“While working on sitcoms, [“Six Feet Under” creator Alan] Ball had compiled a list of things that would be different once he had control over his own show, and for the most part, he stuck to it. He exhibited few of the autocratic impulses of other showrunners. “He had a very different style from some of these other guys,” Soloway said. “He didn’t wield the big bat. Alan once described the masculine style of showrunning as standing in front of your troops, saying, ‘Come on! This is where we’re going.’ The feminine style is standing behind your troops, pushing them forward so they lead you. Alan did the feminine style. The show exists in the center of the room, and we all come to it with our minds and let it rise up, and it belongs to nobody.””—Brett Martin: Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad
“I see my role much like a small-town praire banker in the 1880’s. My job is to project an aura of calm, solvency, and permanence in an industry where none of those adjectives applies”—Pinboard Turns Five (Pinboard Blog)
Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.)
Why this (largely unintentional) echo? Because there is a sneaky continuity between the motivations behind such casual images and the power dynamics that not-so-secretly governed classic art.
Technology has so democratized image-making that it has put the artistic power once mainly associated with aristocrats—to stylize your image and project yourself to an audience as desirable—into everyone’s hands. (Although the parallel to art as “celebration of private property” is probably most vivid in the case of those who most closely resemble modern-day aristocrats. See: “Rich Kids of Instagram”). But images retain their function as game pieces in the competition for social status. “Doesn’t this look delicious?” “Aren’t I fabulous?” “Look where I am!” “Look what I have!”
“This paradox between our affluence as consumers and our precariousness as workers poses economic, political, and moral conundrums. If we can produce more with less, and workers become redundant, who will buy the goods? A robot can make a mobile phone but it cannot purchase one. Workers are also consumers. Fire your workers, your profits will rise until the day no one can afford to buy your product. Henry Ford was a visionary for paying his workers enough so they could buy his cars. Ultimately, our production possibilities frontier and so our societal wealth is determined by our level of technology. That keeps expanding. Thus every year we should be richer. Each generation should be better off than its parents. That we are not is a problem of distribution.”—The Central Paradox of the 21st Century (via azspot)
“Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated”—Facebook tinkered with users’ feeds for a massive psychology experiment
“Things like real management training and recruitment training and HR processes designed to make sure employees’ work lives are non-horrible get thrown out of the window. Because that’s how old people do things, and how many people north of thirty do you know who made billions by disrupting x with y when they were barely old enough to drive? None. The old way is the bad way, and under the new way we get to run our companies without paying attention to what is essentially the equivalent of due process in employment terms – basic rights and safeguards that people should be entitled to in the course of doing their jobs – and everyone gets super rich.”—The coolest culture hack of all is not hacking your culture » Boyes Club (via iamdanw)
“So how do you both give credit to ISIS and maintain its absolute otherness? Recast its leaders as corporate raiders! It’s perfect. It’s a type that’s both recognizable and difficult to empathize with; it explains a group’s motivations without requiring you to understand them. It’s a business narrative—a disruption narrative—which is increasingly the dominant type of narrative, laden with clean premises and familiar, if unknowable, forces. It aligns, for a Western audience, the foreign desire for an Islamic state with that inevitable quality of industry: The unquestioning, inevitable, unexamined desire for growth.”—How to Dehumanize a Terrorist: Give Him an MBA - The Awl
One map from the 1650s combined the “Island of California,” a famous cartographical error, with an imagined inland strait that would have carried mariners southwest from the icy north of Canada, through a Mer Glaciale (Icy Sea) and past the mythical cities of Cibola and what it called the Apaches Vaqueros (“cowboy Apaches”) of New Mexico. This hypothetical passage ends in the relatively balmy, sea otter–friendly waters off Point Reyes and Cape Mendocino, near Humboldt County.
The commercial advantages of such a route were obvious from the beginning, but for [Alchemist/Wizard John] Dee, as usual, things ran deeper. He was searching not only for trade with China but for the ultimate alchemical object: the Philosopher’s Stone. In 1582, Dee speculated in his angelic diaries that the stone might be “hid in the secret of the depths, in the uttermost part” of the King of Spain’s dominions. The Pacific-facing lands stretching far to the west of British North America, Dee hoped, might shelter the Philosopher’s Stone as well as the Northwest Passage.
Dee never made it to California, nor did he really know it as a distinct geographical place—but that didn’t stop him from dreaming about it.
Everyone is interested in doing fun things with their bodies. But the impulse to systematize, replicate, package, sell, and build an ideology around it is uniquely Silicon Valley. Part of what drives app makers and investors is the urge to bend the world to their desires—turn a thing on its side to see if it works better that way. In the personal realm, that translates to a libertine sense of entitlement and the pursuit of total optimization. OM seems ideally designed to meet those goals.
Many of OneTaste’s employees and devotees work in the startup sector. Reese Jones, Daedone’s sometime boyfriend, is also a venture capitalist and serial inventor credited with the first sound-recording software. During a presentation at the conference, Jones would compare the “OM container”—which refers both to the pillow-and-blanket covered “nest” one is supposed to construct and to the time limits and emotional boundaries of the practice—to the Internet communications protocol TCP/IP.
This past April, during the interactive portion of South by Southwest, Daedone delivered a talk titled “Female Orgasm: The Regenerative Human Technology” to a packed room. She relayed an endorsement from foundational futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose Singularity University counts Reese Jones as a board member. “The next thing we knew we were invited into all of these tech circles and, whoa, man, the testing there was rigorous and crazy,” she said. “But finally we got the blessing of Ray Kurzweil that we are officially a technology, and they said it’s based on scientific knowledge about physiology and psychology and it goes far beyond insight or a piece of advice.”
“In fact,” she said, “I would go even further to say orgasm can do for physical connection what the internet has done for us in terms of virtual connection.”
“While such positive feedback is both convincing and hard to dismiss, few people recall that the Landmark Forum is not simply a career/self-help crash course—its “technologies” (as the Forum refers to them) are derived from Werner Erhard’s controversial est workshop. est, for all its faults, was a major player in the well-meaning Human Potential Movement of the Seventies, a movement which put a premium on human possibility, with an emphasis on the spiritual side of humanity. Since est evolved into the Forum, so has the audience for such “technologies” evolved—from New Age hippies to CEOs to CEO-hippy hybrids—a transformation that provides a lesson not only about corporate identity re-branding and our culture’s shifting standards of legitimacy; it also suggests what we dream about thirty years later, when we dream about our own potential.”—The Believer - est, Werner Erhard, and the Corporatization of Self-Help
Nobody ever joins a cult. One joins a nonprofit group that promotes green technology, animal rights, or transcendental meditation. One joins a yoga class or an entrepreneurial workshop. One begins practicing an Eastern religion that preaches peace and forbearance. The first rule of recruitment, writes Margaret Singer, the doyenne of cult scholarship, is that a recruit must never suspect he or she is being recruited. The second rule is that the cult must monopolize the recruit’s time.
The psychological methods used by a cult leader are the same as those used by con men, advertisers, and politicians. As Margaret Singer writes in Cults in Our Midst:
'Cult leaders and con artists are opportunists who read the times and the ever-changing culture and adapt their pitch to what will appeal at a given moment. These manipulators survive because they adapt and because they are chameleon-like. So, at some times we get cults based on health fads, business-training programs, get-rich-quick schemes, and relationship improvement seminars; at others we get fundamentalist religious cults, Eastern meditation groups, identity or hate groups, longevity groups, and so forth.'
The new tech bros have one thing on their brains—making money. They are different than the programmers I knew from ’90s, many of whom were also artists—musicians, photographers, DJs, involved in underground and alternative subcultures. They were freaks. Coding was as much a creative activity as a means to making money. If you got into computers in the ’90s, you were already a little weirder than the rest of the world, you already thought differently. Now that computing is trendy—and economically fruitful—it’s attracting a different kind of person altogether.
“I can see exactly how the tech group in the ’90s may have been more interesting because they actually were disrupting things. They changed culture, and you can’t do that without not only a driven focus but also a wide lens,” said Violet.
Today, she said, “I went out with so many guys who thought they were a part of some big revolution, but who looked to me like any establishment dude in a suit. There was a lack of awareness that they are the establishment now. They wanted it all, to be treated like a tech revolutionary and to be fawned over like a millionaire banker. Who I was got completely lost in the mix.”
Those affiliated with the humanities—who interest themselves in all the things that can’t be measured, but must be judged instead, like moral, aesthetic and philosophical questions—are experiencing a daily low-grade fever of dissatisfaction (or generalized rage, in the case of Sam Biddle) as we are daily sold on the inevitability of catastrophic ideas. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld told a reporter that the OMB had estimated that the Iraq War would cost something less than $50 billion—the total sum, to be shared by the US and its allies. There would be “smart bombs,” plans laid by expert warmongerers, all kinds of precision.
None of this persuaded the people who’d read their history and learned about the politics, who were warning against the likelihood of disaster and of civil war and the emboldening of extremists, and who marched in their millions (many, many millions) in the streets of the world’s capital cities in early 2003. So it rankles in a particular way to see that the true cost of the Iraq War topped $2 trillion not long ago.
What is the study of humanities for? It’s to prevent this. To apply the lessons of history, and consider the possible costs to the future. To consider not only what will profit us but what will be right for us to do, and why. Andreessen, a dyed-in-the-wool measurer and chart-monger if there ever was one, is a man who would never even dream of a just world, where all would sit at the same table. He is the living example of what is lost when we value things only through the money they represent.
This is exactly why so much the tech industry’s rhetoric these days makes broadly educated people feel like they’re taking crazy pills. When Marc Andreesen claims, for example, that we’re about to enter a robot utopia where we all paint and compose symphonies in perfect economic harmony (and that any unpleasantness in the intervening period will be smoothed over by a form of trickle down economics that demands nothing of the rich while ensuring that society doesn’t collapse under the weight of crushing economic inequality), it’s hard not to wonder if he knows anything at all about, oh, say, the entire history of humanity. When he attempts to undermine a critic by mocking her liberal arts credentials and pointing out that she surely can’t be as smart as him because she probably knows nothing about real, scienc-ey things like “quantum entanglement,” he only demonstrates that, like so many blinkered, self-proclaimed rationalists in tech, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
You can see how a Silicon Valley software programmer would naturally be attracted to the self-reinforcing integrity built into this feedback loop. The prosperity generated by letting Silicon Valley do what it wants without burdensome regulation or restrictions on trade will pay for the safety net that will protect the people displaced by trade or disruptive tech innovation. Perfect. Call it trickle-down techno-capitalism.
But there’s a humongous bug in this code. There is very little evidence that the people who are getting rich off technological innovation are eager to pay for a robust social welfare net, no matter how rich they get. Quite the opposite. Translated into a political program, the Andreessen solution has no constituency. The political coalition that pushes for “letting markets work” is dead set against tax increases and social welfare expansion. To take only the most obvious example: Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressional candidate backed by Silicon Valley’s elite to represent Silicon Valley, wants to keep capital gains taxes low and cut taxes on businesses.
I’d read each issue from cover-to-cover, deciding on its predominant “themes,” and record this data in an elaborate database program on my Apple IIe. As a finishing touch, I’d give each issue a “grade,” emulating EW’s own, then-novel system of affixing a grade to the media products it reviewed.
In my North Idaho town of 30,000, we had three movie screens and I wasn’t allowed to watch cable. But EW’s approach to media appealed to me in the way that all broad, detail-oriented taxonomies appeal to children: It provided me with a field to master and the tools to do so. Eleven-year-old me was an expert on the Weinsteins, Sundance, and the phenomena of sex, lies, and videotape and The Crying Game—without ever even seeing the movies, or really even knowing what they were about.
This resonates with me in a big way. I grew up as a precocious child in a fairly conservative household in Denver, and for awhile in the early 90s my cover-to-cover reading of Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly served as a covert window into the sort of big time, edgy American culture being produced in places like New York and LA. I was very aware of art world events I couldn’t possibly attend (like the ‘93 Whitney Biennial with its “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be white" tags) and I closely followed on a meta level movies I wasn’t actually allowed to see ("Silence of the Lambs" remains one of my favorite movies to this day, partly, I’m sure, due to my following its release and subsequent acclaim in the pages of EW). As this piece explains, the early 90s were an interesting time for media: the Epiphanator was still at the apex of its cultural power, but thanks to mergers, a growing focus on “synergy,” and the general “meta”-ness of the 90s, there was an unprecedented level of popular media savviness. On one hand you might guess that things like Twitter would have accelerated this, but I think in reality the Internet has eroded the prestige of “big media” in such a way that fewer people are concerned with who Michael Ovitz or the Weinsteins or Tina Brown are like I was as a nerd-ish 16 year old.
“Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls; for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community, a generation — in Nirvana’s case, several generations — in the echo chamber of that collective howl…”—Michael Stipe, from his speech inducting Nirvana into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (via whatthekidsareinto)
Zappos has apparently decided it is no longer good enough to be a qualified hire who is interested in the job. An interested applicant must also spend unremunerated time pretending to engage in virtual social relationships with existing employees. The American economy has become so warped that it now appears reasonable to a subsidiary of a leading public company to require people who may never be hired to spent large amounts of time pretending to be friends with people with whom they may never work.
This represents the convergence of at least three disturbing trends in the current American economy: the long-term unemployment of large numbers of people and the consequent power given to any company which is hiring; the technology industry’s revival of old prejudices under catchy new names; and the way that technology increasingly erodes any sense that our work selves are merely a component of our lives, rather than the entirety of our existence.
Some of the men at this party are more eccentric than those we received as matches. A programmer who donated “several hundred dollars” to the Crowdtilt likens the donation to “giving $2 to a homeless person.” In an affectless voice, he analyzes the relative Asian-ness of each of my facial features, then explains his frustration with online dating: “I prefer to use reality as my platform. There’s zero latency, no lag. Do you know what lag is? When you do something online, you don’t get a response right away. Meeting women in reality — boom! — fully responsive.” As he says this, he begins to touch me. I flee. Soon thereafter, Emma Tessler points out a different man she believes to be “obsessed with” me. She offers to run interference, and I do not see him again.
I meet an angel investor who admits he gave to the Crowdtilt to butter up CEO Lauren Kay so she’d accept his money. “With these Y Combinator companies, sometimes so many people want to invest that they end up turning down money,” he explained. He’d given money to the Dating Ring to secure the chance to give even more money to the Dating Ring. He wouldn’t tell me how much he invested, but did mention a desire to buy an airplane.
“The internet I grew up on and still rather cherish on was one of weird flashing Geocities pages; strange usenet groups devoted to arcane fandoms; long, maudlin posts about people’s depression illustrated by ASCII art tableaus. It was text-based MUDs that elaborated on fantasy games before HBO was adapting them for our pleasure. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, but also no parents, few real names, and relatively little fear of surveillance. And the animating spirit was scrappy in a way that you can tell is gone because it is so hard to describe, standing here all the way down the line.”—Do You Ever Miss the “Old Internet”? (via lauraolin)
I’m not even going to try to pullquote this fantastic, thought-provoking talk about data collection, privacy, and the Internet’s current, increasingly dystopian cultural moment. Obviously most of us in the tech business are conversant in the issues Ceglowski is raising here, but he has a talent for framing things in a way that makes you think about them differently (e.g. vast collections of behavioral user data as a kind of toxic waste). As someone who has devoted his career to developing technology but finds himself increasingly wary of my industry’s every new invasive development, I also appreciate Ceglowski’s thoughtful suggestion that privacy regulation might be a way not just protect the rights of individual users in this new era, but also a way to actually encourage creativity and innovation in the long run by setting parameters that make both developers and users feel protected.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to someone who is tremendously rich. And Vanity Fair just actually published a great article about this. But all they do is talk about things. They have so much money that their life and preoccupation becomes getting the best of everything. They literally just sit there talking about the newest technology and the newest artwork, because it becomes their life goal to always have the best. The conversations are exhausting. You start to think, Well what thing do I own that I should start talking about? My radiator?”—Emma Thompson on Her S.T.D.-Related Stand-Up Routine and Why Twitter Will Kill Us All | Vanity Fair
“The only super-rich person I know said that, actually, after you’ve bought, consumed, collected, donated, and holidayed yourself into triple-ply boredom, the thing that actually keeps you spending is the expectations of others: your family and friends, and their friends, and the servants. No one ever writes about the terrible anticipation of wealth that comes from people who are merely solvent. You are the focus of so much wishful thinking, so much smiling avarice, you feel responsible to live a life of steepling extravagance. Particularly the young.”—What Is It Like to Have Too Much Money? | Vanity Fair
Zuckerberg and Sandberg were increasingly concerned. Six months after the announcement on “Oprah,” Booker and Christie had no superintendent, no comprehensive reform plan, and no progress toward a new teachers’ contract. On Saturday, April 2, 2011, they met with Booker at Facebook’s headquarters, in Palo Alto. If these are the wrong metrics for measuring progress, they asked, what are the right ones? They were holding Booker accountable for performance, just as he intended to hold teachers and principals accountable. Booker was contrite. “Guilty as charged,” he replied.
Zuckerberg urged him to find a strong superintendent quickly, and after the meeting he sent him one of Facebook’s motivational posters: “DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.”
Teacher’s unions, political patronage, and state politics would all be tough to negotiate as a mayor of Newark, but I’m pretty sure sounding appropriately chastened after a solutioneering billionaire across the country sent me a stern email with attached Successories poster would be the hardest part of the job for me.
“The fact that most new businesses fail is hardly a secret. So why are so many people gambling on ventures that are likely to end badly? A traditional answer is that entrepreneurs are just more comfortable taking risks than the rest of us. The eighteenth-century Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon, who coined the term “entrepreneur,” defined it as a “bearer of risk.” And in 1921 the economist Frank Knight argued that the function of entrepreneurs was to “specialize in risk-taking.” Yet studies of entrepreneurs find that, in general, they’re as risk-averse as everyone else. Only when it comes to starting a business are they daring. And that’s because the fundamental characteristic of entrepreneurs isn’t risk-seeking; it’s self-confidence. A 1997 study in the Journal of Business Venturing found that entrepreneurs are overconfident about their ability to prevent bad outcomes. They’re also overconfident about the prospects of their business. A 1988 study in the same journal of some three thousand entrepreneurs found that eighty-one per cent thought their businesses had at least a seventy-per-cent chance of success, and a third thought there was no chance they would fail—numbers that bear no relation to reality. A recent paper called “Living Forever” notes that entrepreneurs are more likely than other people to overestimate their life spans.”—James Surowiecki: The Startup Mass Extinction : The New Yorker (via Lane Becker)
Hypatia was the daughter of a mathematician, one of the Museum’s famous scholars-in-residence. Legendarily beautiful as a young woman, she had become famous for her attainments in astronomy, music, mathematics, and philosophy. Students came from great distances to study the works of Plato and Aristotle under her tutelage. Such was her authority that other philosophers wrote to her and anxiously solicited her approval.
Hypatia’s support for Orestes’ refusal to expel the city’s Jewish population may help to explain what happened next. Rumors began to circulate that her absorption in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy—so strange, after all, in a woman—was sinister: she must be a witch, practicing black magic. In March 415 the crowd, whipped into a frenzy by one of Cyril’s henchmen, erupted. Returning to her house, Hypatia was pulled from her chariot and taken to a church that was formerly a temple to the emperor. (The setting was no accident: it signified the transformation of paganism into the one true faith.) There, after she was stripped of her clothing, her skin was flayed off with broken bits of pottery. The mob then dragged her corpse outside the city walls and burned it.
“Wealthy Romans employed (or owned as slaves) personal librarians and clerks who copied books borrowed from the libraries of their friends. “I have received the book,” Cicero wrote to his friend Atticus, who had lent him a copy of a geographical work in verse by Alexander of Ephesus. “He’s incompetent as a poet and he knows nothing; however, he’s of some use. I’m having it copied and I’ll return it.” Authors made nothing from the sale of their books; their profits derived from the wealthy patron to whom the work was dedicated. (The arrangement—which helps to account for the fulsome flattery of dedicatory epistles—seems odd to us, but it had an impressive stability, remaining in place until the invention of copyright in the eighteenth century.) Publishers had to contend, as we have seen, with the widespread copying of books among friends, but the business of producing and marketing books must have been a profitable one: there were bookshops not only in Rome but also in Brindisi, Carthage, Lyons, Reims, and other cities in the empire.”—