Are you weary of contemporary American politics and taking refuge in dystopian fiction? In a recent New Yorker essay, historian Jill Lepore, after surveying dystopias old and new, gives no direct advice but effectively tells us, “Don’t.”
Do you Slack? I didn’t used to, but I do now. And I’m pretty sure I’m getting more done and having more fun because of it. I like Slack. (So does the Church of the SubGenius, but that’s different.) Slack is spreading. If you don’t know about Slack but you use computers and work with more than a handful of people, you probably should know about it. Continue reading
When the Internet was young(er), publications, like other businesses, began establishing outposts there. This now seems like something of a recap of the original frontier experience: the Internet was fresh ground, unexplored territory, ripe for shaping, settling, colonizing, conquering. It may be going too far to say the whole thing exemplifies Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis (which in any case is still contested), but the expansion into the online realm has certainly been critical for periodicals.
Curiously, while most other businesses went to the Internet to sell, periodicals didn’t. Continue reading
The Amazon Echo, which came out in 2015, is a smart speaker that responds to voice input. Amazon just released an update, called Echo Look, which not only includes the Alexa voice-response system but also has a camera, so it can both listen to you and look at you. It’s designed to sit in your bedroom and serve as some kind of fashion aide. Here’s how Jessi Hempel of Backchannel described it at the start of a short discussion: “Speak to the white oblong assistant, and it will take selfies of your outfits and let you consult style experts to improve them.”
A good candidate for the person I’m most tired of hearing about lately: Elon Musk, who was described yesterday by technology writer Steven Levy, in a remark that may be half tongue-in-cheek and may be purely serious, as “our current Visionary In Chief.” (That phrase appeared here.)
In what sense is Musk a visionary? Continue reading
Rebecca Sharp—who is not quite the central character in Thackeray’s 1848 novel, Vanity Fair, but who would like to be—resembles a reality-TV performer. By chance of birth, she occupies an ordinary station in life; what’s worse, or perhaps better, given their own dubious careers, her parents have died, leaving her—as we’re often reminded in the novel—alone in the world, forced to fend for herself. For her, as for any number of present-day persons, there’s no reason why anyone should pay attention to her, give her any leeway, give her anything at all. And so, when any chance of advancement presents itself, she feels she must take it, apply whatever skills she has (but it happens that she has many) in order to bring herself up. She seizes opportunities; she maneuvers and manipulates, not always to serve herself alone, but always to her advantage; she’s developing her brand and pays no mind to bad PR. Becky Sharp would be a sensation on social media.
The University of California at Berkeley, which in the 60s originated what came to be called the free speech movement, has now become a major home of an un-free-speech movement, and American college campuses are now one setting for a clash, which is also playing out in the wider world, between conflicting stances toward sexual behavior. Some recent reading illustrates the issues.