Hell are we!!
In his emotionally charged speech of December 2011, President Obama openly warned the US citizens: “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists (…) the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century (…) Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One per cent! (…) The free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can…”
(The Oswatomie High School, Kansas, 06 December 2011, the While House Press Release).
Two months before that speech, the highly respected, politically balanced and bipartisan Budget Office of the US Congress (CBO) released its own study “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income between 1979 and 2007” (October 2011). The CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by: 275% for the top 1% of the US households, 65% increase for the next 19% of households, less than a 40% increase for the following segment of households of the next 60%, and finally only an 18% income increase for the bottom of 20% of the US households. If we consider an inflation for the examined period of nearly 30 years, then the nominal growth would turn to a negative increase in real incomes for almost 80% of the US households; a single digit real income increase for the upper 19% of households; and still a three-digit income growth for the top 1% of population.
According to the available internet search engine counters, this CBO study has been retrieved 74,000 times since posted some 3 months ago. For the sake of comparison, an average clip of great-granddaughter of ultra-rich, billionaire Conrad Hilton is clicked on YouTube over 31 million times. Roughly 3 million Americans would represent the top 1% of its population. Who are other 99% – pardon, 28 million individuals – interested in trivial clip/s (with obscure but explicit lines: They can’t do this to me, I’m rich) of Miss Paris?
Remember what I asked at the beginning of this article: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
* This is the so-called FB3 article (Is there life after Facebook? III – the Cyber Goo(g)lag Revelations). Its early version was first published by the US Journal of Foreign Relations /12 January 2012/.
1. Weber, M. (1951), Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Grundriss der verstehenden Sociologie (Economy and Society), Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck)
2. Ritzer, G. (1993), The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
3. Zappa, F.V. (1989), The Real Frank Zappa Book, Touchstone (1999 Edition)
4. Schlitz, M. (1998), On consciousness, causation and evolution, Journal of Parapsychology (61: 185-96)
5. Fukuyama, F. (2002), Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotech Revolution, Profile Books, London (page: 126/232)
6. Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics – Four Societal Normative Orders, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
7. Mumford, L. (1967), Technics and Human Development – Myth of the Machine (Vol. 1), Mariner Books (Ed. 1971)
8. McTaggart, L. (2001), The Field, HarperCollins Publishers
Electric Vehicle Revolution Will Slash Travel Costs in Cities
Autonomous and shared mobility, digitalization and decentralization of energy systems require new approaches to electric mobility, according to the World Economic Forum’s report Electric Vehicles for Smarter Cities: The Future of Energy and Mobility.
The report, produced in collaboration with Bain & Company, examines the major trends affecting the transformation of energy and mobility systems, with a special focus on cities. In this context, it considers electrification, decentralization and digitalization of the energy system, along with the shift towards shared mobility and autonomous driving.
The report calls for the urgent integration of urban-energy-mobility patterns to accelerate the ability of cities to meet climate goals, support energy efficiency and foster innovation of services and infrastructure. Combined, these could dramatically increase productivity and generate economic growth, ultimately providing great benefits to citizens.
In the US alone, achieving the transformation will quadruple value for society by 2030, a gain that could be worth up to $635 billion. As the share of journeys made by electrified vehicles increases, the energy system will see:
- A reduction in cost per mile of up to 40% as a result of increased use of electrified autonomous vehicles (AV)
- Additional flexibility for energy system management as electrified non-AV and AV fleets of public, commercial and mobility-as-a-service vehicles connect to smarter charging and ancillary services
- Lower carbon emissions driven by increased use of solar and wind energy to meet demand for the electricity required to power electric fleets
Cities leading the charge on electric vehicles
Berlin, Germany: The EUREF Campus business park hosts technology companies and research institutions, and offers charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) as well as inductive charging for fleet operation. Its microgrid uses artificial intelligence to optimize EV charging and send energy surplus back to the grid, based on dynamic pricing.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Montreal, Canada and Santiago, Chile: Have all prioritized the electrification of public transport through the public procurement of electric buses.
Dortmund, Germany: The city is developing non-financial incentives for last-mile delivery companies to electrify their fleets: EVs receive permission for extended access to the city centre.
Guangzhou, China: The city plans to speed up bus electrification and aims to reach 200,000 new units in 2018. China’s government has also announced it will develop national regulations for testing AV on public roads in cities across the country.
Hong Kong SAR: The local government encourages developers to scale-up the EV charging infrastructure. This includes solutions integrated with the smart payment system, Octopus, which is also used to access the public transport network.
Los Angeles, USA: The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) decided to switch 260 fleet vehicles to EVs. Charging infrastructure development is also under way and being integrated with decentralized solar power generation. By leasing rather than buying vehicles, the LAPD can invest in charging stations, including fast-charging stations in city centre car parks.
London, UK: The Transport for London office requires all new black cabs to be electric or emission-free, and diesel vehicles will not be permitted in London by 2032. A total of 80 charging points will be dedicated to black cabs, with plans to implement 150 by the end of 2018 and 300 by 2020.
Oslo, Norway: The city plans to have its fleet of 1,200 public vehicles using electricity by 2020, has introduced restrictions on cars entering the city centre and granted access to priority lanes for shared EVs only. A project in Vulkan on the city’s outskirts demonstrates a public-private cooperation model between the city, a utility company and a real-estate firm for smart charging stations.
Paris, France: The region of Ile-de-France and private partners developed Autolib, an electric car sharing service with 4,000 EVs and 1,100 charging stations with more than 6,200 charging points across the region, accessible to service users and other EV owners.
San Francisco, USA: The Department of Motor Vehicles provides licences to test driverless cars on public roads in the Silicon Valley as part of an experimental programme.
Recommendations for action
The report gathers and analyses practical examples and best practices, which can be tailored to local specificities. The principles – required for action by both public and private sectors – and their corresponding recommendations are described below.
Take a multistakeholder and market-specific approach: A comprehensive approach to electrification of transport will require engagement of stakeholders from different industries and sectors and may vary significantly across different markets based on the local energy mix or mobility patterns.
Prioritize high-use vehicles: The shift of the approach to transport electrification, through advancing and reforming regulation, should prioritize high-use vehicles, such as fleet and autonomous vehicles. The goal is to accelerate the electrification of miles to maximize the value creation.
Deploy critical charging infrastructure today while anticipating mobility transformation: In the context of mobility and energy systems transformation, planning charging infrastructures is critical to cope with the risk of stranded assets as well as ensure the sustainable implementation and use of the charging stations and hubs.
“The convergence of mobility and energy strategies can magnify the economic and social benefits of electric mobility in cities, and ensure increased sustainability, reliability and customer choice”, explains Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy and Basic Industries, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.
“Autonomous vehicles and grid edge technologies are around the corner, and cities, in particular the smartest ones, will deploy them at rapid pace. The mobility and energy players should start building strategies and business models now to embrace these changes and leverage them for sustainable and profitable growth”, added Joseph Scalise, who leads the Americas Utilities and Alternative Energy Sector at Bain & Company.
Leverage the Digital Future for Prosperous Communities
Sharing the benefits of growth and embracing the digital economy were key themes for senior Asia-Pacific business leaders meeting in Auckland, New Zealand this week.
At its first of four meetings for 2018, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) welcomed the forecasts for strong regional growth, noting the IMF prediction that Asia-Pacific GDP would expand by 5.4% this year, far outstripping the rate of 2% in advanced economies.
“Growth is clearly an essential but not a sufficient condition for secure and prosperous communities,” said ABAC Chair for 2018, David Toua. “We need to look closely at our economies’ policies to ensure that people can actually take advantage of the opportunities that growth brings. Harnessing inclusive opportunities is a key mantra for this year,” added Mr Toua.
Mr Toua explained that a second big focus was the digital economy. “We have created a new working group to focus specifically on digital and innovation issues,” Mr Toua explained. “The digital economy is growing exponentially. We are seeing a surge of disruptive business models. Even in traditional sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, innovative technologies, digital services, fintech and e-commerce are now central.
“Importantly, the digital economy provides a springboard for small business, women and other disadvantaged groups to take part in trade and connect around the region.
“But we cannot realise the full potential of a ‘Digital Asia-Pacific’ without putting resources and energy into countering the digital divide that risks leaving the most vulnerable behind. In all economies, we also need to nurture a future-ready workforce. That means putting in place the right settings for digital infrastructure, skills and education, and region-wide digital business- friendly regulation,” said Mr Toua.
ABAC members had welcomed the recent conclusion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership by 11 APEC economies, Mr. Toua noted that “the agreement was seen as one of the key ‘pathways’ to an eventual integrated Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.”
Other priorities discussed included improving connectivity; structural reform especially in the services sector; reducing trade and investment barriers; facilitating creating opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises; strengthening financial systems, and grappling with issues around sustainable growth such as food and energy security. “Big strategic considerations we will look at include ‘smarter globalisation’ so that the benefits are more widely shared in terms of jobs and living standards, and our ‘Vision’ for the region in the coming decades,” said Toua.
“Our Auckland meeting was also the occasion for our annual Dialogue with APEC Senior Officials. We had extended discussions including on the APEC Post 2020 Vision which will help both sides to develop robust policy approaches on all our key issues for the period ahead,” concluded Chairman Toua.
Open Internet and quality of information: key to preserve integrity of elections
On 8 February, UNESCO and the Global Initiative Network (link is external) (GNI) held a forum at UNESCO HQ in Paris to examine how Internet could support electoral integrity, as well as counter threats such as disinformation and internet shutdowns which reduced the trust and knowledge of voters.
The Colloquium “Improving the information ecosystem to protect the integrity of elections” brought together UNESCO Member States, UN Representatives, national electoral authorities and media organizations with board members of the GNI.
The GNI is a multi-stakeholder organization of information and communication technology companies, civil society organizations, academics, and socially responsible investors.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Getachew Engida, UNESCO Deputy Director spoke about preserving freedom of expression and the value of effective self-regulation in regard to problems on the Internet in times of elections.
Ms. Judith Lichtenberg, Executive Director of the GNI, underlined the need to forge a common approach to protect freedom of expression online especially during elections time when ICT innovations are being abused by malicious actors and internet services are restricted or even shut down.
Participants addressed issues concerning digital manipulation of election processes, including the impact of malware attacks. Furthermore, the Colloquium also sought to assist electoral assistance providers in contributing with ideas on how to improve their electoral programs and activities.
The potential sensitivities around interruptions of digital information during vote counting, and the difficulty of monitoring the “black box” of political advertising based on datamining and targeted profiling, were highlighted by Patrick Costello, Head of Division of European External Action Service at the European Union.
Noting the varying degree of digitalization of electoral processes across countries, Simon Pierre Nanitelamio, Deputy Director of the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division, highlighted the role multi-stakeholder consultation to bridge the gaps between differently equipped countries.
In a context where economic growth depends increasingly on Internet access, as affirmed in the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director of The Internet Society ISOC, pointed out that shutdowns can cause long-lasting and costly effects on societies and on user’s trust.
Large-scale internet shutdowns and the blocking and filtering of online content has been seen to be on the rise in the last five years, as noted in the latest edition of the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development
Internet providers’ difficult position to cope with internet shutdowns during elections was highlighted by Yves Nissim, Head of Transformation and Operation in Corporate Social Responsibility from Orange. Mr He commented that companies are frequently unable to avoid demands to interrupt services because of license agreements and risks to their employees’ safety, but they sought to be transparent about receiving such demands.
Fernando Garcia, Executive director of Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales a Mexican-based network that defends digital rights and Aiste Zilinskiene, Member of the Central Electoral Commission of Lithuania, drew upon citizen digital experiences to hold political actors accountable via elections. They also raised awareness about the threats to privacy posed by malware attacks surveilling journalists and human rights activists.
Nana Gyan-Apenteng, head of Ghana’s National Media Commission and chair of the African Communications Regulation Authorities network signaled the potential to apply electoral laws to media at the point where social media content emerged onto traditional media platforms.
The UNESCO-GNI Colloquium also featured together representatives from technology companies to discuss what can be done to enhance the quality of public information during such elections in order to counter misinformation.
Steve Crown, Microsoft’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, pointed out the moral challenges around setting national or regional regulations given the global nature of internet and the potential for legislation to be implemented as censorship.
Ludovic Peran, Policy and Government Affairs Manager of Google, shared the company’s initiatives to address fake news, such as the development of fact-checking tools, quality guidelines and the tracking of misleading sources. Meanwhile, Andy O’Connell, Public Policy Manager of Facebook stated that his company had pledged transparency in paid political advertising.
He also noted Facebook’s work to limit the economic incentives of “fake news”, and to remove accounts with false profiles.
The importance of strengthening media and information literacy as part of voter education, was raised by. Divina Frau-Meigs, UNESCO Chair Savoir Devenir, Nouvelle Sorbonne, Paris. She said there was a need to teach young people that casting a ballot was not the same as “liking” something on social media, and encouraged “digital citizenship” as a way to boost the integrity of elections.
UNESCO hopes to follow up through highlighting the incompatibility of Internet shut-downs with the free flow of information that is needed for elections.
The Organisation will also seek to work on methodologies that can benefit election stakeholders who monitor electoral communications, to provide a knowledge base for policy on regulation and self-regulation.
Further work will entail training journalists to be able to give deeper coverage of the role of social media in relation to polls, including ways to find and rebut disinformation online.
Another follow up is promoting the value to election integrity of programmes in media and information literacy.
The over-regulation of digital electoral communications that can disproportionately limit freedom of expression and privacy, is an area where UNESCO can play a monitoring role.
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